As Benjamin Davis once wrote in a blog post, his Russian girlfriend makes him sit down for a moment before they leave the house on trips.
Most of his Russian companions do the same. They will close their eyes and just take a moment to relax before the trip.
„When I asked my girlfriend before our trip to Warsaw why she insists on doing this, she said, “It’s so you can calm down and collect your thoughts, make sure you have everything you need”, he wrote once.
Some say that in modern times this little practice is just a nice way of clearing your mind from the madness of cramming too many things into a minute suitcase. It’s also a chance to try to remember anything that might have been forgotten. Sit down politely and focus on the present. Did you pack lunch? Are the passports in your bag or still on the counter?
However, this little custom has an interesting backstory.
It’s an obscure explanation that most Russians won’t have heard before.
As behavioral psychologist Konstantin Petrenko explained on Qoura, the tradition of sitting down for a little while before leaving the house on a trip is a strange Russian superstition.
Apparently it is rooted in a traditional Slavic belief in a creature called Domovoy.
This creature is believed to be an elusive protector of the home and its inhabitants. When household members get ready to leave on a trip, Domovoy suggests which items to pack, and if one can’t find an item, Domovoy must have hidden it, and it shouldn’t be taken.
Once everyone is ready to leave, it is time to receive final reassurance and instruction from the Domovoy. Household members sit down in silence, preferably on top of their suitcases, to allow Domovoy to whisper final advice and provide calmness.
Most Russians no longer associate the little ritual of sitting down before a trip with this old belief, but the ritual remains nevertheless.
The word ‘Domovoi’ (also spelled as Domovoy or Domovoj) is derived from the word ‘dom’, meaning ‘house’, and literally means ‘master of the house’. This creature is known by slightly different names in the various Slavic languages, for instance Domovyk in Ukrainian, and Damavik in Belarusian.
The Domovoi is most commonly described as being a tiny, hairy male humanoid creature with a long grey-beard.
According to ancient beliefs, It may take on the form of a deceased ancestor, the current master of the house, or even family pets. Sometimes, the Domovoi is depicted as having a tail, tiny horns, and horse ears, or wearing a red shirt with a blue girdle.
The Domovoi Presence Is Felt but Not Seen
The Domovoi usually stays hidden from human sight and prefers dwelling in the dark corners of a person’s home, especially near the stove. Occasionally, a person may see the true form of the Domovoi. This, however, is a bad omen, as it is believed to be a warning of one’s impending death.
More often, however, the inhabitants of a house would feel the presence of the Domovoi in more discreet ways, for instance, through the sounds of its footsteps or when things in the house are moved. Pets making much noise in the night are said to be playing with the Domovoi.