Theodish Thoughts

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

Category: land wights Page 1 of 2

Landvættir, Fae, and Faeries

The topic of “nature spirits” and “fae” seems to have bubbled up on the neo-pagan blogosphere of late (for instance here and here and here). So it seemed perhaps timely to address a common point of confusion regarding Norse mythology; namely, where to the landvættir fit in to this question?

What might jump out at you from those examples is a maddening omission of definition. They purport to discuss the question of whether “faeries” and and “fair folk” and “fae” are “nature spirits” but none seem to go to the trouble to actually define any of those terms. We get muddled gems of circular reasoning such as “a nature spirit is a spirit of nature”, or (better) outright admissions that “I’m not really sure what folks mean when they use the term “nature spirit”.”

So I’m going to start my own discussion by defining terms.

  • Nature spirit: A supernatural being associated with a particular type or specimen of natural features, such as hills, waterfalls, streams, trees, etc.
  • Landvættr: An Old Norse term translated as “land-being” which take the form of giants and animals, and who defend a given region against aggressors. They generally help a territory (and particularly the head of that territory) in an unspecified manor (by assisting with its general prosperity), and if they are driven off (by a curse, or by seeing the dragon-prows of ships), that would bode ill for the territory and its leader.
  • Fae: Also known as faeries, and euphemistically as fair folk, little folk, etc. An Old French term (derived from Latin fata) for a class of spirits, possibly of pre-Christian origin, some of which dwell in natural surroundings, some of which dwell underground, and some of which cohabitate with humans. Some are friendly, some are hostile, and others are neutral towards humans.

So. Where does this leave us?

Well, by these definitions, which I don’t think are at all off-base, landvættir wouldn’t qualify as nature spirits; they’re not necessarily connected with specific or general natural features.

That said, some fae could be considered nature spirits by these definition, although by no means all. If we include (as I have in my definitions) house-spirits, then they are most definitely not. However, since we include (ditto) things like fossegrim in the umbrella of “fae”, and such creatures are connected to a single natural feature (a waterfall, in this case), it would seem that at least some of them definitely are.

There is, of course, a load of history that goes unsaid in these definitions and in the question itself. Without a doubt the human conception of these creatures changed over time (whether their nature changed along with those conceptions remains an open question), and the definition of “fae” expanded to include a number of creatures who a thousand years earlier would have been thought of as distinct beings.

Take, for instance, the alfar (elves). In pre-Christian times, they were seen as beings on a par with the Aesir, master craftsmen and powerful creatures. By the later medieval period, they had dwindled in both stature and power to more like the sprites we think of today. We still see glimpses of their former status in some of the Grail romances, however, where they are presented as powerful and human-like beings.

So I think the answer to the question lies in the need to carefully define one’s terms of use. Once that is done, the answers to such seemingly thorny questions become clear. That said, a certain ambiguity and morphing of the definitions over time is an undisputed historical fact, but whether or not such changes reflect actual changes in the nature of the creatures being described, or simply a change in the human perception of those creatures (or some combination of the two), remains an open question.

New Moon October 2018

Little in the way of change from last month. The wind rising is such a standard effect at this point that I’m almost surprised it isn’t mentioned someplace in the lore.

Although fun fact having nothing to do with the offering, in researching the ON vindr in Cleasby-Vigfusson (because of course I would), I discovered that there exists a thing called a “wind-egg”. It’s a fully-formed egg that doesn’t have a yoke. Neat!

Nothing on a gust of wind being associated with land-wights, seidr, or anything like that, though, except for the seidr practice of raising storms, which I don’t think is quite the same thing.

At this point, I’m only going to post about the New Moon offering if there’s something particularly interesting or new to report.

New Moon September 2018

I went back to the original vardlokkr I’ve been using, and can report the same results. Excellent energy in the rite itself, good contact during the post-ritual far-faring, but little in the way of significant dreams.

New Moon August 2018

I tried a new vardlokkr last night, based on the following kulning I found on YouTube:

The result seemed to work just fine, and in line with previous rites. I was halfway expecting to get a different “feel” from the wights that were present, depending on the difference in the song, but there was nothing like that that I could sense.

Looks like last month was an anomaly, and I’m back to form. The ritual itself went fine, as did the faring forth afterwards. I’m giving the willow a rest, though; I’ll keep up with the offerings, but will wait for her to reach out to me.

New Moon July 2018

Did the ritual last night, but to be honest my heart wasn’t in it, and I think it showed in the results. I didn’t feel the “oomph” I normally do, and couldn’t concentrate enough afterwards to do the far-faring. Calling this one a bust.

New Moon June 2018

Ritual and post-ritual went entirely as expected, but my dreams were quite significant, it seemed to me. I rarely have dreams where I know I am dreaming, but that happened last night, and I found myself able to consciously (?) shift the dream-scape around me. I’ve never really been able to do that before now, and it’s an exciting development. Can’t wait to see if it lasts.

Elves in 16th Century Iceland

But some [beings], who live int he hills close to men, are more amicable and not so dangerous unless they chance to have been harmed by some kind of injury and provoked into wickedness. They seem, indeed, to be endowed with bodies of incredibly subtlety, since they are even thought to enter into mountains and hills. They are invisible to us unless they wish to appear of their own volition, yet the properties of certain men’s eyes are such that the presence of no spirit can ever escape their sight (as was Lynceus’s unhappy situation). They know a thousand devices and an infinite number of tricks with which they harass men in wretched ways, but their young people are said to have a similar stature, clothing, and even way of life to that of their human neighbors, and to take excessive pleasure in coupling with humans. Examples are not lacking of a number of the rogues who are said to have impregnated women beneath the earth and had access to them at fixed times or as many times as they wished. And from time to time the women of our land have been oppressed by these earth-dwellers and innocent boys and girls and the young people and adolescents of both sexes have very often been taken away, though quite a few are restored safe and sound after a number of days, or sometimes a number of weeks, but some are never seen again, and certain ones are found half-alive, etc.

Oddur Einarsson, bishop of Skálholt, translated by Richard Firth Green in “Elf Queens and Holy Friars” pp. 13-14.

That quote comes from the first collector of Icelandic manuscripts, in a geographical treatise describing Iceland, written in the late 1500’s. I quote it here because it offers a terrific snapshot of the tenacity with which beliefs in elves (landvaettir in Iceland, of course) held the imagination of the people centuries after the conversion to Christianity.

It’s worth noting that the quote goes on to say how similar beliefs have hold all over Europe; this isn’t an Icelandic phenomenon. But what I love is the fact that it shows a continuity in folk-belief between the pre-Christian beliefs in land-spirits and 16th century (and even modern!) beliefs in elves.

At some point the Alfar of Norse mythology got superimposed upon the landvaettir, which is definitely something that points to some sort of overlap between their relative cults, and also brings Freyr (as lord of Alfheim) into the mix, but for now the continuity expressed by that passage is impressive enough to my mind.

New Moon May 2018

I feel like I’m really getting into the rhythm with the landwights. I feel their presence more and more easily every time I perform the varlokkr. And the post-offering far-faring is also now a regular part of the practice for me. I find I’m able to communicate with them directly (except for the willow spirit; more on that at some point). I also find that more spirits are present, and willing to converse.

New Moon April 2018

Faring forth after the New Moon offering worked so well last month I decided to try again. This time I tried to make contact with the spirit of the willow (to whom I had made an offering last month, at the suggestion of the land wight in the vé).

She was there, all right, but not in a talkative mood. I could feel waves of scorn coming from her, and tried to get past it to no avail. Still, I’ll continue to make offerings, and try to communicate. She has done so in the past, and I think constant and consistent attention will eventually get through to her.

New Moon March 2018

Performed the standard ritual last night, but as I didn’t have any ale, I made do with mead. Had the same wind rising effect I’ve seen before.

Tonight I also fared forth back to the vé in animal guise right before bed. I was able to converse with one of the land-wights, who suggested I make an offering to the spirit of the willow tree, whom I have been forgetting as of late. She’s a powerful spirit who can be quite spiteful when she feels slighted.

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