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Honoring the Vaettir (Spirits)

Updated: Apr 29

There are many beings throughout Norse Cosmology. The Gods (Aesir/Vanir), Ancestors, Jotnar, Ljosalfar, Dokkalfar, Dwarves, and the many other beings of the cosmos can be summed up under one word, Vaettir. One class of Vaettir often gets overlooked, however, and they are the ones that surround us every day on Midgard. They are known as Landvaettir (Land Spirits), Husvaettir (House Spirits), Skogvaettir (Forest Spirits), Fjallvaettir (Mountain Spirits), Sjovaettir (Sea Spirits), and Vatnavaettir (Guardians of Specific Waters). The many spirits of our world are often overlooked, whether it's because many following the Old Ways were originally of Abrahamic roots and aren't used to considering their existence, or that they just aren't mentioned as much as the Gods in popular lore and conversation. Either way, along with the Ancestors, these beings are the ones that should be worked with daily.

Two of the most common spirits we will be surrounded by on a daily basis are Husvaettir (House Spirit) and Landvaettir (Land Spirit). Both of these are mentioned in the lore in a few places, and are mentioned in Icelandic Law. For example there is an old Icelandic law that states no one must approach the land in a ship bearing a dragonhead, lest he frighten the land spirits. Land Spirits have been known to be very hospitable towards humans, or those practicing Seidr, who have built good relations with them. They have been known to help with hunts, finding edible food, finding healing plants, and much more. However, they have also been known to cause chaos for the human traveler if disrespected or displeased. House Spirits have survived in modern Scandinavian Folklore as Nisse and Tomte, solitary spirits that reside in the homestead or farmstead. The Nisse and Tomte are normally helpful, however can become destructive if displeased or angered. This is a big reason for the relationship to be worked on daily.

Dancing Elves, by August Malmström, 1866

One simple way that both modern and ancient Scandinavians honored their Landvaettir every day was with a Vattehog (Spirit Mound) or (Spirit Pile). This is simply a mound on the homestead that many of us can build out of dirt, top soil, or gravel, and leave offerings of food for the spirits of the land. It can be portions of your prepared meal, bread, porridge, water or juice. Something to consider is even scraps can be offered as a token of good faith. For instance, if we are making potatoes for dinner, I normally collect the peels and inedible parts, and give them back to the Vaettir, as a sign of good faith, and to not let their gift to us go to waste as it will return to the ground the same nutrients it gave us, rather than end up in a landfill. Also keep in mind, you don't HAVE to build a Vattehog. A tree on the homestead or property can be a very good place to leave your offerings, or speak to the Landvaettir, as the tree serves as a living, breathing part of the Land, and just as well be housing one of the many spirits you're offering to anyway. One other simple way to honor Spirits that you encounter, say, walking through the forest (Skogvaettir/Forest Spirits), is to be mindful of where you step, and what you take. Do not trample plants that can be avoided, if you notice a large ant hill, step around it, do not disturb wild animals’ homes, and take out what you bring in (unless it's a perishable offering). In other words, do not kill or severely disrupt anything that doesn't need to be!

How do we honor Husvaettir? Well, in many ways it’s the same. Difference being, the Husvaettir are thought to reside inside the home. This is not limited to the Nisse and Tomte of folklore, there can be other spirits that find themselves living in your home for a short while, or extended period of time. Not all spirits of the house are benevolent, I will say that. However, if nothing seems to be actively attempting to harm, frighten, or otherwise disturb in a negative way, the first step should be to attempt to build a mutual relationship by offering or otherwise giving. One can have an altar for their Husvaettir, where they leave offerings of good faith. Offerings would remain relatively the same as the Landvaettir, except I wouldn’t give scraps of potatoes as a sign of good faith to the Husvaettir. Portions of meals, bread, porridge, and silver coins have all been recorded offerings to Husvaettir in popularly read lore, as well as modern folklore. It is said that a happy Husvaettir can bring good health, wealth, and a happy household, whereas a displeased or angry Husvaettir can result in sickness, sorrow, materialistic loss, as well as even the death of livestock if you reside on a farmstead. There is not much lore on how to anger a House Spirit, but steadily working on building that relationship with offerings, and minding your effect on the home and land are good starting points to avoid that.

As we can see, depending on our relationships with these spirits, they can help, or be our worst nightmare. I’m not saying dont work with the Gods/Goddesses every day, because we absolutely can (whether they respond daily is another thing entirely, they are busy Gods), but we need to focus on those beings that are literally beside us every single day. The Gods dont reside in our home, or forests, or rivers and lakes. They have Great Halls they live in, and come to visit every now and again, but the spirits are with us every moment, of every day, of every year. Focus on honoring them, and offering to them. Ask them for wisdom of the earth, they have been here for hundreds, thousands of years and hold vast amounts of knowledge and wisdom that can be gained with the right kind of healthy relationship. Just keep in mind that once that bond is made, it has to be maintained. As Odinn says:

“If you know a friend you can fully trust,

Go often to his house.

Weeds and brambles grow quickly

Upon the untrodden track”

-Havamal Stanza 119

This stanza may normally be thought about in regards to our human friends and companions, but notice it is a god who is saying it. This stanza, along with the others mentioning friendship, can be thought of when talking about the spirits we try and befriend as well.

Cover Art by Molly Khan

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