Time to Clean House: The Kikimora

If you’ve read or played anything in The Witcher franchise, you likely looked at the title of this post and thought immediately of a insectoid swamp creature with taloned paws. While the Witcher kikimora are awesome, I want to take you back to where the monster began: pre-insectoid, and with more intelligent, devilish intent.

The short description of the Kikimora makes her sound almost quaint: she’s a Slavic house spirit, one that’s been around at least since before the advent of Christianity and likely before the advent of the written word. Depending on who you ask, she’s either the wife of the friendly house/forest spirit Domovoi or the less friendly, flesh-eating swamp monster Leshy. Many versions of the legend claim that she appears as a beautiful woman with her hair down, and that she’ll stay with the house and help you with your chores. Sounds great, right?

Unnerving illustration courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Except that when you look closer, the Kikimora might not be as cute as you thought. She’s got some strange deformities, including the occasional chicken-like hand or foot. Truth be told, if you see her at all, you’re probably screwed. If you catch her spinning in the dead of night (which she does endlessly and without producing any thread), for example, you can expect to die within the week. An even less fun way to spot her is if she slips through the keyhole of your bedroom door at night to sit on your chest and try to strangle you. This latter habit can become such an issue that people try all manner of rituals to get her to stop, from turning a broom upside down by the door to sleeping with their belt on top of their bedspread. That might stop her from throttling you outright, but your problems don’t end there.

The Kikimora might help out with household chores, but woe betide the family that doesn’t keep their home in order. Invisible, she’ll whistle, make disturbing noises, break dishes, and generally poltergeist the hell out of the place. Variable in size, she can hide under the floorboards or in crevices beneath the hearth, sometimes coming out to roam the attic, leaving strange wet footprints in her wake. If someone doesn’t like you, they can make a Kikimora doll, hide it under a beam or the front corner of your house, and effectively curse you forever by calling her there. You might also just have the bad luck to inherit her…if a child died on your property or was buried somewhere below your house, she’ll be waiting for you. However she gets in, once she’s with you, she’s very difficult to make get out.

The mayhem the Kikimory (plural for Kikimora; there are more than one) create helped them get their name: pretty much every component of the word alludes to something awful. Kikimora may have descended from the Udmurt word kikka-murt, meaning scarecrow or–even better–”bag-made person.” This explains some of the weirder, more elderly descriptions of the creature. Mora is also linked with the more recognizable mare (as in nightmare). In Croatia, mora cause the same sleep paralysis the Kikimora does, appearing as beautiful women that suck the life out of their sleeping victims. In Poland, mora are the souls of living people who leave their bodies at night, which can be seen as little wisps of hair or straw, not unlike what the Kikimora might look like when she shrinks down to hide in the floorboards or slip through a carefully locked door.

The only way to dissuade the Kikimora from totally destroying your life is to a) keep very clean, and b) complete elaborate rituals to appease her. These include washing all of your pots and pans in fern tea, hanging juniper over the chicken coop (on top of everything, Kikimory love stealing eggs), and reciting involved prayer-poems before bedtime. No word on how to get her out of the house permanently; sorry.

But free maid, right?

Sassy spinner courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

How thoroughly would the Kikimora destroy you upon seeing the state of your home? Share your story in the comments below.

Special announcement: Heading to Readercon 27? I’ll see you there. Tweet at me if you want to meet up and exchange some ghost stories.  

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