Landvaettir

I have heard landvaettir referred to be a number of names; some refer to Them as genus loci, others “the wee Folk” (although they sometimes mean Faeries), and a host of other names.  I experience Them as spirits of place, with faces that They have shown me as varied as the places They are found.  I have found that when I journey or spiritually have a dialogue with Them, the landvaettir on campus take the form of the school’s mascot while the landvaettir around my home are more nebulous, appearing as trees with faces or living earth.  When I travel to cities, sometimes the landvaettir sometimes take the form of what might symbolize it, such as a weathered blue-collar worker for Flint, or a bohemian twenty-something for Ann Arbor.  Then again, depending on where I travel in these cities the landvaettir’s ‘face’ may change.

I first came to work with landvaettir when I was first starting as a Pagan, mostly through the book Urban Primitive by Raven Kaldera and Tann Schwartzstein.  I was living in Flint at the time, and the landvaettir were loud, active, and stirred up.  The very thought of going out and talking to Them, that They could show me a ‘face’, hadn’t occurred to me till I read the book.  Then, I began speaking with the landvaettir of Flint, really getting to know it.  I didn’t have a car at first, and I was living on campus going to college at Baker.  The spirit showed me a kind of weathered blue-collar worker, which in reflection makes sense since Flint was the birthplace of the sit-down strikes and was home to a lot of production.  The city used to have a place in it called Buick City for Gods’ sakes.  Well, in my end of the bargain with the landvaettir around the campus, I kept up the campus by picking up trash where I found it and give to the homeless that would occasionally hang around campus.  In return It/They helped keep me safe and keep other spirits off of me.  It was with this spirit that I first learned how to bargain and negotiate, and how to scratch a spirit’s back so it would scratch mine in turn.  I also learned why speaking with the spirit of a place was important before you do magic.  I did magic on campus, ignorant that I should even ask the spirits prior to doing so.  When I finally did, it was much more effective, and came to fruition faster and with greater effect.  Through the landvaettir of Flint, I learned of basic reciprocation with spirits, how to actually do offerings other than leaving out food.  This turned out to be good, since I didn’t have a lot of food to spare, and it seemed the spirit(s) liked my offerings of doing stuff like cleaning up and helping out better anyhow.  It had enough litter and stuff floating around.  People used to throw carts from shopping areas into local creeks and leave food and wrappers around all the time.

Landvaettir have helped me a lot over the years, whether it has been to find my way when I was lost in a city (good thing; this happens from time to time), food, or even money when I really needed it for parking.  Being kind to the landvaettir and giving Them your ear can do a lot of good; you might find things you never would have otherwise, and They finally feel listened to, something a lot of people in general simply don’t do.  By paying attention, running some errands for Them, or simply helping to take care of Their space, there is a lot you and the vaettir can gain.  Imagine how happy it would make you to have a random stranger come up to you after a long, rough day, and ask “How can I help?”  The gratitude, at least for me, is immediate, and I want to know how I can help the person in turn when they’ve helped me.

Lately, my home’s landvaettir and I have developed a closer relationship given I’m now living back at home and am working in the garden.  This last Friday I harvested the first asparagus harvest.  I gave prayers to the landvaettir, thanking Them for such a beautiful bounty, and praised Them and Freyr (whom I associate with the vegetable due to its phallic shape and reputation as an aphrodisiac) as I was harvesting, thanking each individual plant’s vaettir and the vaettir of asparagus Itself.   I had given offerings of food at the oak that is a little ways from the garden the night before.  There is Gebo, gift-for-a-gift, in these things.  By taking care of the plants, and by being allowed to harvest, by giving offerings and prayers and accepting help from the spirits, the cycles of gifts continues to turn, and relationships grow even closer.  When I eat now, I pray to the landvaettir both here, and wherever my food comes from.  The former, I pray to in thanks for the home, for warmth, the ability to live in this modern world alongside Them, and the latter landvaettir, I thank because it is from Them that this food comes.  It is from both that I am able to type to you, to live a modern life, to go to school and better myself.  Yet I do not forget the people who harvested the food or cooked it; everyone deserves their praise in turn, everyone who allows our lives to be as they are is worthy of remembrance.  As Odin said: “Cattle die, kinsman die/but I know what never dies/He who gets himself a good name”.  How seldom do people praise the lands from where their food comes from; how seldom people recognize that other human beings grew, harvested, and brought the massive amounts of food we have to us.  We lionize combat but do not praise the growing of food.  I can tell you this: in my own experience it is far easier to throw a competent punch than grow your own food.  I also know which one will allow me to live longer, too.

This is not to denigrate those who choose to give their of their lives in military service; that has a place.  Yet I have heard relatively little praise for the myriad of people who bring us the food we eat.  It was only until I started reading Lupa’s blog that I even considered working with Food Totems.  From that I thought “Well, if I can honor the spirits of the animals who have died so I can live, I can do it with the plants, and I can do it with the people too.”  Though I haven’t started talking to anyone or thing analogous to the Chicken Totem from, say, the people who farm, the prayers I give and the prayers I teach my son to give don’t only praise our Gods, but the beings, from spirit, from root to flesh, from flesh to flesh, that make our meals possible.  This, in my view, resacralizes all the landvaettir, not just the ones that exist with us in our homes and properties.  Cutting ourselves off from our part, to thank those who make this life possible and doing what we can to make those spirits and lives better in the long run, cuts off Gebo.  They help to give us the gift of life; shouldn’t our return be more than words?

I say this as a person who is, as of right now, making no income.  Sometimes magic, prayers and my signature are all I have.  Yet all of these are powerful, and should be treated as such.  My signature can be the start or continuation of an avalanche of change, or a whisper of a promise to a future generation.  My magic can be a powerful catalyst, or progenitor of change.  My prayers can give word to the wordless, praise to the unappreciated, recognition and immortality to those who would die in ignominy.  So could any one person.

Working with the landvaettir is part of my work as a shaman and priest; I am able to live by Them, and They are able to have greater impact in this world because I listen to Them and do things with and for Them.  I hope it is something that more people, whether or not you’re a priest, or someone who just likes to garden, will take up.  Having a vibrant relationship with the land makes it come even more alive, makes the Sacred that more immanent because you truly are finding it because you’re looking for it everywhere.  Our Wyrd ties into all things, and vice versa; by feeling those threads and acknowledging them we can allow understanding, healing, or simple recognition for its own sake to come into our lives.  Sometimes we do not need to do anything, except acknowledge something or someone, be thankful for it, and honor the spirit or person for their undertaking.  Sometimes we don’t even need to do that; sometimes the hardest thing we can do is simply get the hell out of the way and let things happen as they need to.  In harvesting to asparagus recently I had instances where the landvaettir asked me not to cut down certain stalks, but to simply let them grow.  To leave them be.  Sometimes I thought I knew better, and harvested a stalk because “well, I think that’s long enough and I probably didn’t hear right” and found out later the stalk wasn’t ready to harvest.  Mercifully it was only a few; the landvaettir sometimes up the ‘volume’ for me to hear when my head is chattering.  Other times, They wait for me to get the clue and take a breath and listen.

Sometimes receiving a message from a landvaettir vastly harder than it is from a God or Ancestor.  The latter two are much more ‘close’ to myself as a human being, whereas I find that landvaettir are sometimes composite spirits or overarching spirits that comes together from the energy around an area, like Flint’s blue-collar person or Ann Arbor’s bohemian.  Other times, the landvaettir are a single sizeable spirit of an area, such as an old oak or swath of grass, and can be rather alien in their imagery or symbols, or hard to understand because They use mental language and metaphor that is far different than what I am used to.  Sometimes, as with the first type, it is that the composite isn’t quite sure what it wants to communicate, or there is a cacophony effect that occurs because there are so many voices.  Sometimes, as with the second type, the message is jumbled because we’re operating on different frequencies where thought and understanding are centered.  Other times, the landvaettir and I just don’t have a deep or strong enough connection to have a decent rapport like my Gods or Ancestors do with me.

There is a lot of feeling out that gets done when I first have contact with landvaettir in meditation or journey work.  At least a third of the time I tend to spend figuring out the symbols or communication methods the landvaettir use, another third to establish rapport, and the last third to actually hear the message.  Of course, this varies with differing vaettir; I find it easier to ‘get’ city landvaettir because They are more used to human concepts, whereas landvaettir of wild can be hard to interpret due to differences in perspective or downright hostile due to other humans’ treatment of an area or its inhabitants.  Sometimes just thinking about Treebeard from The Lord of the Rings helps put this in perspective for me.  You’re communicating with a Being that may be pretty old comparative to you, and/or who may have seen a lot of change, chaotic and sometimes pollutive change, wrought by our species for the last hundred or so years.  Yet you might be talking to a relatively young spirit, one that’s grown up with the town around you, or the street.  One that could be empowered by the attention, or devastated by the blight, or alternatively feeding on it and causing it to grow.  Sometimes you simply don’t encounter landvaettir that want to play nice; sometimes you do, and They’ll not only be willing to talk, but really help you.  By treating these spirits with the same respect as I, an individual would want, I tend to have a better rapport and time in the places where They live and I frequent.

In my view, thinking of yourself as a guest in Their homes helps put things into a healthy perspective.  In the Northern Tradition hospitality is one of the watchwords.  If I act a fool and trash the place (i.e. breaking limbs off trees just because I can and littering) why would They want to know me any more, or work with me, or allow my magic to reach its intended destination?  I sure wouldn’t.  Again, this all come back to Gebo.  The gift of respect is the gift you often receive.  A lot of books tend to treat Nature spirits, and landvaettir as these cute little beings who are just so happy to help you and achieve x, y, or z.  More often than not I find that a lot of spirits around me just want to live in relative peace, as opposed to conflict.  It is in their self-interest to have a good relationship with us, just as it is for us to have the same with Them.  It isn’t that They can’t be cute; some are, and others aren’t.  Not all Nature is pretty, and not all Nature’s critters are pretty.  I happen to deeply hate mosquitoes as a specie, while They seem to absolutely love my blood.  I can barely walk around in summer without having little mosquito bumps creep from my toes (if I don’t wear shoes) all the way up and down my body in clusters of little bite-bumps.  I despise these vaettir.  They may be part of my Wyrd, and I can respect Them for that, but I don’t have to like Them.  Yet it is in my interest to have a good relationship with Them.  After all, if I can cut a deal with Them my bites may not be as bad.  Our Wyrd may be tied together, but I believe there is wiggle room for negotiating the threads between us.

The landvaettir in my life have been great teachers, even the openly hostile ones.  Many have taught me different aspects of my spirituality, from connecting to the Earth, to what happens to the vaettir when humans trash and energetically drag an area down.  Some have brought me to spiritual teachers themselves, whereas others help to provide for my physical needs.  There is always something to be learned in our relationships with others.  There is always some balance that needs to be struck, and when it is, the ripples of that balance can be felt through the threads of orlog (personal Wyrd) through to the universal Wyrd.  Landvaettir are the spirits of the land; They are at once part of and closest to the land we walk on, the food we eat, the clothing we make, the world we change.   They are part of Midgard as much as we are.  If we are to live side-by-side, then treating Them with respect and dignity, being hospitable to Them and expecting the same in return is part of us living together in this world.  Healing where we can, helping where we can, and having the same done in turn generates the gifts all of us can continue to give and receive long into the future.  To me, living incommunion with this world and all its Beings is so much more rich than living apart.  My relationships and work with the landvaettir, though a part of my life, is an important part that stretches into my everyday life.  Hopefully, as time goes on, more will honor our spiritual cohabitants and treat Them with the respect They deserve.  In healing our relationships with the world around us, we can more effectively heal our world.

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  1. May 9, 2011 at 4:41 am

    Excellent article ! I don’t know the northern concept so I wasn’t sure what the landvaettir were. Really great to read.

    A question : I didn’t get that sentence (maybe my english fails me) : “how to scratch a spirit’s back so it would scratch mine in turn”

    I’m living in the city since 4 years now, and I begin to be sensitive to these energies…. I’m planning on intensifying my work with “genus loci”, or spirits of places. All the more so since I begin to feel what you describe : a more respectful approach of the spirits when you practice.

    I love yout reflexion about food. As I grow aware of the spirits I see them everywhere, and you also see the intervention of the living with them (even when they’re not aware) that contributed to creating things, like food. I thank the Gods more or less often for their blessing, for offering fertility, but indeed it is so much more wide ! I need to thank the spirits too, and people. THe whole cycle.

    And finally, I totally agree with you that the landspirits energies are the more subtle of all. SO it hard to find, feel and listen.

    Well there are so many ideas in your essay… It is so relevant, all of it.

    • May 9, 2011 at 12:20 pm

      Landvaettir are land spirits. They take a lot of different forms in my experience.

      As to your question: It is how to do for the spirit so it would do something for me in turn.

      Thank you for your kind words. I am glad that you find it all so relevant. I hope that as time goes on, more people do too.

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