This is part II. Part I is located here at A Domestic Cult in Gaelic Polytheism.
“We have been transformed into rootless wanderers with no fire or place to call our own. The individual no longer has any attachment to a house that has been passed down for generations. In losing all of this, we have lost a piece of ourselves, one of our most solid anchors, and like dead leaves carried by the wind, we settle one day here, and the next day there, driven by the whims of our professions, but we no longer bring the embers from our hearths with us, and the surviving spirits weep in abandoned houses.” – Lecouteux, Claude.
In this article, I will demonstrate how to conceptualize and treat house gods, sometimes called house fairies or elves, depending on your situation and participation level in things spiritual. I will describe their nature, what they expect, and what you can expect from them. I’ll describe their appearance, lifestyle, and dwelling places, along with any habits they might have. We’ll discuss fairy taboos, their involvement in witchcraft, and their associations with the devil. But I suppose what is most important is their role in pagan home practice. We will work in the lore of spirit familiars which are actually house gods. We will focus on Gaelic house fairies but build up a foundation from Indo-European influenced belief systems.
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Gods, Goblins, and Ghosts
There is no hard line between Ancestors, Gods, and Spirits. There is no such line between what is a nature spirit and what is an Otherworldly spirit. And there is no line between the indwelling consciousness or wight within the land of your fleshy body and Otherworldly beings. Nature spirits are said to be the souls of rocks, trees, and the land. But Durkheim argues that nearly all deity and ancestor worship stems from totemic animism. Claude Lecouteux demonstrates that house fairies are both totems, deities, and ancestors. And we have good reason to believe that house gods are different from wild fairies and that instead, they arose from Ancestor worship through totemic location spirits.
You may also see me interchange the words wight, ghost, phantom, shade, troll, fairy, god, and spirit freely because I just think they’re all varying points on a single spectrum. In Indo-European polytheism, ‘The Gods’ are the Immortal Shining Ones. In our comparative study below, many fairies, elves, dwarves, or house gods are referred to as bright or shining. We have accounts from Ireland to Persian influenced Islamic territories of house spirits being called white or having halos or a luminescence. However, in the house god lore, they can die just as daemons in greek polytheism have a lifespan. The Gods are Immortal, they continually exist and reexpress themselves, the rest of us go through the process of entering the house of the dead, and going from there. But in essence, that’s a kind of immortality too.
Such immortality is experienced by the house-elf who is a male ancestor, or the first person to light a fire in that home after it was built. Anyhow, when gods are diminished into fairy kings and queens, and genius loci are diminished to a house brownie, one can see how the lines between three distinct classes of beings become meaningless.
Why Deal With House Fairies At All?
If you believe as our ancestors did, then you know that all your luck depends on it. That, and it is the right thing to do to form a relationship with your local spirits.
Many of the house god traditions involve the spirits of the land upon which the house is built. The ‘soul of the land’is an indwelling spirit that is tied to the location. Like your mind is tied to your body, the belief that when you die your soul exists and moves on is similar to a land losing its primary indwelling soul. All wights and souls of the land are personified or totemic. If the spirit is driven from the land, its luck goes with it.
I think that the soul of the land and the primary indweller are the same thing. I don’t think a real distinction between landvaettir and indwellers can be made.
“The tangled nature of folk traditions does not permit us any foregone conclusions. However, the clues unearthed indicate that there is a logic behind the conflations and superimpositions, as well as a historical development in which mankind’s supernatural creatures tend to become lumped together over time.” (Lecouteux, 2234).
Many of the arguments I’ve heard say that fairies are not the spirits of nature invoking a difference and distinction between nymphs and dryads, and the fair folk. However, nymphs and dryads are the romance beings that the french word fairy was originally made to describe.
Even the argument that Sidhe folk and Fairies like dryads or nymphs have a fundamental distinction is invalid in lieu of the data presented here. Jenny Butler says that one of the leading theories on the fairies is that they are born out of the same animism which gives rise to other spirits of nature. Lastly, I just think nature spirits are the spirits who dwell in nature, be they otherworldly or not.
So if the fairies of the land upon which you live have been domesticated by their own acculturation, you have no right to dismiss them. Such a dismissal, if one believes in such things, is an act of colonialism. The attitude: “I’d rather the house spirits just go somewhere else” is the same thought pattern that disenfranchises actual people.
A House god is not cosmogonal decor for your life. They are living spirit beings with agency. They cannot be treated like servants, vending machines, or fulfillers of your desires. They are a member of your family.
As Hearth Spirits
Since a living home’s heart is its hearth, certain spirits like to dwell there. Much like certain species of spiders prefer to dwell indoors. Like house spiders, house spirits like to live in the corners and non trafficked areas of the home(Lecouteux, 1738).
The Lares, although their effigies were housed in the Lararium(home-shrine), they were worshiped at the hearth-fire(1753). The Penates of Rome included Vesta, the Lares, the other geni and the latter two can be considered to be ruled by the first. The Genius and Vesta were worshiped regularly while the Lares Familiares only received food offerings from meals of his associated feast days(1754). The goddess of the hearth received and offering after each meal(1759).
This might reveal an avenue of research for us to discover with regard to the purpose and nature of land taking rites that involve holding fire, the land gods are brought under the reign of the hearth goddess.
Latin German dictionaries from the thirteenth century equate the Penates with the Schrat(1824). The Schrat is a Brownie, thus our conception of Brownies as a kind of land-dwelling dwarf who is already associated with fever and fire in English leechcraft is not incorrect(Polington, 451). The hearth deity Demispatis is the originator of the fire spirits in Lithuania(Lecouteux, 2180).
The house god is believed to be the first to light the fire in some cultures, sometimes it’s a wandering spirit that has found the home after it has been built, and sometimes the first to light the fire is the ghost of the first inhabitant of the house(2242). The hearth and stove were the most significant parts of the house with regard to home practice, followed by the threshold and then the corners.
Meeting A House Fairy? What do they look like?
They’re shapeshifters, they can look like anything. But overall, sometimes they are missing limbs, their eye, or their head(2568). In Scotland, they can be missing fingers & toes or their nose depending on the location.
They are associated with bees and bee swarms. Some wild Brownies were not kind to humans like the Brown Man of Muir who was a genius loci and considered Lord of the Animals (Briggs, 45). It is likely that wild brownies are untamed boggarts. Scottish Brownies look different from the lowlands to the highlands. The Lowland brownies were short, about 3 feet in height, wearing brown rags and having shaggy hair.
German Spirits will wear different colored clothes than normal to portend the future(Lecouteux, 2575). This probably works based on the color associations of the overculture. If he usually wears grey, and you see him in red, war is coming, if you see him in black, someone will die(2577).
Many house fairies have a cap or hood. Some wear long robes or peasant tunics(2582). They’ll have fancy stockings and shoes. House gods wear the clothing of what the people who see them consider the ‘olden days’(2572).
When they transform into animals, they appear in three categories, domestic animals(dogs, cats, roosters), snakes(dragons, frogs, lizards), or insects(2586). In Ireland, the soul was seen as an insect when it left the body in sleep and returned either in the form of a bee or butterfly(Ó hÓgáin, 211). In Siberia, the stable spirit could take the form of a cat or weasel or ermine. Any animal whatsoever seen near the stables is considered to be a stable spirit(Lecouteux, 2592). The Domovoj appears as a black hare(2594).
They can appear as a bale of hay, statuette, pieces of cloth, wooden hangers(2675). The name for spirit dolls, popple, is from the same root as the house god of the name poppele and encapsulates the idea of the spirit in the name of the statuettes.
Just like the Sluagh Sidhe in Ireland appear as whirlwinds, the Sotré of France appears as whirlwinds that carry off anyone or thing that crosses its path(2702).
Sometimes the spirit known as the drac appeared as a fire column flying through the air as a ball of fire, or even a star(3056). The Pukis also appeared this way(3152). The Pukis obeys the householder like would a spirit familiar. The drac can appear as a rooster, snake, lizard, or snake with a roosters head. It can change color depending on the task which it is doing(3061). As a little person, the drac appears as an old grey man with a red cap and a green jacket.
A Scottish Seer or Tabhaisder named by Robert Kirk claimed that he could summon his fairies with a spell to appear to him or anyone else at any moment(Wilby, 78). This is supported by several witch trial accounts, but not the majority.
Some of the accounts are of going to meet the fairies out in their homes(84). Often fairies would be met at night upon hills(79). Taboos and condemnations of overt conjurations on public display exist, however, the majority of witch trial accounts omit the verbal contract between spirit and magician. Spirits would appear sometimes at midnight, noon, sunrise and sunset and at Halloween.
The primary fairy taboo was to talk about your spirit familiar with anyone, even a close friend. Witch trial records contain oaths of secrecy that are accompanied by punishments administered by the spirit if broken(90).
In a few of Grimm’s tales, the spirit introduces itself in a time of need. This is also the case for the cunning folk with fairy familiars from which we have a testimony(59). In the accounts of actual people working with spirits, they are starving, weak, or sick before the spirit appears(60). In accounts of demonic familiars, the spirit comes to the witch while they are alone, waiting, or doing trance-inducing activities like knitting. If the spirit doesn’t appear to you, the next most common way one could receive one was as a gift from another magician, a gift from a higher spirit or god, and people even bequeathed house gods to their children(61). Andro Man of Aberdeenshire’s familiars owed their loyalty to the ‘Elphin Queen’.
Most of the time the spirit was seen as a corporeal being. Coming out of breath or mists of magic, or smoke, they then settle with their ‘feet on the ground’. The familiar spirit took animal forms, and even the ones accused of demonic nature are described as the kobold, brownie, lar, satyr, or ‘hairy one’ is described.
The familiars with names like Tom give away a similar naming theme like Tam Lin or Tom Thumb. The fairy familiar could be small or tall, 3 inches or as giants. They can be as beast-like or person-like as you would expect from any shapeshifter. The recipe seems to be to get acquainted with a spirit familiar from a friend or to enter a trance with a serious need while being alone in the wild. In accounts with spirit familiars, fasting was involved in the summoning of the familiars(79).
It is well known that eating disorders cause transient psychosis symptoms. Asceticism reduces the connectedness of the hypothalamus and the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala and other systems that create your identity. Psilocybin disrupts the serotonin 2A receptors in this ‘identity bridge’. If you deprive yourself of rewards and comfort, you may be able to shut this area down and decrease blood flow to these areas. What happens as a result is induced synesthesia, one in which I believe, you can truly see the otherworld. This circuit is the reward system, so extreme pain can accomplish this as well. Then the circuit re-engages, the magician is reborn, their identity if forever affected and changed. This is what I call wild initiation.
They can sneak in as objects on the side of the road, to be picked up by a traveler and brought inside(Lecouteux, 2144). This implies the belief they cannot enter the ‘tiny universe’ of the domus or home without permission, invitation, or intervention of a person dwelling there(2276).
The house or the thatched hut in Gaelic regions and were likely seen as a miniature cosmos. The support from this is that the entire cosmos was sometimes seen as the house of the world with a covered roof(Ó hÓgáin, 433). Phrases in the Irish language refer to the sky as the rafters of the firmament or the columns of the sky. This is corroborated in Indo-European linguistics in the word *h4éḱmōs, Proto-Indo-European for stone. It produces both axe and sky in what J.P. Mallory calls a semantic convergence in the belief system. Thunder stones that are thrown down from the sky are the same fairy darts made of flint arrowheads.
Lecouteux says, “This clearly shows that the dwelling is a sacred space that stands securely against the intrusion of supernatural beings”(Lecouteux, 2280). This is corroborated in Gaelic paganism on the feast of Brighid, two hands are placed on the door jambs at the threshold and she is invited in(Danaher, 15). In Germany, the household god must also be ritually invited in(Lecouteux, 2260).
In the French Alps, spirits are hatched from a cock’s egg in horse manure, or from the placenta that a cat eats after giving birth. A cock’s egg or rooster’s egg is an egg that has no yolk. An unbaptized person might become a wandering spirit and end up as a house god(2253). In the Valaisian Alps, Coqwergi spirits were born from the cock’s egg or black hen which was hatched by man(2454). In fourteenth-century English literature, a cockatrice, a kind of spirit serpent, was hatched from these eggs. A House god can be obtained from ‘The Devil’, but also house gods are considered devils themselves. Many testimonies of witch trials in Europe involving contracts with the devil are actually in reality contracts with fairies and house elves. In mainland Europe “In order to obtain a little devil, you must proceed with a black chicken to the place where five paths cross, say a special prayer, and devote oneself to the devil for a year’s time.” (2255). The Latvian Pukis is also called the little devil. A person has to sell their soul to the god in some areas, but the god can simply be purchased (2260).
“A peasant once lived near a dike in Hattstedtermarsch (Schleswig-Holstein), a Frisian named Harro Harrsen. . . . He was a clever lad who knew how to get the most out of any situation. On seeing a cavity in an oak pillar, he told himself it would make a perfect lodging place for a little Niskepuk. When his house was built, for a trim beneath this hole he nailed a board as wide as his hand. On this, he placed a bowl filled with liberally buttered gruel and softly called out, “Come here, kind Niskepuk!” They were not long in coming to examine the new building. They danced through the new home and one of them—three inches tall—remained, and settled in the hole in the pillar.” (2264).
In this example above, there were no spirits in the tree, and space was made for them, offerings were poured in a place where trooping fairies would roam, and one stayed.
In Sweden and Russia, every house has a tomte or domovoj, who is often the first person to die there(2277). There is a house god wherever there is a heated room (1738). Some house spirits like to be hired by their master just like any other employee(2277).
Medieval clerics would cast spirits into trees. That tree could be used in the construction of the home, and the spirit would be reincarnated as a house god(2283). The two Scandinavian names for these beams are áns and dvergr or (“god” and “dwarf”)(2286). Again, I think that god would be the view in places that experienced less Christian acculturation and dwarf would be used in areas that experience more, a closer look is warranted, but the evidence thus far leads us to that conclusion almost on its own merit. The basis here is a belief that fairies, elves, and dwarves are easier to separate out of a pagan worldview, to stand on their own as folklore, as demons, unbaptized ghosts, or as goblinoid figures of the wild, or as fallen angels.
Spirits abhor the sound of bells and an unclean house. To connect with them, keep your home tidy. We can drop their fear of bells as Christian influence(2718).
Concerning dracs, in most cases, the spirit is obtained by signing a contract with the Devil, or by hatching an egg without yolk(3064). Witch trials involving dracs attest that the owners of dracs are magicians or catholic clergy(3073, 3076). A Pukys is born when a man urinates in the moonlight and then has sex with his wife(3152). Just like objects on the road, they can be accidentally purchased or accidentally given, often in the form of a lump of coal(3156).
This uncovers the likely true belief why one doesn’t give away coals, fire, or most foods on certain liminal times, like Bealtaine.
Hedges are important, especially enclosed ones. Norse and German hedge-riders would make their brooms from hedgewood. In the hedges lived hedge-thalers, spirits of the hedge(3168). Boundaries are particularly abundant repositories of supernatural beliefs and repositories of spirits.
How to Escape One
While on rare occasions the house god can be banished, for the most part, the question, “How do I get rid of one?” is almost always asked in error and in a colonizer’s mindset. They advocate for good and are interested in helping. They go mad when we don’t do right. You don’t dismiss the house god who is a genius loci, you move to where there are other genius loci. You don’t get rid of inherited house gods, you move and leave them behind if they’re toxic. Instead, you escape them and or call upon higher spirits, the gods, to help you. The best place to start is with the hearth-goddess under whose control the brownie falls.
The best way to get rid of one on your own is to sell all of your things and move, take nothing non-essential, and leave not even the smallest trinket behind. The number one way unwanted house gods follow you is in your non-essential property. The number two way is if you leave something behind, they will be sure to bring it to you and make themselves at home in the new place.
There are many reasons to escape a house god when the brownie turns boggart, there may be no going back. These spirits are the causes of fevers(Polington, 451) and diseases(Lecouteux, 3173). Spirits were the sole cause of most diseases in European folk magic.
In fairy traditions in Celtic countries, one can escape the fairies in pursuit by crossing a stream, avoid being led by them by putting one’s jacket on inside out, or throwing salt behind you. Even the light of a sacred bonfire keeps ill fairies at bay, though this may not be true for hearth spirits.
Contracts, Bargains, and Offerings: The Working Relationship
A Brownie’s duties include any of the house, farm or stable work(Briggs, 45). The hearth keeper prepares offerings for these services, and they are almost always food. When a piece of the brownies food is shared with a child, the parent says “There’s a piece wad please a Brownie!”(46). Briggs says you should simply leave the offering in the reach of the brownie, and not give it directly, and she cites what I think are Christian influenced reasons for this. In our analysis of house gods, it is clear this taboo is a Christian slight against the house god and so we are going to ignore it without reservation. Additionally, the implied unmentionable contract with fairies becomes explicitly stated and verbal for magicians. Wilby says “that which was implicit in the ‘ordinary’ relationship became explicit in the ‘extraordinary’: the unseen fairy became seen, the unheard voice became heard, and those things which the human ordinarily desired from the fairy in thought, could be verbally demanded for.”(Wilby, 95).
Emma Wilby and Claude Lecouteux both detail accounts of tacit contracts with house gods. And for magical pagans, witches, and druids, this tacit contract becomes specific with terms on both sides.
Care is to be taken in such contracts, as with the ancestors, the gods or oaths. Language is magic, the word is magic, what you speak can change things. It is important that we promise to do only what we can follow through with.
If your life is in shambles and you can’t maintain a regular practice, then it is important for you to take the most care in promising your house gods anything. Such care should move us to limit the timeline of such contracts so that if they become a burden on us we can let them go after we fulfill them. If they are not a burden, we can renew them again and again at yearly festivals. A relationship between a fairy and a cunning person could last weeks or decades(77). Helpful fairies were used in every way imaginable, but mostly for healing(67).
From tales like the Caesarii Heisterbacensis Dialogus Miraculorum(CHDM), and witch trial accounts, when the magician forms the contract with the fairy, it is always to do good in the world(67). In the case of the story of the knight who hired the fairy in the CHDM, the brownie portrayed as a faun/satyr/devil encourages the knight to be a pious Christian, which was simply the ‘doing good’ of the day in the mind of the overculture within which the magician’s mind is contextualized. Other fairies refused to be baptized themselves and discouraged participation in the Church, but still bade their worshipers do good.
Fairies familiars would help heal, find lost items, identify criminals and the truth behind lies, divine the future, control the wind, give the second sight, provide food, speak with the dead(69). The would also do farmwork(75). Tom Reid, a specific fairy familiar, was a departed soul himself. Many of the house god traditions we have are continuances of ancestor worship. British spirit familiars called devils or demons all fit the mainland European descriptions of house gods outlined by Lecouteux. Such accounts could be brownies who change into calves and barnyard animals, cloven-footed half goats, among other things. These are things modern pagans already know are not devilish but similar to Pan, Cernunnos, and Satyrs, Centauri and so we are not fooled as to what they truly are.
In the demon related witch trials, most of the time the demon’s gifts turn to dust and appear out of the need for revenge(72). This is clearly a bias on the part of the recorders of the trials, those in power to coerce and threaten, and those with an anti-folk-religion agenda. The Demon = Bad Magic, Fairie = Good Magic may actually reflect the Seelie and Unseelie court, and the line isn’t so clear cut(74). But to everyday people who weren’t cunning folk or witches, even the farm brownie was to be feared(76). Despite what fear and formality existed, much of the relationship was intimate and not formal(82). This is almost as if they are a family member.
Goodman’s account of Margery Kempe, Katherine Briggs calls a ‘piece of pure folklore’, in which contracts were made with fairies: ‘Then covenant with her for all matters convenient for your purpose and she will be always with you of this assure yourself for it is provided.”(96). Joan Willimot had the same kind of deal with a fairy woman. In Scotland, the “Men and Women of Peace” sought alliances with people as late as the 20th century. Also, like Lecouteux reports on house gods, fairy borrowing is reported by Biggs(Briggs, 97). When a fairy gives you food outside of fairyland, it is totally safe to eat(156).
Bows and children’s shoes were tossed into the attic for the house gods in Germany(Lecouteux, 1793). These may be considered offerings. In the Deeds of Charlemagne, a smith and a spirit of the forge form a formal contract(1801-1809).
In Scandinavia, the tomte is often sighted struggling to carry one straw of grain, when the farmer offends him by commenting on how little of a load it is, the tomte responds by saying that is not a problem because now there will be less. Future harvests are poor because the tomte has left with his single straw housing all the luck of the house(Gundarsson, 14).
When a household god adopts you, such as the Latvian Pukys, they steal seed, grain, milk, and money for you from your neighbors(Lecouteux, 1810).
“Just as nature produces certain marvels in the world of humans, so spirits perpetrate their jokes in human bodies made of air, which they put on with God’s permission. For instance, England has certain demons (though I admit that I do not know whether I should call them demons, or mysterious ghosts of unknown origin), which the French call Neptunes, and the English portunes. It belongs to their nature to take pleasure in the simplicity of happy peasants. When peasants stay up late at night for the sake of their domestic tasks, suddenly, though the doors are closed, they are there warming themselves at the first and eating little frogs which they bring out of their pockets and roast on the coals. They have an aged appearance, and a wrinkled face; they are very small in stature, measuring less than half a thumb, and they wear tiny rags sewn together. If there should be anything to be carried in the house or any heavy task to be done, they apply themselves quickly to the work and accomplish it more quickly than it could be done by human means. It is a law of their nature that they can be useful but cannot do harm.” – Gervase of Tilbury(1827).
Making new clothes for the naked or rag wearing fairies would cause them to leave(1843). Sometimes it’s a red cap, or the color red that drives them off(1848).
In Iceland, formal offerings at the wild portions of the land, and near-certain standing stones were made(2051). In Lithuania, these stones were called lapides non parvi and the Dyves, or goddesses were worshiped there. In Ireland and Scotland, they are called Gruagach stones. The way these Lapides are described matches the altar description of the goddess Ops Consuia, protector of grain(2080). This paints medieval house spirits/elves/fairies as Christianized traditions, survivals of house gods. Lecouteux says as much, “The Annals of the Jesuits and the Roman traditions suggest that house spirits could well be the hypostases or avatars of ancient deities.”(2081).
Lithuanians gave larger sacrifices to some gods and smaller ones to others, depending on their influence.
In Sweden, figurines of the house gods were warmed near the fire and dried with a cloth(2088). Those spirits take care of cattle and have a favorite one. When the spirit is neglected and offerings are omitted, their favorite animal dies, farmhands are injured, or the barn burns down(2159).
Offerings are made in Latvian groves and at the hearth. The god protecting horses was given two coins and two loaves of bread, and a lump of lard on the fire; The god who protects cows is given butter, milk, cheese, and other dairy products at sacred trees; the god that looks after the fields and grain is given a sacrifice in the grove of an ox or chicken, or a black piglet, barrels of beer (2190). By doing these actions, the worshipers of these gods solicit their attention and aid(2202).
In Baltic regions and in Ångermanland the first offering to a house spirit is an act of taming of that land wight. This is done by the erection of the building or an official offering that represents a land rent payment under what Lecouteux calls a tacit contract between the tenant and the spirit(2247).
The offering is left where the spirit is thought to reside, casually in what I think are the more Christianized regions, and formally given in areas less so. The offering is put under the threshold, it might be put beneath the floor, or betwixt two particular beams(2248).
The outdoor House spirits don’t work and come inside on Twelve Days or Twelvetide(2917). If not Twelvetide, they visit on some other Saint’s day. After Twelvetide in Norway, “driving out the dwarves” was accompanied by a charm “out dwarf to your bed, in corn in cow.” During Twelvetide in Co. Longford, bells were rung throughout the house(Duchas, The Leprechaun 202).
Estonians in Kraasna have a garden sanctuary for the house fairy, where they worship to obtain the blessings of the “Father of the Garden”.
Icelandic wights and house alves are bound by hospitality when invited, thus forming the basis of the contract with the house god(Gundarsson, 5). In Norway when Twelvetide ended, hitting pots and pans together was called “Driving out the dwarves”.
Types of Gaelic & Celtic House Gods
The Scottish house god is called the Bodach in the Highlands and Brownie in the Borderlands, Bwca in Wales and Fenoderee in Manx, Pixie in Cornish. Bodach is from the Old Irish word ‘botach’ for serf or peasant, but it means old-man in the Scottish language. The two characteristic appearances of the brownie are lots of shaggy hair and wrinkled or aged skin.
They come out at night and do all the house and farm work and any herding necessary. Brownies generally favor a family member. In return bowls of dairy and grain cakes are left for him. Again among ordinary folk, this is an implied unspoken agreement, but among magicians or folks with the second sight, or folks taken to fairy, the contract becomes spoken and explicit. If you gave the brownie clothes will leave. However, some brownies expect clothes and will leave if you don’t provide them, like the one in Lincolnshire(Briggs, 46). Clearly, like us, each brownie is different but their differences probably fall on curves that can be measured. When the brownie leaves his song is sometimes like so:
“What have we here, Hempen, Hampen!
Here will I never more tread nor stampen!”
Offended brownies leave or turn into boggarts and become mean or mischievous. Almost any happenstance out of the ordinary function of the house could offend the brownie. If you comment that the brownie hasn’t done his share or much at all, the get offended.
But wherever the Brownie was treated with manners and hospitality and honoring his quirky nature, a brownie would be dedicated to serving the household. Brownies are said to do corporeal things like ride horses and throw on coats. Brownies are repelled by Christian holy water. Brownies were associated with pools of water commonly. They were tied to the food offerings it was given and wary of anything that could bind him(47).
Highland brownies are larger than lowland brownies and sometimes believed to be the same thing as the Gruagach/Grogan. This may be why the Grogan/Gruagach is often conflated with the Brownie in Ulster. They are generally described as solitary fairies though some can be trooping. They are mostly all male and the females look like the males. Hauntings of haunted houses are supposedly brownies and they used to haunt other places like mills(48). The females we know of had children and so while lonesome, they did have offspring and thus ancestry. In one story of a brownie Maggie Molach and her son, A girl was milling late because no one would mill for her. At midnight a brownie came in the door. He asked who she was and she answered: “me myself.” When she got scared she poured boiling water on the son and he ran out into the field and his mother asked: “Who has done this to you?” He answered, “me myself.” and then died. She took no revenge because she thought he had done that to himself. In this story Maggie the Brownie moved twice, showing they can change location(49).
Brownies were specifically related by Grimm to the Genius Domestici, the Lares and the Swedish Tomte. In the folklore, in each of these, they are referred to as hairy in some way. The domovoj was also seen as hairy like the Brownie and the Lares(Lecouteux, 2947). The fairy in a story from the Deeds of Charlemagne is called the “Hairy One”(1808).
In Germanic custom, the household god is called a dwarf and sometimes is referred to as the undergrounders(1823). Another name is schrat. Glosses from before the year 1000CE equate the schrat to fauns, satyrs, hairy ones, sylvan ones, and nymphs, which are either all gods or daimon(ungods)(1820). Every house had a “hairy one”(1823). Maggie Molach’s son was called a Brownie-clod because he could fling clods at passers-by.
The Bwbachod or Bwca of Wales is identified as the Brownie(Briggs, 55). They have all the same characteristics except they hate ministers who are unfriendly to fairies and people who abstain from alcoholic beverages. Like the Brownie, this spirit when angered became the Bugan(56). One was so destructive that a dyn cynnal(lit. maintenance-man), a Welsh cunning man, had to be called in by the farmer to settle the spirit, bind him, and transport him elsewhere(57). What’s interesting about this particular account, is that the fairy is banished elsewhere, not underground, not into fairyland, but to the red sea.
There’s a Duchas account of the Leprechaun being linked to the brownie given by Mrs. McLoughlin in Co Longford. Referred to as a “Small Sized Brownie”, he was helpful, did chores and acted like a purveyor spirit of the fields(Duchas, The Leprechaun 203).
Dobie, Dobb, Dobby, Master Dobbs
Considered a gullible, less intelligent Brownie. If a brownie will not accept you, there is always a Dobie that will. Dobie is also the name of a household tutelary spirit according to Katherine Briggs(103). Dobies could be fairies or ghosts, sometimes an ancestor.
Grogan, Grogach, Gruagach
The Grogan is short(206), and has many of the same qualities as the brownie. Highland Grogachs will have long yellow hair and look after cattle. The Grogach is a Genius Catabuli, or a stable god because in most cases they look after cattle, even when they are really a Glastig. In Ulster, Grogachs were naked hairy male spirits. Glastigs may be called by Gruagach, however, the specific example we have of this has several brownie attributes, like having duties and being associated with the leaving of dairy for her completion of them. The Glastig also was said to be a human once like several brownie and Grogans.
Frank Craig reports, ‘The Grogoch’s house is two big stones up near Leg-an-thass-nee. Long ago, if you had been up there, you would have seen them taking their ease of an evening, sitting out in the sun, smoking on Scotch pipes. It’s a true thing for I know people, living yet, who seen them.”(Curran, 15). In Southern Ireland, the Gruagach is a sinister Giant, a spirit that other folklorists call a wholly different spirt(Briggs, 207). But, this may not be the case as seen below.
Imp and Dwarf were generic terms for house gods in medieval Europe. They were eventually conflated with Dwarves proper, just as they were conflated with demons and fauns(Lecouteux, 2147). The conflations make sense with overlapping properties, however, the regional variations of these spirits give them their distinguishing flavor. Imps are seen as being related to water like nymphs are(2147). They share this quality with water-wights(Gundarsson, 50). Iron was thrown in the water in Scandinavia when approaching bodies of water at times when the wights in them could be dangerous.
In one Duchas account by Pádraic Mac Giolla Comhghaill from Co. Longford, a man meets two ghosts in the cemetery, one a Grogach who the man wrestles with and bests throwing him against the church and causing him to howl and melt(Duchas, Scéalta 4-6)
This is the Manx brownie. He is associated with another spirit called Lob-Lie-By-The-Fire(Briggs, 170), which I think in name shared the mainland European brownie associations of the hearth, oven, and stove. Like the Grogan, these are generally seen as larger than normal brownies. They are wrinkle faced like other brownies and hairy. The Phenoderee has a wife and they have martial conflicts ‘like any other stone-throwing giant’(171). Through this association with Giants, we may be able to conflate the southern Irish Gruagach to the overall brownie complex. They are after all shapeshifters. There is some evidence that there were many of these, though some believe there was only one who went from house to house after he was offended by being offered clothes over and over(172).
Regular and Irregular Rites, The Hearth Cycle: Food Fire Food
Stove -> Food -> Table -> Hearth ->
The Indo-Europeans had a religious worldview that included the cattle cycle. In the “tiny universe” of the domus, hut, or home, the cattle in that cycle takes the form of food. The stove is either lit from the hearth or a part of the hearth-ironwork. So the hearths fire lights the stove, and the stove cooks the food, and the food is taken to the table and eaten, and then portions of the meal are made into offerings back into the hearth. The hearth’s flame and the fire is seen as holy and sacred, it is luck and foyston or toradh providing. Its energy and warmth are the same as divine blessings.
In Roman religion, if the food was dropped onto the floor, it was placed onto the table and then offered to the fire. This is a clear observation of this cycle in a first-hand account(Lecouteux, 1766).
Dealing with the fairies hinges on two main things, courtesy, and hospitality(Briggs, 196). The second most important thing is to mind your own business and keep their secrets. You should answer their questions honestly, bow or curtsy, but thinking some fairies goes against their sensibilities. So, you’ll have to feel out any fairy encounter, be grateful, but don’t express your gratitude at first until your relationship is stronger. Then you can see if thanking them garners boggart behavior or not. If it doesn’t, they’re fine with being thanked. Don’t call them fairies, call them the Trow, the Good Neighbors, the Good People.
Fairies take favor with polite hospitable people who entertain their unpredictable nature. And they bestow one time gifts, continual gifts, luck, sweat singing, among other gifts. This shows that they take part in the gift cycle. Katherine Briggs says, “Any share in humanity is coveted by the fairies, except for a gift of human clothing to the brownies and other helpers(Briggs, 198).
In some accounts, if you tell the secrets of your fairy adventures, they won’t let you return(167).
Lecouteux breaks down the types of offerings made as those forming the tacit initial contract when moving into the house, offerings made for marriage or birth, offerings made for tribute or praise offerings, and defensive measures like hanging crosses or hanging some toy to divert the spirit in play(Lecouteux, 2888). This will be our outline for practice.
The Land Contract
The land contract is established when the tenants move in, when the house is built, or when the hearth fire is kindled. Most of our examples of this come from mainland Europe, but we are choosing to build these into our Gaelic practices as lost practices. The Christian fire in Ireland is so bright that at one time in history, a majority of the centers of Catholicism in Northern Europe were rekindled from it after Viking conquest.
But in mainland Europe, the contract with the house god is founded upon fire taking rites. In Rome, they had an entire priesthood, the Fetiales, who were dedicated to well-founding or “well based” (sudhatu-) on conquered land to make contracts with the deities there. They touched herbs to a horse’s head, introducing the local spirits to the sovereignty of Rome. In India, this bouquet is called Vishnu’s head. Mandala V Hymn XIII 1-5 gives Agni lots of the titles of house gods in europe and called him Yellow-haired.
Heads of cows, horses, rams, and humans, being put into the foundation of a temple or building weren’t uncommon, but it was the thing to do(Littleton, 162). In St. Colmcle’s stories, a church without the blood of a human mixed into the mortar wouldn’t stand more than 100 years. This is because when land taking is accomplished, a contract with a guardian of the lot and building are established through sacrifice. If you can enjoy the hospitality of a good fire at a place, then the spirit of the place is owed offerings for its products and increase.
As we have seen, if you’re a magician, your dealings with the fairies are different than if you’re laity. If you’re laity, your establishment of the contract with the land god to become the house god is non-verbal. If you’re a priest or magician, it would do best to introduce the sovereign gods to the place god, introduce the hearth goddess to the genius loci, as the herbs are touched to the horse’s head.
In India, the herbs are used to signify Vishnu’s head and thus are involved in his taking three steps forward(129). In Rome, the herbs are touched to the heads of horses, likely in an act of sympathetic magic where the sovereignty of the horse head, the portion given to the gods in sacrifice, into the herbs for an act of claiming the land. But it also could be that the sovereignty goddess is transferred into the land through the seeds of the herbs blending tribes with the spirits of place.
Your land taking rite doesn’t need a formal liturgy. You need to circumambulate your home three times with fire saying a charm of protection. You could hold your door jambs and invite the local place spirits in as home spirits to include as ancestors. You need to not thank them until you’re used to their sensibilities, and to leave offerings in their reach but not formally unless you’re a magician, druid, witch or other kinds of cunning person.
If you’re a cunning person I’d make a formal paper contract with the hearth spirits, with terms using divination to throw out or alter terms that are not good to the spirit. Sign it, let the fire sign it, don’t tell anyone about your agreement. Denying it becomes a culturally understood way of communicating that you have a brownie at that point.
Remember, the decolonized view of land-taking would be to adopt the land spirits as ancestors so the sense of belonging is mutual and reciprocal. The place and landscape itself become family.
Rites of Passage
In Roman religion, the Manes, Lares, and Penates were all worshiped at the hearth fire. And the hearth fire is dedicated to ancestors from which you want to obtain favor due to serving a tutelary role for the family(Lecouteux, 2341). As such they accept the same offerings in these contexts as dead elders to which we give honor(2342). These spirits look after and care for the infants of the house(2347). Infants are placed upon the hearth to be presented with the ancestors and house gods in Mark, Pomerania(2352).
So in our reconstructions, we would involve our house god in every major event involving children, life, and the accomplishments of the family like you would an ancestral Elder. In many tales, the brownie is involved in marriage plans, or even makes the plans themselves. This includes marriages, births, death, teething, and the losing of baby teeth.
Baby teeth are to be given to the fairies in exchange for stronger teeth. Good housewives according to patriarchal standards of the past were called ‘cricket of the hearth’. Money for the cricket denotes certain coin offering to a bride. Crickets were associated with good fortune and seen as the hearth spirit. The house god taking the form of a cricket was offered baby teeth(2623). In Estonia, milk teeth were offered to the cricket and the stove spirit(2625). In Ireland, crickets were associated with the hearth and therefore, together with domestic animals like the black rooster, are the forms which Irish house gods take most often(Ó hÓgáin, 891).
Most of our offering practices in our reconstruction will be rebuilt from mainland Europe. We will build them onto the Gaelic ideals of these practices as we’ve interpreted them here and after dechristianization of them though the filters described here.
Grain cakes, dairy, creme, and butter are the most common offerings for a house god. Estonian house-elves were offered bread thrown and a full cup spilled onto the floor(Lecouteux, 2854). Latvian chimney hooks were buttered for the Pukis and Drac, and bad luck would befall the home if this was not done(2858, 3147).
In some places in Europe, they were offered leftovers of full meals and raw ingredients, like flour and cream(2863). These were given on Christmas. In other places, bread and salt, a bottle of brandy were all placed in the corner of the home(2865). In Sweden, offerings were placed on the stove or oven(2866). Weekly offerings were given on Sundays in Galicia(2867). When wine was drawn in France, the Servan was offered a bit in a bowl. Again and again, we see that the house gods prefer dairy products.
In Greece, the house gods were a serpentine form of the Discoiri, and they were offered wine at the end of each meal, as was a serpentine form of Zeus(1742, 1748). The Pennates of rome were worshiped regularly with Vesta, who was offered to after meals(1759).
For our reconstruction, our house god practice will include regular offerings after meals, weekly leavings of bread, cakes, leftovers, and dairy products.
Icelandic Yule traditions called “bidding the alfs to home” matches the invitation of the Germanic house gods at Twelvetide. Candles are kindled in every corner and any place where a shadow might be cast(Gundarsson, 5).
In Estonia, there is an “evil spirit” (kuri vaim) that lives in each home. When the Irish black cock crowed, it warded evil spirits in the form of white roosters, they were seen as protectors of the home and farm(Ó hÓgáin, 762). If a black rooster was removed from the farm, lightning could strike the house, especially if they were hatched in March.
The Brownie is a guardian of the home. Some roman house god rites banish evil spirits from the shadowy corners by sprinkling the blood of a rooster sacrifice into them, they’d then bury the rooster head as an offering to the house god at the time of land-taking. Some locations use the light of candles in every shadowy corner to banish evil spirits. This is a reciprocal doing. If you banish the things inhospitable to the brownie, they will banish things inhospitable to you.
If you have negative energy in your home, one needs to banish it and gain a guardian over the home to prevent it further. Negative spirits and energy in the home isn’t a problem with negative energy or spirits, it’s a lack of relationship with your house god that is the problem. If the unpleased house god isn’t haunting your home, it’s haunted by the things that come in when your house god has abandoned you.
In our reconstructions, we will sain the house before inviting in the house god, we will light it up fully so that no negative spirits are there when we offer hospitable reception of the brownie. Whenever the brownie is pleased, fire and lightning are kept from consuming the home.
As Fallen Gods
Where the cornish Bucca is concerned, Briggs considers them a diminished ‘godling’ into a goblin(Briggs, 50). The Lares is certainly a godling diminished, and the Brownie and Lares are equated according to the doyen of folklore: Grimm.
House Gods are minor deities(Lecouteux, 1726). Lecouteux notes that the Lares are diminished state religion gods diminished into mere daemons when the state religion changed. When a Greek farm’s enclosure was erected, an altar to Zeus as protector of the house was raised as well. Like the purveyor spirit category, he was called the Acquirer and was worshiped in this form as a snake(1742, 1748). Zeus as a serpent was offered wine at the end of each meal, and food was offered to the Dioscuri in the form of house guarding serpents. Sometimes, it seems, household gods are diminished gods from the pantheon, in others, they are what Lecouteux calls ‘avatars’, which are incarnations of gods or their daemons(2170).
“At the end of the pagan era, the household spirits seem to have dethroned the universal, public gods. Popular devotion, turning away from Teutates, Heusus, Belen, and several other inhabitants of the Celtic Olympus, preferred to shift its allegiance to local deities, who were less highly placed and therefore more accessible to humans.” – Hersart de La Villemarqué(2173).
Jesuit annals note that the domestic gods(deos domesticos) called the Demispatis is a household god of fire who protects the farm(2176). Place gods in the Jesuit Annals from Latvia are described as having the rule over the places they dwell.
“There are different gods, depending on the variety of folk, places, and needs. We have one god that rules over the Heavens and another that reigns over the Earth; this latter, who is the greatest god on earth, has other lesser gods under his commands. We have a god who provides fish, and another who gives us game; we have a god for wheat, for the fields, for the gardens, for livestock; meaning the horses, cows, and other domestic animals.”(2190).
There is no dividing line between gods and spirits(2200). The fruit and corn-producing gods of the earth moved into homes and barns, and the livestock gods moved into the stables(2207).
“When the mythology no longer corresponded with the social and religious development of a people, all that was retained was the function of these supernatural creatures.” (2210). The dates that these household spirits are honored are the same as the dates in which the ancient gods and dead were worshiped.
The Genius Catabuli, or spirit of the sable is translated as “dead one, revenant”(2228).
While not Indo-European, Finnish belief sees the first dead inhabitant of a home as “transforming into” the house spirit(2283). In view of the rest of the evidence, Finnish belief could have adopted certain views of Indo-European speaking peoples. In Brittany, the stable gods are former living farmhands who neglected their duties. It’s clear that from Indo-European cultures who have a god of everything and those gods can be the former living that in our study, god is becoming a term for spirit, for sentience. The PIE for god, *ǵʰutós means ‘invoked one’.
In Romania and Bulgaria, the feast of the Ancestors and the feast of the House gods are the same feast(2301). The dead are seen to live inside the wood of the door and inside the wood of the lintel(2309). Lecouteux suggests that the two roots of ancestor worship and the genius loci might be the same as if the genius loci is the “collective” spirit of the family on the land(2338). I think the consideration of Tutelary deities as the common ancestor of the tribe is the common Indo-European motif. First Ancestor and First Dead in a place are the spirits who take up the role of Lord of the Underworld of that microcosmos. Some tribes like the Brigantian tribes might try to distinguish themselves by holding beliefs that their first ancestor is one of the celestials gods.
The Sajbija, a turkish word that was borrowed, refers to a house spirit in Bulgaria that is a deceased family member who has been buried in the foundation, or one is honored due to their good deeds(2463).
As Spirits of place
Evidence for house gods as spirits of place can be drawn from the Danish custom of avoiding the spot where a building once stood as to avoid disturbing the former house spirit.
The Lares of Rome were seen as protectors of the lands(Agri custodies) surrounding the home and were originally given libations in the fields(1752). We may then conclude that they are crop deities, land spirits who moved inside when such things were seen as demonic or devilish, who had their worship combined with ancestor worship.
In one case, a German house god called the Bilwiz is sometimes considered a dwarf, sometimes a house god, and sometimes a wheat demon(2220).
Every building on the farmstead had its own place god(2501).
As Spirits of Wood
Trees were seen sometimes as the same thing as a person’s doppelganger or fylgja. Trees could be planted at a child’s birth as a sympathetic symbol of a person’s health. Trees were also seen as repositories for souls(Lecouteux, 470-480). Whole juniper saplings were brought into the house and installed and dedicated to the domovoj, the Russian house god.
In Latvia, offerings were made in groves and sacred trees. European Christian clergy would banish a spirit into a tree(2283, 3337).
Many house god offering practices were left at the threshold because the ancestors lived in the wood of the door, a hollow of a tree, or a hole in a beam.
A spirit called a drac, was also known as the little money man, alf, latanic, kaubuk or pukis, who obtained money or luck for the household. This is also the Geldschissen or Gold-shitter(3042). Drac is used in place of the word devil, especially in witch trials. The Drac is also referred to as an elf or kobold(goblin). There were dracs of barley, wheat, semolina, grains and milk, and essentially products of the soil(2049).
The Dvorovik, the courtyard house god, could appear as a snake with a rooster’s head (876). A snake buried under the Swedish threshold is called a tomt orna, or “Spirit of the House Snake”(1125). Pliny the Elder recorded that placing the head of a reptile underneath the door sill after a certain prayer would bring good fortune(1128). In Scandinavia, there is a spirit called the trollkat or the milkhare who steals the milk of other houses and spills it into a trough next to the door of the household for which it works(1797).
When they appear like animals, they appear in three categories, domestic animals(dogs, cats, roosters), snakes(dragons, frogs, lizards), or as insects(2586). In siberia the stable spirit could take the form of a cat or weasel or ermine. Any animal whatsoever seen near the stables is considered to be the stable spirit(2592). The Domovoj appears as a black hare sometimes(2594). The farfollet allows itself to be seen as a calf, a dog or cat, or a person.
The oldest tradition is the snake tradition, and I think it is Nostratic in nature. In Greece, a snake lived in every house, sometimes a two-headed house god(2646). “The Slavs long worshipped the ancestor of the race in the form of a snake that was placed beneath the hearth or the threshold, but on the right side.”(2661). In Sweden, the domestic serpent is called the Tomptorma. The saying “he owns and elf” is paired with “he has a drac” in reference to reptiles as a form these spirits take.
“In Estonia, some accounts say that an “old pagan” (vanapagan) or an “evil spirit” (kuri vaim) lives in every house. Others mention a “domestic ghost” (kodu tont), a black cat that lurks behind the stove. Occasionally Saint Anthony (Tonn, Toniss) has replaced the spirit; he takes the form of a wax doll clad in rags that is secretly kept in a bushel basket.”(2994).
It’s clear at this point that a possible Nostratic(Indo-Semitic) snake cult, also related to naga and jinn, is the primary totem basis of the house god tradition. The domestic animals are the secondary form, leaving insects as the final more atrophied totemic symbol set from which the house god arises.
My best guess for this is that snakes are found appearing and disappearing, in the house, in the barn, and especially near tumuli. They are worshiped as the main form in which spirits appear even in Africa, therefore, when appearing among Indo-European polytheisms, these daimons take the appearance of humanoid beings, and the transition from totem to god to spirit reflects the changes in history about their acceptability combined with the development of polytheism among an already animistic people and its subsequent Christianization.
Such a snake that can appear and disappear is surely going to and from the world of ancestors, and therefore can sometimes be one.
As Spirits of Alcohol
Alcohol itself if named after Arabic ghouls, but the products used in beer and mead were seen as spirits. If there is a drac of wheat, and one of barley, then surely those spirits end up in the brews made from them. And so alcohol probably was seen as divinity one could drink. Plant animism is prevalent in all the folk magics of Indo-European countries. After Twelvetide in Norway, “driving out the dwarves” was accompanied by a charm “out dwarf to your bed, in corn in cow.”(Gundarsson, 5). Alfablot was the corresponding holiday in Iceland, and prior to the conflation of the tomte with the alfs, the Norwegian house god was named haugbo, or hogboy in Orkney(58).
These dracs are land gods, and the spirit of the land literally ends up in the spirit of the wine. In Greece, new wine making amphora were placed in a room with used amphora. When the spirits living in the pot teach the other pots how to make wine, the belief in spirits becomes fact. We didn’t discover that yeast was doing the alcohol making until much later.
Different yeasts are inherited so the beer spirits are inherited from father to son and varied from household to household. Emma Wilby notes that some demon familiars lived in wool-lined pots under the stairs(Wilby, 77). This could be a potential clue if they are insulated home brewing operations.
Categories of Help
Though there is plenty of crossover and no hard lines here we can start to see veins in the pattern. For example, some spirits are wearing rags and some have redcaps, and on the whole redcaps are trooping fairies, not house gods. Lecouteux says we can ultimately sort them out by the kind of roles they fulfill:
“This allows us to distinguish between at least three different families: the familiar spirits that have the role of educator, advisor, and protector of the hero, and who are veritable guardian angels; the localized spirits associated with specific places—bridge, tree, spring, chapel, boundary, and so forth; and finally, the house spirits, among whom the genii catubuli have best preserved their former character.” (Lecouteux, 2096).
So we essentially have fairy godfolk, domesticated place gods, and house gods. Now we all can recall the concept of fairy godmothers from our childhoods, and these existed before the Christianization of Europe.
Accounts of animal familiars or spirit familiars are often the household god taken as an entirely different thing, out of context, because it is seen as a demon(2113). In witch trials, the household god appears as but is confused with the spirit familiar. The idea of a spirit familiar is a Christianized One.
In countries where Germanic languages are spoken, the domestic spirit helps humans with all of their chores, especially the ones involving pastoral duties(3208). This is the primary responsibility of the spirit.
In folkloric and witch-trial accounts of spirits, the spirit familiar appears in a time of need, and those needs are generally with regard to physical survival(Wilby, 67). These needs all line up with duties of a household god. Sickness can be paired with healing, the purveyor spirits can be paired with the lack of money, the harvest gods can be paired with the lack of food, the fairy lover can be paired with bereavement or extreme loneliness.
The house god acts as the family’s tutelary deity if it is extended courtesy and due hospitality(Lecouteux, 3206). If these are not extended to the spirit, it will cause lightning to strike the home. The next most important responsibility of the spirit was then, to guard the home, prevent malevolent home invasions, and increase it’s luck(3210).
Where they Dwell
The important areas are the Home Shrine, the threshold, the hearth, the door, the corners, and the roof. Lecouteux says “In other words, the center of the house represented by the fire, all the openings, and coverings.”(Lecouteux, 1927).
Sometimes house gods dwell in the home, but often they dwell out of doors, in a garden, yard, the hedge, some boundary, or the barns and stables(2214).
The favorite places in which the house god stays or hangs out are the places in which the offerings are made(2838). So this is the threshold, the stove, the hearth, the gruagach stones, the barn, and so on.
As Wrathful, As Tricksters and Pranksters
They give people nightmares, throw stones, turn the dweller’s bedding inside out, steals small objects(Lecouteux, 1851). They will move utensils, dishes, tables, plates, bowls, and draw up water. They’ll break things, cause tiles to fall from the root, move things about only slightly, pretend to be a stray animal. They’ll trample flowers, trample people sleeping in their spaces, close the curtains or open them. Their aim is to disturb(2390).
While plenty are docile and very gentle and friendly, the other Unseelie type played tricks on humans at the minimum and harmed them at their worst(2412).
Each of the types of house gods we’ve discussed has a mean counterpart. For neglected or angered brownie becomes a boggart. They can be frenzied and vengeful. They’ll turn into nightmares, kill cattle or make people dance until dead(2719). They’ll annoy through noise, give bad luck, steal things critical to your livelihood. They are known to destroy the crops when the Tomte can become the trickster bese, or the evil tomtebese(2736). The poorly behaving spirit is a reflection of a human behaving poorly per the standards of the over-cultures that housed these beliefs(2738). The spirit returns to normal when the order of the domus is returned to normal(2756). Does this contain bits of theology we can use? Yes. We can use this to arrive at new ideas of Eudaimonia and good favor with the gods with regard to virtuous living.
Like the Gaelic fairy locks into which a boggle will knot your hair, the Domovoj braids the hair of maids he’s infatuated with. The French house god braids and matts the hair of horses(2829).
The evil counterpart for the domovoj seems to be the dvorovoj(2829). Lecouteux says that this is common to “all the countries of Europe”(2833).
On Jinni and djinn and Nagas
The jinn is incredibly influenced by the Magi bringing the Peri to Assyria(El-Zein, 71). In Zoroastrianism, there are two classes of spirits, the evil daevas, and the good Peris. Jinni was recognized by the French as the Genius of romantic antiquity, and as the French Genie(from Genius) was then applied to Jinn. Peri could be like fairies in that while good, they could express malfeasance or beneficence toward humans(48).
The french genie existed before the application to jinn. Jinn can be malevolent or helpful to humans. The Spiritus Familiaris, like the Jinn are kept in jars or lamps(23), were kept in bottles(Lecouteux, 2421). Jinn is romantically likened to smoke from the oven in a description of their mating given by ibn Arabi(El-Zein, 51).
Another possible root of jinn is Aramaic ܓܢܝܐ ginnaya which means tutelary spirit.
The Jinn fear iron(23). ‘Ummar are house jinn who take the shape of serpents(183). Before killing a snake in the home, Muslims would recite the call to prayer three times and if it was a jinn it would leave(98). Amira El-Zein links the ‘Amer(singular), to the Nagas, who appear in serpentine shape and are appealed to for rain and agricultural needs(97). They also bring droughts and floods when displeased.
In Germany, the witch who is pushed into the oven is just a witch. In India, it’s a Naga. In Russia, it’s Baba Yaga, who is a witch but also kind of a snake woman sometimes.
The Semitic root might put Iron fearing hidden-folk house god traditions could be as old as Indo-Semitic(Eurasiatic). Otherwise, it could be a major Avestan and Zoroastrian influence that gives the jinn their qualities. At a minimum, the house god tradition is Indo-European or from before, and the snake tradition of house spirits belongs to that practice. At maximum, its Nostratic, or even Universally worldwide.
“The heterogeneous nature of purveyor spirits appears elsewhere… we are facing the same information and the same syncretism, which is remarkable considering we are dealing with different peoples. The question of a common origin, therefore, arises, even if we cannot answer it given the current state of research.”(Lecouteux, 3181).
Names of House Gods
Names of house gods can be divided into six categories: Vague(ghost), Appearance(dwarf), Color(grey man), Place(Little Man of the Stove), Activity(Knocker), Dress(Red cap)(Lecouteux, 2427). What stands out is that most of these names are titles for Master, Guardian, or Protector(2505).
Broonie, Bucca, Grogach, Grogan, Dobie, Phenoderee
Faunus, satyrus, potunus, pilosus, genius loci, genius domestici, Lares domestici, Lares familiares, genius agris or agris custodies, manes, lares, penates.
Brownies, Dwarves, Zwerc/Zwerg, Schrat, Mar, Tomte, Igoumo, Cofgodas, kobold, taterman, stetewaldiu, sottrels, toterez, Lokke, Lok, Junge, Kerlchen, Manchen, Weiblein, Frau, Fräulein, Däumling(Tom Thumb), Grieske, Schrättli, Gespenst, Spuk, Umg’hyri, Hernoss, Little Earthmen
Servan, Chaufton, Familiar, Sprite(follet, follaton, foulat), Farfollet,Masmarro, Galtxagorri, Osencame, Sarricachau, Isard’s tooth, Sotre, Maide, Satre, Neton
Puk, Domovoj, Poppele, Pukis, Pug, Butz
Hob/Hobgoblin, Browning/Browny, Boggle, Oberycon/Oberon, Pigwiggen, Puppet/Popele, Willet/William/Walliam/Will O The Wisp
Briggs, Katherine Mary. An Encyclopedia of Fairies Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures. First ed., New York, NY, Pantheon Books, 1976.
Ceisiwr Serith. Deep Ancestors : Practicing the Religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Tucson, Ariz., Adf Pub, 2009.
Curran, Bob, and Andrew Whitson. A Field Guide to Irish Fairies. San Francisco, Calif., Chronicle Books, 1998.
D, John. Irish Witchcraft and Demonology / John D. Seymour. Collingwood, Victoria, Trieste Publishing Pty Ltd, 2017.
Dáithí Ó Hógáin. Irish Superstitions. Kindle ed., Dublin, Gill & Macmillan, 2002.
Danaher, Kevin. The Year in Ireland : [Irish Calendar Customs]. Cork, Mercier Press ; Minneapolis. Minn, 1994.
El-Zein, Amira. Islam, Arabs, and the Intelligent World of the Jinn. Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse University Press, 2017.
Johannes Björn Gårdbäck. Trolldom : Spells and Methods of the Norse Folk Magic Tradition. Forestville, The Yronwode Institution For The Preservation And Popularization Of Indigenous Ethnomagicology, Yippie, 2015.
Lecouteux, Claude. The Tradition of Household Spirits : Ancestral Lore and Practices. Kindle ed., Rochester, Vermont, Inner Traditions, 2013.
Wilby, Emma. Cunning-Folk and Familiar Spirits : Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic. Brighton ; Portland, Sussex Academic Press, 2013.