Household Spirits: How to Feed and Care For Them
Are you a kitchen or cottage witch who wants an extra helping hand around the house? Maybe you could use some help with your magical workings or someone to protect your household. Household spirits are perfect for the job! Ever heard of the Scottish brownie? The Russian Domovoi? Even if you don’t have a gnome or fairy living in your house, you DO have the actual spirit of your house. This spirit can be made into a friend and magical ally. Read on to learn more.
How a House Acquires Its Spirits
Most of our ancient ancestors believed everything in nature had consciousness. When trees were cut down and other things from nature were used to build a home the fairies or spirits linked to these items were brought into the home. Others believed the fairies occupying the landscape where a home was built became household spirits. This is why there were many superstitions as to where a home was built. For example, our Scandinavian ancestors stayed the night at the site of a new home to see if evil spirits manifested. If the person slept peacefully, the home was built there.
There were different methods of testing a suitable site, including checking the ground or nearby trees for signs of a previous fire. Fire was a bad sign, associated with evil spirits, and many people refrained from building somewhere that had a fire. If there were good fairies on the new home’s site, the homeowners petitioned the nature spirits to become their household gods.
Ancestors’ Buried in the Hearth
Other methods of acquiring a household spirit were a bit disturbing. In ancient Eastern Europe and parts of Asia, when a new home was built, a person might be sacrificed and buried in the walls or hearth. The victim’s spirit was eternally tied to the home and became the household god or guardian. When a family member died a violent death in the home, the windows were opened immediately to let the soul out. They didn’t want a violent spirit lingering and wreaking havoc on the household. If a family moved into an already-established home, the original owner of the home would become the household spirit. Ancestors who lived in a house beforehand could also become household spirits. Read about more of these traditions in Claude Lecouteux’s book “The Tradition of Household Spirits”.
Ancient Roman and Egyptian Household Gods
The ancient Romans honored household gods called Lares. Each household maintained an altar, similar to the re-created altar shown below. In the richer homes, there was a painting or sculpture to represent the household gods and offerings were left in front. The household gods’ images were placed at the dinner table to partake in the family meal. These Roman household gods were guardian spirits who protected the home and the family from illness and invasion.
Lares weren’t only household gods in Roman times, they also guarded places in nature. This points to the fact that lares were originally nature spirits brought into the home and deified. Interestingly, the lares were often depicted as snakes (as seen in the painting on the altar here) and lived under the hearth. This points to the idea that perhaps the lares were fire elementals of some kind.
Bes is an ancient Egyptian god who was thought of as a guardian of the common peoples’ homes. Many Egyptian families kept altars for Bes and worshiped him. He was invoked to protect the household, provide abundance, and also to aid in fertility and childbirth. Interestingly, this Egyptian household god is frequently depicted with holding a snake in his hand. I find this link to snakes and household spirits as seemingly stretching across ancient cultures.
Types of Household Spirits
There are different types of household spirits depending on the culture and region. First, every house has a spirit in and of itself. This is the “soul” of the house, so to speak. Every house was built from materials like wood, stone, brick, etc. which originate from a natural place. If you’re a witch and believe the trees and stones have a spirit or energy, then you would also believe this energy/spirit is transferred into a home built with these materials. Our ancestors did!
The Brownie, Domovoi, and More
In addition to the house’s spirit, our ancestors believed in household spirits of a more fairy or elf-like nature. For example, the Scottish people have the Brownie. A gnome-like being that helped the woman of the house with her chores while everyone was sleeping. The Russians have the Domovoi. The Irish have the bean-tighe. Germans have the kobold. The Swiss have jack-in-the-bowl. Moreover, nearly every ancient culture had household gods and believed their ancestors also shared residence.
How to Care For The Spirit of Your House
First, we’ll start with caring for the spirit of your house. Which may be the most important and is neglected by 99% of homeowners (if not more). Your house itself is the physical structure that shields you from outside intrusive forces – weather, intruders, etc. Plus it serves as a sanctuary for your family. So why not show it some love?
1. Talk to it.
Just by recognizing that your house has a soul is enough to show gratitude. By talking to it, you are acknowledging that it has life. It has consciousness. Tell it about any renovations or changes you plan to make before making them. Put a hand on a wall and thank your house for doing its job. Sounds crazy, but it works. Don’t believe me that your house is alive? Ask it for confirmation. On one occasion my daughter and I simultaneously saw our house “breathing” (no, we don’t have carbon monoxide leaking in our house!)
2. Name your house.
In the old days, every house was given a name. Just like a person. If you travel to the historical parts of the U.S. (and I’m sure elsewhere in Europe, etc.) the older homes all have names. Green Manor. House of the Seven Gables. Oak Manor. Our Lady of Mercy, Etc. This is an ancient tradition that was passed down through the generations that, all until recent years, had continued. You don’t have to name your house anything fancy. Even if it’s just your last name + manor / estate / mansion, etc.
3. Offerings for Household Spirits
On special occasions, or however often you want, provide offerings to the spirit of your house. This is especially important if renovations are about to begin. Ever hear stories of ghosts and hauntings being stirred up from renovations? I often wonder if this isn’t the spirit of the house itself and not necessarily a ghost. Offerings can be anything – water, wine, beer, mead, milk, sweets, a portion of your dinner, etc. When you give the offering, state what it’s for and your house will know.
4. A Spell Written by Author Valerie Worth
From Worth’s book Crone’s Book of Magical Words, A Spell for Pleasing the Household Spirits:
“From a golden broom, pluck five long straws,
Light the as tapers at the fire;
Carry them through the house, and cause
Their subtle smoke to thicken the air–
Then summon good fortune with this spell:
‘Wraiths of the house,
Take heart and live:
To every chamber
This light I give,
To every corner
This breath I send–
Approve and favor
My willing hand.‘
If you would please them doubly well,
Sprinkle the floor with leaves of tea
And orris powder and grains of salt–
Then sweep with the broom, until you free
Each crack and crevice from speck or fault.”
Caring for Household Spirits: The Brownie, Ancestors, Gods, Etc.
In addition to the spirit of your house, you might have other household spirits to feed and care for. I know at my house we have ancestors present in our home, as well as guardians. We should acknowledge their presence, feed and care for them, as well. Why? Our ancestors, guardians, familiars, gods, etc. protect and watch over us, bring us blessings, and also aid in our magical workings when asked. Our relationships with our household spirits should be a two-way street.
1. Feeding Household Spirits
If you have ancestors present in your home, it may be best to set up an altar for them and provide offerings daily or weekly there. This feeds their spirit/energy and shows your gratitude. While ancestors will always protect us, whether we feed/care for them or not, if we do put more effort into our relationship their blessings on us grow ten-fold! As for feeding/caring for household spirits like brownies, domovoi, etc., you’ll need to research what offerings they like best traditionally.
2. Room for Brownies, Domovoi, Etc.
Ancestors are typically fond of altars, but brownies and household fairies might prefer their own closed-off space. You can create a “room” for them in a linen closet or some other undisturbed cabinet. Clear off a shelf and put a small pillow, blankets, and other comfy objects there for your brownie/elf to rest. Guardian spirits will take up residence in a doll, statue, or other figure if invited in. Once they’ve taken up residence in this figure, clean it regularly, dress it in oils, and give offerings to it, as well. The domovoi may prefer sleeping and hiding out in a chimney or old stove. Keep it clean and uncluttered for him/her.
Your Relationship With Household Spirits
The relationship and bond you have with your ancestors, gods, household spirits, etc. is truly in YOUR hands. Just like a relationship with a friend or loved one, it takes care and feeding. It takes time and effort. Don’t assume that the spirit of your house, ancestors, or gods will come sweeping in to help you whenever you demand it if you’re not putting any effort into the relationship. This means regular communication, offerings/gifts, and just plain acknowledgement of their presence. The more you connect with them, the more they will help you, your magic and your family!
Read More About Household Spirits:
- Suburban Spirits: Types of Entities in the ‘Burbs
- 8 Kitchen Gods and Hearth Goddesses for the Kitchen Witch
- House Fairies and Elves: The Brownie, Monaciello & More
- How to Find a Fairy In Your House