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by John McCannon
Spirit of the bathhouse (bania) in Russian and Ukrainian folklore; at times, the bannik had a female companion, known as the bannaia or bainikha. Because the bathhouse was seen as a potentially unclean and dangerous place, the bannik was perceived as a capricious, sometimes harmful, household spirit. An angry bannik could cause one to suffocate in the steam of the bathhouse or simply make the structure burn down; women who bathed alone ran the risk of being spied on by the bannik as they undressed. As a result, Slavic peasants did not hang icons in the bathhouse or wear crosses into the bath; they also avoided bathing singly or at night. When a child was born in the bathhouse (a common occurrence), the mother and baby were watched carefully, to prevent the bannik from carrying away the unbaptized infant.

To propitiate the bannik, peasants often thanked him upon exiting the bathhouse; they also left offerings of soap, water, and fir branches. Like most household spirits, the bannik could tell fortunes. During the Yuletide season, girls and young women would gather in the bathhouse to consult the bannik about the new year by allowing him to touch them from behind. A warm, soft touch foretold happiness; a cold, prickly touch was a warning of ill fortune.

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