Tomte: Norse Culture on Thursdays



This is a new feature where I’ll write a bit about Norse beliefs on Thursdays when the mood strikes me. It’s mostly me typing up my notes for a project I’m working on
House-wights can be identified with the brownies and boggarts of English folklore and the tomten of Scandinavian folklore.

A house wight (or tomte)  is a spirit that lives in your home…or in a sense…the house wight is the spirit of your hearth or the spirit of your home.  Some Asatruars/Heathens don’t do much with their house wight or don’t focus on it much.  But it is fair to say that the spirits of your home and of your land are very close to you, and are available for daily interaction.  After all, they are right there in your home or on your land.  Your house wight is a roommate of sorts, and your land wight is like a close neighbor.  It is believed that our ancestors would have spent much more time gifting, honoring, and interacting with their house wight and land wights…then they would have their ancestors or the Gods.  They depended on their relationship with the land and the safety and efficiency of their home for their very lives.  So, it makes sense that this is where their focus would be placed.

It can be a valuable practice to establish an altar or home for your house wight right in your home.  I tend to believe that a relatively central location is a good idea.  Many of our ancestors saw the house wight as being associated with the hearth or fire in the home, and this was always in a central location.  So determine where the center or “heart” of your home is located.  Where do most of the activity take place?  Where can you set a house wight’s home so that it’s right in the mix…part of the action?  Where is the focus of your home?  For some, it might be the family room of the home.  For others, it might be the kitchen or dining room.  It really depends on how you use your home.  When you have chosen the right place, then it is time to consider what sort of home/altar you want to create for your house-wight.  Some put this shrine on a shelf or table.  Others place it over their fireplace on the mantle.  I’ve even heard of house wight altars inside cabinets.

We have nothing set up right now, but when we build our mantle, I hope to create a spot.  In my family, we tend to give the house wight pretty shiny things or food.
We also give our house wight a taste of soda now and again. When I make homemade baked goods, I will sometimes share a piece with the house wight.  I’ve heard of other families giving their house wight cream, or honey, or a bit of fresh cheese.  I tend to believe that house wight tastes vary.  So, if you give a gift and it doesn’t feel right…don’t give that gift anymore.  Try other gifts.  If a gift seems like it is well received, then make a mental note and repeat that gift again. I think our tomte shares with our cats.  You may find that a daily gift is appropriate and works for you and your house wight, or perhaps something weekly is more realistic and more appreciated.  Really, it is something you have to experiment with until you find the right answers for your own situation and home.

I will gladly admit to also talking to our house wight.  If I’ve lost something or if I need to find something, I’ll sometimes ask the house wight for a little help finding it.  Sometimes, I just talk about whatever’s going on…or have a laugh about something the kids have done.  Some people picture their house wight as a spirit…others picture their house wight as some form of had folks like brownies or tomte or nisse.  Some get the idea that their house wight is a male and some a female.  Some folks come to believe that they have some understanding of the personality of their house wight.  Others find their house wight to be more of a mystery.  Really, I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules.  I believe some house wights prefer a neat and tidy home, while others prefer a little bit of general clutter.  Some house wights prefer a bit of quiet, while others seem to enjoy the noise a house full of children brings.  I’ve heard various beliefs on what house wights feel about family pets, but I tend to think the pets and the house wights give each other a respectful and friendship distance.

What is most important, is finding a way to acknowledge and interact with the spirit or heart of your home.  While this is a spiritual matter, it is a practical one as well.  When you gift and honor your house wight, and attempt to form a relationship or bond there…you will most likely also have a better appreciation for your own home, how it operates, and what makes it work best for you and your family.  Many Heathens that gift and honor their house wight, report tangible benefits from doing so.  Their homes are happier and healthier.  They lose things less often, and when they do lose things…these objects have a way of turning up on their own (with a little help from the house wight, of course).  Children who are taught to appreciate and get along with their house wight, are introduced to a part of our Folkway that many adults new to our world-view have not yet discovered.  By teaching this to our children, we are giving back to them something that was taken from us.

Now let’s talk about the land vaettir or land wights.  Some picture these wights or beings as actually hidden folk (Brownies, gnomes, etc.)  Others imagine them as the living embodiment or living spirit of the fields or forests.  There are various ways to approach them as well.  What I’m going to talk about is what to do if you live in a suburban home and wish to gift the land vaettir outside of your home.  Much like with the house wight, it is a good idea to establish a place in your yard to honor the land wights and to leave them gifts.  This place in the back yard can be somewhere that you can sit and think and enjoy your back yard.  Or it can be someplace dramatic or central to you backyard, such as a large tree or some other feature that dominates your yard.  You can build an actual home for your land wight.  Though some build an altar of rocks or wood.  It might be appropriate to plant a flower garden or landscape an appropriate place to honor the land wights.  It is really up to you.

Leaving gifts for the land wights is a similar process to that of the house-wights, except that it is somewhat less personal.  I don’t find myself sharing some of my brownies with the land-wights like I do with my house-wight.  I am more likely to only sacrifice an entire beer of some quality to the land wights, while we sit out at the fire pit.

In the Americas, some feel it is important to offer the wights only gifts-Native American/First Nation ancestors would accept, such as corn-meal, and not to provide alcohol. Others do not identify the wights with any human people or regard the spirit in which the offering is given as more important than what it is.

For me, the land wights are a little more distant and not nearly as close or personal as you house wight.  It always feels to me like they are a little bit harder to get along with…and not as quick to give you the benefit of the doubt.  Keeping your yard and trees healthy and well-tended (or at the very least, free of trash and clutter) is pleasing to the land wights.

Honestly, this can all sound a bit crazy to the uninitiated.  Many new Heathens tend to focus on the Gods and Goddesses because they are used to religions that emphasize divine powers.  The idea that you share a home with an unseen spirit is not exactly something most of us grew up within our modern culture.  Giving gifts and respect to the spirits and invisible beings that live on the land you own is not something that you hear much about outside of our Folkway.  But, as strange as it sounds and feels, gifting one’s house wight and the land wights on your land, and learning how to interact with these beings can be very rewarding.  It is one of those things that feels a bit strange at first but then feels very natural after just a short time of giving it a try.

2 thoughts on “Tomte: Norse Culture on Thursdays

  1. feebeeglee

    Nice post! One of my favorite sweater patterns is Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Tomten jacket. It would suit a real tomte.

    1. That sounds cool. I need to learn to knit or crochet.

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