Slavic mythology is full of colorful tales of gods, fairies, magic, and cats! Below are descriptions of 4 different groups of fairies from Slavic Mythology that were all known to take the form of a cat. Since the names can be a little daunting for English speakers, I will use English nicknames as I describe each fairy.
The Domovoi (or HouseCat) of Slavic Mythology
The actual name of our first group Slavic mythology fairies is the Domovoi, but let’s nickname the”HouseCats.”
As you may have guessed from the name, a HouseCat is a fairy of the house in Slavic mythology. Whenever a person moved into a house, they would take part in ceremonies to welcome a HouseCat. However, if you already had a HouseCat you liked from a previous house, you could bring him along with you in an old shoe.
According to Slavic mythology, the HouseCat would live in the person’s stove and protect the family as long as he wasn’t being mistreated. Although he was rarely seen (this could have negative consequences), he most often took the form of one of the following:
- A master of the house who has passed away
- The current master of the house
- A gnome-like man; long gray beard, blue shirt, old shoes, small in stature
- A cat
- A dog
Slavic Mythology has several tales of the HouseCat’s mischief. He would cause the creaking people would hear in their houses at night as he is mostly nocturnal. Just for fun (or if angered) he might put mud tracks on the floor, tangle needlework, choke people in their sleep, turn everything upside down, or bang pots together. He was also known to steal the neighbor’s grain to feed his own master’s horses.
The Dvorovoi (or YardCat)
The Dvorovoi (which we will refer to as YardCat) is very closely related to the Domovoi (HouseCat). At some points in Slovic Mythology, YardCat and HouseCat are one in the same. YardCat’s area of expertise is caring for the yard and farm animals. He lives in the stables and just like HouseCat, is rarely seen. When he is seen, he can take the same forms at the HouseCat.
Anytime the master of the house would purchase a new animal, he would have to parade it all around the yard for YardCat to approve of or there could be trouble. YardCat often didn’t like any animals that had white fur. Young lambs and white goats were brought into the house to be safe from the YardCat at night. The YardCat was known for a lot of the same tricks as the HouseCat only more in a malicious sense.
If a YardCat got too out of hand, the master of the house would punish it. Sometimes pitchforks full of manure would be thrust into the walls of the barn in hopes to skewer the YardCat. Other times the shroud of a dead person would be made into a whip and the master of the house would viciously whip the walls and corners of the barn in order to whip the YardCat for his mischief.
The Bannik (or BathCat)
The Bannik is the fairy of the bathhouse (let’s call him BathCat). The bathhouse is a building with 2 rooms; one room for dressing/undressing, and the other for steaming yourself. These were places where witches did divination and women often gave birth. They are usually placed far away from the home because of it’s potential for danger.
The BathCat in Slavic Mythology was not just mischievous, but evil. When angered, he would cause people to suffocate in the steam room or burn the bathhouse down. He was also known for watching young maidens undress and stealing newborns that had not yet been baptized (this idea obviously came in as Christianity began to settle in). To appease the BathCat every third (or fourth in some areas) firing of the steam room was for the BathCat and his friends (other devils) only. He was also appeased by everyone remaining quiet while in the bathhouse and whispering “thank you” when they left.
Due to the density of the steam, BathCat was almost never seen by anyone. He could look like someone the person knew or a cat. Mostly, people would know BathCat was there because they could feel his claws.
Want to know your fortune? As a part of the New Year festivities, girls would bare their rear ends toward the bathhouse at night and invite the BathCat to tell their fortunes. If the BathCat touched them gently, it was a good omen, if he scratched them with his claws, it was bad news for sure.
The Ovinnik (or BarnCat)
Last, but not least, the ovinnik (which we’ll call the BarnCat), was the most feared of the domestic fairies in Slovic Mythology. BarnCat is the keeper of the barn. These barns would be 2 stories; the first having a primitive furnace that was partially dug into the earth and an upper level that was stocked with grain (think all kinds of flammable materials).
Unlike the other fairies on this list, BarnCat always looked like a black cat with piecing eyes. Despite this fact, he was known to bark like a dog. BarnCat was very strict about which days the furnace could be fired. Oddly, he wouldn’t tolerate the fire being lit on many Catholic holidays. The BarnCat had to be regularly appeased. To do this, the master of the house would need to leave him a black rooster and some bliny (thin pancakes).
Upsetting the BarnCat came with dire consequences. The BarnCat would set the whole barn on fire costing the master of the house his entire crop of grain. Very often the BarnCat would set the barn on fire killing the master of the house himself, his wife, or his children. Slavic Mythology makes out the BarnCat to be fairly just in his punishments. Only those who had inadvertently committed some evil worthy of these punishments were given them.