Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Household Spirits

A household spirit protects one's home.  They can be described as a spirit bonded to the family as a whole or even to individual members.  They are steadfast in their duties but can appear fragile in appearance and emotion.

Within traditional Pagan folklore, there are two types; house spirits and hearth deities, sometimes described as domestic goddesses.  This is a common belief in Irish, Norse and Greek mythology along with many cultures of the past. Examples include: Brighid, a goddess in Celtic paganism; Frigg of the Norse; Hestia, a hearth goddess to the Greeks; Vesta of the traditional Roman region; Gabija of Baltic paganism and Matka Gabia in Slavic lands.  Temples and shrines have housed representations of these deities throughout the world.

A second type of household deity is honored within the home itself opposed to a separate temple being constructed for them.  The observance takes place on the household hearth making it the focus of adoration and gratitude.  Within some family traditions the god or spirit of the hearth is invited to join in at meals with the family itself.  In other traditions or at specific times of the year offerings of food and drink, many times milk and a small cake, are left on the hearth or mantle acknowledging the spirit's need for privacy.

Found in the north and midlands of England, a spirit known as a Hob is invited to live in the garden or in the house by the family residing there.  Many times permission is widened allowing travel between the land, farm and the home.  A Hob, like Dobby in the Harry Potter movies, may reside with a given family for generations.  They can be helpful as in the  famous account of a Hob called the 'Hobthrust' lived near Runswick Bay in a 'hobhole', and was said to be able to cure whooping cough. However, if offended, Hobs and other household spirits can create havoc.  There are further accounts in folklore of a set of new clothes being given to the troublesome Hob as a symbol of their freedom, granted by the family and signaling the end of any further household service.

Brownies is the most industrious of the household spirits.  Well known in the country of Scotland, they will help with farm work, tending animals needs, cleaning barn and house Alike. Kitchen work as in the task of helping grind grain to flour, sweeping the floor, tidying up after everyone has gone to bed, really anything you or I might find tedious, is of no bother to them whatsoever. The only payment that would be accepted without insult is a small cup of fine cream, milk and a bit of cake or bread.

The 'cofgoda, meaning house-god in Old English, is the forerunner of the Hob or Brownie.  A derivation of the word Hob is hobgoblin, is a fond title used by English gypsies.

Dísir (sing. dís) a term for 'woman' or 'sister' is known as a household guardian in both Scandinavian and Norse folklore and myth. They differ from the faerie of common folklore in that they are the human-spirits of the deceased kin who remain behind to watch over their loved ones. H.R. Ellis-Davidson describes them thus:

'Evidently such female guardian spirits are not linked with the land like the Vanir or land-spirits, since they may travel over the sea to reach the men they are protecting. Their link is rather with a particular family, and they seem to symbolize the luck which can be passed on from one generation to another.'

Below a prayer from Sigrdrífumál St. 11, advises expectant mothers to seek their aid:

'Learn help runes eke, if help thou wilt
a woman to bring forth her babe;
on they palms wear them and grasp her wrists,
and ask the dísir's aid.'

 Within English tradition milk and bread are taken to the hearth on the Solstice night.  A candle is carried and lit on the hearth or mantle.  A small empty bowl is placed there allowing each member of the house to pour a wee bit of milk into it followed by dropping in a small piece of the bread.  The eldest female family member then speaks to the spirits by addressing the departed kin; thanking them for their steadfast watchfulness and care over the past year. She asks that this offering be accepted and that their protection and aid may continue into the year to come.

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