Friday, April 30, 2010

That little guy on the chalkboard

Here is a little bit on the little doll that we see on the chalkboard every Russian class. It's called a domovoi, at least that's what I think...
Traditionally, every house is said to have its domovoi. It does not do evil unless angered by a family’s poor keep of the household, profane language or neglect. The domovoi is seen as the home's guardian, and he sometimes helps with household chores and field work. Some even treat them as part of the family, albeit an unseen one, and leave them gifts like milk and biscuits in the kitchen overnight. To attract a Domovoi, go outside of your house wearing your best clothing and say aloud "Grandfather Dobrokhot, please come into my house and tend the flocks." To rid yourself of a rival Domovoi, beat your walls with a broom, shouting "Grandfather Domovoi, help me chase away this intruder." When moving, make an offering to the Domovoi and say "Domovoi! Domovoi! Don't stay here but come with our family!"
The favorite place for these spirits to live is either the threshold under the door or under the stove. The center of the house is also their domain. The Domovoi maintains peace and order, and rewards a well-maintained household. Peasants feed him nightly in return for protection of their house. When a new house was built, the Polish homeowner would attract one of the domovoi by placing a piece of bread down before the stove was put in, and the Russian one would coerce the old house's domovoi to move with the family by offering an old boot as a hiding place. People made sure they only kept animals the domovoi liked, as he would torment the ones he did not. Salted bread wrapped in a white cloth would appease this spirit, and putting clean white linen in his room was an invitation to eat a meal with the family. Hanging old boots in the yard was another way to cheer him.
The domovoi was also an oracle, as his behavior could foretell or forewarn about the future. He would pull hair to warn a woman of danger from an abusive man. He would moan and howl to warn of coming trouble. If he showed himself, it forewarned of death, and if he was weeping it was said to be a death in the family. If he was laughing, good times could be expected, and if he strummed a comb there would be a wedding in the future.
The domovoi does have a more malicious side. Although one's own domovoi could be considered an ally, the domovoi from a neighboring household brought no happiness. Russian folklore says that a domovoi could harass horses in the stable overnight, as well as steal the grain of a neighbour to feed his own horses. Still, domovie could befriend one another and were said to gather together for loud winter parties.
If a domovoi becomes unhappy, it plays nasty tricks on the members of the household. Those include moving and rattling small objects, breaking dishes, leaving muddy little footprints, causing the walls of a house to creak, banging on pots and moaning. If the family can determine the cause of their domovoi's discontent, they can rectify the situation and return things to normal. If not, the spirit's tricks may escalate in intensity, coming to more closely resemble those of a ghost, or he may threaten to stifle people in their beds. More often than not, however, families live in harmony with the spirits, and no problems arise.
Ineresting little side note. After the October Revolution the new Soviet government created the "domovoi komitet" or "House Commitee" to put poor people into tennament buildings. It was a standing joke in Russia at this time to imagine that the whole commitee to be made up of little domovoi

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