For writers of speculative fiction, it’s essential to build up a knowledge of fairy tales, myths and legends. Each week, I try to highlight one element from these three sources in the hope that you might be able to adapt the basic concept for your fantasy world.
This week’s concept is that of the “House Spirit” or, in Russian folklore, the domovoi. This was one of my favorite creatures of slavic folklore when I studied the topic. Essentially, the domovoi are the spirits that inhabit a household. There is one per home, and it can either watch over the goings on of that home benevolently or mischievously. What’s that creaking sound in the middle of the night? Your domovoi, of course. Who keeps intruders out? The domovoi.
As a writer, you can choose to adapt this in two ways. You can make this part of the folk beliefs of the characters in your story, or you can make this a reality in your story (e.g. add a living, visible house spirit for your characters to interact with). A great example of a modern use of the domovoi appears in the television series Angel, where Cordelia’s apartment is haunted/guarded by the spirit of “Dennis” (whose origins are explained in a season one mystery episode). For much of the show, Dennis is a voiceless character, but his presences in Cordelia’s apartment is constantly felt and he manages to become memorable.
Personally, I’m more interested in a fantasy world where people believe things that aren’t demonstrably true than I am in a world where all the superstitious nonsense real people believe in is shown to be real. I’d be interested in exploring characters who believe in house spirits and who are entirely worried about upsetting their spirit. But that’s me–if you have any interest in this mythic element, be sure to adapt it to your own story in whatever way works for you. The overall concept, however, of the home being a place worthy of protection and oversight by the spirit world is worthy of exploration.
Can you come up with any other examples of ‘house spirits’ in popular culture?