Question: Is there anything that a newbie might do by mistake that would be considered offensive or in poor manners?

For someone who is just starting out, is there anything that a newbie might do by mistake that would be considered offensive or in poor manners? I’m not planning on making any oaths or anything, and I’ve done what research I can, but I know that coming from a Christian background things that are considered good in one could be seen as bad in the other, and vice-versa.
Dear Anon,

I’m sure I’m going to miss things, but I can list out a few pointers off the top of my head:

  • Hospitality is really damn important. Hosts are expected to be gracious and provide, and you’re expected to behave yourself and not take advantage of their generosity. It’s respectful to ask what the local customs and etiquette is when visiting a particular kindred or someone’s home, then respect that. Local customs could be anything from “don’t say ____’s name” to “don’t bring alcohol because we have a member struggling with alcoholism” to “there will be blood, please dress accordingly and don’t tell us we’re disgusting monsters.”
  • In some kindreds everyone drinks out of the same horn. Ask beforehand, and speak up if you have concerns about it. People should respect the fact that you have health concerns and decline to drink. It’s also acceptable, as a substitute, to pour your swallow out onto the ground (if outside) or into the offering bowl if you do not want to drink.
  • Some people are alright with you eating food on altars. Some will get mad. Ask first. In fact, don’t touch altars unless you have prior permission.
  • Boasting isn’t considered rude or egotistical (up to a point). It’s a community building event, to share recent things you’ve accomplished with other Heathens and to receive recognition and positive feedback. At the same time, don’t go overboard and puff yourself up to a ridiculous degree.
  • Turning down food from vaettir can actually hugely offend them. This is corroborated in Scandinavian folklore. People think accepting food is dangerous because of lore about Irish and Scottish fairies, but with Scandinavian vaettir, rudely refusing offers of hospitality can get you in trouble or killed.
  • Vaettir find human waste (and sometimes spit) absolutely disgusting. It’s a folk tradition to announce that you’re going to relieve yourself if you’re outside and need to do your business so no unwitting vaettir gets, uh, dumped on and literally pissed off. In the same measure, throwing human waste in areas will drive the vaettir there away, which can be good to remember if they’re actually being malevolent and troubling.
  • Oaths: serious fucking business.
  • Charity is still considered very admirable. Trying to be self-sufficient is good and all, but working together in order to survive in a harsh environment is still a part of the culture. Being nice to your neighbors and being generous with your wealth isn’t just a Christian thing, and it appears in several places in the lore.
  • Some people make snippy remarks about worship and “I don’t grovel”, but there are places in the lore that mention people worshiping and fully prostrating themselves while doing so. It isn’t rude or unseemly to kneel or bow or full-on fling yourself down.
  • There’s disagreement about whether it’s permitted to have weapons in a holy place or near altars. Instances of both are mentioned in the lore – both weapons being banned (and people taking advantage of that to murder a hapless worshiper) and people bringing weapons with. Ask the Deities and do what feels right to you, but respect the wishes of your hosts when you visit someone else or another group.

A lot of stuff is just general common sense “don’t be an asshole” sort of things. I’d recommend looking at my take-down of the “Nine Noble Virtues”, since that gets passed around a lot. I’d also ignore a lot of the crowing about how we’re a “warrior religion”. I side-eye anyone who starts edging into subtle or overly racist territory, including people who start waxing poetic about the “folk soul”, which was an invention of the Romantic period (particularly in Germany) to attempt to instill a sense of nationalism. Absorb that fact and think about all the things that happened as a result of German nationalism. Remember that every time someone brings up the concept of the “folk soul”. 


Addendum on Local Vaettir Offerings and Practices.

I went chasing after native ideas of “good neighborliness” to spirits/places in my central-US area, and it turns out, if you ignore all the culturally specific stuff, it amounts to just plain old good practices. “leave it better than you found it. Don’t waste. If it feels impressive, it’s sacred. Don’t waste. Leave sacred places alone. If you get something good its because the spirits around you are generous. Say thank you. Ask permission before crossing water. Don’t. f#$%&ing. waste.”
Good advice.

Question: How should a Heathen in North America interact with local landvaettir?

You wrote that “Spirits have <i>cultures</i>, just like humans do, and the laws and customs and social etiquette are not the same across the board.”(post/56522432977, on oaths). I’m wondering what this means for interacting with local/land spirits. Should a Heathen in North America practice it as it is done in Scandinavia, or copy how Native North Americans do it because they should know what local spirits want? And if the latter, is it cultural appropriation?
Dear fr33lance,

This is tricky business. For the post in question, I was referring specifically to the fact that people tend to assume that Scottish and Irish fairy lore holds true for spirits across the board, which isn’t true and can land you in very hot water. In general, I stick to Scandinavian practices, but I’m also working a lot with Scandinavian vaettir. For other spirits (some of whom aren’t tied to a specific location or associated with a particular human culture), I talk to them directly and learn what their expectations are. For the local land vaettir in North America:

  • Do not adopt First Nations practices without explicit permission from people with the authority to make that call. Don’t call smoke offerings or cleansings “smudging”. Just don’t. Be extremely sensitive to anything that is a cultural practice. If you’re told not to touch something or do something, do not touch it or do it.
  • Do offer native plants/foodstuffs if they are not appropriative and if they are not endangered. White sage (salvia apiana) is one of many plants that have been overharvested. Do some research. Don’t contribute to the endangerment of native plant and animal species. 
  • Offering alcohol libations, while rather common in Heathenry, is actually probably not a good idea to give as offerings to local landvaettir given how alcohol was and is used as a weapon against First Nations peoples. I’d imagine the landvaettir would not be very pleased with that, no matter how good your intentions might be.
  • Ask the landvaettir themselves what they want.

I’m not qualified to say for certain what is appropriative or to give permission, so do not ask me. I am not qualified. 

Question: What do you know about the valraven?

I recently read in northern trad about a lesser known Norse god named Valraven… is this a legitimate thing/do you know any texts with him in it that I might read?
Dear Anon,

A valravn isn’t actually a Deity, but a sort of vaettir most commonly spoken of in Danish folklore. The story varies as to how a normal raven becomes a valravn (pl. valravne), but often it is transformed after it eats a dead, unusual human on the battlefield, such as a dead king or chieftain or notable hero. It then gains supernatural powers and human-like sentience. Sometimes it becomes a creature that is part wolf, part raven.

Also common to the folklore is the idea that the valravn hunts for children and, after consuming a child’s heart, it either gains salvation (and is no longer a damned being) and/or it transforms into a human knight.

There’s not much out there that’s available in English. Most of it is in Danish, in folk songs or folktales. Jacob Grimm mentions them in volume three of his Teutonic Mythology, and Axel Olrik’s Dansk Folkeviser is free to read online (although, again, in Danish. I’m not certain if an HTML version of the book exists that can be run through a translation program.) Sorten Muld also has a song about it, Ravnen

Question: Can other things be interpreted as oaths?

Since you mentioned Odin and Loki being opportunistic about blood oaths in the tattoo post, I have to ask: what ELSE could potentially be interpreted as one? I may have done some questionable things before I knew what I was doing.
Dear quantumwobbles,
Generally speaking, I’m careful about who I offer blood to and exactly how I phrase things so my words can’t be creatively interpreted as a promise or oath when I didn’t intend one. I also tend to be cautious about whether I’m wearing something that is symbolically tied to a particular Deity – at bare minimum it means I might draw that Deity’s attention, and (because I’m paranoid about this sort of thing) at worst I worry that it’s taken as a sort of informal open offer. (This doesn’t seem to be an issue with Thor. He appears to have a strong sense of fair play.)
As a general sort of way to learn some guidelines, old folklore is excellent at giving clues. Go for the old stuff, not the modern sterilized retellings, and note how people speak and act and what is perceived to get the humans in the stories into trouble (and out again). Also note the time period and culture/location of the tales. This will help you not only figure out how the story might have been affected by Christianization or the Romanticist movement (with it’s gross nationalistic inventions), but how the spirits associated with that culture or location have acted in the past. This is something that gets glossed over a lot. As just one example, while Irish and Scottish stories teach you that it’s a smart move to refuse food and drink from the Fair Folk, refusing such hospitality with Scandinavian vaettir will be perceived as an insult and land you in hot water. Spirits have cultures, just like humans do, and the laws and customs and social etiquette are not the same across the board.

Question: I keep feeling little pricks and nudges, mostly on my hands and fingers. First of all, is this a common thing? And what could it mean?

I’ve recently started working with Loki. For some reason I keep feeling little pricks and nudges, mostly on my hands and fingers. First of all, is this a common thing? And what could it mean? Could this be something other than Loki? Or could this be me wanting interaction and be all in my head?I’m very, VERY new to this whole thing. Any answers you can give me would be very much appreciated!
Dear Anon,
Keep an eye on it just in case. Problems with the circulation or nervous systems can cause prickling, tingling, sudden twitches, sensations of heat or cold, etc.
These are often fairly commonly reported feelings when someone is getting touched by a spirit of any kind. I sometimes get a prickly, hot sensation about the size of a handprint on my upper arm when a (not Dead) spirit tries to “grab” me to direct my attention to something or let me know they are present. I get the same thing, but cold, if it’s a Dead spirit.

Question: Candy vanished off of the altar, is it Loki?

Hey there! I am starting to make an altar and wish to praise Loki. While I was making chaos and cleaning in my room, the offering I made (Skittles, because I read somewhere someone like them) vanished and I can’t seem to find them. I hope this may be a sign that Loki up and took them! XD I wouldn’t know though if that is something Loki would do when I wasn’t looking.
Dear Anon,
It’s a possibility. (You might also want to consider if you have pets, family members, or have recently had household visitors that might have wandered past and gotten a little munchy. I’ve seen people randomly help themselves to foodstuffs on altars, particularly if it’s candy.)
You might also want to consider vaettir. Loki gets a lot of accusations of stealing and hiding keys and trinkets and so forth, but in my experience vaettir are a whole lot more likely to do that sort of thing. (Not that Loki doesn’t, mind you, but 8/10 times stuff has actually gotten snatched from me by a sticky-fingered entity, it’s been a vaettir or a human ghost.)