Household Spirits

 The "household gods" are minor deities that are responsible for the family's well-being and the farm's success. These creatures can take many forms; they can be completely abstract; they can live within the house or outside in nature at a place of prayer, hunting, or fishing. In any case, they are tethered to the family or to individual members of the family, and they accompany them everywhere they go. We only consider benevolent spirits based on northern European beliefs. These spirits do not constitute a single entity and can be separated into two categories: men folk's deities and their economic activities, and women folk's deities and their activities. These also have a medicinal purpose in the traditions they entail.

These deities were passed down through the generations, with the son inheriting his father's and the daughter inheriting her mother's. They are not so different to ancestor worship in a pan Indo-European cultural context. The paternal spirit is the only one that plays a major part. This differentiation, of course, applies to the patriarchal aspect of the society in question, but it also corresponds to the sex assigned to the soul, as we can see. Lauri Honko clarifies something significant in his research of german land folk traditions: “Every hut has its spirit; everywhere there is a heated space (a hearth), there is a spirit.”

Since fire is a sign of habitation, such spirits tend to reside in homes, earning them the moniker "domestic" in comparison to those found in nature, which are known as "earth spirits," "spirits of place," or "local deities." Ancient times Domestic gods were under the control of the familial cult in antiquity. Zeus, the Greeks claimed, was the house's father and protector; after the farm was encircled by an enclosure, he was given the name Herkeios, and his altar was built in the yard inside that enclosed area. Since he distributed resources and maintained the deposits, he was also known as Ktesios, or "the Acquirer."

He was offered food-filled pitchers as sacrifices in a ceremony known as panspermia, which means he was given seeds of all kinds. Zeus Melichios, or "Healthy, Favorable One," took on a serpentine appearance. He carried wealth and was portrayed on a throne with a bountiful bell. At feasts, Zeus Soter, "the Savior," offered the first and last offerings. He was also known as Agathos Daimon, which means "good ghost." At the end of the meal, he was served pure water, and he, too, was a snake.

The Dioscuri, Zeus' sons, had a meal cooked for them and foods given to them; they, too, were portrayed as serpents guarding the house. It's worth noting how often reptiles feature in mythologies about domestic gods. In the Romans, we even come across several deities. The Lar familiaris, for example, was not initially a domestic deity, and his worship derived from the rural cult of the compita, in which the Lares were revered as protectors and guardians of the lands (agro custodies) surrounding the home.

They were worshipped at the hearth, rather than in the fields, where they had originally received their offerings. The Lar familiaris was given a part of the meals that he was acquainted with in the past. At family feasts, he was presented with wreaths, champagne, incense, vegetables, cakes, and honey, as well as a lamb in the event of a death. This god was linked to the destiny of the entire family. The Lararium, which contained their effigies and had two snakes drawn on its walls, was the home of all the household gods.

The goddess of the hearth, Hestia, was next, to whom wine was given at the start and end of the meal. Her altar is the focus of the domestic cult oversaw by the woman who prepares the offering (far pium) for her, which is thrown into the flames. She coincides with Vesta, the personification of the hearth that is her headquarters; her altar is the centerpiece of the domestic cult overseen by the woman who prepares the offering (far pium) for her, which is cast into the fire. During the dinner, the fire set a plate of food meant for her on fire.

Vesta was associated with the Penates, a collective term for all household gods worshipped near the hearth. They were served foods that were either thrown into the fire or placed on a plate; if a piece dropped on the floor, it was picked up, placed on the counter, and then thrown into the fire. All of these rites relate to a fire cult whose presence among Indo-Europeans has been proven. Finally, we have Limentinus and Limentina, Forculus and Forcula, the gods who guard doors and thresholds.

In his play Aulularia, Plautus gives us a clear representation of the views of his day. A deceased ancestor left his heir a sizable inheritance hidden underneath the hearth, but the heir's son paid no attention to the deceased man and avoided leaving food offerings. He fell into debt after his tutelary ancestor abandoned him. Only the daughter continued to look after the elder, giving him the customary offerings of wine, incense, and other items every day.

This integration of a deceased person into a position spirit is something that can be remembered, and it can occur more than once in the centuries to come. These cults were battled with all of Christianity's might, and they were outlawed by Emperor Theodosius' rule, but they persisted, often in the Roman colonies' rural areas. The names of the deities disappeared, but not their functions, and it was these unnamed beings that guarded the hearth and the entrance to the building from then on.

The sacrifices given to these supernatural creatures have survived, sometimes in the same way, and we will see them again. During the Middle Ages, there were no real deities in the Middle Ages; they had evolved into ghosts, or beings that were responsible for the family's well-being as well as the prosperity of their agricultural practices. I'll distinguish between direct accounts and indirect statements. Direct accounts leave no question about the identity of the character portrayed. For example, in fictional literature, house spirits are transformed into simple dwarves of vague existence.

The Indiculus superstitionum pointed to dough numbers, known as de simulacro consparsa farina, in which scholars identified household spirits. Although we only come across accounts on a rare occasion, they are very instructive until one can discern what lies under the words of their characters, the majority of whom wrote in Latin. Burchard, Bishop of Worms, for example, uses the words "faun" and "satyr" to refute a propitiatory ritual at the beginning of the eleventh century, but the meaning explicitly shows that the monsters described have little in common with the ancient Roman beings.

You've made little funny bows and children's shoes and thrown them into your cellar or attic for fauns and satyrs to play with so they can show you other people's things and make you wealthier. Legends tell us that a household spirit gives fodder taken from a stranger to your livestock, explaining the enigmatic expression "give you the products of others" many centuries later. This may also be milk from a neighbor's pigs, and in Scandinavia, there is a spirit known as the troll cat, milk hare, trollkat, or mjlkhare.

This ghost, working for a witch, takes other people's milk and spits it back into the troughs by the house's entrance. Notker the Stammerer (died) tells a strange tale in his Gesta Caroli Magni (Charlemagne's Deeds). A ghost or spirit who played tricks on people and mocked them was known to enter the smithy and play with his hammers and anvils all night long. “Hey mate, if you don't stop me from haunting your smithy, put your pitcher over there and find it full every day,” the Hairy One (pilosus) told the blacksmith as he tried to defend himself and his property with the sign of the cross of Salvation.

The wretched guy, who was more afraid of physical pain than of losing his immortal soul, took his adversary's counsel. To fill the smith's pitcher, the "Hairy One" (the name is a Latin term for what was a local reality) stole wine from a miser. We can see that this entails the conclusion of a contract between a spirit and a man by contrasting Notker's tale to more recent texts. It’s not uncommon for the household spirit to rob other people's property (such as fodder or food) and give it to the person he's adopted.

As a result, the Latvian pukys robs his neighbors of money, butter, wheat, and other valuables and gives them to his owner. Thietmar of Merseburg (died) chastised the people of Delitzsch, near Leipzig, for worshipping their house spirits in the eleventh century. “Evil spirits often engage in their games in the stables, bearing candles whose wax drops into the manes and necks of the animals, and the manes of these horses are closely braided,” William of Auvergne wrote in his treatise De Universo (On the Universe), written between and in the thirteenth century.

We see ghosts attached to these creatures, who either care about them or bother them, hidden within this Christian meaning that demonizes the intruders. The domestic spirit is usually hidden behind the common name of dwarf in Germanic nations, which is the Latin version of the word "pygmy." The word "dwarf" covers a wide range of characters, most prominently the schrat, which glosses before CE referred to as fauns, satyrs, furry ones, sylvan ones, and other catchall names.

“Many people assume that every house has its own Schrat,” according to Michael Beheim, “who will make the wealth and boost the reputation of whoever shows him honor,” which is very clear. Penates was replaced by schrat in a Latin-German dictionary. Gervase of Tilbury wrote the following in the thirteenth century. Spirits perpetrate their jokes in human bodies made of air, which they put on with God's approval, just as nature creates such marvels in the human universe.

For example, England has demons (though I'm not sure whether I should call them demons or strange spirits of unknown origin), whom the French refer to as neptunes and the English refer to as portunes. It's in their essence for them to enjoy the beauty of happy peasants. When peasants sit up late at night to finish their household chores, they appear out of nowhere, warming themselves at the first and eating little frogs that they drag out of their pockets and roast over the coals.

They have wrinkled skin and a short stature, reaching less than half a thumb, and they dress in tiny rags sewn together. If there is something in the house that needs to be transported or a hard job that needs to be completed, they get right to work and complete it faster than humans will. It is a law of nature that they can be beneficial but not harmful. This is the first mediaeval text to describe the physical characteristics and attire of house spirits.

The picture would last for a long time. “The Little Schrat and the Polar Bear,” a German fable from the thirteenth century, told the following tale. A Norwegian and a bear slept at a peasant's house for the night, but the house was haunted by a sprite who was just three spans tall but had immense power and wearing a red hat. He had a habit of tossing everything, including furniture and utensils, about. This sprite emerged from his hiding position in the middle of the night, entered the oven to warm up, and saw the bear asleep by the hearth.

He tried to scare it down, which resulted in a brawl. The sprite appeared to the farmer in the morning and informed him that he was leaving and would not return until the big cat had departed the home. Even in the nineteenth century, thankful peasants were said to make new clothes for these ragged house spirits, which caused them to vanish, which was not at all what they expected. In this respect, the Zimmern Chronicle, written about –, tells us the following: A Freising weaver thanked the gnome for his work by presenting him with a pair of shoes and a black blouse, which he gladly accepted.

Later, he gave the other a red hat, which he sadly accepted before leaving, never to return. The color red is responsible for the spirit's absence in this case, a motif that can be seen in the Germanic countries. William of Auvergne is the only person I know of who has kept two names for house spirits, joculatores and joculares, which mean "pranksters," in his treatise On the Universe. The following is a summary of their conduct. By hurling stones or turning the bedding inside out, the prankster stops people from sleeping.

He deceives people by stealing small light items that are quickly taken away, in plain sight and even from their own hands, and transporting them to another place. William also references the faunus, who he refers to as "the common people's fulet in French," which means "sprite," but is a composite of details from different sources. These "sprites," he claims, are idolaters who lie and lead men astray. They're a bunch of knuckleheads with bear horns that are undoubtedly "wives of incubus devils." Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis, –) recounts a spectacular incident in a related manner.

Unclean ghosts have been in near contact with humans in these parts of Pembroke in our own days. And if they aren't apparent, their presence is sensed. They have a habit of manifesting themselves, tossing refuse all over the place, first in the home of Stephen Wiriet, then later in the home of William Not, keener perhaps to be a nuisance than to do any actual harm.

Things became much stranger in Stephen's home, since the spirit there had a way of fighting with humans. When they complained, as they did often in sports, he would publicly chastise them for any nefarious crime they have done since their childhood. If you ask me what the origin and reason of a case like this is, I have no idea, just that it has often been the forerunner, as they term it, of a sudden transition from poverty to prosperity, or even more often, from luxury to poverty and absolute desolation.

It strikes me as strange that areas cannot be cleansed of such visits by sprinkling holy water, which is widely used and should be administered liberally, or by using high holy water, or by doing some other religious ritual. This last comment obviously indicates that this isn't about unclean spirits and "demons"! Gerald of Wales brings up another intriguing case. A third manifestation happened at the same time, in the province of Pembroke that I have been mentioning to you, in the home of Elidyr of Stackpole. It took the role of Simon, a young man with red hair.

He could be seen and touched, but this was a full incarnation. He took the household keys from the man in charge and assumed the position of steward with full confidence. He ran the household with great foresight and attention to detail, or so it seemed, that everything flourished, and nothing was ever missing in his care. Elidyr and his wife just had to think about what they wanted for their table or day-to-day use, maybe suggesting it to each other but not to Simon, and he would automatically retrieve it without being asked.

He'd say things like, "You ordered this, and I got it for you." He was well-versed in their family's investments and their efforts to save money. Everything he decided to do, whether it suited his master and mistress. He'd go ahead and do it right now, no questions asked. He never went to church and never said a single Christian word. He never slept in the house and was still on time for work in the morning.

And, by accident, he was seen conversing with his fellow-demons near the watermill and the pool one night by a family member. His master and mistress interrogated him the following morning. He was fired on the spot and turned over the keys he had been keeping for at least forty days. When he returned, they interrogated him and demanded to know who he was. He said that he was fathered on her by an incubus who had arisen in the form of her husband, and that he was born to some rustic beldame in the same parish.

Insofar as it combines the theme of the incubus, a direct result of clerical learning, underscored by the color of Simon's hair and his utter lack of religious sentiments, with that of fairies and domestic spirits, this account has an abundance of descriptions in its adulterated plot. The fundamental elements, on the other hand, are readily evident. Simon contributes to the household's well-being, and his magical existence is shown by his discovery of all its mysteries. Gerald of Wales also demonstrates the polymorphism of house ghosts, as the accounts mention little old white-haired men or a young man.

The most recent beliefs affirm this, stating that the spirit is not limited to a particular shape, but may also take on the form of an entity or item. Finally, according to the chronicles attributed to the Senones monk Richerus, a completely innocuous house spirit existed in an Epinal house from the time of the Nativity until the Feast of John the Baptist. In one of his poems, Konrad von Würzburg mentions a wooden kobold (ein kobolt von buhse), and another poet known as Der Meissner mentions a silent kobold.

These two examples clearly point to a doll or fetish, which is a physical manifestation of the domestic spirit. Konrad von Haslau writes at the end of the thirteenth century that a taterman—another name for the brilliant domesticus (house spirit)—should never be drawn on a table, although Hugo von Trimberg (circa ) says it should never be drawn on a wall. The meaning in both situations suggests that the metaphor in which the word "kobold" occurs corresponds to a kind of dishonesty.

To unearth a few tidbits of knowledge, one must sift through an immense number of books, which are more important because they testify to the belief's presence outside of literature. There are three mediaeval accounts that are especially moving because they represent different aspects of the convictions that we're interested in. The first comes from a Silesian clergyman named Brother Rudolf, who wrote a treatise on The Priesthood's Dignity.

A woman joins after them, shouting, "What are you carrying?" as they pace across the fire with the newborn. “A sleeping hare, lynx, and fox,” the stupid woman said. They take the brush that was used to clean the fireplace and use it to brush the boy. They never send someone fire from their house, and therefore sin against God during a birth, among other things. They smash an egg on the threshold with a broom as they carry an infant back to the house (no doubt after the baptism).

The mother stands with her child behind the front door in the evening, calling to the wooden woman we name fauness, so that her child weeps and hers behaves. These women use five stones to determine who will be their husband. They give each stone a name and put it in the fire; once it has cooled, they throw it into the sea. They believe the stone that makes a shrill whistling sound as it enters the water contains the name of the husband they will marry.

They even throw nettles soaked in urine into the flames, along with bits of bone, coffin wood, and a variety of other items, to make their husbands burn with passion for them like the objects in the fire. Others who consider themselves to be more knowledgeable in the dark arts create pictures of men out of wax, dough, or other materials. To torment their lovers, they throw them into a pit or on top of an anthill.

They bury pots filled with different items in some corners and even behind the stove for the Penates gods known as Stetewaldiu [“Masters of the premises”] in new buildings or those into which they are going to set up their households. As a result, they refuse to allow anybody to pour anything there. They cast a bit of food there now and then to keep the gods benevolent with the household. They stick hawthorn branches on their roofs to ensure their livestock offer a lot of milk, and they plant trees in front of their house on the day of the apostles Philip and James (May).

They cannot access a house from a door that has been transported with a dead body. The hearth with its accessories, the threshold, the fence, the corners, and the roof—in other words, the middle of the house depicted by the fire burning there, the openings, and the covering—are all instantly visible thanks to Rudolf. Keep these elements in mind and they will appear in texts dating back to the twentieth century!

The second account is taken from Antonius of Florence's (–) inventory of beliefs: Have you ever made the mistake of thinking that when the fire crackles, it means someone is dying? Have you hesitated to allow the fire to be extinguished for fear of bringing bad luck into the house? Have you saved the Christmas log and planted it in your yard, or have you blessed your corners and doors with it?

It is a mortal sin to recite the Our Father while approaching the window and plugging your ears in order to extract information from the first words that arrive from outside in order to learn what you want to hear. Have you ever imagined that anything would happen or that it will have significance? If you sneeze before leaving your building, what do you do? Have you ever laid blessed olive branches or a grain of wheat from a manger on your hearth to see if anyone is going to survive or die? Have you ever hesitated to give anything away from your house or vowed to give something on the first day of the calendar year when you thought your earthly possessions would diminish?

During the March calends, have you blessed your door or hung something in front of your house? Antonius confirms the relevance of the previously listed places, but his comments are mostly directed at divination and defense activities. His list, on the other hand, is useful in that it gives us precise dates for such rites. They are almost the same as those from classical antiquity as well as those from more modern times.

The last account comes from an anonymous treatise written in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries and preserved in an anonymous manuscript from Saint Florian Monastery: Some people take a pinch of dirt from under the bench before going to Christmas mass, and if they notice anything alive in it, they will not die. When they get home from church, they put the branches in the manger first, then under the shelter, to ensure that the cows will return without trouble (to the barn). They carry the branches around their houses to keep foxes away from their chickens. There would be a lot of ice if anyone sits on a table for Twelve Days.

They eat a round loaf of bread and cheese while walking around their house on the last night of the Twelve Days. In the area, there will be as many haystacks as mouthfuls. When someone has a dream of the oven collapsing, the housemaster or his wife will die. No worm will reach a person's ear if his hands are placed above the fire, and his nails will not turn black. The people fill a nine-liter container of water on Christmas Eve and leave it until the next morning, when they weigh the water level. If it is smaller, the person will be poor for the whole year; if it is constant, nothing will change; but, if there is more water, the person will be rich.

It is best to bury a piece of steel under the gate and make the animals cross through it while taking the herd out to pasture. They are not going to be enchanted. They throw some of the second crop and beaten oats on the roof and leave it there for the next twelve days. They then use it as feed for their livestock. The beasts will be fertile, and the storks will not waste the food. The well-being of the animals and circumambulation rituals are given considerable status in this collection, but divination and omens are not completely missing, and the sections of the house listed confirm what we have seen previously.

As a result, the three accounts we've just looked at tend to round out and illustrate the core themes of the analysis I'm discussing. On this point, we should also remember áttr orvalds ens viförla (The Tale of Thorvald the FarTraveled), a wonderful thirteenth-century text whose details exactly matches that of the Kristni saga (Saga of Icelandic Christianization). Thorvald visited his father Kodran in Iceland with the Saxon bishop Fridrek.

He had a stone on his farm in Gilja that he and his family took offerings to, claiming that it housed their helper spirit (ármar). If he didn't know who was better, the bishop or the ghost, Kodran declined to be baptised. Fridrek sung some canticles over the exploding block. Since the spirit had been vanquished, Kodran allowed himself to be baptized. The plot is more descriptive, and the information it provides provide us with a comprehensive overview of how a domestic spirit's action is depicted.

The bishop was known as a seer (spámar) by Kodran, who retorted to his son that he already had one who was very useful: he forecast the future, secured his animals, and told him of what he wanted to do and what he could keep an eye on. As a result, he had immense faith in him and had revered him for a long time. Since the spirit urged Kodran against converting, Thorvald proposed that they see if the bishop could send it fleeing, forcing his father to allow baptism. The proposal was approved by Kodran.

Fridrek prayed and sang canticles while sprinkling holy water on the ground. In a dream that night, the spirit appeared to Kodran, terrified and full of reproaches. Fridrek was a thief who tried to evict him from his house by throwing boiling water on it; his children were crying from the water's injuries. The next day, the bishop resumed his activities, and the spirit returned to see Kodran. His pleasant demeanour and fine clothing were no longer visible; he was wrapped in a dreadful animal hide that was black and hideous to look at. He pleaded with Kodran to expel the intruders, but Fridrek began to spray holy water on the pillar, causing the spirit to flee.

“Who will now secure your property like I have?” he asked. “When I didn't know the real Deity, I honoured you as a strong and useful father,” Kodran replied. Now that I've discovered you're unreliable and frail, it's time for us to part ways and for me to put my faith in God, who is smarter and stronger than you. The text speaks for itself, and the spirit's tutelary essence is clear. We know where he lives, and a fact reported in the year by the Chronicle of the Jesuits who converted Lithuania to Christianity corroborates the two Scandinavian accounts.

The anonymous author writes about the people who live on the property. Wide stones [lapides non parvi] planted in the earth and put in such a way that their flat surface is on top and filled not with soil but with straw are stored elsewhere in the farm's buildings. They are referred to as Deyves [goddesses] and are revered as protectors of wheat and livestock. Deyves is a popular name for supernatural beings, especially secondary deities such as the domestic gods who protect every family and farm.

In this explanation, we see the same elements as in Rome, where the goddess Ops Consuia, guardian of grain, is buried in the earth and receives offerings. House spirits may be the hypostases or avatars of ancient deities, according to the Jesuit Annals and Roman rituals. We'll have to come back to this stage. Through this way, we get a snapshot of everything that corresponds to the accounts of Burchard of Worms and Thietmar of Merseburg through the tales of missionaries.

We must also pay particular attention to the enigmatic statements in the ancient chronicles that pack into one rushed sentence a summary of the worship of household gods, which they confuse with the worship of the great deities. Much of this is paganism, and the Church has thrown it all together in one pile; now it's up to us to figure it out! In the meantime, Frijofs saga hins frkna (The Saga of Frijof the Bold) tells us that the embodiments of domestic gods were warmed by fire and dried with a blanket, as the Norwegians did with the Brödstainar and Faksar not long before.