Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Wights

By Quasizoid

Wight is an old English term that descends from the Germanic “Wicht”, which describes the “little people” folk legends found thoughout the European diaspora. To the Gaelic peoples, they were known as the “Sidhe”, denizens of ancient mounds and barrows thought to conceal their otherworldly portals. It was generally believed that time was very different in their realms and to lose oneself in their hospitality over several days could mean years in our time. While many tales speak of the riches they hoard in these mounds, it is often at great cost and misfortune to anyone violating their sacred space or too keen to exploit their magical prowess. The same can be said of the underworld dwarves and elves in German folkore, who were believed to be the masters of metallurgy, often jealously guarding any caves from the unwarranted retrieval of ores. Beautiful limestone caves were often revered as their crafted palacial manors, and one didn't dare enter them without an offering for their consent. However, dealing with this folk warranted much the same caution as dealing with the fae. In old high German they were referred to as “Alben” from which the word for nightmare “Albtraum” descends, namely ones dreams being haunted by these otherworldly spirits, often as a prophetic warning. In Iceland and the Faroe Islands, they are called the “Huldufolk” or “hidden people”. It was customary for settlers to build them small lodgings to appease the encroachment of their domain.

Recently authorities in Reykjavik had cause to halt a road construction north of the town when bulldozers persisted in breaking down. The problem appeared to center on the removal of a particular boulder. A couple of Völvas were called upon to consult with the elves, and were informed that although the elves no longer lived in the boulder, they felt it should be removed in a dignified manner and not blown up as had been planned. Inevitably the construction workers followed their advice and formally removed the boulder without incident.


European Heathenism

There are Asatruar and Odinists who religiously follow the Eddas, which is fine if your roots are Norse. However, the Norse actually only make a part of the Germanic diaspora. Rather, the term “Germanic” refers to a general similarity in language and culture, and not some superior “racial” distinction as fanatics have tried to suggest. The dominance of the R haplogroup was largely due to its mobility; namely, less chances of inbreeding than isolated groups. Thus, there were several subclaves that diverged from that haplogroup with the inundation of the Black Sea. One dispersed into the Baltic and Scandinavia, whereas another found easy passage up the Danube, deep into continental Europe; mixing with other haplogroups along the way – albeit through trade or invasion. Thus, by the time they emerged as the Celtic and Germanic cultures, they had become so intermixed, it’s hard to say who had the greater influence in the long run. More often than not, they simply coexisted, adapting each other’s ideas wherever convenient. Even the mythical cycles of Ireland give clue to the countless invasions and migrations by various tribes and clans. In essence, the Eddas are not enough to cover the complex history of our colourful ancestry and heritage. The fact is, many of us in central Europe are just as much Celtic as we are Germanic. Thus, all ancient European folklore is important in completing that bigger picture.

What is common in European heathenry is the preservation of one’s ancestral memory, a deep respect for the spirits of the land, and the cultural heritage born out of its providence. That does not necessarily mean living exactly as they did, but understanding what it takes to survive the impossible odds. Both Celtic and Germanic beliefs and oral traditions find their roots in early tribal shamanism. In that respect the roles of Cernunnos and Odin in their otherworldly journey seem almost synonymous. What remains scarcely recognizable after Christianity took over is the female shamanic role, that in most parts was replaced by the veiled holy Mary; but her original role is still very much alive in the folklore of Holda, Holle and Berchta. Mysterious, however, are the origins of Loki, as his trickster figure can only be traced back to 9th Century Scandinavian literature. Other than in the character of Rubezahl and jesters such as Til Eulenspiegel, the trickster figure seems strangely absent from German folklore. On the other hand, Wotan and Holle both appear as trickster figures in early German oral traditions, in fact Rübezahl, originally depicted with stag horns, appears almost synonymous with the idea. Unlike Loki, however, these figures not only dispense mischief but retribution for any cruel injustice amongst its folk. It makes you wonder if Loki was contrived from Odin’s trickster attributes by Christian monks to parallel the biblical struggles between the divine father and his nemesis “Satan”. Indeed, monks around Europe were in the habit of rewriting local folkore into this general theme, by order of the Papacy. Fortunately, not every language could be adapted to latin, nor were the common folk literate enough to read. Thus, many oral traditions were able to discretely survive through this lack of comprehension, especially in Germany. Although Martin Luther’s demands to change this, brought about the extermination of several esoteric movements, these were largely based on the hermetical mysteries of the Levant and not the old Germanic practices. In fact, by this time many of the local traditions were deeply imbedded in Catholicism and relatively unchanged due to their agrarian importance. Rather it was more the puritanical beliefs of the Lutherans that now threatened to eliminate this colourful ancient heritage. Fortunately it turned more into a rebellion of enterprising young merchants against their profligate feudal lords. In the end, the puritanical got shipped off to the new world, allowing Europe to finally improve the quality of life and culture on all levels.

Thus, it is in the nature of the European heathen to take all aspects of this history into consideration as par to one’s heritage, while finding the necessary balance with nature to insure a healthy continuity. We aspire to be a critical folk, not inclined to take things for face value. Despite popular belief, we do not take our oral traditions for gospel, rather, understand them as allegories of ancestral memory. While our ancestral spirits may be revered as divinities they are not regarded as any less fallible or prone to whims as anything else in the great web of existence. Life is the great experiment, and while we are born with attributes of a certain predestiny (örlog) it is our own individual responsibility to learn and deal with whatever curves fate may throw at us (wyrd). We may believe in reincarnation, but tend to regard this existence as only one of many alternate realities possible in the multiversal continuum. For this reason we tend to be pantheistic, innovative and generally quite brazen, enjoying a good time wherever we can. We do not believe in absolutes, rather, that there is a time and place for everything. Be well and pass the mead.

Architectural Traditions: Alemannic Half-Timber Construction

Half-timbering is a skeleton method of construction in which the load-bearing framework is made of wood. The supporting framework consists of vertical, horizontal and slanting construction elements. The intervening sections are filled with clay wattling, rough rendering or with rubble or bricks. The horizontal bearers are known as sole plates and head plates, the vertical supports are known as uprights, shafts or posts, depending on size. In order to stabilise this framework, slanted braces or struts are inserted. This is the principle of the half-timbered house.

Overleaf half-timbering was common in south-west Germany until the beginning of the 16th century. This term refers to the practice of having uprights and struts cut in so deeply that they lie above each other on the same level on the facade. This method of construction is popularly referred to as "Alemannic". It was prohibited in Wuerttemberg by ducal building regulations in 1568 but continued to be used for some time afterwards, particularly for roof constructions.

In contrast the more recent method of construction is popularly referred to as "Frankish" half-timbering, although this is found not only in south but in central Germany. The mortice and tenon technique used here made the wooden skeleton more flexible on the whole. A tenon was cut out of the cut surface of the pieces of wood to be joined and this was then inserted like a wedge into the incision in the next piece of wood. This construction method emerged in around 1500, at the same time as the Renaissance taste was beginning to demand more ornate decorative elements.

Whereas the "Alemannic" half-timbered house is noted for its statically open construction, the so-called Frankish half-timbered style is characterised by the playfulness of its ornamentation. St. Andrew's crosses, andirons, rosettes, rhombuses and carving on uprights and posts as well as ornamental intarsia work were elements of this rich repertoire of forms which reached its peak at around 1600.

By the middle of the 18th century, the half-timbered house with its emphasis on visibility was going out of fashion. Those who could afford it built stone houses or plastered their half-timbered houses. An ordinance by Duke Carl Eugen in the year 1744 on the facing of buildings was intended to reduce the risk of fires. As a result the previously rich figural ornamentation gave way to simpler constructions with V and K struts.

The visible half-timbering of houses was rediscovered as an aesthetic and reasonably cheap method of building in the 19th century. At first it was used for buildings along railway lines and for public and industrial architecture.

In the historicist period at the end of the 19th century, a deliberate effort was made to imitate the ornamentation of the Renaissance and Baroque period, although individual elements were also often introduced.

In this image you can see how the wattle is built up between the beams. This provides a hold for the loam or clay used to fill the compartments.

Architectural Traditions: The Horse-stave Gable Cross

This is actually a common sight on barn roofs in the traditionally agrarian areas of Germany, though mostly in the northern half of the country. The open roof peak served to ventilate as well as provide a roost for owls, also to rid the building of rodents. While Anglo-Saxon legends will refer to these crossed horse-headed staves as Hengist and Horsa, its much earlier Teutonic meanings are only a vague memory in German mythology. Nonetheless the symbol is also a familiar sight in German heraldry and the logo of the “Reiffeisen” hardware cooperative throughout rural Germany.

However, throughout northern Eurasia, the horse was not only regarded as a status symbol, given the powerful means of travel; but embodied something powerfully psychic in that regard. It was believed that the thunder of their invading hoof-beats combined with their shrill whinnies could even drive away the wights of their enemies. Hence, when delivering a curse upon an enemy, the horse-head mounted nithing pole served much the same idea; whereas, the crossed staves, much like the rune "Not", served to protect one's homestead from rodents. At least in those days, rodents and not cats were regarded as the harbingers of evil (plagues). On occasion, horses were sacrificed to the gods and their heads ceremoniously buried at the cornerstone of important buildings being erected, or mounted over their entrance. This practice carried on well into Medieval times, often as an act of rebellion against the church, which included the consumption of horse flesh as a proof of heathen faith. As Christianity took over, this became frowned upon as barbaric and the sacrifices replaced with the symbolic hanging of horseshoes as a ward against witchcraft, however, made the fatal mistake of conversely trying to condemn cats as the evil harbingers of plague.