Monday, May 3, 2010

House Spirits

Back when I was in college, some of the coursework that I most enjoyed were courses on folklore. The stories that formed the culture of pre-media peoples were rich and earthy and magical. One little niblet of data that has stuck with me from those classes is the idea, from Slavic folklore, of the domovoi. That magical critter is a house spirit, typically represented as an ornery and hairy old man. As I recall, the house spirit is protective of the home, but also rather finicky, and prone to messing things up if you don't do things the way he wants. Their nature varied from house to house.

As I've been walking through my neighborhood of late, with my dog trotting more-or-less obediently by my side, I've been paying attention to the homes that I pass. I'm reasonably sure most of them don't have a grizzled little homunculus crouched behind the dryer. However, most of them are, in their own way, reflective of the lives of the human creatures within. Sure, they were all made out of ticky tacky, but that was 40 years ago, and they no longer look all the same. Though seemingly inanimate, they speak volumes about their occupants. They each have, in their own way, a domovoi with a story to tell.

Like, for instance, the house on the corner. It's lawn has been recently mowed, apparently with a chainsaw. Wet grass is clumped everywhere, including in mounds on the street. A huge but dirty American flag hangs from the carport, behind which a car is in a state of permanent repair. The car in the driveway is festooned with right-wing bumperstickers. It is disheveled, chaotic, angry. The domovoi of this home quite clearly thinks the tea party movement is too namby pamby.

Or the house nestled between two neatly kempt two story ranch homes. It is, in structure, the same. But the grass hasn't been mowed. The car in the driveway has four flat tires, and a registration that expired in 2007. The carport is full of brickabrak. Strange objects, formed from household detritus, hang from the roof. In windows can be seen piles and piles of newspaper, and some faded, hand-lettered signs. The domovoi of this place is deeply alone, and the house seems to radiate sadness.

Sometimes, of course, we human beings are good at masking the spirit of our homes. Brokenness and anger and sorrow can exist behind a facade of spitspot kitchen tile and neatly trimmed hedges. But typically, I think the home reflects the spirit within, in the same way that our bodies respond to our states of mind.

Which reminds me...I've got some cleaning to do.