There’s no place like home and in Claude Lecouteux’s book – The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices we discover how ancient customs formed sacred bonds between the home and its occupants.
Professor Lecouteux explores the importance of design and placement and reveals how charms and chants can bring good fortune, protection and prosperity to the home.
The questions below conclude my series of interviews with Claude Lecouteux on his books, I hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as I have.
Kala: There’s an old custom of naming homes and estates that is used in Europe and in some parts of the U.S. You mention in your Introduction that our sacred spaces have been depersonalized in modern times, referred to as Apt F2 or studio apartment for example. What energy do you feel that a home takes on when it is given a proper name?
Claude: To give a name, or its name to a house is a symbol for being anchored in space, a putting down of roots that can only occur in a house. The inhabitant lives in symbiosis with his or her home, which reflects his or her personality and deepest self.
Kala: In the ceremonie du bouquet in France, branches from a tree are placed on the roof when the construction of the home is complete. I’ve seen this same ceremony done in New Orleans, while the house is being blessed. What do the branches represent when being placed on the roof?
Claude: These branches that are set on the roof are the final remnant of rites for protecting the house. Once these branches were plants that were claimed to be able to keep lightning, evil spells, and illness at bay. This is because these plants, picked in accordance with a very specific ritual, were invested with a power that emanates from both stars and supernatural beings.
Kala: In Traditional Feng Shui, the Chinese call the opening of a roof Heaven’s Gate and it changes the birth date of a home when the roof is opened. In your book you speak about the Russian belief of a church having body parts including the head, shoulders and organs like kidneys. Were homes and churches traditionally designed to flow like the anatomy of a body? If so, when does the energy of the building change, when a roof is replaced? What about when we add an addition to the home, does it change the flow?
Claude: In ancient traditions, the house is a living being, hence its comparisons with the human body. Taking off the roof has a dual meaning: one: it means to kill the house; two: it permits communication with the beyond as shown by those tiles that would be taken off when someone died so his or her soul could reach the other world.
The entrance door and especially the doorsill must by protected by signs (pentacles, for example), and spells attached over or below the door, or even drawn or etched on it. If blood was used for this purpose, it would be the blood of a specific animal that had been obtained following a ritual.
Here is an example of a protection ritual that was used at the construction of a house that dates from the nineteenth century:
When you have built a new house, spit in each of its four corners while saying this prayer at each one and kissing it, then piss in front of the west gable: “This house is built from green wood coming from the greenwood, white stone coming from loose white stones, black earth coming from the black earth, and cold water coming from cold water. Illness coming from the greenwood, don’t come near, you already have enough wood! Woman of the loose white stone, don’t come near, you already have enough stones! Devil of the black earth, don’t come near, you already have enough earth! Woman of the spring, don’t come near, you already have enough water! Leave the dead in peace and protect the living from drowning, fire, famine, and thunder! Bless them with children who will continue to build, to give you praise, and lift their eyes heavenward toward Christ! In the name of so on and so on, Amen.”
After pissing, say:
“Protect these building from thieves and enemies
Strike down whosoever gives me crap.”
Kala: There are many stories about protecting a home and its occupants from evil by placing items on the door. The story of Passover and the blood of a lamb spread over the door is perhaps one of the most famous. In some cultures, it is the threshold that is sacred, the bride is carried over the threshold, spirits are said to hover there and it is a crossroads area referred to in folk magic. How does spreading blood or other fluids or symbols over the front door or threshold protect the home?
Claude: An animal would be sacrificed to the local land spirit to ensure its neutrality or its blessings. In the case cited, it was a pigeon. Under the influence of the Church, this spirit was called a “devil!”
Kala: . Many cultures speak of household spirits and household gods. Which are your favorite stories about these spirits and gods?
Claude: This one:
A peasant once lived near a dike in Hattstedtermarsch (Schleswig-Holstein), a Frisian named Harro Harrsen. He was a clever lad who knew how to get the most out of any situation. On seeing a cavity in an oak pillar, he told himself it would make a perfect lodging place for a little Niskepuk. When his house was built, for a trim beneath this hole he nailed a board as wide as his hand. On this he placed a bowl filled with liberally buttered gruel and softly called out, “Come here, kind Niskepuk!” They were not long in coming to examine the new building. They danced through the new home and one of them—three inches tall—remained, and settled in the hole in the pillar.
Kala: In your chapter about Haunted Homes, you mention that there are a variety of entities to be cleared away including Brownies. How did the legend of the Brownies originate and why do they attach themselves to homes?
Claude: Brownie is a generic term that includes dwarves and spirits. He is called this because his clothing was said to be brown—in Scandinavian mythology, a dwarf bore the name of Bruni. Around the tenth century, when all these supernatural beings were commingled in the same anathema, the brownie/household spirit was merged with dwarves, as vouched for by the Latin-Germanic glosses repeatedly (cf. my book Les Nains et les Elfes au Moyen Âge [Elves and Dwarves in the Middle Ages]). The old spirits of the Roman Lares type have always existed in the Indo-European region, and that belief has survived through adapting to the evolution of society. Like his fellow creatures, the Brownie chose the house in which he would live either out of sympathy for its inhabitants, or because he was a nature spirit who entered the house with the wood used to build it, or because he was already living at the spot where the house was built.
To see where my journey began with Claude Lecouteux in a dream, begin at the beginning with my first interview with him here.