Wednesday 16 January 2019

New house

In the past in Serbia, during the building of a house people performed many rituals designed to insure success of the building process and subsequent survival of the house and happiness of the house inhabitants. 

A place for a new house was chosen carefully. In Central Serbia, it was believed that the best place to build the house on was the one which a flock of sheep chose as it's resting place. 

Before the new house was built, four rocks were placed on the ground where the house corners were supposed to stand in the evening. If in the morning bugs were found under the rocks, the house would stand in that place for a long time.

One more ritual performed to determine if the place for the house was chosen correctly involved placing a glass of water or wine in the middle of plot in the evening. If in the morning "something alive" was found drowned in the glass, the place was chosen correctly. 

Finally, the testing of whether a location was good for building a house included the rolling of  bread. In Levač and Temnić, if the rolled bread fell on “its head”, it was considered that the location was advantageous for building a new house...

Every new build required a blood sacrifice. Before the building started, a lamb or a cockerel was slaughtered on the foundation stone. The head of the animal was built into the wall, and the meat was roasted and eaten by the family and the workers.


It was believed that someone from the family will soon die after they move into the new house, because every house wants to have its protective spirit, which is the spirit of the first person to die in the house.  

To prevent this from happening, during the move, people made sure that a rooster was the first to cross the doorstep of the new house. This was done so that the rooster would "drive the evils spirits out". 


But straight after the rooster entered the house, he caught and was then killed on the doorstep, (the seat of the dead) by the man of the house...

Cockerel's blood was then sprinkled on the outside walls and into all four corners of the house, and his head was buried under the fireplace, the seat of the domestic cult.

What is very interesting here is that there are many indications that sacrificing a cockerel was among serbs a replacement for a human sacrifice...I talked about this in my post "Cock bashing" and "The third death"...

People avoided walking by a building site of a new house, because it was believed that the builders would build person's shadow into the house walls, to create a protective house spirit. The owner of the shadow would then soon die and become the house spirit. 

This is probably a remnant of the old custom to build people alive into the house walls or foundations. Serbian epic poetry is full of stories about this ritual which was used "when fairies would not allow a town, bridge, church..." to be built. I talked about this in my post "Blood and mortar"...

When the foundation was dug, a handful of grains, a few coins and a piece of frankincense were placed in each corner of the house, so that "the people in the house always had enough bread and money". Frankincense protected the house from vampires.


Moving into the new house was also full of special rituals. 

It was believed that the best time to move into the new house was on the days of the full moon. 

The fireplace was considered to be the heart of the house. If a family was moving from an old, still existing, house into a new house, a fire from the old fireplace had to be brought into the new fireplace, to ensure the continuation of the family.


If it was not possible to bring the fire from the old house, a brand new "live" fire (need fire) had to be kindled "in the old way", by "rubbing wood on wood", using fire drill or fire saw. These kind of fires were believed to have magical properties.


The sourdough starter, was by Serbs possibly associated with the (protective) ancestor (spirit). Maybe because the starter was passed from generation to generation...This could be why Serbs believe that when moving from an old house to a new house, the starter in the old house should be destroyed and a new starter should be made for the new house...

After the fire was lit, new bread was made. This new bread was then broken and eaten by the members of the family dipped into salt, a traditional welcome offering. After that all the other things are brought in. 

The last thing the family needed to do to "put roots down" in the new house was to plant a fruit tree next to the house, which had to be done by the man of the house not later than one year after the family moved in.


  1. "If a family was moving from an old, still existing, house into a new house, a fire from the old fireplace had to be brought into the new fireplace, to ensure the continuation of the family."

    That custom was ancient, bringing the last camps' ember (encapsulated or enveloped) to the next camp, pragmatically to avoid having to start a fire from wet fuels. I think the Greek amphorae began as ember bearers, the Andaman natives bore their family ember in an earthenware pot, while the Mbuti do so in a vegetative envelope. I suspect the Hebrew term shamash referred originally to the same.

  2. "Every new build required a blood sacrifice. Before the building started, a lamb or a cockerel was slaughtered on the foundation stone." Later, a rooster "was then killed on the doorstep, his blood was sprinkled on the outside walls.." "People avoided walking by a building site of a new house.."

    Is it just a coincidence that the oldest known concrete is from 7,600 years ago used for flooring in Serbia*, that walking on curing concrete ruins it so the 'shadow taboo' is sensible, and sprinkling blood into the mixed cement produces small bubbles [alkaline lime x blood fatty acids => soapy flakes + mixing -> bubbles] that make it more resistent to the stresses of freeze-thaw cycles? Was horsehair or straw added to strengthen it tensionally, like iron rebar in modern reinforced concrete? Was mortar or plaster used to seal stone walls or kilns there? Adding crushed pottery or volcanic ash to plaster makes fast-curing hydraulic cement, and adding gravel makes strong waterproof concrete. Aren't the oldest known ceramics (animal shapes) from that area?

    *Ryan North, How to invent everything

  3. Off topic but interesting: New Insights into what Neolithic People Ate in Southeastern Europe

    With the dawn of the Neolithic age, farming became established across
    Europe, people turned their back on aquatic resources, a food source more typical
    of the earlier Mesolithic period, instead preferring to eat meat & dairy
    products from domesticated animals.

    New research (R Socy Proc B) has shed new light on the Neolithic eating
    habits in SE-Europe, using food residues from pottery extracts >8 ka:
    -people living in the Iron Gates region of the Danube continued regular
    -pottery extracts previously examined from 100s of sherds elsewhere in
    Europe show that meat & dairy was the main food source in pots.