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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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Gods or Ancestors?

Gods or Ancestors?

Occasionally I get a comment from someone who’s convinced that the gods don’t talk to us mere mortals that often.  That most people who deal with the gods are actually dealing with the ancestors.  It’s an interesting part of Heathenry I think is worth addressing. Are Heathens receiving messages from gods or ancestors?

Actually, I think it’s both.

The Unknown Gods

Before I get into the supposition that the gods are with us, let me address the personal nature of the gods, themselves.  There are Heathens who believe that our gods really aren’t personal deities.  That the concept of a personal deity comes from Christianity and those concepts taint our modern day beliefs.  There is some truth to that.  The gods aren’t just the gods of humanity, but the gods of all things.  In fact, I suspect that there are gods we humans do not know.  We don’t know them not because our knowledge of them disappeared, but because we never knew them to begin with.  I suspect there are gods who do not deal with humans at all, who instead govern other things and animals other than ourselves.  They are never in contact with us, except maybe if we touch their realms.

Not the Gods I’m Talking About

These aforementioned gods that have very little to do with humanity are not the gods I am talking about. The gods I am talking about are the gods who have made themselves known to humans.  Who still make themselves known to humans. Odin, Thor, Freyja, Freyr, Tyr, Loki, Baldr, Skadi, Ullr, Heimdallr,…the list goes on.  We would not know them if we did not have contact with them. Sure, you could say that hearing thunder and calling it a god is the basis for Thor, but then, why bother to have positive connotations with a thunder god if he didn’t somehow look benevolently on humans?

So, we can assume that the gods we know have had interactions with humans.  Who still do have interactions with humans. When someone tells me that they’ve interacted with certain deities, I generally accept their word.  Not because I’m gullible, but because unless they give me a real reason to disbelieve them, who am I to say otherwise?  I’ve talked with gods and goddesses and I already knew some things that the people who had a UPG told me, so if something doesn’t sound right, I might have to ask further questions.

Is it a God?

I know that gods have taken other forms to get their message through to their recipients, so it would not surprise me if ancestors do the same thing.  Could an ancestor mimic a god?  Yes, I know of one case where it has happened, and not for the better. There are plenty of not so benevolent spirits out there looking to cause harm, but it’s pretty obvious when they do show up.

One way to tell if it is really a god is to consider the following:

  • Do they act like the gods/goddesses of our stories and of other people’s credible UPGs?  Yes, there have been interactions with gods/goddesses that all seem to have the same feeling.  Or are they different, and in what ways?
  • Does the deity ask you to do something harmful to yourself or others?  If they do, you may not be dealing with the entity you think you’re dealing with.  Chances are its malevolent and you need to get away from it.
  • Does the entity inform you who they are?  Some spirits do lie, but you have a better chance in deciding if you’re really dealing with the god just by research and talking to knowledgeable folks.
  • Does a Gothi/Gythia confirm your experience?
  • How does the god treat you?  Is it in line with what you know of the god?

My Own Experience with the Gods

The gods are an interesting bunch.  Some will just pop in to say hello or see what is going on, but most are reserved and only show up at times they deem is suitable. They seldom come when you call –remember, they’re not your bitches.  Even if you ask nicely, you can get complete crickets.  They may have more important things to pay attention to.  Like the entire universe.

Some landvaettir may also come into contact with you.  While you might not consider them gods, per se, they are tutelary spirits who have powers.  You may not find them as powerful as someone like Thor or Odin, but in many cases they may be able to help or harm you, depending on your relationship with them.  That being said, I am firmly agnostic when it comes to landvaettir.  I haven’t seen one, but I have had odd situations that maybe could suggest them.

The gods do occasionally mimic other gods in other pantheons.  Odin and Loki, in particular, will shape change to whatever god you believe in to give you information, if you believe in another deity and not them.  (Yes, I’ve had that happen.)  Tyr will do that too for those who he wants to be his followers.  (Again, that’s my experience and your mileage may vary.)  Depending on the person, they may do this in order to give you information you need and if you’re only open to Jesus or Yahweh, then that’s where they go.

 

Is it an Ancestor?

You could be contacted through an ancestor.  It’s not all that unusual.  If it is an ancestor who has benevolent intentions, you should definitely get a name or an understanding of who or what they are.  They shouldn’t be passing themselves off as a god. If they are, I wouldn’t want to deal with them simply because of the dishonesty.

Ancestors are pretty much what they were when they were alive.  If they were a son-of-a-bitch when they were alive, they’re still a son-of-a-bitch–maybe more so, because they’re cranky they’re dead.  Some ancestors you don’t want to deal with; others are just fine. Regardless, it should be pretty damn obvious if Uncle Milton makes a call.  He shouldn’t be saying he’s Loki or Odin or whomever–if he is, tell him to go the Hel away.

My Own Experience with Ancestors

I’ve spoken to my closest ancestors and have had feelings and intentions from them.  I’ve also had dreams with an ancestor in them, usually in the form of talking with them about certain things.  Not all dealings with those ancestors have been pleasant; I’ve annoyed them the same way I did back when they were alive. They were in shock when they went to Helheim instead of the Christian heaven or hell.  (Despite them being devout Catholics and not pagans.)  This along with other bits of knowledge has led me to conclude that the Christian beliefs aren’t real and our beliefs are more in line with reality.  Call it UPG or whatever, but I’m convinced that if there was a Jesus and if there is a Yahweh, it is a deceptive god.

Are ancestors more receptive than gods?  In most cases, yes, but you should be careful with them until you get to know who exactly is knocking on the door. Some ancestors you definitely don’t want.

So, the gods do talk to humans.  The landvaettir talk to humans.  The ancestors talk to humans.  They’re a rather chatty bunch — the lot of them.   It’s just up to you to listen.

 

Modern Medicine or Why You Really Don’t Want to Go Back to Our Ancestors’ Time

Modern Medicine or Why You Really Don’t Want to Go Back to Our Ancestors’ Time

This spring I had a lesson on why the good old days weren’t that great. Having dealt with the realities of raising livestock, I’ve become far more appreciative of modern medicine, and science, in general.  Not that I wasn’t appreciative of science to begin with, but when you see it in action, it changes your worldview.  And you start to realize just how tough our ancestors had it then. You also realize how unlikely it was to see 50 years old back then.

You see, I raise goats.  This, in and of itself shouldn’t necessarily bring up modern medicine, but if you want to see how science can improve your life, try animal husbandry. And sadly, for the past several years I’ve had a 50 percent attrition rate (or worse) on the kids.  This year ended up being different.

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The Draw of Family in the Heathen Context

The Draw of Family in the Heathen Context

My sister called me and told me that an unknown relative contacted her.  Apparently the grandson of my deceased uncle was doing research into my mom’s side of the family and somehow tracked us down to find out what we knew.

Well, blood is apparently thicker than water.  And much to my chagrin, I am not adopted.  “Why?” you may ask.  Because the grandson, whom I’ll call Thor for privacy sake, is just like me.

Poor kid. And he reproduced.

[Facepalm]

How it Happened

Thor received the call of the ancestors when his own kid started asking questions about his relatives.  Seems Thor really didn’t have much to go on originally, having never been in touch with my mom’s relatives.  I wasn’t particularly interested in staying in contact with my mom’s side since I had so little in common with them.  My relatives always dismissed me as a loner and a weird intellectual with nothing in common with them.   They were mainly into shopping and impressing people.  I couldn’t give a damn about what people thought of me unless it got me beat up.  (Yeah, I had a few scuffles when I was a kid.)  So, when my sister told me that Thor was doing research and needed some info, I chatted with him over the Internet.

Shit. He did a similar career route as I did.  He likes the same stuff I do.  He even has the same sleep habits.  He is a smart ass too.  Thor confirmed some things my dad told me before he died (and I confirmed Thor’s research).  I was able to tell him some stories, which probably thrilled him.

The Pull of the Ancestors

I’m always amazed when the Ancestors step into people’s lives.  I figured mine wanted as much to do with me as I did with them.  Many were rather unsavory characters whom most people wouldn’t be excited to boast about.  My medieval ancestors were Vikings and Normans (troublemakers) who went as high as dukes on one side and knights on the other.  Their descendants were sadly nowhere near as glamorous by the time the 19th century rolled around.  So, I pretty much decided that I had little to do with them. Even when Tyr called me into Heathenry, I was generic in my veneration of ancestors with the secret hope that maybe I got switched at birth.  No such luck.  Thor proves I’m out of the same fucking lines.

So, I’m feeling the pull of the ancestors as well.  I’ll be going through all the old notes my parents passed onto me and see if it puts together the pieces for Thor. Maybe Thor will be able to tell his child where he came from and what kind of people were his relatives — the good and the bad stories — ugly warts and all. And maybe the kid will be interested in those of us who are still around.

Where Did I Come From?

It seems that we all have a need to understand where we come from, whether from royalty or paupers, criminals or heroes, sinners or saints. It helps us understand who we are and what influenced us genetically.  It used to be that we believed it was DNA and how we grew up determined our behavior and traits, but epigenetic inheritance has kind of thrown a monkey wrench into it.  We know that certain stresses on people can cause epigenetic marks on RNA. By learning about our ancestors’ past, we can understand how their experiences might impact us. Of course, this is a relatively new field with new studies all the time.

So, if our ancestors’ experience modified our genes, we’re not only a product of their genes but also their experiences.  It helps us understand ourselves much better. While not all experiences are going to leave an impact on our genes, certain some do.  In which case, we’re not just a product of millions of years of combining DNA but also millions of years of hominid experiences. It may explain weird things like phobias or body types.

We Are All Stories in the End

It’s interesting, because even though many of my relatives are now dead, their stories seem to fascinate the younger relatives.  As The Doctor said, “We are all stories in the end.  Just make it a good one, eh?”  As humans, we need to tell stories and to understand where we came from. Part of the draw to our ancestors is by asking “where did I come from?” we’re trying to answer the question: “who am I?”

Long after my ashes are scattered, the younger generations will ask “who am I?” and “where did I come from?”  The only thing left on this planet will be stories, if they’re left at all.  Hopefully, I’ll be making it a good one.