Thursday, May 29, 2014

Belka and the Domovoy

Russians are a superstitious lot, and I haven’t even scraped the surface of all their strange beliefs. My old host mother used to make me sit in silence before I left for trips, I’ve been told my ovaries will freeze if I sit on the ground, and cross-breezes are rumored to be the source of all illness. But of all the Russian folklore I’ve heard, my greatest discovery was made thanks to Belka.

Back in December when I moved in, Liz tried to prepare me for life with a cat. “Just to warn you, Belka gets weird around 11pm. A friend was cat-sitting and thought she was possessed by the domovoy, but that’s just how cats are.”

Clearly Liz has been in Russia far too long if she assumes everyone has a working knowledge of “the domovoy.” I pressed for further clarification.

“Oh, a domovoy is like a Russian house elf.”

Right, because that makes perfect sense. A quick Wikipedia search gave me more insight into this Harry Potter-esque phenomenon. Basically, a domovoy is a masculine house spirit who is typically small and bearded, though he can allegedly take on the form of domestic animals as well. Domovoys serve the function of a poltergeist, and are usually of the friendly variety.

Initially, I thought Russians believed in them in the same way that Americans believe in Santa Claus and unicorns, but I seem to have been mistaken. Apparently Karina Smirnoff of Dancing with the Stars fame not only believes in them, but also believes she was attacked by one as a child. And since Belka is far more Russian than I’ll ever be, she obviously believes in them as well.

Belka treats our apartment like every meter of it is her own personal domain—she loves napping in cupboards and closets, skulking around under my bed, and hiding in plastic bags. However, there is one place she refuses to go, and that’s the Domovoy’s lair.  There’s a small space under our bathtub that’s about one foot wide and six inches high, exactly the kind of place Belka would normally love. Every so often she’ll approach it curiously, but then she invariably gets skittish and darts away. After months of observing this strange behavior, I’ve jumped on the domovoy bandwagon.  We clearly have one and he is clearly camped out underneath the bathtub. But don’t worry, I haven’t gone full Russian.  I may believe in him, but I’m not at the point where I’m leaving treats for him.  Yet.

Belka making herself comfortable on my bed

Belka hiding from the domovoy


  1. Moroccans also believe that sitting on the ground will make you sterile and that drafts can make you sick. Instead of house elves, Morocco has gins or genies, but not all are friendly as in Aladdin. Superstitious people don't pour boiled pasta water down the drain for fear of summoning the gins.

  2. I had a host sister who believed the domovoy cleaned up the worst parts of her ragers so her grandmother wouldn't find out and move back in...