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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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5 Reasons Why Heathens Don’t Get No Respect

5 Reasons Why Heathens Don’t Get No Respect

I was reading the pagan forums on Patheos the other day and I thought about how Heathens are underrepresented there when it comes to pagans. And then I started thinking about how much of paganism is really geared toward the Wicca crowd and maybe the Celtic crowd, if they’re lucky.  So, I started thinking about why Heathens (to paraphrase what Rodney Dangerfield used to say) don’t get no respect.  To this end, I’ve come up with five reasons why Heathenry isn’t represented in paganism more often, but I bet you can come up with more, if you put your mind to it.

Problem 1: We’re Tiny, Relatively Speaking

If you want to talk about a religion that has few numbers, Heathenism and Asatru are pretty small as a world religion.  Sure, there are a few census that suggest we have maybe 100,000 to 200,000 Heathens in the world, but seriously, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Consider the 800 pound gorilla in the midst (pun intended) of Wicca.  Wiccans may make up about 2 million in the United States alone, and who knows how many in the world?  It’s easy to see just by that number why Heathenry is  a footnote when it comes to paganism.

Problem 2: Association with Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, and Folkish Organizations

Many Heathens aren’t racist, folkish, or white supremacist. But not all of them.  One only has to take a look at the Neo-Nazis and the Odinists who support a whites-only mentality. Other groups such as the AFA have excluded other ethnicities and the LGBT communities within their Heathen form of paganism. Even though a number of very good Heathens and leaders within the Heathen community have denounced this behavior, we see time and time again Internet and news stories featuring Heathens as bigoted, racist, and anti-LGBT.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again.  Just because you don’t count those folk as “true Heathens” doesn’t mean that the rest of the world shares your opinions.  You can say “not my kindred” all you want, but the reality is the rest of the world is judging you.  Plain and simple.  If you don’t denounce them, everyone is going to take your silence as tacit agreement.

Heathenry isn’t for bigots.  Even our gods didn’t stay within their own kind when it came to their kindred. Our gods took in Jotunn, Vanir, Light Elves, and humans.  Many gods had Jotunn, Vanir, and Light Elf consorts and lovers.  Hel, even Loki mated with a horse.

Problem 3: Our Magic is Minimal

When Thor and Tyr called me to Heathenry, I was relieved to find out that magic played a minimal role in the religion.  That being said, a lot of people are more attracted to magic than I am, which is presumably why people are more attracted to Wicca than Heathenry. Oh sure, we have the runes and Seidr, but what else?  Maybe skinriding? We don’t usually do magic in the form of spells or enchantments.

Our magic is through our gods, ancestors, and wights. (The fact that I’ve never seen a wight is irrelevant.)  Many Heathens believe in the gifting cycle with gods and wights to obtain what they want.  Some use Seidr, runes, or other forms of Norse magic.  Others will blend in forms of magic from Wicca.  Reconstructionists and others derisively call those who add more magic from other religions “Wiccatru.”  More on that later.

So, people who are looking for magic tend to bypass Heathenry and go for something like Wicca that enables them to worship our gods while still adding magic spells.  Hmm.

Problem 4: We’re a Stuck Up, Exclusive Lot

When a person first looks into Heathenry, they’re often met with people who are quick to deride and denounce that person if they don’t immediately join the recon trolls.  In fact, you’ll find a bunch of misogynists and Asa-popes telling people how to practice Heathenry.  When the person balks (as they rightfully should), the trolls start calling them Marvel fanboys (or fangirls), Wicctrus, or Lokeans (never mind that being a Lokean is a choice and not an insult).  So, a lot of people with less commitment are going to leave and go elsewhere.

It stunned me when Tyr and Thor contacted me.  But I knew what I had experienced and even when I entered the ugly world of the Internet recon trolls, I knew I was right to stay and deal with them.  You see, the gods contacted me and (presumably) not the Internet trolls, so the trolls didn’t deter me.  I just had to figure out a softer landing spot, which I eventually did. And I started writing The Rational Heathen just to put down my thoughts and feelings, not to mention some of my experiences.  Apparently it resonated with some of you because you’re still here with me.

Problem 5: We Don’t Agree on Much and UPG is often an Ugly Word

A big problem in Heathenry is the overall ambiguity of our beliefs.  We really don’t have a lot of stories to go on — not like the stories we have from the Romans and Greeks about their gods and goddesses. Islamic and Roman historians as well as Christianized northern peoples who lived two hundred years later wrote down all of our stories.  We only have one depiction — and a Christian one — of the Irminsul.  We have tales which refer to other stories which were never written down.

So, in light of the lack of evidence, there’s a lot of conjecture.  And with conjecture is also Unverified Personal Gnosis or UPG which many people don’t take into account.  Some Heathens are outright hostile to UPG as well. So, there is no consensus on what is correct and what isn’t, except among the different factions between themselves.  That division and the accompanying hostility turns people away quickly.

So, there you have it: the five reasons why Heathens don’t get no respect.  Do you have some thoughts about why Heathens don’t get no respect?  I’d love to hear it in the comments.