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Honoring our Ancestral Ties: Othala

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By Jan Tjeerd

The “Othala” Connection to Where we Call Home

Othala is the rune of inheritance and most connected to our ancestors.* It is either the final rune of the futhark or the second to the last rune with dagaz being the last. This placement confusion is due to the futhark order being found complete in different locations with the two runes interchanged. It is most commonly placed as the final rune in most rune studies today.

Recently I had an experience that made me think of the importance of our ancestral connections and how that may be linked to othala. While I was visiting the area where I grew up this year, I realized that this was likely the last time I would be there. As the time drew near to leave, my heart became a bit heavy while preparing to say goodbye to the ancestors, the wights, and the vaettir there.

Rune set made by author from a Quaking Aspen branch and laid out upon lava rock. Both materials are from central Utah.

When we think of ancestors, many think in terms of those from whom they are descended – grandparents, great grandparents and so-on – which is a valuable part of our ancestor veneration. Some other ways, and this is what really struck me during this experience, that we can honor ancestors is to remember those who are not part of our direct lineage. This includes ancestors of a location (a home town or geographical place), ancestors of influence (teachers, important figures, people whom we admire), and ancestors of causes or movements (those fighting for equal rights, pioneers, military, merchants, explorers, scientists, etc.).

Working with House and Land Vaettir

The two counties where I grew up are combined about 70 miles along a state road in a desert community. Small towns with as few as 200 to about 1,000 people are separated by colorful desert landscape, farms, and bright blue sky. When I left the city at the north end of the two counties (population about 8,000), I would have to drive through nearly every little town along the highway as I headed south.

Because of my many connections to this area, I decided to address the wights and vaettir as I prepared to leave. I thanked the house and land spirits who were part of my family for those many years and invited any friendly ones who would like to journey away with us to join us. Those who wished to stay, I gave offerings, thanked them and wished them a fond good bye. I hope the new inhabitants would be kind and friendly.

A Knot in the Heart: That Strange Departing Feeling

Mountain overlooking the author’s hometown and local cemetery.

While driving away, there was a sense of sorrow as I drove stretch of highway connecting them all together. I took in all of the beauty that surrounds that area: The layers of colors on the mountains. The green oases where rivers converged and people settled. The smell of hay growing in the fields. The open space not seen in cities.

Through each mile, I thanked those local spirits for being my root and my “othala” connection to this land and region. I thanked them for welcoming my family, taking care of us, and making this place a home.

“An estate is very dear to every man, if he can enjoy there in his house whatever is right and proper in constant prosperity.” – Old English Rune Poem, translation by Bruce Dickens. **

As I passed significant locations (such as where I worked as a teenager, my schools, a home I lived in, homes of my friends and family friends, hangouts, the church I attended as a youth), I thanked the spirits dwelling there for all that I gained as a result of their influences that helped me form who I am today. Even though my physical presence may not come back, I am still connected to them and they are still part of my othala; a tie will not be severed.

It was quite an emotional experience and I was surprised at the intensity of it. It will be strange to not go back now and then, but I hope to always have that sense of “home” with Them.

How Do You Connect to the Land/House Vaettir of Your “Othala”?

The experience of connecting with ancestral vaettir and ancestors can be very rewarding and meaningful. Also, relationships with the Ones where you are now is also very rewarding and helps to establish that sense of home and being wherever you are. Even if you will be there a short while, it is worth making those connections and introductions as part of the hospitality of living together.

Some questions to consider when building your landvaettir practice:

  • If you have moved away from a place that you consider home, have you had a similar experience? Have you returned often and then had a time when you knew you wouldn’t go back?
  • How do you connect with the place you are now? Do you engage the land, city, and house vaettir where you are now?
  • If you haven’t reached out to those ancestral spirits or the ones where you are now, do you think you might want to?

Jan Tjeerd has been practicing Heathenry for over a decade and is devoted to Freya and Nehalennia. He is host of Gifts of the Wyrd podcast which is dedicated to topics of interest to inclusive Heathenry. His desire is to encourage the experiential practice of magic, seidhr, and spirituality for people of the 21st century influenced by our ancestors.

Author’s notes:

* The othala rune has unfortunately been adopted by racist, white supremacist, and nazi groups to promote bigotry and hatred to others based on immutable traits such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and other traits they deem undesirable. They misappropriate the rune’s connection to heritage, ancestral lineage and inheritance to support their racist and bigoted ideology. This is a deplorable use of othala and is not the subject nor the intended context of this post in any way.

** Translation by Bruce Dickens. 1915. Runic and Heroic Poems of the old Teutonic Peoples. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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