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Working with the Vættir

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Many practitioners who are new to animistic forms of spirituality often wonder how they can best start building their practice. Animism, in contrast to Christian monotheism, argues everything in the world has an inherent autonomy that must be respected and treated with dignity. Your place in the world is defined by your relationships with a complex, constantly evolving spiritual ecosystem. This is a very different place to be, spiritually speaking, than making decisions based on the whims of a singular, pervasive authority figure who is potentially policing your every thought and desire.

Understanding what this means is a process which will unfold over the course of a lifetime and has clear starting places for the less experienced. These starting places are right relationship, reciprocity, and restoration in the terms used by Cat Heath. Each of these offer ideas for practitioners that touch every part of life, from ritual observances to daily interactions with the world around you.

Right relationship is a core concept for Fire & Ice practice and is often central in many other forms of animistic spirituality which I have written on before. To briefly recap, right relationship argues the best way to live and work with the Powers around us is by building equitable, mutually just a consensual relationships with them and maintaining such relationships through regular observation. This is just as true for working with the Nordic vættir as it is for interacting with the Gods and the dead.

This is where reciprocity becomes especially important. In surviving source material, every gift calls for a gift in return. These gifts do not necessarily need to be lavish, as is best expressed in Havamal 52:

No great thing needs one to give,

Oft little will purchase praise;

With half a loaf and a half-filled cup

A friend full fast I made.

Why it is possible to make a friend full fast with only half a cup or half a loaf is because what is most important is the mutual respect shown by the gesture. The point of such giving and exchange is that you are showing you value the other person enough to reciprocate their gift with a gift of your own.

The same is true in spiritual practice. One of the best starting places for building relationships with animistic Powers is offering gifts which are acceptable to their local vættir, whether these are material goods or services performed in their honor like park and beach cleanups. Material gifts should biodegradable and ideally beneficial in some way for the local environment and something that does not bring harm to other inhabitants. Gifts received by the vættir are often returned in ways you may not expect and find surprisingly helpful in the moment they are sent.

These acts of reciprocity and respect also change how you interact with those spaces. Homes, parks, and stretches of wilderness become more than just a place to live, recreate, or wander through. They become entities who you share the world with who deserve respect and can live in a mutually beneficial, reciprocal relationship with you. It’s a far cry from keeping the boss in your brain happy.

If reciprocity and mutual gifting are essential values for animistic practice then this implies that great action is needed. We, as a society, are currently living with the weight of many deeds done without consideration for right relationship or reciprocity that are adding up to the Sixth Great Mass Extinction. Animism’s arguments for cultivating different ways of living with the world around us become more urgent when you take a moment to look at where society has landed us and this is the foundation for restoration.

Restoration, according to Heath, means going beyond injecting a sense of new wonder for the diverse, beautiful spiritual and physical ecosystems surrounding us. She argues what is necessary is making space for inviting the Other, which includes animistic Powers, back into our spaces and homes. It is not enough to approach these Powers in their own spaces in the wilderness, what they are and represent must be brought back into our lives and homes if we are to truly restore our relationships with them. This, according to Heath, includes owning up to the wrongs done by modern society and its predecessors to the world and making right as best as we can.

Incorporating restoration into your animistic spirituality means breaking down the barriers that have been erected between yourself and the world around you. Restoration tears down what stands between you and cultivating a deeper animistic practice. It rejects the false dichotomies raised by church and commerce in favor of embracing the world on its own terms in all its ambiguity, uncertainty, and wonder.

Restoration, more broadly, could also suggest that deeds taken to restore the damage done should go beyond addressing immediate, clear impacts of actions like environmental destruction. Deeds like the colonization of the Americas, clear-cutting, building massively polluting projects like waste dumps or power plants alongside marginalized, impoverished communities, and other acts of outsourcing harm are made possible by larger institutions in society. Solutions, therefore, must address both the immediate needs of those facing most harm while also developing enduring alternatives that actively contribute to a different way of being, otherwise the problem will only be deferred, not resolved.

In your spiritual practice you can begin doing restoration by incorporating space for animistic Powers in your shrines and altars that are spaces for them alone. Making room for the other-ness they represent shows your commitment to meeting them on their terms as equals rather than seeking to impose your will and assumptions on them. Practitioners in places with a history of violent colonization, such as much of the Americas and Australia, should also incorporate land acknowledgments for the peoples who historically lived on the lands you are honoring. Outside of ritual you should make the time to learn more about the struggles of indigenous peoples everywhere and what you can to help with causes like Land Back.

In closing, the core of animistic practice in Fire & Ice spirituality for both the experienced and the new can be summed up with right relationship, reciprocity, and restoration. Each of these concepts is more than just an idea to be considered, they are perspectives which imply specific actions that should be taken and what kind of relationships you should have with the world around you. Building up your animistic practice is expressed both in adopting these perspectives as part of your life and the smaller actions, like leaving out bowls of milk and honey or giving gifts of water for thirsty desert plants, that make up the day to day of animistic spirituality.

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