In Russian folk belief there are a great number of spirits that are attributed to everyday living. Since the conversion of the Russian people to Christianity in 988 many of those pagan spirits were abandoned and forgotten in the face of the people's new faith. One spirit that was not forgotten by the Russian people is the Domovoi.
The Domovoi is a spirit that dwells in the homes of Russian peasants. The Domovoi was not regarded as an evil spirit or an entirely good spirit, but one that was moody and mischievous. He would inhabit the same dwelling as a family might and if the family was good to him, the house, and to themselves he would act as a protector. Throughout Russian the Domovoi is viewed through a consistent perspective, which does not vary to a large degree from region to region.
Peasants showed the Domovoi great respect in the way they referred to him, the way they kept their home clean for him, and the way they avoided certain things that might upset him. For instance, the peasants would never sleep near the threshold, by the stove or in the center of the floor so as not to get in his immediate path while he moves around at night.
At night peasants believed that creaks, whistles, shuffling, and bumps in the night were all a product of the Domovoi getting around and trying to express himself. Different noises were indications of either good or bad omens. Hearing shrieks, clangs, and moans signified bad omens; whereas hearing laughing, dancing, and singing were good omens. If you felt the Domovoi touch you at night with a soft, gentle, furry touch it was indication of good fortune. If you felt the Domovoi's touch as one that was cold and prickly then it meant that your luck was running out.
Some of the activities of the Domovoi at night consisted of tending to the livestock, stealing neighbor's oats, and making sure that other spirits did not intrude with the family that he looked after and with his nightly antics.
The Domovoi was thought to have been invisible because he did not like people looking at him. When he did appear he took the identity of past owners of the home in which he inhabits. This signifies that he was the head of the household. If the male head of the family would leave the home for a period of time on business or whatever, there would be reports that the Domovoi would take the form of that person and work in the yard at night. The Domovoi would also take the form of frogs, adders, and jumping bags of grain. During the time of Holy Week and Easter it was said to be the best time to see the Domovoi. What one would have to do was wear all new clothing and footwear to liturgy at church, smear butter from the seven different cows milked for the first time on ones head, and during the liturgical service turning around.
Unlike most spirits the Domovoi was not afraid of the Cross, church, Icons, or anything that had to do with God. He was actually very accepting of religion and did not touch, disturb, or play with anything religious.
When families would move from one house to another they did not forget to either invite their old Domovoi into their new home or to show respect and gratitude to the new one. Before moving any item into the new house, the head of the family carrying an icon in one hand and bread and salt in the other, would walk into the house offering this gift to the Domovoi as a welcoming present. When peasants wanted to transfer their old Domovoi to another home they would simply take coals from the hearth of their old home and stoke the fire with those coals in the new home.
Sometimes there would be turmoil when two Domovois' would find themselves inhabiting the same homestead. When this happened peasants would report that they would here pots banging, things being thrown, and livestock being disturbed all as a result of the skirmishes between the two spirits. When the family would get tired of hearing this activity, banging a broom against a wall and demanding that one spirit leaves would often do the trick.
The Domovoi was not the only spirit that worked around the house. There were more spirits but they were not treated or regarded with the respect that the peasants gave the Domovoi. Those spirits were also associated with bad beings that did evil things for the fun of it. None, however, had as much control over the household as the Domovoi did.
Nowhere in Russian folk belief has a spirit or being held as much control over the general population as the Domovoi did. Today some peasants still believe in the existence of the Domovoi. Though diluted and not as seriously thought of as before, many of the traditional treatments and respectful offerings to this spirit remain in the Russian culture.