It’s true that we don’t know much in terms of how our ancestors honoured the house spirit back in Pagan times. However, growing up in Sweden, I consider myself fortunate because the tradition of honouring the house spirit (Tomten) at Yule is actually still alive and well. Even those who do not engage in this practice are aware of it.
To honour your house spirit/wight/gnome at Yule, you need to put a bowl of porridge with a big dollop of butter on top (smörhål). The rice porridge consumed in modern-day Sweden on Christmas Eve is often referred to as ‘tomtegröt’ (house gnome/spirit porridge) because of this practice.
The Swedish word tomte comes from the Swedish word for yard (as in the plot of land your house is located on). Tomt = yard. Tomten is ‘the Yardey.’ Tomtar (plural) are also known as tomtenissar (yard gnomes).
According to Swedish folklore, it’s actually best not to mention the tomtar/tomtenissar or talk about them, especially inside your home. If you do, they might disrupt your sleep by throwing objects around.
How to Honour Your House Spirit Swedish Style
Though we don’t know a whole lot about how our ancestors honoured the house spirits, we do have some practices on record. For instance, in some areas of Sweden, it was customary to put out porridge with a dollop of butter for the Tomte every week. The traditional day for doing this was Saturday.
If the porridge was gone in the morning, the Tomte was pleased with the offering. This meant that peace was ensured for the household for yet another week.
The Tomte would then look after the animals and make sure they were all healthy, as well as keep the household safe, secure, and in good repair.
What Are House Spirits?
As far as the classification of spirits goes, it is generally agreed upon that the tomte/house spirit falls in the dwarf category in Norse Mythology. These Earth spirits are notoriously cunning and difficult to please. They are also extremely good at all practical matters and tending to all of Earth’s creatures. This is obviously why we sometimes need their assistance.
However, there is also a theory that the House Spirit is an ancestor. A third theory is that the House Spirit is the spirit of the deceased first owner of the home. In my mind, it makes very little sense that it is the deceased spirit of the first owner. That means new homes would not have a house spirit. I believe all homes do have a house spirit. Though it may be difficult to pin down exactly what and who they are, what matters more is that we honour them.
In the Saami tradition (natives of the North of Sweden), an offering of milk was usually left at the threshold at mealtime to appease Uksakka. Uksakka is a female house spirit, one of the three daughters of Madderakka, the great ancestral Mother Goddess.
You Can Kill Gods More Easily Than Spirits!
When my native Sweden became Christianised, it didn’t take that long to replace the old gods with the new. However, the spirits that people worked with and sometimes worshipped on a daily basis took a lot longer to get rid of.
Queen Bridget the Holy wrote a decree against the veneration of house spirits in the 1300s. And in the 1600s priests were still trying to ban these practices.
I’m guessing the tomte will always get the last laugh!
So How Do You Connect and What Do You Offer?
Either of the two examples above would make an appropriate offering. You do not have to make this offering a regular occurrence unless you want to. Some make an offering only when in need of assistance. I recently felt that need myself. After some trial and error reached the conclusion that freshly ground (by hand!) and brewed coffee also makes an appropriate offering.
As with any spirits, you do not need an elaborate ritual to connect with them. However, to be able to hear and sense what they need or want from you, you may wish to enter into a light trance state. You can also communicate with them via your usual divinatory tools. After I had made the offering of freshly brewed coffee, I did a rune reading. The rune received was Inguz which I took as a sign that the house spirit was pleased with the offering.
As with libations to deities and other spirits, you would allow the spirit to gather the essence of the offering. After some time you would pour it out outside (not down the sink). It’s a bit trickier with porridge or other foods in modern society since foods can attract scavengers. This is one of the reasons, I feel a libation works best. But at Yule, just to be safe, it’s going to be tomtegröt!