Hob & Broom: Household Lore & Traditions

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

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The Dragon of the Home

It flies above rooftops, snaking down chimneys to steal wealth or sustenance. Sometimes it appears as a bolt of fire. Other times, it takes the form of a small, red-coated man. Still other times, it appears as an animal -- a lizard, serpent, black cat, rooster or chicken. In Occitan and Catalan cultures, it's called drac, a term related to the more familiar dragons ("Drac"). Like dragons, dracs are connected with wealth and fortune, although unlike "wild" dragons, domestic dracs bring these things to the masters and mistresses of their dwelling (albeit, at the expense of their neighbors) (Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology and Magic). It makes its home in chimneys or behind the stove -- hot places, where fire naturally dwells, the center of the home. It is a shape-changing spirit, a trickster, but it is happy to serve its chosen family as long as it is well cared-for.

Wild Spirits

So how do dracs come to be? One tradition states that they are born from a yolkless egg; another claims that they are established in a household through a contract with a devil (The Tradition of Household Spirits 154). In Demons and Spirits of the Land, medievalist scholar of folklore Claude Lecouteux argues that the term "devil" is used in these instances to represent a land spirit:

"The vocabulary used by the cleric Reginon of Prüm...says that the trees are sacred 'to demons,' daemonibus...which refers to an undifferentiated entity... It is clear that 'demon' and 'vile spirit' would not designate gods. These are blanket terms that are being used to refer to wights and demonized spirits. They happen to be connected to places--trees, houses, and so on..." (41).

This conflation of dragons and dracs with the loaded term "devils" can be clearly seen in the Grimm fairy tale "The Devil and His Grandmother." The devil in the title, we find out very near the beginning, is in fact a dragon: "But now a fiery dragon came flying through the air and it came down to [the three soldiers in the cornfield] and asked why they had concealed themselves there." The soldiers make a pact with the dragon: serve the dragon for seven years, and he will save them from the army they've deserted. Once he delivers them to safety, he gives them an additional gift of a whip that will manifest "as much gold...as you can wish for." They sign the contract in a book, and then the dragon reveals that he will drag them to hell after the seven-year period ends (note: Hell, removing the later Christian connotation, is merely the underworld of the dead; the German word is Hölle, which is also a term for the back of the stove and the name of a German household goddess.) However, in typical trickster fashion, he promises that if they can solve the riddle he poses to them at that time, they will be free. Near the end of this term, they meet an elderly woman who tells them to go to the forest and into a fallen rock that looks like a house. When one of the soldiers does this, he finds himself in the dragon's domain, meets the dragon's wily but helpful grandmother, and discovers the riddle's answers.

This story is ripe with meaning for those interested in the nature of dragons and dracs:

1.The three soldiers meet the dragon while hiding in a cornfield. Dracs are often connected to grains: wheat, barley, semolina, etc. (The Tradition of Household Spirits 153).

2.The dragon in the tale gives them a whip that manifests gold, which connnects this dragon not only connected to widespread lore that dragons hoard gold, but also ties him significantly to the habit of some dracs -- Lecouteux calls them "pecuniary dracs" -- of bringing gold to their households (Demons and Spirits of the Land 146).

3.The dragon's lair is beneath a rock (not unlike a cave, and caves are well-established in pan-European lore as entry points for the Underworld) in a forest. The forest is, as all wild places are, the gateway to the Otherworld -- an antechamber, Lecouteux writes -- a liminal place where humans and spirits meet (78). European traditions state that when a man cuts down trees in an area in order to build his house, the spirit that occupies that space enters the wood that is chopped into lumber and becomes the spirit of the house (Household Spirits 114).

One way of viewing "The Devil and His Grandmother" is that the soldiers made a contract with an undomesticated pecuniary drac. Lecouteux makes a compelling case that household spirits, like the drac, were previously land spirits that were placated and persuaded to guard and guide the household through sacrifices (Household Spirits 22).

Interestingly, in the wild, dracs and dragons (the terms are virtually interchangeable, at least in certain contexts) are more often connected with water than fire. Gervase of Tilbury wrote: "As for dracs...it is said they live in the depths of the rivers and [take] on the appearance of gold rings or cups floating on the water" (qtd. in Demons and Spirits of the Land 78). In France, there is even a river called Le Drac. Likewise, dragons are "connected to flood-prone regions and this is where the highest concentration of dragon- or serpent-slaying saints are found" (73). Bodies of water -- rivers, fountains, ponds, etc. -- are, like caves and stoves/chimneys, gateways to the Otherworld, and this may be why dracs occupy these places. It seems they prefer liminal spaces, areas in which spirits can easily pass between the underworld and the world of the living.

Domesticating and Feeding the Drac

So how would one form a contract with a drac? If we go by the Brothers Grimm tale, one might meet a drac in the middle of a field of grain in a time of great need. We might also find them near water sources -- rivers, ponds, marshes, etc. We might even find them around our homes, waiting for contracts to be made (Household Spirits 185-186).

The drac doesn't ask for much. It can be satisfied with a small crust of bread and a few drops of spilled wine, or a little bit of tonight's dinner rubbed on a chimney hook. Cake, meat, porridge -- all are suitable offerings to the drac. "It should be noted," writes Lecouteux, "that cooked foods are predominant" (155). This detail may be connected to the drac's affinity with fire; I've also had the thought that perhaps it says something of the value of the energy that goes into cooking, which is itself an alchemical process of transmutation.

Gifts from the Drac

As previously noted, the drac bears a connection to the fruits of the earth, and these are popular gift items from the drac spirit to its chosen household. Milk is another common gift, stolen from cows belonging to one's neighbors. And then, of course, there's the pecuniary drac mentioned above. The color of the drac tells what kind it is (that is, what it brings to its master or mistress): if it's gold, it brings gold or wheat; if it sparkles, it brings silver; if black or dark gray, vermin (perhaps when it hasn't been treated well by its family) (154).

Yet even "domesticated" dracs can be problematic for their households. Folklore tells of unfed or disrespected dracs setting fire to the homes in which they dwell (155). In addition, as the gifts brought by the drac are stolen from its master's or mistress's neighbors, it can breed mistrust and even outright ire in a community. The drac is therefore perhaps not an ideal household spirit, but for those willing to take the risk, it can be a quite useful partner in ensuring a thriving home.

 

Works Cited

"The Devil and His Grandmother." The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales. Translated by Josef Scharl, Pantheon Books, 1972.

"Drac." etymologie-occitane.fr. Accessed 4 June 2017. http://www.etymologie-occitane.fr/2011/08/drac/

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

--- Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic. Google Books. Accessed 3 June 2017. https://books.google.com/books?id=x1hpDAAAQBAJ&pg=PT31&lpg=PT31&dq=Encyclopedia+of+Norse+and+Germanic+Folklore&source=bl&ots=rzk-oNKdBM&sig=OKMhA_TD-kq0QHwyMiLyO2RRxD8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi4r6XzzaHUAhXC5CYKHQ2hDT0Q6AEIVTAJ#v=onepage&q=drac&f=false

--- The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices. Inner Traditions, 2013.

 

*Image credit: Barker, Carol. From "The Dragon and His Grandmother." Dragons, Dragons, Dragons. Ed. Helen Hoke. Franklin Watts, 1972.

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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.  

Comments

  • Francesca De Grandis
    Francesca De Grandis Wednesday, 07 June 2017

    I love this, thank you!!!!!!! —a dragon's granmother and a daughter of dragons.

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