Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Category: gods of place

On the Landvættir

I love the landvættir. For many years, now, I’ve been making regular offerings to the local land-wights, establishing relationships with them, and giving them the attention they deserve. Possibly I’m the first person in 200 years to do so. One I’ve even named, based on the name given to them by the aboriginal Americans who lived in this area of the country, and recently had the honor of being visited by her in a lucid dream very recently.

Since its inception, Asatru has tended to be god-specific. That is, the emphasis has been on the Aesir, Odin and Thor and Freyja and all the rest, and although the landvættir sometimes get name-checked, people and rituals honoring them specifically are few and far between. Most often, it consists of giving them a plate of food from a feast, or the remains of the horn at sumbel.

I personally think this is a great mistake.

There is evidence that, even though the Aesir might have been the ones who “got all the press” — i.e., the ones whose stories and myths survived the Conversion — the ordinary folk treated the landvættir as the ones with whom they had the closest personal connection. It’s certainly true with the house-wights; the tomten, nissen, etc., as might be expected. But when you start looking into the vast, and I mean really vast, corpus of lore surrounding the elves, dwarves, huldefolk, and other land-wights that populate the folklore of Scandinavia, Germany, England, France, Spain, and Italy (all of which were places of Germanic population to one degree or another, and in which it’s possible, if difficult in the latter examples, to tease out the Germanic from the Roman or Celtic influences), it’s apparent that our ancestors really had a rich and complex relationship with the local land-spirits.

That there was a cultus surrounding such beings is beyond dispute. The particulars of that practice are well-attested and easily de-Christianized. It’s all just waiting there to be reintegrated into our religious practice as Asatruar.

I don’t suggest that our relationships with the Aesir be abandoned – far from it! But I do think we need to re-establish those connections with the local land spirits, those gods of place who exist all around us, Gods, by their nature, are concerned with the Big Picture. They operate on a level far above ours. The land-wights and house-wights, on the other hand, operate on a level far closer to our own. They, to an extent, understand our needs, which mirror their own, and can more easily relate to us.

These are the spirits that can be approached for everyday needs; felling trees, hunting, farming, maintaining a home, fishing, earning a living, and so forth. And they respond excellently to the Germanic Gift Cycle, which forms the basis of most of our relationships both on a human level as well as a divine level.

There appears to be a resurgence in interest in these entities. Several excellent books have been published recently about them, and the material is rich and well worth investigating. Let’s start adding a real cultus surrounding the landvættir to our fairly well-developed cultus surrounding the Aesir. Such a relationship worked well for our ancestors; and in my own personal experience, it works well in the modern day as well.

The Musconetcong Mantis-Man

I happened to stumble across something today which actually makes a lot of sense, given my previous thoughts and practices regarding what I regard as the “goddess of place” of the Musconetcong River, which flows right past my home, and to whom I have taken to making offerings in the Germanic fashion. On occasion, the goddess of the river has shown herself to me as a white heron.

Apparently, several fishermen in the Musconetcong have encountered what they describe as a “mantis-man”. The encounter was apparently featured on one of those cable cryptozoology shows, as wellHere’s the first, and more detailed account:

Although the water was clear, there had been heavy rains the past couple of days. We should not have been out there; the river was “smooth” but the current was exceptionally strong. I was leaning backwards and digging my heels into the the gravel but the river was still kicking me along pretty good. Sketchy navigating.

Please know, I am “privy to the paranormal” and always have been. Shadow people, ghosts, whatever. But what I encountered that day was not Spirit. It was a “biological”, living creature. But it disappeared into thin air almost as soon as I saw it.

… I just “Caught it”. Movement out of the corner of my eye to my left and there it was—
Humanoid. Tall. 6 foot at least –no reference points– but I sense 6’6″ – 7′. Moving away from me back up the bank. (I am chest-high in the river) The first thing I see was the ‘grasshopper’ thigh, but bending forward like a human. Then the whole form. He is looking at me over his shoulder, moving up the bank, astonished, amazed. What, that I am in the water in a strong current, that I can see him? But yes we lock eyes and this creature is astonished– I get the sense that he can’t believe I am in the water, that he can’t believe I have seen him, that I am not perturbed at all– something of all three, I still don’t know– just astonishment and he is actually trying to get away from me and the water!

Triangular Head. Huge, slanted black eyes. Just like a Praying Mantis. It’s whole body was gangly, nobby, ((Nobby!) but you could still sense it was powerful, and no– I would not say it was a “Big Bug”– it was definitely humanoid despite the mantis/insect qualities. …

No bank to speak of on the developed side, but the sloping bank on the rural side was high (ten feet?) A strip of trees about 10 – 20 yards thick separated the river from the fields beyond, but there was the occasional gap/path, each about 20 yards wide that allowed clear access to the river. …

When I saw The Mantis Man, it was in one of these gaps, moving back up the bank towards the fields, looking back at me over its left shoulder. About 15 – 20 yards away.

So understand that it was several feet above me (I looked up at it) and framed clearly against that blank/white sky. Like a full ghost apparition, it was indeed clear but nevertheless nearly transparent and fading fast. Then it “evaporated” mid-stride.
Again, I stress the strong impression that The Mantis Man was cloaked and I “caught it” just right; it abruptly found itself against a “new”/blank background and was adjusting quickly. No, I do not believe it “slipped” into another dimension/plane.

I detected movement and first saw that strong left thigh, (and strong right calf) then the whole thing and immediately those eyes/face. The whole encounter was only a couple of seconds. I can not tell you with any strong certainty what its feet or hands looked like –I wasn’t looking there– but I can tell you that its arms were “normal”, and not the literal Mantis forelegs I have recently seen in drawings of these “Aliens”.

And another, briefer (and third hand) account:

Apparently about a year ago my friend and his brother were down at Stephen’s State Park fishing right around dusk. During this time, while his brother was roughly 50 yards downstream fishing, he said he felt this strange vibration in his right ear and from that he turned and looked to the right. When he turned and looked to the right he said he saw this 6 to 7 foot praying-mantis-looking-man… just standing there and unable to believe that he could see him. He said the creature was black and gray and to be quite honest, the way my buddy was telling me this story, I was having a tough time. I know he saw this thing… because I could see it in his face.

Now, I don’t believe in aliens visiting our world or anything, but I do think that at least some of the “alien” sightings in recent decades might be nature spirits (and I’m not the only one). In centuries past, when people saw these sorts of things, they knew them to be the land-wights, brownies, elves, etc. that they knew of from the stories their parents and grandparents told them. In today’s world, in the absence of that sort of oral folklore, we necessarily interpret them in a way that makes sense to our modern sensibilities. In this case, aliens.
Still, it’s interesting to see this sort of thing focused on an obscure river in northwest New Jersey, coincidentally the same one in which I’ve long sensed the presence of a very strong land-wight that was probably known to the Lenape Indians as well. I’ve certainly never seen anything mantis-like, and there’s no telling whether that’s the true form of the spirit, just a form it took on, or whether these reports have nothing to do with the land-spirit I know, but it’s an interesting bit of data nonetheless.
I’ll certainly keep an eye out for anything particularly strange the next time I visit the river and make cult to Her.

Gods of Place – Hraðrá

One of the conceits of polytheism in general is that the world is alive with spirits. In addition to the mighty gods and goddesses in Heaven (whether that be Asgard, or Olympus, or Swarga Loka or something else), there are a multitude of more local deities, linked to specific areas (or specific geographic features) who might also be approached for aid and to whom offerings may be made.

During the Migration Era, the cult of the Matronae was found on both sides of the Rhine, and often tied to the specific locale by the name given to the goddesses on their altar inscriptions. We also see references to practices involving worship of gods of springs, rocks, and trees in later Christian polemics, sermons, and manuals of penance, railing against these pagan holdover beliefs and practices.

Modern Asatru recognizes these beings as landvaettir, or land-spirits, in a generic sense, as well as the house-wight (tomten, nisse, or brownie) and these are attested to in the later written sources. It is sometimes the case that a given stone or tree or spring is said to be the home of a land-wight (such as the famous elf-stones in Iceland), but I find that modern Asatru rarely places these sorts of deities at the forefront of worship.

Here in the United States, it is easy to fall into what I call the Amerindian Trap. That is, the idea that because these lands were settled by Amerindians before they were settled by Europeans, that they somehow “own” the local land-spirits, and that the only way to approach them is to do so on Amerindian terms, with Amerindian rituals.

But the truth is different – those gods of place were here long before the Amerindians came here, and the arrival of Europeans didn’t displace them. Those Amerindians may have gotten to know the spirits better because of long association, but that hardly means we Europeans cannot get to know them, too, and honor them according to our own ancestral ways.

In my own case, I happen to live right next to a river that meanders around northwest New Jersey before emptying into the Delaware. Before this land was settled by Europeans (originally English, later Germans and still later Scandinavians), it was inhabited by the Lenape Indians. The name of the river is the Musconetcong, which in Munsee (the language of the Lenape in this area) means “swift river”. I’ve done some studying on the subject, and reached out to the remnants of the Lenape in Oklahoma, and listened to the goddess of the river herself.

I call her Hraðrá (Anglicized as Hratta), which means “swift river” in Old Norse. I have given her offerings of cakes, and ale, and lit candles in her honor. Mostly I just sit by the river and talk with her. Sometimes I will sing to her. On occasion she will appear as a white heron, and answers to questions can be read in the way she flies through the trees above the river.

Now, she’s not the only land-spirit around. Far from it, and I still make offerings “to the landvaettir” on a monthly basis. And I make offerings to the Aesir as well. And my ancestors. But there’s always Hraðrá there, too, the heron goddess of the swift river, who grows strong in the spring as the snow melts and the rain falls, and who brings life to the land, embracing the waterfowl, and fish, and frogs, and turtles, and freshwater clams that the raccoons eat at night, and the children who explore her banks and swim in her pools.

And I sing to her, and bring her cakes, as my Germanic ancestors did with the local goddesses in Europe according to their customs. And the goddess of the river doesn’t seem to mind that one bit.

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