On the Heathen Kinship yahoo group, someone posed an interested question as to whether or not spirits (wights) could live in smaller items.. usually you hear of them associated with a house, boulder, or forest.
here is my first bit of research into that question..
Interesting Question Caleb.
My thoughts on this offhand are that the size of the object would not be as important as the importance of the object. let me think “out loud” for a minute..
We know our ancestors believed that a certain “connectedness” with the gods existed through the god poles… and those would normally be between 60 and 300 lbs.. hm.. maybe that’s not that small after all. And of course, you were asking about wights..
What else do we know of..
I searched through some sagas to see if I could find any examples of smaller objects being thought to be inhabited by spirits..
[from the landnamasbok] The Icelandic settlers often marked their land-claims by putting up boundary markers. There were many ways to do this; maybe a “tall pole”, “a freshly-cut birch pole”, an arrow-shot, and a cairn. A man named Nattfari “marked his claim on trees.” Two brothers, Vestmann and Vemund, were apparently Christian, but their Landtaking recalls heathen practice:
They put up an axe on Reistar Peak and called the fjord Oxarfjord ["axe-fjord"]. In the west they put up an eagle, and called that place Arnarthufa ["eagle-mound"]; and at a third place they raised a cross and called the place Kross Ridge after it. This is how they hallowed Oxarfjord and claimed the whole of it for themselves. Years later a troll was said to live there, but this seems more of a case of a troll moving in.. not being created or “being inside” of anything in particular.. hm…
Speaking of God-poles, there is a reference in the book of settlements where Thorolf takes the god-poles from inside the hof on his old land, and tosses them overboard to find his new home:
“…when he’d come west as far as Breidafjord, he threw his high-seat pillars overboard. They had an image of Thor carved on them. Thorolf declared that Thor would come ashore where he wanted Thorolf to make his home.”
In the above reference it sounds like the spirit of Thor was either inside or more likely guiding the god pole. However, the spirit of a god is not the same as a wight. I just mention it as something to keep in the back of our minds as we delve further into this question..
Here’s an example of a magic sword from Kormak the Skalds’s Saga:
“Hard wilt thou find it to handle,” said Skeggi. “There is a pouch to it, and that thou shalt let be. Sun must not shine on the pommel of the hilt. Thou shalt not wear it until fighting is forward, and when ye come to the field, sit all alone and then draw it. Hold the edge toward thee, and blow on it. Then will a little worm creep from under the hilt. Then slope thou the sword over, and make it easy for that worm to creep back beneath the hilt.”
“Here’s a tale of tricks, thou warlock!” cried Cormac
“Nevertheless,” answered Skeggi, “it will stand thee in good stead to know them.”
So Cormac rode home and told his mother, saying that her will was of great avail with Skeggi. He showed the sword, and tried to draw it, but it would not leave the sheath.
“Thou are over wilful, my son,” said she.
Then he set his feet against the hilts, and pulled until he tore the pouch off, at which Skofnung creaked and groaned, but never came out of the scabbard.
Well, the time wore on, and the day came. He rode away with fifteen men; Bersi also rode to the holm with as many. Cormac came there first, and told Thorgils that he would sit apart by himself. So he sat down and ungirt the sword.
Now, he never heeded whether the sun shone upon the hilt, for he had girt the sword on him outside his clothes. And when he tried to draw it he could not, until he set his feet upon the hilts. Then the little worm came, and was not rightly done by; and so the sword came groaning and creaking out of the scabbard, and the good luck of it was gone.
(notice that the sword didn’t have a spirit in it, precisely)
There is a story in Grettir’s Saga about a witch-woman putting a spell on a tree, and Grettir suffering a terrible wound when his axe bounces off the tree and cuts his own leg.. But the tree is not possessed of a spirit, just bespelled..
There are literally dozens of stories of swords with names, and even a few axes or spears with names, but no description of the weapon seems to indicate that anyone thought it contained a spirit. If they did, it seems like it would have been mentioned.
Some swords had healing stones (lyfsteinn) associated with them, stones which removed the evil from an injury inflicted by the weapon. Injuries inflicted by the sword would not heal unless the healing stone was rubbed on the wound. Þorkell borrowed the sword Sköfnung and its healing stone from his kinsman Eiður, as is told in chapter 57 of Laxdæla saga. Þorkell tracked down the outlaw Grímur on the heath Tvídægra. In the fight, Þorkell inflicted a wound to Grím’s wrist, but Grímur wrestled him to the ground and had him at his mercy. Grímur chose to spare Þorkel’s life. Þorkell rubbed the wound with the healing stone and bound the stone against Grím’s wrist. The pain and swelling subsided immediately.
I could not find out exactly what these stones were, some sources seem to indicate spelled (rune-d) stones, and others naturally “magic” stones.. either way, they are not thought of as possessed or inhabited by a spirit..
Running out of Saga sources that I can think of without extensive research, I thought we could look at some medieval, or even modern folk-beliefs from the Scandinavian world, operating under the theory that it may share similarity with our ancestors beliefs..
During the 19th century, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe compiled the folk tales among Norwegians, as part of the emotive, nationalistic and anti-rational values of the Romantic Era. These stories reflected the animistic ‘folk belief’ that preserved earlier elements deriving from the Viking Era but strongly influenced by the medieval Christian cosmology of Germany, Britain and France. Prominent are stories that reflect later views of the Vættir, usually called the Huldrefolk (from Old Norse Huldufólk), meaning ‘concealed people’ and referring to their otherworldliness or their power of invisibility.
In modern day Iceland work crews are sometimes forced to build roads around natural features (such as big rocks) that are thought to be the home of Elves or wights of some sort. Here is an excert from an Article about this on the Boston Globe (whole article here: http://www.seattlepi.com/national/elvs25.shtml) :
Icelanders still take spirit folk seriously: Public opinion polls and academic studies show more than half of all inhabitants think it possible or probable — 10 percent call it “certain” — they share their island with otherly beings, ranging from grumpy glacier-dwelling trolls to occasionally gregarious hidden people.
That lore is the occasional bane of construction engineers and real estate developers. Earlier this year, Iceland’s highway agency had to change the course of a new road leading out of Reykjavik after citizens protested that the original route would disturb an elf’s lair under a big rock.
I also found this report from a lad that spent some time touring through Iceland: (whole article here: http://gbhatnag.blogspot.com/)
eight out of ten Icelanders believe in elves. Elves and other, “hidden people,” are believed to live all over Iceland, primarily in large rocks. I read about this before arriving to Iceland and was looking forward to meeting some elves. As we were driving out to Geysir and Gullfoss, our tour guide remarked about an area to the north of the highway where there was a large hill from which large rocks often fell. It was not wise to build anything in the area between the hill and the highway as it would be destroyed by the falling boulders. There is, however, one house in this area and it has been there for many years, unscathed by any a boulder. The tour guide also remarked on the curvy nature of the road, when it could have definitely been made straight. As we drove through the curve, nearby the house, he told us that the farmer who built the house made a deal with the elves that live in the rocks next to the hill. The elves were very fond of a particular patch of grass that was slated to be turned into road. If the farmer could convince the construction team to build the road around the patch of grass, the elves would allow him to build a house at the foot of the hill and protect it from falling rocks. The farmer had no trouble convincing the construction team to route the road around the patch of grass as they did not want to upset the elves (upsetting the elves results in extremely bad luck – accidents, disorientation, sickness, memory loss). This road and the house are not very old at all… maybe ten years at most. The tour guide assured us that he was not kidding and that the elves are among us.
I found this list on a site about modern Scandinavian Folklore:
# Household Spirits — They are almost always males, usually small, very old or very young, strong, loyal to the farm, and sometimes wear a little red hat and grey. Some common motifs include teasing the nisse (eating food that was meant for it, leaving feces as food for it instead, not putting the butter on top of the porridge), sending the nisse to steal from other people’s farms, the heavy burden, etc. If, for some reason, the nisse is exorcised from the farm, then he takes with him all that he brought or did, thus the farm falls to ruin. [arma�ur "hearth man", tomte "homestead man"]
* nisse — The nisse are related to the huldre-folk, but are not so dangerous. They are guardians of the house or farm who will defend its welfare. They are inordinately strong, but of diminutive size. The term nisse is derived from the Danish / German St. Nicholas, and the nisse themselves are thus distant relations of Santa Claus.
* gardvord — From “farm guardian”, these nisse are more sinister and are very big (some have seen them lay there elbows upon the roof). In a variation of the Lanky Tor story, the gardvord saves the guy by chasing after the trolls. [tunkall or "yard fellow" (common in western and northern Norway), godbonde]
* klabautermann — This is spirit who guards the ship. In one story it woke up the ship’s mate when the lamp went out, and in another it held the masts together.
So far I haven’t found any evidence of an object being “possessed” of a wight. I have found that wights are fond of a certain place, or that they live in a certain place (under a bridge, in a boulder, in a particular patch of forest, etc). A large number of different mythological creatures (or rather races, since few of them can be considered animals) from Norse mythology continue to live on, surprisingly little affected by Christian beliefs, even though the wicked ones at times find an ally in the Devil or had problems with Christian symbols. Nothing was surer, though, to scare these beings than a piece of iron or steel, such as a strategically placed pair of scissors or a knife, or with salt and fire. The stories about the livings and doings of these beings, and their interaction with humans, constitute the major part of modern Scandinavian folklore. Even the helpful tomte, nisse, gårdbo or gårdbuk could turn into a fearsome adversary if not treated with caution and respect. Many of them blend into each other when their morals and/or place of residence are similar, and equally when one moves from one region in Scandinavia to another (the same is true for Norse mythology). When the folktales were collected and printed, the illustrators started to give shape to the creatures hitherto had only existed at shadows. Perhaps most abundant are the stories about the race of trolls. Scandinavian trolls tend to be very big, hairy, stupid, and slow to act. Any human with courage and presence of mind can outwit a troll, and those whose faith is strong can even challenge them to mortal combat. They are said to have a temperament like a bear- which are, ironically, their favorite pets- good-natured when they are left in peace, and savage when they are teased. Trolls come in many different shapes and forms, and are generally not fair to behold, as they can have as many as nine heads. Trolls live throughout the land, dwelling in mountains, under bridges, and at the bottom of lakes. While the trolls who live in the mountains are very wealthy, hoarding mounds of gold and silver in their cliff dwellings, the most dangerous trolls live in lonely huts in the forest. While few trolls have female trolls, trollkonor, as wives, most possesses a regrettable tendency to spirit away beautiful maidens, preferably princesses, who are forced to spin by day and scratch the troll’s head by night. The trolls have their own king, called Dovregubben, who lives inside the Dovre Mountains with his court. Dovregubben and his court are described in detail in Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt.” After the integration of Christianity into Scandinavian folklore, trolls developed a hatred of church-bells and the smell of Christians. Trolls are often said to be able to change their appearance and did so in order to trick humans into doing what they wanted. For example, Trolls may present a beautiful appearance in order to trick a character into following them into their mountain home, then hold the character captive for years (bergatagen) – see the similarities with Irish “elven/fiery hills.” In older tales, the word troll/trold (trolla as a verb) may simply mean “to badly harm/hurt someone”; someone who is a troll is someone who may eat human flesh or engage in other socially-unacceptable acts, such as rape. Luckily, trolls are said to turn into stone when exposed to sunlight. If this is any good evidence of how the ancestors of modern Scandinavians viewed the spirit world, then I am now leaning to the idea that they felt wights lived in or near certain areas, but were individual beings, not manifestations of an object.
In other words, the Dwarf of a boulder, was not the spirit of the boulder, but was rather a dwarf who happened to live in or near that boulder. Perhaps in the past he had lived in a mountain, and if the road crew blasted apart his boulder, after he wreaked his vengeance on them, he might relocate to a bridge or waterfall.
I think perhaps that our ancestors viewed wights as individual beings that could pick a place to live in, on, or near..