Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

An exploration of the old spirits, symbols, customs, and crafts of the home.

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Taking Possession: Home-Buying and Moving-In Traditions

The Jesse Pickens Pugh House via Wikimedia Commons

My husband and I recently bought a home in the Blue Ridge mountains – a dream we’ve held since we married eight years ago. It’s an old house with history, an acre and a half of land, and beautiful views of the mountains. I fell in love with the house and surrounding land almost immediately. As we look forward to moving in, I’ve been thinking about traditions to perform as we get established there – traditions that will familiarize and unite us with the spirit(s) of the house and ensure a long-lasting, productive relationship for years to come.

Moving Out & In

Overall, Tuesdays and Thursdays are considered lucky days to move out of one’s old home, and/or during a waxing crescent. These times promote growth, health, and happiness and avoid taboos (Lecouteux 30). Opinions on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays vary by culture. For example, Sundays are considered unlucky moving days in Germany; however, in Transylvania, Sunday is the best day. (We’ll be moving out on a Saturday – a good moving day in Ångermanland, Sweden.)

As for moving into a home, scholar of Germanic folklore Claude Lecouteux cites a notarized writ from 1656. It describes the new owner of an estate taking into his hand the bolt of the main door of the house – the bolt being a key element of the door, the door being the barrier of the threshold, which is the main point of vulnerability and protection of the house (28). The owner also enters and exits the rooms of the house as well as a mill that sits on the property, breaks branches from the trees in the garden and orchard, opens and closes the windows of the house, and announces that he is taking possession of the estate. This rite effectively simulates everyday use of crucial, apotropaic elements of the house – intentionally and for the first time, familiarizing himself with it and vice versa.

Sacrifice

In old times, Europeans would often make sacrifices of animals when taking possession of a home, usually a chicken or rooster:

“An old woman holding a black chicken in her hand entered the first room; once she passed over the doorsill, she secured the bird between her legs and slit its throat with the blade of a knife. She poured its blood in front of the house and when the animal was on the verge of expiring, she spilled the last drops on the threshold. The dead bird would then be roasted and served at the meal following the sacrifice.” (29)

Black animals were considered lucky, as black is traditionally the color of protection. Thus, the gift of a black animal was considered especially valuable. Blood is a common old sacrifice, as it is the core of life for animals. It is precious and therefore a powerful sacrifice. Over time, traditions changed and, instead of blood sacrifices, wine was poured over the threshold – also a valuable commodity, and (in the case of red wine) the closest simulation of blood.

These sacrifices were considered gifts to the household spirit. The spirit of a household could come in a number of ways. Sometimes the household spirit was the spirit of the land, entering the home through the lumber cut from trees to build it. Other times, it was the first person (human or animal) to die in the home or on the land that the home was built over. At any rate, living people were invading a space that belonged to someone else, and a gift was necessary to make things right. From there, a mutually beneficial bond could be created between the spirit and the living.

Circumambulation

Another method of taking possession of land is by walking around its periphery, creating a sacred circle that establishes one’s domain over the enclosed space. Lecouteux mentions an example from the Icelandic Hænsna-Þoris saga:

"[Odd] went to a certain house that was not entirely burned [but abandoned] and there took hold of a birch rafter and, with a tug, pulled it from the building. The brand then burst back into flame and he rode widdershins around the whole farm saying, ‘I hereby take ownership for I see no trace of inhabited property. Let all those who hear me be witnesses.’" (98-99)

Lecouteux posits that the direction in which Odd rides here has an apotropaic effect, driving out the lingering spirits of the dead or other malignant spirits who have moved onto the land since its abandonment. Fire, too, with its life-sustaining and healing qualities, has this effect, and is closely tied to the hearth and therefore household spirit to which a family is tied and serves. One can also create a furrow in the ground with a plough, or similar instrument, as one circumambulates the property.

All of these rituals ensure that the individual or family taking possession of a place is protected from illness, injury, and death, and that positive relationships are created with the spirits of the land on which the members of the household depend.

Do you know of other rituals of moving house? Share them below!

 

Works Cited

Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land. Inner Traditions: 2015.

---. The Tradition of Household Spirits. Inner Traditions: 2013.

 

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The Cunning Wife is an animist, writer, diviner, crafter, witch, spirit worker and traveler, guided by both philosophical Taoism and Germanic and Slavic folk traditions. Her written work has been published in a number of online and print magazines, including Witches & Pagans. She gets excited about scholarly essays and books on folklore, magical tales, and ancient spiritual practices, and is passionate about sharing that information in ways that are accessible and relevant. She is also an avid crafter of magical and mundane items. She believes that there is magic in the mundane, just waiting to be remembered.  

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