House Wights

A house wight is one of your best defenders: here’s how to draw one to your happy home.

Witches & Pagans #32

In my last column, I taught you how to hallow — calling on the Norse god Thor for cleansing, blessing and protection. This time, you’re going to welcome one of the most benign beings you’ll ever encounter: the house wight. You may be familiar with them as the “garden gnomes,” or “troll” figurines hovering around the mantle, kitchen and front door. Known by various names across Europe, the Celtic brownie, Scandinavian tomten, Germanic kobold, Slavic domovoi and Roman lares are all spirits who watch over a home and its family members: protecting their luck, energetically tidying the space, and warning them against mishaps.

Most Pagans, regardless of their path, benefit from the tranquility and safety that a house wight lends; for the magic user, they are a crucial ally, providing both an early warning system and the first line of home defense. Dealing with such spirits is common in living polytheist traditions across the globe, and survived the conversion to Christianity in Europe. I have had several house wights over the years, from resident nature spirits to those sent to me by the Gods, each with a different character.

What is a House Wight?

Wight is simply the Norse term for “a spirit.” Any spirit. Just as you possess a soul, all sentient beings, some special objects and places also have an in-dwelling spirit. I’m a wight; you’re a wight. Your cat and goldfish and the spirits living in the boulders outside in your yard are all wights. Just because a spirit inhabits a place is does not mean it’s a house wight, however. What distinguishes a house wight from a haunting or bothersome pest is their beneficial nature, especially when called on to assist in minor or mundane matters. The house wight is the protective spirit you share your home, apartment or room with, and it typically is the only one of its kind present. In some cultures, this being is honored as a ‘domestic god’; in others it’s viewed as a fairy creature, ghostly guardian or ancestor.

Unlike a deity, a house wight is typically neither worshiped nor included in devotional rituals. Instead, they are considered part of family life, receiving thanks and some form of payment for their help.

What Does a House Wight do?

A house wight’s work is mainly energetic. The swish of the brownie’s broom that clears out the ashes is spiritual, and finishes where your mundane cleaning leaves off. Having a house wight is not a substitute for routine maintenance or commonsense. Their job is to spiritually mind your home and protect it from unseen dangers.

House wights care for the health and happiness of the household members, cultivating peace, abundance and good fortune: the small stuff you wouldn’t ask the gods to do. In the mundane sphere, house wights watch out for damage, robbery and accidents and try to warn the household about anything worrisome you might otherwise miss. Think of an attentive grannie who has a keen nose for family needs.

Picture a small object bouncing harmlessly to the floor from a shelf, causing you to walk into a hallway to investigate; then you hear the hissing of the pot of soup you forgot on the stove and are able to turn it down before burns down to smoke. Or imagine waking up from a dream about someone trying to break into your house, and throwing on the lights, only to see a sudden, shadowy movement running from the window. That’s the way house wights work: with small actions that prevent bigger problems.

At various times, I’ve put my own house wight in charge of watching over my belongings that were in storage while I traveled, and also in charge of booting out a nuisance spirit while re-hallowing a residence. It’s also quite common in modern practice for house wights to specifically care for the welfare of family pets.

Folklore emphasizes the role of house spirits in protecting abundance. In Norse belief, luck is a spiritual quality that can grow or diminish just like any other resource, and requires care and replenishing. House wights help with this, lessening the need for everyday charms and clearings. While the lore doesn’t seem to discuss this, the more powerful house wights seem to set down their own wards, and watch for intrusion by malevolent spirits and spell work. This can extend to checking in on family members as they travel, but typically remains within the confines of the home.

The house wight also helps block hostile or parasitic beings and their presence can even give toxic mundane visitors itchy feet.

What Does a House Wight Look Like (and Where do they Live)?

Descriptions of house wights vary widely, ranging from little wizened old men to creatures similar to Dobbie the House Elf in Harry Potter to very humanlike spirits. Any building, not just a house or apartment, can have its own in-dwelling wight, from a barn to an office. Under ideal circumstances, house wights are rarely seen but more often heard, appearing only in times of extreme danger, although some people have the talent of being able to converse with them. I have seen everything from a being who resembled a living bundle of sticks sourly pointing to a household mess (nature spirit) to a shy, bald and spindly little brown man who hid in a clean pot on a stove top (brownie), as well as a tall warrior (ancestral guardian) who presented a congenial face to family but ferocity to any invading spirit.

House wights are reputed to be very territorial, although I have happily shared space with someone whose own ancestor joined us as an additional house wight upon the mantle, lending her might to our combined household. They are often found living in the hearth, kitchen or stove (Greek and Roman tradition puts them at the front door), but may also live in the barn, garage or outbuildings. In Scottish lore, they dwell outdoors in rocks with natural hollows where water collects where small offerings were often left.

Traditionally, once inside the home wights inhabit a special rock, little house, wooden spoon, or appropriate-looking figure on the hearth, at the entrance, or in the kitchen. For your own house wight, use what your gut or tradition tells you (including nothing. They may have already picked out their spirit house.)

Ritual to Invite Your House Wight

Start by cleaning your home thoroughly, especially the kitchen and/ or the bedroom. Next, decide where to invite your house wight to stay: the mantel, a book shelf, or a kitchen counter are all good places.

Get a small rock or “house” for your wight to live in and, if you feel drawn to it, place it next to a figurine that looks like the type of spirit you’d like sharing your space. Slavic people use special ornamental wooden spoons kept by the stove (but never used for cooking) for this purpose. You can also hang up a figure or image, preferably facing the front door. Do what intuitively feels right.

Next: pray to your ancestors or a God/dess closely involved with the hearth and home such as Frigg or Holda to send you an appropriate house wight. Ask them to help make your house wight feel welcome.

Light a candle and place it next to where the house wight will stay. (If you can’t use fire for any reason, make sure your “welcome spot” for the wight is warm and/or sunny.)

Get a shot glass or small cup, and leave a small amount of liquor, coffee or some sweets to say hello. Bread and butter or oatmeal with honey, brown sugar or real maple syrup is good.

When you want to dedicate the home of your house wight say “I offer this candle and cup of [XYZ] to the guardian spirit of this house. I give you this [rock, house, etc.] as a place to reside and welcome you to my home.”

Talk out loud to the wight as if the wight already lives there. Introduce yourself, tell them what kind of help you would like, and thank them for coming. Make them feel welcome.

Relax and sit quietly, focusing on the fire and spirit house or image and wait for any messages, feelings or acknowledgment. Stop thinking about anything in particular and let whatever bubbles up in the silence just come, without judgement. (Don’t fret if you sense nothing. It may come later.)

When you feel ready, say thank you to the house wight, and go about your business. Leave the candle burning until it’s finished (unless that would be a fire danger.) Pay special attention to whatever dreams you have that night, as well as any images, senses, recurring words, or names that come to mind while doing this.

Discard your offering after no more than a day, giving it back to the earth if at all possible.

Living With Your House Wight

Being a house wight is a role rather than a species. It’s a job various kinds of spirits take on, out of love or service to a deity or family line. A house wight isn’t a servant, but a sovereign entity. A person, place or family can have, inherit, attract or lose its house wight, so it’s important to cultivate a kind and respectful relationship with them. Treat your house wight as an unseen family member (a distant cousin, perhaps), with the right to leave you at any time. (If you don’t, they can storm out or cause trouble, taking the household luck with them!)

Specific directions for thanking a house wight vary with the culture, but on the whole, just be a good neighbor and considerate housemate. House wights typically appreciate thanks shown in the form of words and small offerings from time to time, especially during family feasts (in Norse tradition, always give them a little treat at Yule) or after performing a service like helping you find the car keys.

Use your good sense: what you give should match what your house wight does; some wights need a little something every few months, while the house wight of a busy magician’s home may need thanks every week. Appropriate offerings range from fruit or baked goods (natural and organic are best) to a small amount of honey, alcohol or trinkets. Odin taught me that whatever food falls on a floor (within reason) goes to the house wight, even if it’s a single flying pea.

An important note: house wights like a pleasant and tidy environment and are often especially protective of pets, children, or particular family members. An unkempt house, general disorder, yelling, substance abuse, harmful and misused magic will cause a house wight to show their anger (possibly by breaking things) or leave.

Communicate with Your House Wight

House wights employ many ways to get their messages across, from dreams or bouncing objects to sounds like knocks or loud bumps on walls, small “accidents” that bring attention to danger, or mournful sounds if someone is in serious danger. They can also make objects go missing if annoyed or in a mischievous mood.

If you are clairaudient or telepathic you may be able to speak with your house wight in your mind. Otherwise, speak to them out loud: they will hear you; or stand next to where the house wight lives and think out the words for what you want to say. Always be polite in your requests, and always keep any promises you make to them. This is a real person you are dealing with, even if you can’t sense them, and they have feelings. Honor your gut sense about any little requests they may make, just as you would respect another family member’s request.

Talk to your house wight before major events that might disrupt their peace, such as loud parties, renovations, or strangers arriving for a long stay. Before you leave on a vacation, ask for your house wight to keep the house safe while you’re away. Give them a little treat (discard it before you leave home) and a little something when you return.

Moving With a House Wight

If you move, tell your house wight that you’re leaving, where you’re going, and why. Doing so will help preserve your family luck and the house wight’s good will. Many house wights will happily follow their chosen family to their new home, and will be quite distressed if left behind or neglected.

When you get ready to leave, pack the house wight’s things as close to the end as possible, moving them gently, and ask them to watch over your belongings during the move. When you arrive, likewise unpack their things and place them as soon as possible, welcoming them to the new home.

While it takes a bit of effort, having a relationship with a house wight is an extremely rewarding practice. Good luck with sharing your home!