Question: Vaettir in cities?

Hi! I was wondering, do landvaettir live in cities, too? The reason I ask is that I think I felt very connected to the landvaettir in the countryside where I grew up, but I live far away from there now, and wanted to have that connection with local spirits again. However, I live in a large city now, and I don’t have transportation to go out to a more rural area. What should I do? (If it matters at all, I live in North America.)

Dear anon,

You can find landvaettir everywhere. What sort of vaettir you find will depend on the location. Spirits that favor ponds and lakes, for instance, won’t want to live in a desert city with no large bodies of water, but such spirits are perfectly happy to be where I am, even in the middle of a metropolitan area. The earth is still under the concrete. Cities still have trees. You can find vaettir that live in houses – you don’t have to be living in a country farmhouse to invite a housevaettir to live with you.

You may also find new, different types of vaettir that have adapted to city life. 

You will also run into spirits tied to the land who are clearly native to that location. Don’t assume that they’ll have the same protocols. If you can respectfully do so, try to learn what you can so that you don’t mistakenly offend. While Scandinavian spirits gladly accept offerings of alcohol, for instance, there are spirits native to North America that will be greatly displeased by such an offering. Don’t appropriate native traditions unless you talk to the appropriate people and are given explicit permission to be allowed to give particular objects or do particular actions. (Note that the appropriate people are not random strangers making claims on the internet. You will actually have to go talk to people.)


Vaettir Series: The Dvergar

I was asked to expand a bit about dvergar awhile back. Apologies for the rambling nature of this post, as it’s a bit of an info-dump, rather than sticking to the original question about the four stags.

There’s some confusion about whether the dvergar and svartalfar are the same beings, which I’ve covered before. In addition to this, a large part of what we know about the dvergar is found by looking not only at the Eddas, but the sagas, later folklore, and their names themselves, which are often descriptive.

We know that the dvergar are crafters. Not only do we have the story of them making a large number of the Gods’ treasures, including Mjolnir, but also the fetters of Fenris-ulfr and the mead of poetry (as their crafting prowess is not limited to smithing). A number of mentioned dverg names also translate to smithing or skill-related terms. They are also linked to mining, and the sølvmora, gruvfrökenm and gruvrå may all be late folklore versions of dvergar. They may guide and protect miners, or decide to guard and protect the precious ore in the earth and attempt to sabotage the mines and kill the miners. Interestingly, all three of these sorts of spirits are female.

Dvergar are also associated with death and sickness. While this becomes more obvious in folklore as time goes on, where we have charms against them, or use the stones and metal trinkets associated with them to ward off the sickness they might inflict and name sicknesses for them (like with dvergskot), but you run into dverg names that are indicative of death. Grave Treader (Haugspori). Corpse (Nár and also possibly Náinn). Blue-Black (Bláinn), which was commonly used to describe corpses or a draugr or haugbui (types of undead). Snorri interestingly chooses to describe their origins as being maggots festering in the flesh of Ymir, rather than the creation story listed in Voluspá, which is just one more piece of death imagery. They also tend to be listed as gray or pale-skinned, not merely because of where they live and how they avoid the sun, but to the point of looking deathly. Thor comments on this paleness and jokingly asks Alviss, during his visit, if he’s “laid with the dead recently” (“Hví ertu svá fölr um nasar? Vartu í nótt með ná?”). Equally interesting, Thor comments that this deathly appearance makes Alviss resemble a thurs. The association of dwarves with a short stature and a grotesquely ugly appearance only occurs in later folklore and is nowhere indicated in earlier accounts.

Like the dead, dvergar live under the earth and in the mountains. This concept is basically scattered all over the sagas, amongst skaldic kennings (dagskjarr, holmleggjar hilmir, Regins skáli, fyrða fjarðleggjar, veggbergs vísir, dvergrann, etc), in references in old poetry (pay attention to how Alviss describes what the dvergar call different things), and in later folk belief and ballads. Folktales are full of dvergar who are miners or mountain dwellers, tell about catching dvergar by watching for them in front of the rocks they live in, and terminology that references their chosen abodes (such as dvergmáli for “echo”). There are references to dwarven doorways through rock even in Voluspá (stynia dvergar fyr steindurom), and in folklore it’s suggested that these aren’t always just doorways into a dwelling place inside the earth, but sometimes ones to a different realm. They can also trap their enemies in stone, as happens to King Sveigðir in Ynglingatal. Dvergar are also associated with stones by the way they turn to stone in sunlight, as happens to Alviss in Alvissmál.

Dvergar are sometimes thieves. Fjalarr (“deciever”, fittingly) and Galarr take Kvasir and turn his blood into the mead of poetry. Jacob Grimm has a list of thieving dwarves in his Teutonic Mythology, Álfaríkr is described as “the great stealer” in Thiðrekssaga, and there are a few other dwarf names that suggest thievery (Alþjófr, Hléþjófr, etc).

Dvergar are known for their wisdom, rather like some jotnar. Alviss, Fjolsviðr, Ráðsviðr are a few examples of dvergar named in ways that suggest wisdom or great learning. Dvergar are also known for their magic powers. Þióðrorir is a known chanter of magic charms, Alviss is mentioned to know the key to secret languages, and the sagas mention dvergar possessing amazing powers of healing, cursing, and magical craftsmanship. Aside from Snorri’s account of the dvergar “as maggots” and Voluspá stating that they were formed from the blood of Brimir and the bones of Bláinn, there’s also the story of two dvergar, Durinn and Móðsognir, who shape other dvergar out of clay and breathe life into them. Additionally, Snorri tells that some of the “lesser norns” who shape the lives of humans are the “daughters of Dvalinn” and, thus, dvergar women. Galarr, one of the dvergar who murders Kvasir and brews the mead of poetry, has a name that means galdr-singer. In Egils saga, Egill has his cut off arm completely restored by a dvergr, as well as a sword, after he gives the dverg a finger ring as a gift.

There are also the four dvergar who hold up the sky – Austri, Vestri, Suðri, and Norðri (East, West, South, and North, respectively) – and four stags – Dáinn (Died, or Dead One), Dvalinn (Slow/Sleeping One), Duneyrr (One with downy/brown ears), and Duraþrór (Door-Stubborn) -who graze on Yggdrasill’s branches. The sky is referred to as Niðbyrðr Norðra, “the burden of the relative of Nordri”, reinforcing this idea of dvergar serving as support for holding up the sky, and there’s a parallel for this in old building terms. Among the Icelanders, Danes, and Norwegians, “dvergar” could refer to the small blocks of wood that stood on the rafters and held up the main beam of the roof. (See Terry Gunnell’s Hof, Halls, Goðar, and Dwarves: An Examination of the Ritual Space in the Pagan Icelandic Hall , p. 21) Unfortunately, we don’t have more information regarding these dvergar, and it’s unclear whether the stags are meant to be a benevolent natural force (the source of dews and some rivers) or whether, with the dvergar association with death and decay, they are meant to be a mirror to Níðhöggr gnawing at Yggdrasill’s roots.

Curiously, while alfar and dvergar get separated into distinct families, there’s also some blurring. Dwarf names in Voluspá have alf in them (Alfr, Gandalfr, Vindalfr). Volundr is a master smith that is called ruler of elves (álfa ljóði) and prince of the elves (vísi álfa). Dáinn appears as a dvergr in some spots, and as an alf and teacher of the alfar in Hávamál. Alberich, or “Elf-Ruler”, is a dvergr in the Nibelungenlied.

Mead is associated with the dvergar through various kennings. It’s called the “drink”, “cup”, “sea”, and “wave” of the dvergar. (Regins drykkr, Dverga drykkia, Dvalins veigar, etc).

Aside from shapeshifting into deer (as mentioned above) and into fish (as with Andvari, who takes the form of a pike), dvergar are associated with spiders. Svergsnät is listed by Jacob Grimm as a Swedish folk term for a cobweb. There are also a number of dwarf names that refer to wolves (Hlévargr, Hljóðólfr, Hleðjólfr, Aurvargr), although it’s more likely that this has to do with being destructive, trecherous, tricky, or operating outside the normal laws of human civilization, particularly as “vargr” is the term used.

One shouldn’t try to wring treasures and favors out of the dvergar through threats and unfair dealings. Cheating the dvergar doesn’t end very happily for Loki, and Andvari and Dvalinn both put terrible curses on the treasures that get unwillingly extracted from them. If one does favors for them, they are willing to repay the debt with magical skills or some of their craftwork.


A simple Yule treat: Risengrynsgrøt.

This rice pudding dish is easy to make and pretty delicious. It’s also a traditional gift to leave out for the nisse or other house vaettir. Don’t forget to put a generous pat of butter in the bowl if you do so, however, or the nisse will get angry. (Beer is also enjoyed, but on the side, not in the porridge.) 

A favorite tradition with Risengrynsgrøt involves putting a blanched whole almond into the pot before serving it to family and friends in bowls. Whoever finds the almond in their bowl wins a prize, often a marsipangris (or a pig made out of marzipan). 

If you want to try this, here’s a good recipe for it.

On Heathenry and Consuming Offerings

Given the recent arguing over the acceptability of eating and drinking offerings that have been given to Deities or spirits, I thought I’d weigh in with a Heathen’s lore-based perspective.

We actually have various surviving pieces of lore that talk about how people utilized or interacted with offerings, or at least imply how they did.

  • Heimskringla provides the sources for many of our modern ideas about blot, in particular Hákonar Saga Goða. In this saga we not only see details about the animals that are slaughtered, but how pieces of those sacrifices were dealt with. It’s specifically mentioned that the blood was sprinkled on the altars, the walls of the hof, and also on the people present. The flesh of the sacrificed animals was boiled up and served as a feast for those attending the sacrifice. Other words for sacrifice seem to bear out this evidence, as the words used as the same as a verb for boiling (Gothic sauðs, Old Norse sjóða, Old English séoðan).  There’s also the fact that Heathen sacrifices and Christian Communion were both described by the Old English term húsel (with a corresponding Gothic hunsl), but it’s uncertain whether this means they were seen to be extremely similar acts or not. (Eyrbyggja Saga 4 is another text that describes hlaut and sacrifice and feasts.)
  • Hákonar Saga Goða also describes goblets dedicated to particular Gods. In one place it says they are “emptied”, while in another portion we can specifically see people saying words over the goblet, blessing it in the name of particular Gods, and then drinking from it.
  • Hyndluljóð 10 mentions reddening stones (a horg) with blood as an offering, similar to how hlaut is mentioned as being sprinkled onto altars and the hof walls. Obviously, this offered blood is poured out and not consumed. If other liquid offerings are being purposefully substituted for blood (like mead), this would suggest one should pour such offerings onto altars, the ground, etc.
  • Tacitus is extremely vague about the details of sacrifices and offerings in Germania. The best one can find is that “…[the Germans] appease [their Gods] by offerings of animals, in accordance with ordinary civilized custom.” Human sacrifices are also mentioned. It’s also worth mentioning that the root of the word “sacrifice” comes from the Latin sacrifico, which is a combination of sacer and ficio – or, “to make holy”. This doesn’t necessarily imply loss or destruction of an object like the term “sacrifice” often is used for in colloquial modern English, but it certainly could, as with the “ritually destroyed” objects that have been found in bodies of water. I have no expertise on the boundaries and norms for sacrifices among Romans, so if you’re curious about the etymology and Roman ideas about sacrifice, I would suggest asking someone who specializes in Roman practices. (Prehistoric Denmark by Jørgen Jensen, Elisabeth Munksgaard, and Thorkild Ramskou is an interesting source for reading more about offerings found in lakes and bogs.)
  • Adam of Bremen also mentions sacrificial practices a bit vaguely, including that blood was offered to “appease” the Gods, but doesn’t give details about consumption or disposal. (The only free text copy of this I can find is in Latin.)
  • Aside from the examples of sacrifices being eaten (as per the abovementioned Hákonar Saga Goða), we have archaeological finds of animals that were killed and not eaten, often as burial goods or sacrificed into bogs or water (“Borderland-stalkers and Stalking Horses: horse sacrifice as liminal activity in the Early Iron Age” by Anne Monikander)
  • Ibn Fadlan records an instance of a Rus man leaving food offerings after giving a portion away as charity, and interpreting the dogs who come to eat the food left out as the Deity accepting the offering.
  • Some scholars (such as Hans-Peter Hasenfratz and Gabriel Turville-Petre) hold with the theory that blot may have functioned like a form of communion, where the Deity in question partaking in the essence of their offered sacrifice then imbues the sacrifice with some of their power or luck, which is then absorbed by the human participants when they consume the sacrifice or are spattered with hlaut. Others (such as Rudolf Simek) as skeptical and have voiced the opinion that, where such ideas are suggested in texts, this may be an example of Christian authors not understanding the practices and applying their own theology and liturgy onto Heathen practices.
  • In Floamanna Saga, there’s a tricky situation with Thorgils Örrabeinsstjûpr Thórðarson, who was a devotee of Thor but later became a Christian. Thor appears to him in a dream and threatened Thorgils with a bad voyage and, sure enough, bad weather comes on the voyage. Many of those on the voyage with Thorgils want to sacrifice to Thor, but Thorgils forbids it and actually decides to throw an ox he’d dedicated to Thor years ago over the side of the boat. One of the women becomes very angry and begs that they might have the ox for food, and exclaims “No wonder things go ill, when Thor is so much insulted”, but Thorgils refuses and tosses the ox off the boat to drown. There’s a sense that the affront is not just that Thor’s dedicated animal is killed, but that the animal is wasted. (For further examples, I recommend “Custom and Belief in the Icelandic Sagas” by L. Winifred Faraday if you have access to JSTOR.)
  • Offerings to vaettir quite often involve leaving out food and drink (or pouring drink out), and I can’t recall instances of humans later consuming offerings left out like this. Sometimes eating pieces might even construe theft, like how certain vaettir get angry if butter is not included in their traditional offering. Kveldulf Gundarsson mentions in his Elves, Wights, and Trolls that worship [of vaettir] at trees and stones sometimes involved bringing food and drink to that vaettr’s place and then eating it in the name of the dweller there. (p. 19) Milk and butter were also left in rock hollows for various vaettir. Offerings are not always consumeables, however. Stones are sometimes used as offerings, as per the practice in Skåne of dropping stones into bodies of water. (Nordens Gudeverden by Axel Olrik and Hans Ellekilde)
  • Hilda Ellis Davidson suggests in her Gods and Myths of Northern Europe that the tradition of the Christmas or Yule ham is a survival of a tradition of sacrificing a pig or boar to Freyr (and eating the sacrificed animal afterwards).

The short summary, after all this long-windedness, is that we’ve got evidence for both consuming and not-consuming offerings within the Heathen tradition. It seems to be a touchier subject to consume offering for particular vaettir, at least according to folklore, than it is to consume food and drink offerings dedicated to the Gods. Doubtless there was also some variance in praxis from region to region. Given the evidence, both consumption and non-consumption are, in generalacceptable. Heathens should ponder their personal theology and their living situations and make decisions accordingly. 

From my perspective, intention is key. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with consuming offerings if your financial situation is dire and it would be foolish not to. It seems more insulting to me if, say, chicken and lamb are being sold at an equal price that you can afford, and you know the Deity you’re offering to prefers lamb, but you pick chicken because you like it better and know you’re going to eat it. That feels like being a bad host, to me, so when I buy consumable offerings, I will buy what I know the Deity or spirit prefers, rather than my own favorites to share.

As one more thing to ponder, there’s also Hávamál 145 (sometimes listed as 144 or 146):
Better no prayer than too big an offering,
By thy getting measure thy gift;
Better is none than too big a sacrifice.”

Question: Is it safe to contact Loki if I’ve got a malevolent spirit lingering around me?

I want to contact loki but I worry that I’ll attract the attention of unwanted others, I’m unsure about opening myself back up because like a few other people I’ve noticed have had bad experiences with something lingering around me? Is there any advice or personal experiences you could share to help me figure this out? Any suggestions or nudges in the right direction is so appreciated I just feel lost 😦 I feel that Loki already saved my ass a few times lately but I also feel he’s waiting for me to make some sort of official move or do something but I’m nervous. I wish these boxes allowed for more text lol.
Dear Anon,

My general experience is that danger is pretty minimal if you’re staying firmly in your own body and not, essentially, opening any devotional, prayer, or ritual session with “hey, all vaettir in earshot, welcome, come on into my home!” Doing journeywork increases the danger because, unless you really know what you’re doing, you’re more vulnerable.

If you still feel uneasy, you can recan the area with mugwort or juniper. (Asperging with juniper twigs has also worked well for me. Rosemary also does in a pinch, whether you’re asperging with the herb, hanging sprigs in vulnerable points, recaning (carefully) with it, drawing protective sigils or runes with a mix of base oil and a bit of rosemary essential oil, etc. Practice good safety habits, don’t breathe in a bunch of herbal smoke, don’t get concentrated essential oil on bare skin, etc.) You can also ask Thor for protection.

I’d also suggest researching protection techniques. There’s more out there than just “the bubble shield” everyone tends to use. Look up alternative or advanced types of shielding. Look up folk magic protection techniques. Learn a bit about how to make sigils, or amulets. Learn a bit about the runes and start building a relationship with the more protective rune spirits. Go make friends with some local vaettir by giving them gifts and visiting, and you’ll have friends to back you up or watch your body if you do journeywork. Learn some offense techniques, so if a critter or malevolent spirit tries to mess with you, you give it a beating it will remember. A dramatic response when something tries to harm you is a remarkably good deterrent, in many cases, against further attack. Word spreads that you’re not an easy meal.

Question: General reception of Rokkatru? Is it dangerous to worship jotnar and trolls?

Heathenry is frustrating! Everyone has their own ideas about it, and they are all so different. I ventured onto the asatru subreddit, and someone asked a question about rokkatru and was pretty much nailed to the wall for it. Is rokkatru summoning things into the world that we don’t understand? Is it “dangerous” and “foolish” as they are reporting? Is it actively worshipping beings that want our destruction?

Dear Anon,

Heathenry is a bit like Paganism in the sense that there are a lot of branches, all with people who have differing viewpoints about one thing or another. Sometimes the differences are massive. Rokkatru is one of the more contentious branches, of which many will try to argue that it isn’t even a branch of Heathenry, and being or discussing Rokkatru will make you unwelcome in a lot of places. Most of the Heathen spaces you’ll find, online and face-to-face, aren’t Rokkatru-friendly. Or Lokean-friendly, for that matter. This might change with some work, but the fact of the matter is: this is what the culture is like now, and you’re going to have to be cautious in order to avoid or minimize unpleasant experiences as mentioned above. Heathenry attracts lots of unpleasant dudebros. Something about the whole bloody-warrior-viking aesthetic, combined with the appropriation of symbology by Nazi groups, combined with the historical origins of Heathenry as a movement (which was super conservative, and echoes of that persist even today.)

I find it really silly that people think Rokkatru is “summoning things into the world”. The spirits are already here or can already get here. The Gods couldn’t break Fenris-Ulfr’s bonds, so I highly doubt a handful of humans offering Wolf bits of food is going to start Ragnarok, about which nobody agrees anyways. 

If the argument is that the Aesir are a different race and that All Jotnar Are Bad, the opposition needs to go back and reread the lore while paying close attention to the geneaologies listed. Some of the Aesir are completely Jotun, while others are at least partially, Thor included.

Additionally, we have recordings of people interacting with Jotnar and other beings in beneficial or neutral ways (this is an incomplete list):

  • Hallgerður of Bláfell (where politeness turns the troll-woman’s threats and insults into benevolent fondness for Olafur.)
  • Hít of Hítardalar throws a Yule feast for a number of jotnar and trolls in Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss, and is given the gift of a hound in return. Honestly, most of this saga will be of interest to people interested in trolls, jotnar, and landvaettir (and people who are part-jotun or part-troll).
  • Rübezahl (late folklore)
  • Bergþór of Bláfell in Iceland was noted for being a jotun who did no harm to men if he wasn’t given a reason to. He teaches a farmer how to give offerings in hollowed stones.
  • Hallmundr in Bergbúa þáttr teaches men sheltering in his cave some wisdom and foretells earthquakes and storms – the man who remembers what is said avoids disaster and lives a long and healthy life.
  • There’s an icelandic proverb tryggr sem tröll, “trusty as a troll”, and it’s not meant to be sarcastic. Trolla-trygða is similar, meaning utter faithfulness.
  • The Troll Churches.
  • Starkaðr, a hero who pops up in several places (including an appearance in Beowulf) who has etin-blood and appears to become something like Odin’s representative.
  • In Landnamabok, Thorvaldr Holbarki recites drapas to Surtr in his cave (Surtshellir). We have no idea whether this was an affectionate offering, or an offering to ward off danger from the man’s farm, or an offering to try to get Surt to curse the man’s enemies.
  • The jotun Skota is referred to as a blótrís (blessing jotun) in Kormáks saga. This saga is also one of a few that talk about trollaukinn, people who are augmented in some way by having troll blood or some sort of blessing from trolls/jotnar.
  • Old Man Klasa is featured in a Swedish folktale where he’s friends with a human farmer and they exchange gifts until Christianity makes the jotun uncomfortable enough that he moves away.
  • Certain dangerous vaettir teach musical gifts and give knowledge… one of the reasons Odin goes off to try to pry information from them in the first place.
  • In Völsa þáttr, the mörnir are possible etin-women (according to Gro Steinsland) being petitioned for fruitfulness and good luck.
  • The Lincolnshire Charm (a late charm which mixes Christian and Heathen imagery and invokes Loki and Odin to drive sickness/evil out of a patient.)
  • Lotte Motz has written several papers examining the role of jotnar and speculating on whether they were earlier deities or not.
  • Thorri, for whom Thorrablot is named and dedicated.
  • Buck-Björn from Landnamabok has a dream where he enters into a partnership with a mountain jotun (here listed as a bergbui), and afterwards his livestock thrive.
  • There are the jotnar Haymon and Thyrsus. (late folklore) Haymon was liked so much that he has his own statue in Wilten monestary.
  • Fenris-Ulfr may be referenced in a healing charm.
  • One of Iceland’s guardians is a bergrís, a mountain giant.
  • Kristnis saga and Thórvalds þáttr víðförla tells of a vaettr who gave good luck and counsel until Bishop Friðrekr drove him away with holy water.
  • Ysätters-Kajsa (late folklore) is a playful and sometimes troublesome wind-troll from the Swedish province of Närke. She was said to protect people “with integrity” and small children.
  • Edit: I almost forgot Lokatattur

It should be noted that the dividing line between what makes a being an áss, a landvaettr, an alf, a duerg, a jotun/ris/thurs, a troll, or a dead human of some sort… is really pretty hazy, and made more confusing by the way terminology was used very loosely and how it changed over time.

Question: Scandinavian equivalent to the bean sidhe?

Do you happen to know of any Norse beings similar to the Celtic bean sidhe? —That is to say, a being that warns of death/is aware of death before it happens? Different than prophecy, I don’t know if I’m explaining this properly =/
Dear Anon,

The closest thing that I can think of is the fylgja, at least in later folklore where seeing it meant that your death was coming soon.

You will be interested in my previous post on the fylgja. The concept also transferred to places where Scandinavians settled, such as the Orkney Isles.

Additional Reading: Icelandic Fylgjur Tales and a possible Old Norse Context

I would also like to note that some other vaettir were considered to foretell death, but in very specific ways. The nøkk, for instance, can foretell bad weather or death by drowning if you hear or see him.