Household Gods
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Basic Information

Household gods are those deities considered tutelary and indigenous to a specific family and/or household. These are generally minor deities in the grand scheme of things and will not include those public deities favoured by members of the household. Often these powers are remnants of an animistic culture carried over into a polytheistic one and will represent echoes of the worship of ancestor and local spirits. Even if polytheism is abandoned, traditions of the veneration of household gods may linger in the form of hearth spirits such as brownies and dormovoi. The most popularly known household gods in Western culture are probably the Lares and Penates of Ancient Roman culture1.

Where this sort of worship is practiced, the household will generally maintain a shrine in one of the house's semi-public areas (such as the atrium of a Roman domus), containing appropriate idols, at which the family make sacrifices (typically libations of drink, portions of meals served to the family and burned incense) and offer prayer. These shrines will also be the focus for family ceremonies including marriages, coming of age, child consecrations and funerals. The Romans held the pater familias as the priest of the family shrine, but other cultures might consider tending the shrine to be women's business. Another typical place for household gods may be a family tomb, but these will likely be concentrated on those gods specific to the family as opposed to the place of the household.

By their nature, such gods tend to be very local - depending on the relevant conception of household, they may be limited to a single building or might include the local spirits of a substantial farming estate, including all sorts of otherwise rural entities … again, there may be tiers in this. It may be possible, however, for those gods that are of the family as opposed to the place of the household, to travel to some degree, perhaps by a travelling family member carrying a small idol from the shrine. Otherwise, the shrine might be used to consecrate charms or some other kind of amulet that protects family members on their travels - again, for the Romans, consecration of the bullae amulets worn by children was an important function of the family altar.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Where a home has some kind of magical threshold protecting it, the household gods might well be the lynchpin of such a thing.
  • Where these things exist, failing to venerate them should lead to trouble.
  • Theft of someone's household gods could be devastating - possibly to the thief if they are not part of the family. If they are part of the family, such a move should probably be tantamount to a coup against their current keeper.
  • As noted, in a suitably animistic campaign, a rural farmstead's local gods could include spirits of field, waterway and woodland as well as the more (literally) familiar gods of house and barnyard. Not to mention any relevant boundary keepers. Feudalise such a setting and a landlord's shrine might also include the presence of tokens from those of his tenants, indicating the subjugation of their gods to his.
  • A polytheist might well have shrines to one or more major deities besides his family shrine - this should not be considered a conflict.
  • To a lesser extent, even an ex-polytheist might well retain relics of this sort of practice after conversion - as noted in the main text - with the "household gods" being demoted to "fairies" and honoured ancestors.
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