• Georgia Garfield-White

Household Guardians from Around the World


It’s often said that home is where the heart is, and while nowadays we may be able to ensure the protection of our homes with sturdy locks and good alarms, historically people would have to seek a far more mystical solution.


This week we’re taking a look at some of the different fairies, spirits and gods that may have protected households around the world:


Britain

In British legends, there are many similar tales of helpful spirits living in the home, and performing chores or offering protection on the home and its inhabitants, some of the most famous creatures being brownies, hobs, and pixies.


Many of these creatures are described as small and humanoid, some similar to little bearded men, others fully covered in dark hair. Many will take great pains to do their work in secret and avoid being seen, and in fact being discovered is often enough to cause for creature to abandon their house and never return. Much like many other British legends of fairies, they take offence to being thanked, and being thanked or offered some kind of payment for their services is often another reason that the creatures may leave a dwelling.


An example of this appears in the (originally German) fairy-tale – ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’. When a cobbler learnt that his work was being done in the night by elves, he and his wife decided to repay them with a new set of clothes. This freed the elves from their service, and they disappeared into the night, never to be seen again. Despite this, there were acceptable methods of showing gratitude to the fairies that protected you home. The most popular method was leaving a small saucer of milk, porridge, or butter out for them.


While they may have primarily been seen as benevolent spirits protecting the house, even the kindest of Britain’s sprites tended to have a bit of a mischievous sides. The pixie or hob may help with the household chores, but they will also often play small, harmless tricks, like breaking objects or spilling flour. If the spirit is disrespected in some way – either through insult, lack of gratitude or being seen, they will either abandon the property, or their tricks will change from mischievous to outright malicious.


Rome

Lares were minor deities in Ancient Rome thought to protect and guard all things within their domain, which may be an orchard, field, or dwelling. Lares Familiares were specifically focused on a household and family. Every household would have a shrine dedicated to their worship, and Lares were thought to be present at, and watch over, significant events of the family. This would include weddings, funerals and births.


If the household Lares were not properly respected, the household would not prosper. Traditional offerings to the Lares included honey cakes, grapes and wine. Though the head of the family (or paterfamilias) was primarily responsible for ensuring that these offerings were made, this could also be delegated to other members of the family, or to servants.


Germany

A Kobold originates in Germany and does not always appear as a household spirit, appearing in some legends as a spirits of mines, or water. Each of the three kinds of Kobolds are thought to treat humans differently. Mine Kobolds are malicious and must be protected against lest they cause cave-ins or lead humans astray, while Kobolds found on ships tend to be helpful, unless they are disrespected.


When they appear in a household, a Kobold may be just as troublesome as it is helpful. While they may help with the chores and be kind to children, they are also likely to hide tools and knock people over. For this reason, some people claim that they are guardians of the house itself and not the people in it – legends like these are supported by tales of the Kobold tricking its way into the house and then taking up residence. Conversely, there are also legends of people wanting a Kobold to join their home, and deliberately seeking one out and trapping it so that it can be brought back to the house.


Central America

The Alux is a small, household goblin or spirit originating in Maya myths. The creature was said to resemble a person in traditional Maya attire, and are thought to be either ancestral spirits, or spirits of the land. Some people still believe that they exist today, and signs that they are around can include wet footprints, or a string of bad luck if the Alux is not being treated correctly. If they are treated well, however, the Alux is thought to protect and guard the home and inhabitants – though they will be wary of strangers.


There are a few different versions of how, precisely, you might get an Alux to watch over your home. In one belief, a statue is made from clay, and hidden in the house. With sufficient offerings and prayers, this statue comes to life, and serves as a guardian spirit. Another belief states that if you build a small home for an Alux on your property (preferably in a corn field) an Alux will move in. If you are having a string of bad luck caused by an Alux, this can also be stopped by building the Alux a home – this is reportedly what happened with attempts to build a motor-bridge from Cancun airport to nearby hotels. The project kept running into problems, and the bridge kept collapsing. Eventually workers were told that they needed to build a home for the Alux that they had angered. Seemingly, this worked, as the bridge was successfully made.


An important thing to remember about Alux is that you should not speak their name! Doing so will summon them from their house and is likely to put you in the way of one of their tricks.


Japan

The Zashiki-Warashi, or parlour child is a spirit from Japanese folklore, predominantly found in the Iwate Prefecture. Zashiki is the word for a type of guest room in a Japanese house, while Warashi is an old-fashioned word for child. The Zashiki-Warashi therefore is a child-sized spirit, thought to predominantly inhabit the Zashiki room, or other less used parts of the house.


The spirit appears (when it is clear enough to be seen) as a child with red cheeks. Many stories have them around the age of six, although some legends may place them as older or younger. While it is rare for the Zashiki-Warashi to be seen, those that do see the spirit are rewarded with good fortune, though it is said that only the homeowners or children are able to see the spirit.


While the spirit may bring good fortune while living in the house, if it leaves it is thought that misfortune and perhaps even death might come across the house’s occupants.


These are, of course, only a few examples of some of the household guardians that can be found around the globe. Even within the legends mentioned there are multiple regional varieties. Though there are many differences, there are also some similarities between these household protectors, most notably that many of them provide good fortune, only to take it away or turn on the owner if not given adequate respect.

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