ONW | Teutonic Religious Practices Lesson C: Needfire & Landvættir


Lesson Index A thru F

Lesson C Religious Practices of the Pre-Christian &
Viking Age North

by Alfta Lothurrsdottir

Northvegr.org ©


Sacred Fire

Sacred Flame is a very important part of Heathen practice. It can be found in some form in most all rites. Whether it be the Summer Finding and midsummer fires or the fires of the blót-feast which were used to hallow the mead or ale. Fires were jumped through during midsummer rites and cattle might be herded between fires to protect them from disease. (368) Fire, like water, was a living being to Heathens (369) with the power to carry things between the nine worlds. Grimm describes the need-fire as tüfel häla which means ‘despoiling the devil of his strength.’ He believes that this is possibly “one of those innumerable allusions to Loki, the devil and fire-god. (370) See the article on Loki for more information concerning this. <<link>>.

Fire was thought to take people and materials to the other-worlds. We’ll examine the more esoteric implications of this in the second part of this article dealing with how we might incorporate these practices into modern practice. But for now we’ll limit ourselves to specific evidence in the lore. Davidson states that the heating and cooking (fire) of meat on the hearth was an image of the link between man and the other-world. (371) In Ynglinga saga it was Othinn’s law that dead men should be burned along with their belongings. If they did this they would come to Valhalla. (372) It seems form this description that it was the burning that took the dead men and their belongings to Vallhöll. Even more convincing evidence of this comes from the account of Ibn Fadlin, in which he describes the funeral of a Rus Chieftain. In it, one of the Northmen attending the funeral where the chief along with his belongings were burned said, “You Arabs are fools.” When the Rus was asked why he said that he replied, ‘”You take the people who are most dear to you and whom you honor most and put them into the ground where insects and worms devour them. We burn him in a moment, so that he enters Paradise at once.” Then he began to laugh uproariously. When I asked why he laughed, he said, “His Lord, for love of him, has sent the wind to bring him away in an hour.” And actually an hour had not passed before the ship, the wood, the girl, and her master were nothing but cinders and ashes.’ (373) From this account is very easy to see that the Rus considered the fire as the primary element that carried their dead chief and his possessions to Vallhöll. He is further pleased when a wind comes to fan the fire so that his chief will get to his destination even quicker.

The one type of sacred fire we have the most material on was called the need-fire. There is no doubt that this practice can be traced back to Heathen times. It was considered, by Heathens, to be the most holy method of starting a fire. It was produced by rubbing two sticks of wood together until the friction generated enough heat to start the fire. Flame that had been kept for some time and/or had been passed from one fire to another was thought not to be of the sacred quality needed for various religious and/or magical purposes. For sacred use the fire must be newly struck was called ‘wild fire.’ As fires that had been burning a long time or had been transferred from other fires were not sufficient for sacred purposes, neither were fires struck with flint and steel of use for sacred needs. The obtaining of fire from the friction between two pieces of wood being rubbed together was the most holy and most desired. (374)

Lindenbrog in the Glossary to the Capitularies describes the following method of starting a need-fire: ‘If at any time a grievous murrain have broke out among cattle great or small, and they have suffered much harm thereby; the husbandmen with one consent make a nothfür or nothfeuer (need-fire). On a day appointed there must in no house be any flame left on the hearth. From every house shall be some straw and water and bushwood brought; then is a stout oaken stake driven fast into the ground, and a hole bored through the same, to the which a wooden roller well smeared with pitch and tar is let in, and so winded about, until by reason of the great heat and stress (nothzwang) it give out fire. This is straightway catched on shavings, and by straw, heath and bushwood enlarged, till it grow to a full nothfeuer, yet must it stretch a little way along betwixt two walls or hedges, and the cattle and thereto the horses be with sticks and whips driven through it three times or two. Others in other parts set up two such stakes, and stuff into the holes a windle or roller and therewith old rags smeared with grease. Others use a hairen or common light-spun rope, collect wood of nine kinds, and keep up a violent motion till such time as fire do drop there from. There may be in use yet other ways for the generating or kindling of this fire, nevertheless they all have respect unto the healing of cattle alone. After thrice or twice passing through, the cattle are driven to stall or field, and the collected pile of wood pile of wood is again pulled asunder, yet in such a wise in sundry places, that every householder shall take a brand with him, quench it in the wash or swill tub, and put the same by for a time in the crib wherein the cattle are fed. The stakes driven in for the extorting of this fire, and the wood used for a roller, are sometimes carried away for fuel, sometimes laid by in safety, when the threefold chasing of the cattle through the flame hath been accomplished.” As we can see from this description grease was used to aid in the starting of the fire. Also interesting is that the main post mentioned is made of oak. In Sweden there were accounts of nine sorts of woods being used. (375) As we know the importance that Heathens put on the oak tree, it is no surprise that oak was used for the generation of the sacred need-fire.
Another description comes from the Scottish highlands. “Upon any small river, lake, or island, a circular booth of stone or turf is erected, on which a couple or rafter of a birch tree is placed, and the roof covered over. In the center is set a perpendicular post, fixed by a wooden pin to the couple, the lower end being placed in an oblong groove on the floor; and another pole is placed horizontally between the upright post and the legs of the couple, into both of which the ends, being tapered, are inserted. This horizontal timber is called the augur, being provided with four short arms or spokes by which it can be turned round. As many men as can be collected are then set to work, having first divested themselves of all kinds of metal, and two at a time continue to turn the pole by means of the levers, while others keep driving wedges under the upright post so as to press it against the augur, which by the friction soon becomes ignited. From this the need-fire is instantly procured, and all other fires being immediately quenched, those are rekindled both in dwelling house and offices are accounted sacred, and the cattle are successively made to smell them.” (376) As with the previous description we see that the all other fires are put out before the need-fire is started. It is also interesting to note that in this description the men involved in making the need-fire are sure to take anything made of metal from themselves.

A third description is quoted by Grimm which comes to us from Martin. “The forced fire, or fire of necessity, which they used as an antidote against the plague or murrain in cattle; and it was performed thus: all the fires in the parish were extinguished, and then eighty-one (9 x 9) married men, being thought the necessary number for effecting this design, took two great planks of wood, and nine of ’em were employed by turns, who by their repeated efforts rubbed one of the planks against the other until the heat thereof produced fire; and from this forced fire each family is supplied with new fire, which is no sooner kindled than a pot full of water is quickly set on it, and afterwards sprinkled upon the people infected with the plague, or upon the cattle that have the murrain. And this they all say they find successful by experience: it was practiced on the mainland opposite to the south of Skye, within these thirty years.” (377)
The need-fire is a practice that is still practiced in some parts of Germany in the modern era. Grimms tells that the common folk still distinguish between fire and the wild fire which is started by rubbing two pieces of wood together. He states that fire started through friction is the surest mark of Heathenism. (378)

One of the main uses of the need-fire was the health of domestic animals. Many times after the need-fire was started cattle and horses were driven between two fires started from it. Swine were also drove between the fires to keep disease from cropping up. In Kuhn’s Märkische sagen is described another need-fire tradition. “Before sunrise two stakes of dry wood are dug into the ground amid solemn silence, and hempen ropes that go round them are pulled back and forwards till the wood catches fire; the fire is fed with leaves and twigs, and the sick animals (swine in this case) are driven through. In some places the fire is produced by the friction of an old cartwheel. (379)
One more description of a need-fire I would like to, here, quote. “In many villages of Lower Saxony, especially in the mountains, it is common, as a precaution against cattle plague, to get up the so-called wild fire, through which first the pigs, then the cows, lastly the geese are driven. The established procedure in the matter is this. The farmers and all the parish assemble, each inhabitant receives notice to extinguish every bit of fire in his house, so that not a spark is left alight in the whole village. Then old and young walk to a hollow way, usually towards evening, the women carrying linen, the men wood and tow. Two oaken stakes are driven into the ground a foot and a half apart, each having a hole on the inner side, into which fits a cross-bar as thick as an arm. The holes are stuffed with linen, then the cross-bar is forced in as tight as possible, the heads of the stakes being held together with cords. About the smooth round cross-bar is coiled a rope, whose long ends, left hanging on both sides are seized by a number of men; these make the cross-bar revolve rapidly this way and that, till the friction sets the linen in the holes on fire. The sparks are caught on tow or oakum, and whirled round in the air till they burst into a clear blaze, which is then communicated to straw, and from the straw to a bed of brushwood arranged in cross layers in the hollow way. When this wood has well burnt and nearly done blazing, the people hurry off to the herds waiting behind, and drive them perforce, one after the other, through the glowing embers. As soon as all the cattle are through, the young folks throw themselves pell-mell upon the ashes and coals, sprinkling and blackening one another; those who are most blackened and besmudged march into the village behind the cattle as conquerors, and will not wash for a long time after. If after long rubbing the linen will not catch, they feel sure there is still fire somewhere in the village, and that the element refuses to reveal itself through friction: then follows a strict searching of houses, any fire they may light upon is extinguished, and the master of the house rebuked or chastised. But that the wild fire should be evoked by friction is indispensable, it cannot be struck out of flint and steel. Some localities perform the ceremony, not yearly as a preventive of murrain, but only upon its actually breaking out.” (380) This example is like the other examples in all its major features.
The need-fire seemed to take place at different times depending on what area you were in. Some areas held it at or around the spring equinox while others held it at midsummer. The Danes and Scandinavia hold midsummer fires. Grimm gives an account of a tradition performed on Whitsun morning. On that morning some stablemen were seen to make a need-fire and boil their cabbage over it. They believe that by eating it, they would be protected from fever in the coming year. On June 20th 1653 the Nürnberg town council issued the following order: “Whereas experience heretofore hath shown, that after the old heathenish use, on John’s day in every year, in the country, as well in towns as villages, money and wood hath been gathered by young folk, and thereupon the so-called sonnenwendt or zimmet fire kindled, and thereat winebibbing, dancing about the said fire, leaping over the same, with burning of sundry herbs and flowers, and setting of brands from the said fire in the fields, and in many other ways all manner of superstitious work carried on—Therefore the Hon. Council of Nürnberg town neither can nor ought to forbear to do away with all such unbecoming superstition, paganism, and peril of fire on this coming day of St. John (Neuer lit. anz. 1807, p. 318).” St. John’s Day was the Christian adaptation of Midsummer. Although the need-fire was resorted to in times of an outbreak of murrain, it was also done at set times of the year as a preventative measure, especially at Midsummer. (381)
Although the need-fire was normally started either at times of disease or during Midsummer as a preventative measure the need-fire was also a part of the major feasts. The wild-fire (need-fire) was considered most sacred so it is easy to see why it would have been used at the major feasts and most likely at any rite that was sacred in manner. Indeed the need-fire seems to have been common all over Europe. (382)

Just as the need-fire was especially important during Midsummer so was there were fires lighted at the opposite point in the year, at Yule. This was the burning of the yule log. At Marseille it was a large oaken log which was sprinkled with wine and oil and it was the master of the house who would light the log. In Dapuphiné they called it chalendal and lighted it on Christmas eve and sprinkled it with wine. It was considered holy and it was allowed to burn in peace. The English called it yule-log and the Scandinvians called it julblok. (383) Part of the yule-log was saved for the following year where it would be used to start the new yule-log fire. (384)
There is also a Candlemas tradition that, according to Grimm, most surely has its roots in a Heathen tradition. Candlemas is held at Midwinter. In this tradition the head of the household would gather all her servants in a half-circle in front of the oven door and all bent down on one knee. They then would take one bite of cake and drink to the fire’s health. The remainder of the cake and drink was cast into the fire. (385)
Before moving on to discussing the Landvættir I would like to relate some of the miscellaneous traditions concerned with fire. A Norwegian custom holds that so long as a child is un-baptized the fire must not be allowed to go out. The fire used for a magic bath was not to be heated with common flint and steel fire. The instructions for making the fire were again much like the wild-fire (need-fire). “Go to an apple tree which the lightning hath stricken, let a saw be made thee of his wood, therewith shalt thou saw upon a wooden threshold that much people passeth over, till it be kindled. Then make firewood of birch-fungus, and kindle it at this fire, with which thou shalt heat the bath, and on thy life see it go not out” In the Midsummer fire it was traditional to throw into the fire, herbs of all kinds and to leap through it. When tossing in the herbs the person throwing them in would say, “May all my troubles go off in the fire and smoke!” The jumping over the fire during Midsummer seems to have been a very wide-spread practice and most certainly has its roots in Heathen tradition. At Nürnberg they jump over the fires and in doing so have good health for the coming year. On St John’s Day (Midsummer) they leaped over the fire and drank mead over it. (386)

The Landvættir

A very important part of the life, both sacred and mundane, of Northern Europeans were the landvættir (guardian land-spirits). (387) As the landvættir were such an integral part of the religious practices of the Northern Europeans, I think it would be good to, here, examine them in detail before continuing on. The belief in the landvættir was almost universal among Northern Europeans. (388) The dwelt in trees, stones, groves, houses, wells, and rivers. (389) All of nature, even rocks, were thought to have living spirits connected with them. (390)

The way of Heathenism was closely linked to the land. Unlike the Christians who saw nature as something to be conquered and controlled Heathens saw that nature was something sacred, something which should be cooperated with. If man honored the land spirits and treated them with respect the crops would come in fuller, the domestic animals would be healthy and reproduce. On the other hand, to anger the land spirits was to bring certain disaster. (391) The gods might be turned to for the larger more important matters, but it was the landvættir that were turned to often for the practical every day needs. Their favor was often sought. (392)
The line between the honoring of ancestors and the guardian land spirits seems sometimes to be a little blurry but it seems that over-all the two were separate. The ancestors were always honored as can be seen from the fact that one of the fullar, the minni-full, was dedicated to ancestors and/or friends. Even though offerings were made to the grave mounds of previous kings for prosperity of the land this is still different from the concept of landvættir.

The domain in which the landvættir had influence was wide. They had influence in the cultivation of the soil, in weaving and spinning and in the raising of animals. They also had influence in the upbringing of children. (393)

The landvættir would some times enter into partnerships with men. One example of this is in Landnámabók. In the account a family of brothers was forced to move their farm because of an intruding lava flow. Because of this they were left with few animals. One night one of them (Bjorn) had a dream that a rock-dweller came to him and offered a partnership. Bjorn agreed to the partnership and immediately afterward his goats increased at a great rate, so much so that they began to call him Goat-Bjorn. It was said that people with second site could see the land-spirits following Goat-Bjorn to the Thing and accompanying his brothers whenever they went to hunt of fish. Goat-Bjorn, with the help of the landvættir, became a man of renown and many great men in Iceland were descended from him. (394)
The word rock-dweller is sometimes translated as giant but this should not be considered the same as the frost-giants who oppose the Regin. Another account we have of a rock dweller comes from Barðar Saga Snæfellsáss. I would like to quote Davidson’s description of this saga. “The most detailed account of a rock-dweller is to be found in a strange saga, Barðar Saga Snæfellsáss, which is included among the ‘Family Sagas’ because it is set in Iceland and not in remote lands of magic and adventure. However it is filled with supernatural characters, and the hero, Bard, is called ‘god of Snæfell’. He was a Norwegian, fathered by a giant, and fostered by another giant, Dofri of Dovrefjeld in Norway. From Dofri Bard learned history and genealogies, feats of arms and knowledge and of the future, while the giant’s daughter became his wife. Later Bard avenged his father after a killing, and then left for Iceland. Things did not go well for him there, and after a time he disappeared from among men, moving across a glacier and living in a cave in the mountain beyond it. The Saga states that he was more of a troll than a man, so people called the god (Áss) of Snæfell. People in that district made vows to him as to a god, and they called on him when they were in trouble. He helped on man in a wrestling match, and another after an attack by a troll-woman, and was always ready to defend men against evil and hostile beings. From time to time he was seen wearing a gray cloak and hood with belt of walrus hide, carrying a two-pronged stick with a spike for crossing the ice. Like his foster-father Dorfi, he acted as fosterer and teacher to promising young men. A twelve-year-old boy called Odd accepted an invitation to visit him in the mountains, and found himself in terrible conditions of storm and cold: ‘He stumbled on, not knowing where he was going, and at last became aware that a man was walking through the darkness with a great staff, letting the point rattle on the ice . . . Odd recognized Bard, god of Snæfell.’ (Barðar Saga 10). Odd stayed a winter in Bard’s cave studying law, and was later known as one of the wisest of the lawmen. He married one Bard’s daughters, but she died three years later. Bard was said to have nine daughters, and one, Helga, was a strange figure who wandered about the land,’ usually far from men’, and made secret visits to farms. she would say up most of the night playing a harp, but resented intrusion, and a Norwegian who tried to discover who she was had his arm and leg broken to punish his curiosity. Bard associated with various super-natural beings and was respected as the strongest among them. Although he gave protection against evil spirits and trolls, he was hostile to Christianity, and after his son Gest became a Christian he deprived him of his sight.” (395)
As mentioned earlier the favor of the landvættir was very often sought. One way to gain the favor of the landvættir was through giving them offerings. One Icelandic settler gave offerings of food to a waterfall near his house. Because of this his sheep greatly increased because he made good decisions as to which were slaughtered and which should be kept. Another man made offerings to ‘one of the rare woods in Iceland.’ Another man trusted in the spirit that dwelled in a great stone near his house. The man continued to trust in this spirit until a Christian bishop dropped holy water on the stone and drove it away. The two versions of this story show what the function of the landvættir was. In one version it is named ármaðr. (396) One of the meanings of the word ár is ‘plenty, abundance, fruitfulness.’ And maðr means man (irrespective of sex). (397) It is easy to see that the fruitfulness of the land considered to be within the domain of the landvættir. Another version of the story names the landvættir as spámaðr which could be literally translated as ‘prophecy-man.’ Being able to foretell the future was an ability that is commonly connected with landvættir. Of the spámaðr it is said, “He tells me beforehand many things which will happen in the future; he guards my cattle and gives me warnings of what I must do and what I must avoid, and therefore I have faith in him and I have worshipped him for a long time.” (398) Offerings were also made to ‘house-spirits’ which we can put in the same category as the landvættir. Like the landvættir, the house-spirits were offered food in order to gain their good favor. Any time a banquet was held it was customary to set aside part of the food for the household spirits. The drinker would, before drinking any himself, pour out some of drink for the house spirits. Here we see the mirroring of the tradition in which the gods and goddesses always got the first portion of the sacrificial feast. (399)

The landvættir could be offended by violence. It was said that for a long time no one would dare settle in the southern part of Iceland where Hjorleif, who was one of the first settlers there, was killed by his Irish thralls. It was not because the place was thought to haunted that no one would settle there. The reason was that the landvættir were angered by the violence done on their land. (400) Early Icelandic laws prohibited ships with dragon-heads on their prow from coming into the harbor lest the land-spirits were offended by a threat of hostility. The ships were required to take the dragon-head off the prow before they could enter the harbor. (401)

In an interesting account from Egil’s Saga (Chapter 57) we find the landvættir being called upon to avenge a wrong committed by the king of the land. King Erik Bloodaxe had flouted the law, not allowing Egill Skallagrimmsson from gaining justice. In return Egill raised the nithstangr. In two verses composed by Egill he calls on Othinn, Freyr and Njörthr for justice and he calls on the land spirits who dwell in the land to wander about restlessly and never find their homes until king Erik and Queen Gunnhild are driven from the land (Norway). (402)

It is possible that the landvættir were connected with or worked in cooperation with the dísir (female ancestral guardian spirits). They both were considered guardians, one of the land, and one of kin and family. An interesting account of a nineteenth century Icelandic clergyman recorded that certain stones in North-eastern Iceland were called ‘Stones of the Landdísir’ (guardian land goddesses). It was said unwise to make loud noises near them and children were forbidden to play near them for fear that bad luck would come if they were not treated with respect. Sacrifices were given both to the dísir and landvættir during the Winter Nights feast. (403)

There are also two groups of beings that may have connections to the landvættir and the dísir. They were called the Matres or Matrones and the Hooded Ones. The Matrones, as their name implies, were females and very possibly could be the dísir. The Hooded Ones appear to be male. This is interesting as from the account of one land spirit we found that the name given to it spámaðr and ármaðr both end with the word maðr which, in Old Norse can mean a non-gender specific “person” or a man. (404) It is unclear whether or not these Matrones and Hooded ones are native cults or cults that originated from elsewhere and were brought in through the Roman occupations. (405) My own opinion is that these Matrones are of Roman origin, but it is striking the number of similarities the Matrones and Hooded Figures share with the landvættir and the dísir. It is well known that the Romans would assimilate the local deities and give them Roman names. Are the Matrones and Hooded Figures the Roman version of Dísir and landvættir? I think this is a possibility given that these figures are found in areas that were occupied by Roman armies and no in the more Northern areas.

In images of the Matrones they are shown carrying fruit, horns of plenty, baskets, bunches of grapes, loaves of bread and/or eggs and they are many times shown holding infants. They are often accompanied by a small dog and the prow of a ship. They are shown with robes of varying length and some are young while others are old and others are matrons. They are found either sitting singly or in groups. They are many times found in groups of three but other numbers are found as well. They are found in the vicinity of rivers, healing springs or temples most often but have also been found house sites that may have been household shrines. They are pictured also of having what some believe to be the scroll of destiny along with a sphere and/or spindle. It is thought that, because of this, they told the future of men, and especially of young children. Most dedications to the Matrones found were made by women but there are a number that bear the names of men in the lower ranks of the Roman army. (406) Besides the altars that these Matrones appear on there are a number of small figurines made of pipeclay found in Gaul and the Rhineland, some of them dating from the first century C. E. Some show a goddess in a high backed chair while others are of a naked female with sun-symbols such as wheels and rosettes either on the body or beside it. It is Davdison’s belief that these along with the Matrones could be viewed as belonging to a company of nature spirits such as those found in Viking Age Scandinavia. (407)

The hooded figures are generally found in groups of three and are most frequently found around the area where Hadrians Wall was in Britain. These hooded figures appear to be male. Some are childlike while others are bearded. They tend to be short and stocky, much like we might picture the dwarfs. They are sometimes accompanied by a goddess who carries items of the same kind as the Matrones who were described earlier do. In Gaul the Hooded men are most often found as single figures. The hooded cloak as a very popular garment in Northern Europe and in a study done by Deonna it was shown that it was a symbol of the supernatural world and was worn by beings that were normally invisible to men. They were considered to be connected with protection, healing, fertility, sleep and death. In the study it was pointed out that the hooded cloak was used in later times to mark someone set apart form the normal world, such as monks, mourners or the bride in her veil. Davidson postulates that these hooded men were the forerunners of the Brownies which included figures such as Robin Goodfellow and his men. Brownies appeared as small male beings who could be benevolent when not angered, and bring prosperity to animals and crops and also helped in the work of the house. They were considered merry and mischievous. (408) It is easy to see how the brownies resemble, almost exactly, descriptions of landvættir and we would likely not be off the mark in saying that they are the English version of landvættir.

We would not be remiss if we say that these landvættir were very possibly connected with the Vanir. The landvættir were connected with issues of fertility which Vanir gods like Freyr and Freyja, as well as Njorthr, were intimately connected with as well. (409) Freyr is lord of the alfs and previously we have seen how alfs would be connected to specific trees. Folklore is full of tales of spirits that are attached to trees. (410) In the Eddas one would expect, when mentioning the combined tribe of the Aesir and Vanir for them to be named exactly in that fashion, that is, ‘Aesir and Vanir.’ But more than once we find, instead, the phrase ‘Aesir and Elves.’ (411) It is possible that the landvættir are a kind of alf that is connected to specific object, or area of land.

The landvættir were normally considered in that fashion. They were connected to specific areas and did not travel to new lands with settlers. (412) All indications are that the travelers who came and settled Iceland did not bring the landvættir with them. They were considered to have already been there.

Another aspect of the landvættir that point to there being connected to the land they inhabit is that they were also willing to defend the land on which they were connected to. Snorri gives us one such account. In this account Icelanders made insulting verses about King Harald Gormsson of Denmark because he had impounded cargo from their ships. This, of course, angered the king and he sent a wizard to Iceland in the form of whale to scout it out. When the wizard neared the land of Iceland he saw vast numbers of landvættir ready to defend the land. A dragon accompanied by snakes advanced to meet him while from other parts of the Island came a huge bird, a bull and a rock-giant with a staff. (413) Another similar account is recorded by Thiele. The ‘underground people’ who were normally invisible, became visible when they defended the island of Bornholm from attack in 1645 when two Swedish warships attempted to land. In a later version related by Bødker, a solitary soldier on sentry saw the Swedish ships coming. He heard whispering voices say, “Load and shoot!” When he shot at them scores of little red-capped men became visible and shot at the Swedes until they drove them off. (414) In the previous account given in Egil’s saga when he rose nithstangr against king Erik Bloodaxe and Queen Gunnhild when he asked that the landvættir wander about restlessly and remain homeless until the king and queen were driven from the land, might be considered in the same light as defending the land. (415)

The landvættir were inimical to Christianity and it is not hard to see why, with Christianity’s attitude that nature, both within man and as a whole was evil and must be overcome and controlled. Christians worked hard to expel landvættir any where they could find them. We saw this from the account of the bishop that expelled one from a rock by pouring holy water on it. Never mind that the spirit did nothing but aid the man who made offerings to it. The landvættir were considered as evil and demonic by the Christians. More than a few stories exist of landvættir being driven from their abodes by Christians. The fanaticism that the Christians went about this business is shown by numerous tales in which bishops would have themselves let down the sides of cliffs on ropes so that they could bless the cliffs where seabirds nested. Accounts say that at these times a voice would call to them, saying ‘Wicked folk must have somewhere to live.’ Sometimes a skinny arm holding a knife would appear threatening to cut the rope on which the bishop was suspended. In these cases the cliff was left unblessed and was afterwards called the ‘Cliff of the Heathen.’ (416) On account of this the landvættir were said to have retreated to the most harsh inhospitable lands where few men could be found.

Lesson C Questions       (by Lady Arianna aka Donna K.)             Top

Send your answers to the following questions
in an email with the subject line:  “Teutonic Religious Practices Lesson C from _______ ”

1.  T/F:  Fire, like water, was a living being to Northmen with the power to carry things between the five worlds.

2.  Grimm describes the need-fire as tüfel häla meaning what?

3.  What type of fire was considered to be the most holy method of starting a fire? What is its Norse word?

4.  T/F: It is no surprise that ash was used for the generation of the holy need-fire

5.  A third description is quoted by Grimm which comes to us from Martin. “The forced fire, or fire of necessity,” what was its use?

6.  Name the uses for a need-fire.

7.  T/F:  The need-fire seemed to take place at different times depending on what area you were in. Some areas held it at or around the spring equinox while others held it at midsummer.

8.  What is the significance of the yule log burning?

9.  The belief in the landvættir (guardian land spirits)was almost universal among Northern Europeans. Where did they dwell?

10.  What did the Northfolk believe about nature?

11.  It is said The landvættir would sometimes enter into partnerships with men.  Give an example.

12.  The word rock-dweller is sometimes translated as what?

13.  Give a few examples of how one would gain favor from the landvaettir.

14.  The two versions of this story show what the function of the landvættir was. Explain both.

15.  How could one offend a landvaettir? What was a dísi?

16.  It was said unwise to make loud noises near these stones and children were forbidden to play near them for fear that bad luck would come if they were not treated with respect. What were these stones called and what is its meaning?

17.  Who were the two groups of beings that may have connections to the landvættir and the dísir? And where were these beings generally found?

18.  Christians worked hard to expel landvættir anywhere they could find them, do some research (on the internet, books) to find a story that relates and tell where you found it.