In a lot of ways, modern society has stripped the traditional family of the tools needed to keep the folk and the land safe from harm or misfortune. When seeking ways to return to a more simple life, there are definite barriers to shedding the trappings of modernity and working and living as our forefathers did.
One of these barriers has been societal conditioning that induces extreme rational thought in all areas of life, including the spiritual. Modern society has put enormous pressure on individuals to see superstition or the spiritual as hogwash. Unfortunately, this has stolen from us many of the ancient folk practices of our ancestors that helped them cope with the difficulties of nature.
There is an observable spiritual failure to the way modern man has lost his knowledge of the land, agriculture and ancestral wisdom.
My journey has been that of regaining the lost farming practices of my forebears – how to preserve my harvest, how to save seed and how to live without electricity. Yet, there has developed another aspect to my journey that has become just as important. This new path has been to regain the spiritual wisdom of my ancestors that once warded them against bad luck and misfortune.
So what are these ancient tools that kept the family and farm safe at night? One of them was the belief in land wights.
In general, land wights are spirits from the mythic time that inhabit nature and protect the area around their home. For the modern homesteader that seeks to live more closely with the land, this is an important concept to consider. Today I am going to focus on one wight in specific that I believe has an important role in keeping the traditional family healthy and prosperous. This is the Good Farmer.
The Good Farmer is known in the old world as the Tomte or Nisse and is the wight known to dwell around the farm. Specifically, the Good Farmer was believed to take care of the farm itself and protect it from misfortune, in particular at night, when the folk were sleeping.
It is important to note that in some areas, the tomte is called the Haugebonde or “Mound Farmer” and references the ancient burial mounds of our ancestors. This could provide a crucial clue as to the connection between this special wight and the family itself.
For anyone who has a homestead or small farm, it is easy to understand the importance that an unseen guardian could be to the success of the family. There has been many nights when I awoke to find a raccoon has tried to gain access to one of my coops or when rabbits have raided my pea bed and destroyed the crop. Smallholders are faced with a myriad of problems (sick animals, poor harvests) and it is my belief that for many of us, only natural tools are fit for use by the traditional family. The Good Farmer can be more than an ally is preventing crop failure and bad harvests – he can be a part of the family if treated with the appropriate honor, respect and wariness.
Many sources report that the Good Farmer often appears as a small, old man with a full gray or white beard and dressed as a peasant farmer. Yet there are many folktales where he is described as a shapeshifter and able to take a shape of animals or other natural objects. In Northern Europe, where he is known as a Nisse, the Good Farmer is seen as beardless, with a red cap. In any case, this land wight is thought to be skilled in magic and can make himself invisible at will.
For these reasons, it is not safe to assume that a tomte is missing from your own homestead. These wights are ancient and with a vast amount of strength for their size, hiding from sight and either helping or hindering the traditional family based on how much deference is shown to them. For example, even though the Good Farmer can be a caring ally for the folk, he can be easy to offend. Many folktales speak of the tomte being ignored and seeking out retribution even to the point of ruining the farm’s luck. It is important to keep in mind that the Good Farmer is a traditionalist and does not look on modernity with kindness.
So how does one invite the Good Farmer to become an active part in the life of the Farmstead?
I believe the first step is to understand that the Good Farmer is but one of many possible wights that inhabit the property. For this reason, one must learn the peculiars to his own character and what role he plays in the luck of the family and land.
Traditionally, the Good Farmer has charge of all the animals and outbuildings on the property and all farming activity falls under his care. He will take up residence in the most comfortable building on the farm, often on the highest floor and in the warmest corner of the barn. The folk is required to please him with gifts. Specifically, the Good Farmer should be provided with his yearly wage of a bowl of porridge (with a pat of button on top) given during Yule. We gift our own tomte on the eve of December 25th as part of Yuletide.
Since welcoming the Good Farmer into our own homestead’s daily life, I find myself making small adjustments to the way that I do my own work or behave. For example, I make sure that none of the boys urinate outside – a grave offense that can drive the tomte from the land. In addition, I make every attempt to complete all tasks to the best of my ability and refuse to perform shoddy work. I try to use manual tools when possible and leave small gifts when appropriate. I try to limit profanity (hard when I constantly use a hammer and my fingers get in the way). Yet in the end, all of these adjustments should be made whether you believe in the existence of the yard-dweller or not. That, I think, is the real truth to my short post here.
The tools that our ancestors used were good for them and they are good for us today. Whether we are talking about manual plowing (keeping us in shape) or believing in the Good Farmer (pushing us to do better work), in either case we are becoming a better individual and a better family. Embracing the ancient wisdom of our ancestors provides the family with many tools that cannot be replaced by modernity. Often these have been lost but I believe are not unrecoverable. To gain access to them once more, we only have to break through the conditioning that the spiritual and the superstitious is not folly but is and has always been an important part of who we are and how we interact with the natural world around us.
So, the next time that mysterious cat wanders onto your property, do not be so quick to shoo it away. He could have a peculiar twinkle in his eye that hints at something ancient and something knowing.