Our ancestors are our legacy. We were born from them, and we are physically and metaphysically connected to them at all times. Their actions during life not only contributed to our luck and current reputations, but learning about their stories and choices help us to understand our own growth opportunities. From our ancestors, we learn what choices we want to or need to make in order to lead successful and fulfilled lives. In short, we are led by their examples, and the Heathen worldview places emphasis on respecting those examples.
One of the easiest ways to honor our ancestors is by creating shrines or altars dedicated to them within our homes. Start by finding photographs of deceased relatives, framing them, and setting them up on a shelf or table, then feel free to decorate. If photographs cannot be found, place items on the shelf or table that remind you of your ancestors, your country of origin (if relevant), your cultural or ethnic heritage (if relevant), or simply something that speaks to you as being appropriate. Feel free to also place such items alongside photographs, too. Food, liquid, crafted, or object-oriented offerings should be given to the ancestors to appease them, and remind them that you are grateful for their guidance and wish to show them respect. Calling upon your ancestors during ritual is also a powerful method of honoring them.
It should be noted that any ancestors who could be considered frith-breakers — people whose deeds, words, or choices could be considered reasons for an outcast status from the family — would not be considered worthy of veneration. This determination will be up to the individual Heathen. It is our responsibility to research our ancestry, deciding who is worthy of our veneration and who is not. Also, ancestor veneration does not necessarily have to refer to blood relatives only. In the case of adoption, for example, if one doesn’t know who their blood relatives were or doesn’t have the means to find out, researching and venerating one’s adopted family would be considered perfectly reasonable. It is also acceptable to turn to other influential humans that may have hugely impacted one’s life.
The ancient Germanic peoples were polytheists, meaning they believed in multiple gods. The gods feature prominently in their mythologies and worldview. Because of this, believing the gods are real and have influence over our lives is an important part of being a modern Heathen. The specific names and aspects of the gods of Heathenry vary by regional tradition, but regardless of which influences you choose for your own reconstructed modern Heathenry, worshiping the gods can be handled in the same general manner.
Like with the ancestors and house/land wights, many modern Heathens feel it is helpful and/or appropriate to set up shrines or altars in honor of a god or several gods. While forming a close personal relationship with one or all of the gods is something that will be up to each individual Heathen (it is not a requirement of being Heathen), giving offerings and or sacrificing to the gods during a blót or other ritual celebration is considered a standard practice. How and when you worship, pray to, honor, and/or offer to the gods is an important part of establishing your own hearth cult.
While it is not possible to list every single god of the varied Germanic pantheons, a few common ones are listed below based on denominations that commonly worship them. New Heathens are encouraged to research the other gods that interest them.
- Norse Heathenry: Odin, Freyja, Frigg, Thor, Freyr, Loki, Tyr
- Anglo-Saxon Heathenry: Wōden, Thunor, Ingui, Frīg, Ēostre, Seaxnēat
- Continental Heathenry: Perchta, Holda, Wodan, Donar, Mars Thincsus, Nehalennia, Gaut
The term “wight” actually refers to all of the different entities in Heathen mythology and worldview, including the gods and humans. When modern Heathens normally speak of wights, however, they are usually referring to elves, dwarves, land spirits, and house spirits. Beliefs and practices regarding these wights usually vary by individual Heathen. Some Heathens are sensitive to the presence of wights, while other Heathens can barely sense them. Regardless, all Heathens are encouraged to honor the existence of house and land wights, which are the spirits that reside in the dwellings and properties we claim as our homes.
Using the customs and habits of the ancient Germanic peoples as a guideline, modern Heathens should pursue a positive relationship with their house/land wight(s) through the acts of ritual and offering. Not only will this help with frith-keeping among the entire household, but it follows that, by treating the house/land wight(s) with respect, the house/land wight(s) will continue to allow you to take up residence in your home without much trouble or interference. The degree of attention to which a house/land wight is paid will also vary by individual Heathens — some may form close bonds with their house/land wight(s), while others may choose to or only be able to give the minimally viable amount of effort in order to maintain the peace.
Honoring a house/land wight can be as simple as leaving a small liquid or food offering out on a regular basis, set on a windowsill or shelf, or, perhaps more effectively (if one is able), poured or buried into the property’s actual land. Some Heathens set aside part of whatever meal they make at a certain time of day; others leave the same offering every time, like a bowl of milk. Either way, establishing a gifting cycle with the wight(s) is recommended. Wights can also be honored during ritual, such as called upon or sacrificed to during a blót.
- Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices — Claude Lecouteux
- The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England — Stephen Pollington
- Gods and Myths of Northern Europe — Hilda R. Ellis Davidson
- Looking for the Lost Gods of England — Kathleen Herbert
- The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind — Claude Lecouteux
- Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matrons — Philip A. Shaw
- Road to Hel — Hilda R. Ellis Davidson
- The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices — Claude Lecouteux