Honoring Ties to our Ancestors

The “Othala” Connection to Where we Call Home

Recently I had a very interesting experience that made me think of the importance of our ancestral connections and how that may be linked to the rune – othala. Othala is the rune of inheritance and mostly connected to our ancestors. **

“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. *

Othala 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.

When we think of ancestors, many think in terms of those from whom they are descended – grandparents, great grandparents and on back.  This is quite true and an important and valuable part of our ancestor veneration. The things that people have learned over the millennia, have certainly made an imprint in some way upon each successive generation.  Some things have fallen away and are not vital in the ways they once were to our survival, perhaps, but we honor and remember that those decisions and lives made an impact in some way that form a part of who we are today.

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 would include ancestors of a location (such as a home town or geographical place), ancestors of influence (such as teachers, important figures, people whom we admire), and ancestors of people of causes or movements (such as those fighting for equal rights, pioneers, military, merchants, explorers, scientists, etc.).

During my recent experience, I was visiting the area where I grew up. For all intents and purposes, this was the last time I will be visiting this area unless I make a special effort and journey just to go there. As the time drew near to drive away, my heart became a bit heavy as I knew that I would not be visiting these landvaettir in the future. That the connection to the spirit of the people who settled the region (ancestors of the place) would become very thin.

 Working with House and Land Vaettir

Mountain overlooking author’s hometown in Utah.

There were connections to many places in this area, so I decided to address them as I prepared to leave.  At one house, I thanked the house and land spirits who were part of my family for those many years. I invited any friendly ones who would like to journey away with us to join. Those who wished to stay, I gave offerings and thanked them. Wished them a fond good bye and that I hope the new inhabitants would be kind and friendly.  Likely they would not recognize the spirits there, but They are known and appreciated.

The land area that was part of my growing up is around 70 miles along a state road in a desert community.  Little towns with as few as 200 people to about 1,000 people with the largest city in that area being just over 8,000 people.  A lot of open area between towns with a lot of colors, desert landscape, and bright blue sky. When I left the city at the north end of the two counties, I would have to drive through nearly every little town along the highway as I headed south.

A Knot in the Heart: That Strange Departing Feeling

That day came and I could feel the restlessness of the land spirits and the spirits of the place that have been there for so long. There was a sense of sorrow as I drove through that area with the thought that this is likely the last time I’ll be there.  I took in all of the beauty that surrounds that area. The layers of colors on the mountains. The areas of green where rivers converge to create a small oasis where people settled. The smell of hay growing in the fields. The vast openness that I don’t see in cities.

Through each mile, I connected with those spirits. I thanked them for being my root and my “othala” connection – to this land and region. I thanked them for welcoming my family when we moved there with openness and embracing us.  For taking care of us and making this place a very deep connection for me.

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

It was quite an emotional experience and I was a little bit surprised at the intensity of it. It was a very good experience and I’m glad to have been able to connect with Them as I left the area.  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”?

Runes made from Utah Quaking Aspen laid out on lava rock with sandstone and coal from where the author grew up.

If you have moved away from a place that you consider home, have you had that 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 made an effort to reach out to those ancestral spirits or the ones where you are now, do you think you might want to?

The experience of connecting with ancestral vaettir and ancestors can be very rewarding and meaningful. Also, making that relationship to the Ones where you are now is also very rewarding and helps to establish further 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.


* Translation by Dickens, Bruce. 1915. Runic and heroic poems of the old Teutonic peoples. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 

** 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.

*** This article was originally posted at Huginn’s Heathenhof  on 29 July 2018 and is the work of Jan Tjeerd.