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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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Using the Magic in Nature and the Seasons

Using the Magic in Nature and the Seasons

Oh my god!  I said the “M” word!  Does that mean I’m going to talk about…GULP…Magic?  Well, yes, and no.  I want to talk about changes in the seasons and how you can recognize them long before most people do.  Which means maybe not magic, but more observation and perhaps a bit of empathy.

Let me explain.

Recognizing the Rhythms of Your Land


Regardless of whether you live in the country or the city, in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, or in the Americas or “across the pond,” the land you live in has its own rhythm, its own wights (and I use that term loosely), and its own timing.  Back when I lived further south in the Rocky Mountains, it took me forever to recognize this–mainly because I wasn’t a Heathen then and I had other concerns which took up a good deal of my attention.  Back when I was younger, the weather, the climate, and the land were simply distractions from day-to-day living.  Now, I realize that day-to-day living is a distraction from the weather, climate, and the land.

Look, you don’t need to become a tree hugger or run around naked in the forest to connect with nature.  (However, if that’s what you do to get your rocks off, that’s none of my business.)  It involves changing your viewpoint and paying more attention to the natural occurrences that surround you (even in the city.) Changing your viewpoint isn’t that hard, but it does require mindfulness.  This is why I often recommend mindfulness training to those who are getting started in Heathenry.

Mindfulness as Magic

If there’s a form of magic I do believe in, it has to do with mindfulness.  Seriously, it’s something everyone can do and it will help discipline your mind enough to deal with the stress of modern life.  I recommend a book called Mindfulness for Fidgety Skeptics if you’ve never done this before. I get a small stipend from Amazon if you buy it through the link. You support this website if you use the link, so I would appreciate it if you use it.  Even if I didn’t get some money through this, I’d still recommend the book.

What You’ll Discover Paying Attention to the Land

Being mindful and paying attention to the land opens a whole new world of experiences you never knew existed.  You start noticing not only the cooler temperatures of autumn setting in, but also the increase or decrease in humidity that follows the change.  Maybe you start seeing stratus clouds and high cirrus replace the fluffy cumulus.  Maybe you see a shift in the bird population, the increase or decrease of certain insects, or even the shift in the quality of light you get.  Instead of noticing the latest fall fashions creeping into people’s wardrobes, you notice how the squirrels are moving from tree to tree to gather food.  You may see different species of birds.  If you live in a place with deer, you may see a shift in their foraging.

At night, you may see a change in the constellations–if the light pollution isn’t too bad. If you live in wildfire country like I do, you can actually see if there are new wildfire starts nearby just by the color of the moon, often before the news picks it up.

How This Makes You a Better Heathen

At this point, you may be wondering how this makes you a better Heathen.  Let’s think about this a bit: our gods and the landvaettir are nature entities.  Even Odin, who is our creator god, deals with natural forces.  (How much more natural is the creation of life?)  So, we’re looking at gods who reside over nature.  By paying attention to things not human made, we gain a deeper understanding in the world around us.  You become a better Heathen, and you even open yourself up to the wights and gods.  It may or may not be a type of magic, but I know it works.

How to Communicate with the Gods

That’s one thing about being a Heathen a lot of Heathens miss.  You see, you can get close to the gods without all the mumbo-jumbo.  In fact, I suspect it’s the best way to get in touch with the gods.  You don’t get a conversation with the gods from mumbling prayers or sacrificing goats usually.  You get that from opening yourself to them and seeing who pops up.  That requires paying attention to them and listening to what they have to say.

If you’re not receptive to the gods unless Thor takes a hammer to you and smacks you silly, you’re unlikely to hear them.  That does happen to the most dense of us and it is quite unpleasant.  Trust me when I say you will really get shaken out of your reality when the gods do that.  It will make you question your overall sanity, unless you’re already bat-shit crazy.  Now, it’s a lot easier to deal with because I’m more in tuned with them, but for a while it was fucking nuts.

I hope I’ve given you some things to think about.  Let me know what you think.

 

Blots: Are We Doing Them Wrong?

Blots: Are We Doing Them Wrong?

I’ve been racking my brain about what to write this week.  So, naturally, the idea comes to me while I’m feeding my goats and other sundry critters.  Heathens do a lot of offerings and blots, but are they the right ones? And can we scientifically talk about “offerings” in the context of a more enlightened age?  Actually, I think we can, and I know I’m going to ruffle a few feathers with this, so hang on.

Let’s Talk About Wights

One of the critters we give offerings to are the wights.  Wikipedia states:

Wight is an English word, from Old English wiht, and used to describe a creature or living sentient being. It is akin to Old High German wiht, meaning a creature or thing.

Now, granted, the concept of Wights in our beliefs tend to touch on those magical spirits that inhabit homes, land, and other places.  Technically, our gods could be considered wights, as well as humans, as the Anglo-Saxon term actually suggested a human being.

I’m rather agnostic when it comes to wights, although I seem to have had what could be construed as possible encounters with them.  But for the sake of argument, I’ll talk wights like I believe in them.

Your Car Wight

Okay, with me so far?  So,  let’s say the wights are the essence of some sort of “thing,” whether it is a tree, stone, a piece of land, or whatever is around us.  We can consider animals as part of the “wights,” in my not so humble opinion, and we may be able to consider everyday objects as wights as well.

“Wait a second,” you say.  “There aren’t wights when it comes to computers, dishes, or cars.”  Oh, I would heartily disagree.  If you’ve ever worked on cars, airplanes, computers, or some other mechanical device, or operated them for any length of time, you damn well know each of them have their own distinct personality. You can drive five of the very same model and same year of vehicle and get a different impression of each.  Even from the factory.

Now, you may argue that cars obtain their “personality” from the persons who assembled it on a particular day, the flaws in the parts they might have, and the owners they have.  Okay, so how is this different from something living?  We obtain our basic genetic code and personality from our parents (Mom had something to do with our assembly), the flaws we have (you have arthritis or maybe a healed broken bone?), and the experience and care we receive growing up.  Hmmm.  That sounds like there are correlations here.

“But my car isn’t sentient!” you say.  “It’s a man made construct!” I’d agree with you, only to a point. Everything we see and use has been created from the same natural materials that came from stars. The metal that makes up the car was mined.  The fuel it uses is from plants and animals that rotted millions of years ago.  Everything in a car — every molecule — came from nature.  We did not create the mass, although we can rearrange molecules and change them into different compounds.  So, if you subscribe to wights at all, you have to consider your car is a wight.

Does My Car Need Offerings?

This is a silly question, but one that you’ll have to look at seriously.  We certainly do make “blots” to our cars. We even have some very prescribed rituals for making sure they are satisfied and will give us a gift in return for our gifts.

Our frequent blots to our cars: we go to the gas station for fuel.  We offer our hard-earned tokens that symbolize our energy equation (money) in exchange for other energy (fuel), and we have a special requirement for how to provide the offering (open the fuel cap, prepay at the pump, insert the nozzle, etc.)  Less frequent blots: changing the oil, rotating the tires, getting a tune up, etc.  Often, these blots occur at a particular seasonal time: change summer tires to winter tires in the fall, change winter tires to summer tires in the spring, tune up the car late spring for summer trips, etc.

We offer these “gifts” in exchange for our car’s gift: transportation.  Still don’t believe the car is a wight?  People talk to them all the time.  They name their cars.  They grow attachments to them. Some people trust their cars better than they trust their spouses.   I remember back in college friends comparing the top end speed of their Volkswagen Beetles. Same era and virtually the same cars, yet they were very different.

Now, did these wights talk back or go rescue your ass when you got stuck with a bad date?  Of course not. That’s not within their operating parameters.  But they have quirks and behaviors you can’t ignore (especially when they hate cold weather).

Let’s Take This One Step Further

So, if you’re with me that cars and computers and airplanes can be wights, then it’s not a farfetched conclusion to look at what we give them in return for gifts. We give them something they need in order to perform properly.  When I look at my goats, I know I need to feed them hay and minerals plus give them water, and assuming the goat kidded, I will get milk in return.  Gift for a gift.  Now, let’s look at our nature wights and our gods.  This now brings me to the question: if we give offerings, what are we giving the gods and nature Wights that they need?

In other words:

What the fuck does a god or land wight need with mead?

See my problem?  We could make up some woo-woo stuff about the essence strengthening the land wight or the god appreciating the sacrifice. But I’m not sure that really works. In fact, I would argue that it may not do anything for the land wight. And a god? If a god is the essence of what he or she represents, I’m wondering if sacrificing things that have no bearing on what the god is would even be appreciated.

Now I may be full of shit here. But I notice that more often than not the gods favor those in particular areas who have made a fair amount of effort toward whatever they look to gain. Sure, there is blind, dumb luck like those who win who play the lottery, but with the exception of maybe the Lokeans, most of us don’t depend on randomness in our lives.

So What Would Be an Appropriate Offering to the Gods and

Wights? (Or would Thor like a Tesla Coil?)

If we take the gods as personified metaphors, then we need to look at their function and see what strengthens their role.  Wisdom and creativity are two things that Odin would like.  Tyr is obviously the god of laws, so doing something toward upholding law and order is appropriate.  But then I start getting silly and seeing within my mind’s eye Thor’s glee at a Tesla coil.  Yes, somehow, I think he likes those.

When it comes to wights, the offering should be appropriate to the wight. If we can, we need to understand what makes that wight and that particular environment thrive.  That might mean clearing out noxious weeds on a piece of land, or maybe providing water during a drought, but in all honesty, I believe that if there are wights, wights are limited by the physical constructs they cling to. That means that they can only do what is prescribed by their form. A tree wight, for example, can only do things that trees do — in the relation of gifts and giving. It can accept things that the tree can use, and it can provide what the tree can provide.  Anything else is asking something beyond it’s reasoning.  It’s like asking a dog to explain particle physics to you.  Assuming the dog knows particle physics (which, with the exception of a couple I know, don’t), the dog can’t tell us that he knows because he can’t speak our language due to lack of a soft palate, shape of the tongue, and possibly the inability to understand English. (Although most dogs I know have a limited human vocabulary.)  So, I suspect is the problem with asking the wrong thing from the wights.

So, Where am I Going with this?

So, am I telling you to stop laying out offerings?  No. Am I telling you that my way is the only way? No. Am I thinking that we’re doing blots wrong?  Maybe.  We got the concept of offerings from our ancestors, who may or may not have had an understanding of what the gods and wights wanted/needed.  After all, while there are many good things we learned from our ancestors, our ancestors got shit wrong all the time, especially when it came to science.  So they could’ve just anthropomorphized the gods and wights and assumed they wanted things that people want. But do the gods have needs that we as mortals can satisfy?

And then the question remains is, are they at all interested in what we give them?  I mean, Odin doesn’t need Twinkies.  (Neither do I, but no one sends a package my direction, either.)  It may simply be the act of giving the gods something we value that works, and not necessarily the item. I can accept that.  But I do ponder the implications of today’s musings and wonder if we’re going down the wrong path with our blots.

Then again, the whole idea is the goats’ fault, since I was feeding them. You can blame them.

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Wights, Goddesses, and Strange Things

Wights, Goddesses, and Strange Things

I’m pretty much what most people would consider close to a subsistence hunter. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that I live in a state where I can hunt nearly year round.  Lately, I’ve run into what can only be considered a goddess’s sense of humor.

My Relationship to the Goddess

Most of my life I’ve spent outdoors and in cold weather because, quite frankly, I melt when I have to deal with heat.  Any heat.  Cold and snow has always been my thing. When I went out in the forests in the past before I became a heathen, I could feel something there.  Something powerful and something that could be dangerous.  That pretty much describes Skadi.  You respect the goddess and she’ll let you live another day.  Don’t respect her and you’re dead.  Even those who have a healthy respect for her can screw up and end up frozen to death, buried in an avalanche, drowning under the ice, or eaten by a predator.

Yeah, you better respect her.

I’ve had a healthy respect for her for years, but she can sometimes surprise you with unexpected things. For example, our success in hunting is directly related to her graciousness — and the kindness of the wights. We always be sure to thank the animals we kill and apologize that we must do this to eat.  I sometimes leave little offerings for the wights in that area as a thank you.  I wish I was better at this, so I need to do that more often.

Thanks to Magickal Graphics

Skadi Always Liked You Better

Skadi can be a bit of a capricious goddess when it comes to hunting. For one thing, it’s tough to ask her to send animals your direction.  When she does, it’s amazing.  The animal will actually wait for you to kill it.  Now, you may think I’m bullshitting you on that, (I would), but I’ve seen it now at least four times, and maybe more.  Most of the time, she blesses my husband with such animals.  (I personally think she likes him better.)  But recently, she gave me a turkey which I shouldn’t have been able to shoot, and when I hit him, he could have run off, but instead waited for me to finish him.  (When I dressed him, I found that the shotgun load had broken a wing, but didn’t do any other damage.)  You see, turkeys are fast runners as well as fliers, so having one wait for me was pretty amazing.

Now, you may say the goddess had nothing to do with that.  You may be right.  Maybe animals just wait to get killed.  But I kind of doubt it.  So, I thank the wights and the goddess for the game and feel good about the hunt.

Explaining Hunting Rules to a Norse Goddess

Sometimes even I forget the basic rule: The Gods are Not Your Bitches. But to be honest, hunting isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. Animals tend to make themselves scarce with people around, which means locating them can be problematic.  I’ve looked over the statistics for our state and hunters maybe fill around 8 percent of their tags.  That counts all animals with a tag taken, not just deer or elk.

Hunting also means you abide by a set of artificial rules.  You can’t hunt on private property without permission, you can’t hunt at night, and you have a certain season you can hunt.  The type of game is restricted, such as males or females, age, and how you can harvest your animal.  Basically it’s enough to drive anyone who isn’t familiar with it all insane, which is why it can be a bit problematic when you have the goddess’s attention and try to explain what kind of bear you want to hunt, why you can’t bait them or hunt at night, you can’t hunt a sow with cubs, and sure as shooting, you can’t shoot the bear she dropped in your lap in the middle of a public road. (Yes, this did happen to us.) The goddess delivers, just not always where you need it. I suspect it is her sense of humor for having to endure my litany of conditions. (At this moment, I have a vision of Skadi peering over the 2016 hunting guide and frowning perplexed.)

At the end of the season, I should give the goddess the hunting guide as a burnt offering in my woodstove.  No doubt she’ll find the reading pretty strange.

The Wights and Hunting

Whenever we go to hunt, I can usually get a feel for the area.  I understand that even though I’ve never seen wights, I do get a sense of the “mood” of the land.  In most cases here, I can feel the overall mood and decide whether the wights are positive or not. The places we’ve hunted so far have had some amazing feelings.  The land is awesome; the animals, if we see them, are usually great. I’ve had deer come up to me within 20 yards regularly while we were looking for elk. As much as I would’ve loved to have shot them, the deer season isn’t upon us, so I have to just admire them.  We’ve been lucky and found animals we’ve shot due to either the wights or Skadi, herself, when we pretty much thought the animal was lost.

There have been places where the land felt wrong, no doubt due to the wights there. Luckily where I now live most of the wights feel more welcoming than anything, which amazes me.  It may be just me and those who can feel them, or it may be that they are more open to humans.  I don’t know.  I do know that I offer the local wights eggs and milk to them frequently, and they seem to like that.

Why I Hunt

My husband and I have been hunting a long time. We love nature and we love animals, but importantly, we love the meat we get.  We’re not particularly interested in antlers, mainly because you can’t eat those, but we won’t turn down a trophy buck if he walked out in front of us. I think that Skadi approves of that, simply because it is respectful.  We try to use most of the animal and give back into nature that we can’t use.  Overall, it has served us well.

Hunting, Gathering, and Being Heathen

I think that many people have lost their connection with nature and the natural order of things. Some of being a heathen means that we should keep the connection to the land and nature the way that our ancestors did.  As a hunter, I’ve had to learn to read animal signs and tracks, know how to stalk an animal without my scent giving me away, and of course, locating the beast we’re looking for. I’ve been getting better at identifying edible plants as we hunt and learning to gather them for food.  It’s a delightful skill, and one that I feel the pleasure from those wights around me when I recognize the bounty they have offered us.

When I look at what we do versus those who sit and analyze the dusty tomes, hoping to glean a bit of truth, I know that my path is more fulfilling in a lot of ways, at least for me.  Yes, there are those who cannot do what I do on a daily basis, due to where they live, but there are many ways to get in touch with our world.

Some Suggestions for City Folks

Look, I spent my childhood and adolescence growing up in suburbia.  Even so, I spent an inordinate amount of time in the forests near my home back when parents didn’t worry so much about where their kids went.  (Somehow, we survived.)  Anyway, I’ve been to the big cities like New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, and Chicago, so I get the problems you people have.  So, here are my suggestions to help you get a little closer to nature.

  • Take a class in wildcrafting or foraging.  Believe it or not, even in the big cities nature tries to reclaim what humans try to eliminate.
  • Plan a day trip at least once a month to someplace wild.  Go for a hike.  Find a place to meditate.  Look for wild edibles. (It’s important to have someone who knows what they look like identify them to you first before you take them.  Also it’s important to know what the state laws are for gathering wild edibles.)
  • Learn to hunt.  This is a bit of a steep learning curve, but it can be done.  Take the Hunter’s Safety course.  Don’t want to use a firearm?  Bowhunting is certainly a possibility.  You will have to learn how to handle your weapons safely and get good at shooting, whether with a rifle or a bow.  Find someone to mentor you.  You might just discover a new skill that puts you in touch with your ancestors.
  • Plant a container garden with herbs.  You can bring them inside when the weather gets cold and you have terrific herbs to use in your cooking.

These are some ideas off the top of my head.  Maybe you have other ideas on how you can become part of the natural order.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but you can always talk to  me about it and give me your ideas as well.

 

I’ve Never Seen an Elf

I’ve Never Seen an Elf

I have a hard time with landvaettir. As much as I would love to believe in these nature spirits or ghosts, I’ve never seen one. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, but I’m having a tough time with them.  Basically it goes under “I haven’t seen them, so I’m agnostic about them.”

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Growing up without Magic

It’s not from lack of trying, either. As a kid, I grew up skeptical and I was always wishing that something was true that I knew wasn’t.  Near my home when I was growing up, we had plenty of milkweed, dandelions,  and goat’s beard.  We called the seeds “fairies” because of the way the floaty seeds looked. I remember a kid telling me that by a particular creek you could see fairies.  I went there, hoping to see a supernatural entity, only to be sorely disappointed. When I asked the kid later, she said she meant the seeds.

Drats.

Much of my early life was spent in the woods of New York and Virginia before it all became paved over.  (Yes, I’m THAT old.)  There were places we went where you could find old ruins of farmhouses that existed before the Civil War and my dad used to find tons of miniballs from what I presume were lost around the Civil War.  These places could be magical.  But honestly, I never saw any thing that said “magic.”

Everything had a reason. People who believed in magic and ghosts were foolish or uneducated.  Everything could be explained scientifically. Kind of dreary, if you ponder it long enough. But science had its own wonder and own magic.

Still No Magic; Still No Elves

 

Some people claim to be able to speak to the land wights and the Elves. I’ve pretty much given up on that because I’ve never seen or heard one back.  I have, however, thanked them for the land, the food they brought us, and the wood we use to heat our home. I read some Asatruar books which told me how to “see” my guardian animal spirit and saw nothing.  The trick is to look at your face in the mirror at night for a long time. Granted it’s a trick that plays upon our minds and is called pareidolia.

Pareidolia plays on our mind’s ability to recognize faces in inanimate objects. When looking in the mirror at night, we don’t see everything and so our imagination fills in the gaps.  Except if you don’t have an imagination.  Which, I probably don’t.

(I’ll have you know I’m a bitch to take at movies, too.  There are some science gaffs that really take me out of suspending disbelief.)

I do have Spirit Guardian Animals, though

That being said, I do have spirit guardians. They came to me in dream and meditative visions.  One has actually flashed by my car in the same place in the same situation every time until I noticed her.  I found out that I have three spirit guardians I can call on, and maybe more. One is a fox, one is a hawk, the third is a white wolf or Husky/Malamute.  Both the fox and the hawk I have seen personally.  The wolf is in my dreams, or  may have been a dog I owned.

So, maybe I do have some magical beings that do show up from time to time.  They just don’t screw too much with my sensibilities.   Maybe Elves and land wights are too much to ask for.  Then again, you never know…

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