Monday, April 16, 2012

The heart of the home the Nisseman!

This is Ted.  He is not a wight.  He is a Danish hjemnisse.

Sven's mom had a big devotion to the nissemen, which she got from her dad, the one who taught Sven lore.  After she died, I took this "garden gnome" from the backyard of her house and brought him back to San Diego with me as a monument to her.  While other gnomes of hers were cutesy and often riding garden snails, this gentleman had gravitas.  Both his eyes were closed, just drawn as horizontal lines on his face.  I took a black pen and opened one by drawing in a pupil.

After several weeks of leaving milk and cakes out for him, I realized I kept thinking of the nisseman as "it".  This was rude, so when the name "Ted" came to mind, it stuck.  I didn't know how Sven would react to knowing that I'd started leaving out snacks for the nisse, so I debated how to tell him.

Then one night as we were coming home from something, Sven stopped dead in his tracks and said, "I just saw a nisseman run into our back yard."

At that point I had to come clean.  Ted has since been spoiled, getting a nice cup of black coffee every Sunday, cookies, akvavit, vodka, etc.  Right now he has a solid chocolate Ostara egg.

Once we moved to our condo, we put a shelf up over our fireplace.  Ted now stands there in a position of authority, encouraging domestic tranquility and looking after the cats.

If anyone is looking for a simple, basic Heathen practice, the custom of honouring one's house-spirit is it.  Even more than devotion to the gods, reverence of the hjemnisse/tomte/house wight has survived in the spiritual imagination of northern folk.  Just remember that it's a practice that must be held to faithfully; an angry hjemnisse will start by making small but important items around the house go missing and get destructive if he's not appeased.  It's very easy, I think, for modern people to just take practices up as an affectation without really grasping that spiritual practices have meanings and consequences.  This is, I believe, a very valid lesson to be absorbed through interaction with the nisse.