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What Exactly Are the Wights in Heathenry?

What Exactly Are the Wights in Heathenry?

If you’ve entered Heathenry recently, or even if you have been in it a while, chances are you’ve heard about Wights. Often called the landvaetr, the wights are pretty intrinsic to Heathen beliefs. But what exactly are they, and how do they fit into the Heathen belief system?

Where the Term, Wight, Comes From

The term, “wight,” comes from Middle English, but we really have J.R.R. Tolkien to thank for bringing it back into the lexicon. The original word mean “a living, sentient being,” but the word mostly went out of style until The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings became popular. That Tolkien chose the word, “wight,” is no happy accident. He was a professor of Anglo Saxon at Oxford University. (The Anglo Saxon root of “wight” is wiht, for those curious.) In his stories, he spoke of “Barrow-wights” and other denizens. So, he used the term, wight, to describe a particularly supernatural phenomenon. Namely, creatures that are not quite of this world, but have sentience, or are, at least animate enough to consider them creatures and not things.

Heathens (as well as other pagans and fantasy writers) have co-oped the term to describe supernatural creatures that aren’t quite gods, but are still quite powerful. I believe we probably use the word because most people are familiar with the concept of wights nowadays, but aren’t necessarily familiar with the term, landvaetr. In other words, even though landvaetr or “land spirits” are the correct words to use (when talking about land wights), for simplicity sake, we use “wights.”

What Are Wights, Exactly?

Now that you’re familiar with the concept of wights, let’s talk about what a wight encompasses in Heathenry. Wights are just what you might think: Elves, Dwarves, Trolls, and other supernatural denizens. These include the nisse, tomte, disir, alfar, and hulderfolk. They include the ancestors who have continued after their death to reside in our world as spirits. And they include not only the land spirits, but also the sea spirits, of which there are many. This is the broadest sense of being a wight.

My Experience with Wights (Or Lack Thereof)

Growing up, I always wanted to see Elves and Fairies. Even when I was old enough to know better, while still being a preteen, I hoped to see the hidden folk. I grew up largely in suburbia, but way back when I was a kid (yeah, you can add the old codger voice to that), there were still tracts of undeveloped land around our homes. I lived in the Eastern US where you could still cross lands that had blackberry and raspberry bushes growing wild, find ruins of old farmsteads that predated the Civil War, and other cool things. We never thought we were trespassing on someone’s property, although I’m pretty sure we did that a lot, but we found some pretty cool stuff with metal detectors and just generally exploring. I knew most of the creeks and entrances into property where people wouldn’t give you grief for crossing. Yeah, I suppose it was a different time. My mom and dad had no idea where I was going, and I wasn’t worse for the wear.

Anyway, back to wights. Despite being in a history-rich area, I never saw a single wight. The gods know, I tried. Instead, I tromped through streams, played in the mud (and got in terrible trouble for that), explored, and discovered a lot of things. Wights—not so much. Maybe they just looked at me as some kid who was mostly harmless and alone. Maybe my early skepticism banished them, I don’t know.

Do Wights Exist?

It’s my guess—and you folks can argue with me over this—that most Heathens are pretty convinced that wights aren’t corporeal creatures, but more likely spirits. Or maybe they consider wights the personification of the natural forces at work. In other words, they aren’t really singular entities. Some people feel that they are ancestors—and yes, there are good cases for this. And some people believe them to be a little below gods. Again, there is a case for that as well.

That being said, I’m clearly on the agnostic side of the fence when it comes to wights. In other words, I haven’t actually had the pleasure of meeting one. I’ve spoken to people whom I consider sane (or mostly sane) who work with wights, so there is a possibility that they do exist on some level. Despite my agnostic views, I do make offerings to them. I also can do rituals that banish bad wights. Hel’s bells, I’ve even had some interesting experiences with what can only be considered gremlins. (The type that gum up mechanical things, not the creatures you’re never supposed to get wet or feed after dark.)

What Else About Wights?

There are literally books about wights, but for the sake of expediency, I won’t go into specifics in this post. Instead, I’m planning a series of posts about wights and the other less than godly creatures in our belief system and give you my take on them. And of course, if you’ve had dealings with wights, be sure to tell me about it in the comments!

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The Wight Stuff: A Case for Car Wights

The Wight Stuff: A Case for Car Wights

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” — Arthur C.


Occasionally, I write something that I think is controversial, but ends up being controversial in ways I never expected.  Last week’s post created a bit of a kerfuffle over, not the concept that we are doing blots wrong, but the idea that there could be car wights.

Seriously?  Seriously?

I’m not one to shy away from a good controversial discussion, especially when I think there is much to do about nothing, as Shakespeare would put it.  So, I’m going to dedicate this blog to the lowly car wight, who just might have been slighted by those who think it could not exist.

Ready for some fun?  Let’s go…

First Understand Whence I Speak

Before I even get started in the entire “are their car wights?” debate, let’s talk about my own beliefs on the subject of wights.  I am agnostic when it comes to wights.  I haven’t met one directly, and while I’ve had some pretty freaky shit happen with stuff, I can chalk it up to something natural or at least some root cause that is probable.

So the argument of whether wights exist is largely an entertaining discussion to me.  It also means I look at what could exist and not necessarily what does exist. So, let’s get started.

What’s a Wight, Really?

When we look at legends and lore, we get a pretty interesting view of how our ancestors looked at the world.  The world was full of beings, seen and unseen, that either helped, harmed, or ignored humans. We can point to etins/jotun, trolls, alfs (elves), dwarves, and various nature sprites and come up with a statement, along with the Anglo Saxon definition of wight, to include creatures and things. Now, for the sake of argument, we can narrow that definition down to supernatural creatures since many of the folks who dislike the idea of a car wight are stating that cars can’t have wights.

I would narrow it down further to supernatural creatures that inhabit only natural places, but this doesn’t hold true for wights. Some wights don’t live in rocks or trees or forests. Some live in barrows which are manmade, some live on farms and in houses, and some have been known to travel on boats.

Types of Wights

There are almost as many types of wights as there are ordinary critters in the world.  Not all the same rules apply to these wights either, nor have they all come from the same place. The alfar or alfs may be our male ancestors, just like the disir are our female ancestors. We have ghosts, trolls, werewolves, and zombies in our beliefs (call them what you will in Norse, if it makes you feel better.), so, we have quite the variety.  Some, most notably the alfs, can’t touch iron. Others, such as the dwarves and etins work and use iron quite handily.

I bring this up because the obvious problems with some wights and iron.  It would obviously not be the type of wight who inhabited a car, so let’s rule them out right then and there. Some wights seem to be bound to objects; some, like the huldufolk in Iceland, seem to be able to move out of rocks when told that a highway may be going through.

We can also take a look at magical items, including swords, and consider them wights of sorts because they seem to have their own will.  In these cases, swords that are imbued with will and spirits can certainly be constructs as well as wights. Why do I bring these up? This is important to consider when deciding if a car is a wight or not.  We can’t look at one thing that matches the wight criteria and exclude others simply because we don’t like the idea. The swords have undergone the blacksmith’s fire in order to become something that humans can use.  Cars simply undergo a more modern forging and stamping.

Taking this One Step Further: Car Wights

Okay, so we know wights can inhabit human constructs, some can tolerate iron, some can travel and inhabit boats, and some aren’t so strictly bound to objects.  Okay, then.  Let’s look at the car, shall we?

  • Human construct?  — Yes, but so are farms, graves, and homes.
  • Iron in it? — Yes, but many wights are good with that.
  • Natural materials? — Materials are made from atoms and molecules, many mined and reworked to served specific purposes.  But yes, it came from nature at one time.
  • Gives gifts for gifts? — Yes.
  • Personality?  – Yes.

But what about magic?  As the science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” What would our Heathen ancestors think of our technology if they were to step into our time? What would they think of a vehicle that has no horses or oxen to pull it? I submit to you, if we didn’t teach them how cars work (teaching them would be a tough thing given the difference in culture and education), they’re likely to think it was some type of magic.  Hence they would be considered supernatural creatures.

So, are there Cars Wights?

By the definition of what I’ve established as a wight, I’ve managed to at least suggest that cars could have wights, or even be wights. They have personalities.  They have quirks.  We name them. We give them gifts (fuel, care) in exchange for their gift (transportation). They are made from components of this earth. Obviously the car wights aren’t alfs, given the metal, but cars could carry any of the huldufolk that could tolerate iron.  And our ancestors would think they were magical.  That qualifies a car as a wight, or at least something that would have a wight in it.

On of my patrons brought up the fact that cars don’t have free will. I’ll grant you that. But I’m not certain all wights have free will either. And given the fact that free will may be an illusion anyway, it’s a moot point.  But a point that may or may not be relevant to the discussion. Some wights are tightly bound to their homes; others are not.  So, they do have to operate within the confines of their set parameters.

So, there may be car wights; there may not.  I’ve at least given a good case for why there might be. Whether you accept them or not is your choice.

Airplane Wights

As a postscript, I have to bring up airplane wights.  Why?  Because airmen in Great Britain during WWI had claimed to see gremlins damaging airplanes.  What’s more, Charles Lindbergh claimed to have seen some sort of gremlin that kept him awake during his transoceanic flight. If gremlins aren’t our modern day version of wights, I don’t know what is.

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