For the ancients, the hearth-place was also the altar of the household gods, where offerings could be made; when you being to think of your home as having indwelling spirit it can make a huge difference to the quality of life within it. You can use your mantelpiece as an altar, and many people do, or you can make a small shrine or niche beside it. Every house has its own spirit, what we detect as an ‘atmosphere’ when we enter it. A witch should be aware of this spirit and make sure that it is honoured in the proper way. It was once the custom to make gifts to the spirit before entering a dwelling, offering it bread and salt. In bygone Rome this spirit was called the Lar familiaris (‘household lar’) and was given daily offerings of food and monthly gifts of garlands, all placed on the hearth shrine. The Lar protected the house and its wealth. Its presence was invoked on family occasions such as birthdays, weddings, births and deaths.
Legends of house spirits are found throughout the world, from the Hawaiian Menahune to the Scottish and northern English Brownie, the Spanish Duende, the German Hausmänner, the Russian Igosha, the Finnish Kodin-Haltia, and the North American Shvod and Cambodian Àràk.
The first thing that people did when they moved into a new house was to greet its resident spirit. For example, the D#duška (‘Grandfather’) is a Russian house fairy who appears as an old man covered in hair, often in the likeness of a family patriarch. He wears a red shirt, cloak and a red belt. He lives behind the oven or near the threshold of the house, in the cupboard, or in the stable, sometimes with his wife and children. He will protect the family, their home and their livestock from bad luck, keep the servants in order and do all kinds of chores about the place while everyone is sleeping. He is especially keen on spinning. To keep him happy he should be given something from each meal and white linen should be placed in his favourite room. The family that pleases its fairy will prosper in all things but the family that fails to do him honour or uses bad language in his presence will suffer his anger. He will revenge himself on the crops and cattle or leave the house altogether. The unprotected family will then fall ill and die.
To entice an alienated spirit home, the inhabitants must dress in their best clothes and go out in the evening and walk about their courtyard saying “D#duška Domovoy come and live with us and tend our flocks”. Salted bread is wrapped in white cloth and put in the hall or courtyard while the family bows to the four quarters, praising the fairy and asking him to forgive them and return.
Without a D#duška Domovoy a house is unprotected, so when a new home is built certain rituals must be performed to gain one. The first creature to cross the threshold is in some danger so a cat or cock is thrown inside. Some of the first bread baked in the house is broken and buried in the right hand corner of the attic with an invocation to a spirit to come and protect the place and obey a new master. The D#duška Domovoy is sometimes thought to be an incarnation of an ancestral spirit.
When a family moves house, they will make every effort to take their house fairy with them. At the old house an elderly woman will clean the cinders from the hearth into a pan which she covers with a cloth. She then opens all the windows and invites the fairy to leave this house and go to the new one. She takes the cinders to the new house where the master and mistress wait with bread and salt at the gate. They bow low, take the pan into the house, and empty the cinders into the new grate. The pan is broken and buried in a corner of the room.
There were very similar beliefs in Britain. Brownies are solitary fairies found in southern Scotland and the northern counties of England. They become attached to particular houses or families and while the humans are asleep, they work about the house or farm, cleaning, tidying up, or help with the brewing. When the cock crows it is to let the brownie know it is time to go to bed. The only reward they ask is a bowl of cream or best milk. They are very good at hiding and can make themselves disappear at will, but those who have seen them describe them as small, shaggy haired and ugly, with flat faces. They are often ragged in appearance, but they are offended by gifts of clothes and will promptly disappear forever if given a new suit, so if you have a helpful house fairy don’t be tempted to reward it in this fashion. Brownies have a mischievous side and like to play tricks on humans, such as rattling the fire irons, smashing crockery, hiding objects, or making a mess. They are easily offended, and if they are mistreated they turn into destructive boggarts. House fairies often have a mischievous side and like to play trick on the human inhabitants of a dwelling, particularly if they are not getting their due. Such pranks might include rattling the fire irons, smashing crockery, hiding objects, or just making a mess.
Hearth Witch (The Eight Paths of Magic)