Wyrd Designs – Why you should be a member of S.P.E.W.

Wyrd Designs – Why you should be a member of S.P.E.W. November 18, 2010

Despite the unfortunate acronym that Hermione’s Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W.) may possess, in the relationships of people to the house-elves in the Harry Potter Universe we can see examples of HOW TO and HOW NOT TO interact with the wights.

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So witches, wizards and the curious muggle-folks let us begin today’s lesson by understanding what the term wight means. If you crack open your dictionary and explore the etymological origins you’ll learn that the term can apply to any living being, creature or thing whether they are human or some numinous or supernatural entity. This is a rather conclusive, encompassing term. Considering this religion is characterized by animism, it is no wonder that such an inclusive word was used to describe the various life forms humans interacted with: from the Gods and Goddesses, the ancestors, the duergar, and alfar, the jotuns as well as other beings of the lands and seas.

If you were to ask a modern practitioner what is worshipped in their religion they would tell you: the Gods and Goddesses, the ancestors, and the wights. While the former two groupings are wights as well, because of the strong priority of connection with these groups they’ve been broken out of the vast amalgam. This leaves the third and final group of wights the leftover ‘everything else’.

If you think of all the folk-stories out there: brownies, selkies, fairies, goblins, hob-goblins, trolls, can all be understood as a type of wight (although most are not native to the Northern Tradition).  So they are other beings in existence that humans must find ways of relating to and co-existing.

The old ways are not forgotten in Iceland, it still remains tradition that before major construction projects, someone is brought in to consult the local wights or elves to make sure that they have their blessings to build there, and if the elves object they must enter into negotiations which sometimes cause the humans to alter and adapt their plans.

These wights are the Landsvættir, but there’s also wights that may live with you in the house. The Anglo-Saxons called their house wights Cofgodas. Cofgodas, are hard workers and hate lazy humans. Generally they were seen as being a helpful addition to a home, but they could also get into mischief and cause harm as well.

Ultimately, humans must figure out how to navigate these relationships. Just as in Rowling’s Harry Potter series, not every home has a house-wight. Think of it like this, even though there may be 100 homes in your neighborhood, at any time you may have a couple of homes vacant because no one currently lives there. Unlike Rowling’s house-elfs, house-wights are not ‘enslaved’ to the person(s) living in the house.

For homes with house-wights living in them, the relationship can be good, or it can be bad. If the people living in the home are lazy, disrespect the home, are prone to violence (punching holes in the walls, screaming at people all the time, abuse their spouse/child/pet) the house-wights won’t be happy and they’ll respond negatively. If the people living in the house though respect one another and the house, and especially if they show consideration to the house-wights as well, the wights will most likely respond positively.

Unhappy house-wights tend to act out in various: items may begin breaking or shattering, items may start to go missing. You may suddenly become plagued with insect infestations, a number of home repair bills, and potentially health problems. Similarly, house-elves also act out in their own ways as well.

The Malfoys certainly did not treat their house-elf Dobby kindly. While he was ‘trapped’ into servitude with them, he also tried wherever he could to find ways of acting out against them when he didn’t agree of what they were about which we see clearly in The Chamber of Secrets. He acted out by trying to find a way to save Harry Potter. When Harry tricks Lucius Malfoy into freeing him, and then dares to attack Harry… we see for the first time in the series the power of a house-elf… that is able to neutralize Lucius’ attack.

When we look to the house-elf of Grimmauld Place, Kreacher, we see our animagus Padfoot not being his good-natured self, but rather being rather cruel to Kreacher. Sirius no doubt was transferring some of his animosity towards his purist mother towards the house-elf who was fiercely loyal to her even in death. In part, being forced into a position where he had to return to a home he so despised, probably put him in a very bad mood too. While these are not excuses… it does become understandable that Kreacher would begin to find ways to act out against Sirius, and ultimately helps to lead Harry to the Ministry of Magic’s Department of Mysteries that will get Sirius killed when he goes to rescue his entrapped god-son.

Yet we can see how the animosity of the relationship between human and house-elf can change when one tries to negotiate a means of co-existence. Considering Kreacher’s part in Sirius’ death, as well as his tendency to parrot the hate-filled idioms of the late Mrs. Black Harry really didn’t care for the elf. But when he showed the elf some kindness, and gave to him something that had belonged to Regulus Black, someone the house-elf had rather liked, Kreacher’s demeanor towards Harry changes. The elf stops parroting hateful things, he is cleaner and appears happier, and the food he makes even improves as well. While Harry does not fully trust him and instead sends him to Hogwarts for a while… things have improved enough that in the final grand battle, Kreacher chooses to assist Harry Potter & Co. against the invading Death-Eaters at the school.

Just as a happy house-elf lends itself to a more comfortable home environment, happy house-wights can also lend a helping hand. Have you misplaced your passport? Set out an offering and ask them to help you find it. Your toddler manages to climb out of the crib, and unlock the backdoor while you’re sleeping in the middle of the night, a happy house-wight is more inclined to find some way to make noise to wake you up.

Approaching house-wights with respect is always a good idea. But also be sure you’re not there to meddle or try to dictate to them their way of life. That was Hermione’s mistake, her staunch efforts at S.P.E.W. and attempts to ‘liberate’ the house-elves made all the Hogwarts’ house-elves abandon cleaning Gryffindor tower, except for Dobby.

Traditional offerings for house-wights were milk and honey. But house-wights may have regional tastes, or have even picked up unusual tastes from a previous individual they interacted with. If you’re not sure what to share with them, whatever you are eating and drinking is always a good place to start.

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  • Kauko

    I love how you tied Harry Potter and S.P.E.W. into it :)

    On a related note, some friends of mine were having haunting like activities at their house recently (noised, furniture moving itself around). I had a strange feeling that it might be related to the land spirits/ wights (in Finnish paganism they are called ‘haltija’) in and around their home. Both I and another friend of theirs who is Pagan seperately had recommended leaving food offerings out. And after they did that all of the activity calmed down.

  • Todd

    I’m glad you wrote this article Wyrd. I think the wights living with us may be quite unhappy. New dish washer breaking down, GPS missing, and many other odd things taking place. I’ll try some negotiation. Maybe we can become friends.