It has been suggested that Vættir be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since October 2023.
Page recording a charm against a dwarf, from the Lacnunga collection, in which the dwarf is referred to as a wiht.[1]

A wight is a being or thing. This general meaning is shared by cognate terms in Germanic languages, however the usage of the term varies greatly over time and between regions. In Old English, it could refer to anything in existence, with more specific usages arising in Middle English, perhaps due to the term of similar meaning in Anglo-Norman, creature. The term is widely used in modern fantasy, often to mean specifically a being which is undead.


Modern English "wight" is descended from Middle English: wight or Middle English: wiȝt, from Old English: wiht, from Proto-West Germanic '*wihti' from Proto-Germanic: *wihtiz from Proto-Indo-European: '*wekti' ("cause, sake, thing"), from Proto-Indo-European "*wekʷ-" ("to say, tell"). "Wight" is further cognate with Scots: wicht, German: Wicht, Dutch: Wicht, Gothic: 𐍅𐌰𐌹𐌷𐍄𐍃 and Old Norse: vættr, the ancestor of Swedish: vätte, Danish: vætte and Icelandic: vættur.[2][3]

Medieval period

Old English

The eoten Grendel, who is described in Beowulf as wiht unhaélo ("that damned creature"), as illustrated by J. R. Skelton.[4]

In Old English, wiht has been variously translated as "wight", "creature" and "being".[5] The term is found in the compound words eall-wihta ("all beings") and á-wiht ("aught", "anything").[6][7] Wiht is often used as the subject of riddles, such as riddle 86 from the Exeter Book, in which it has been interpreted as referring to a person selling vegetables, likely garlics.[5][8] The term is also used to refer to beings such as the dwarf which is the focus of the XCIIIB charm, and the eoten Grendel and the dragon in Beowulf.[1][9]

Middle English

Connotations and scope

When creature was borrowed from Anglo-Norman around 1300 CE, it was possibly wholly synonymous with Middle English: wight, however over time the words became differentiated by speakers.[10] The exact usage of the term varies between works but it broadly is used in one of five loose categories that blur between themselves:

The term is used to refer to a range of positive beings with supernatural aspects such as saints, Jesus, and his mother, Mary.[12] It has been argued that the term could be used for anything other than the God the Father, as he himself was not created in Christian theology. It has been noted, however, that it is stated in the Man of Law that Daniel in the lion's den was saved by "No wight but God", showing it was possible to use the term to refer to a class of beings that includes both man and the Christian god. It is to be noted though are no extant texts in Middle English that refer to God the Father directly as a wight.[13]

The most common use of the term, however, is to refer to everyday corporeal beings as these are much more represented in normal conversation. Wight is commonly found with adjectives, such as curside, wikkede, or worldly. The phrase "sweet wight" is notable, occurring frequently and often in gendered and romantic contexts.[14]


The Reeve's Tale, (1387–1400), line 4236:
"For [Aleyn] had swonken al the longe nyght,
And seyde, 'Fare weel, Malyne, sweete wight!'"
The Monk's Tale, (1387–1400), line 380:
"She kept her maidenhood from every wight
To no man deigned she for to be bond."
The Book of the Duchess, (1387–1400), line 579:
"Worste of alle wightes."
Prologue of The Knight, (1387–1400), line 72–73:
"Ne neuere yet no vileynye he sayde
In al his lyf vnto no manere wight.
He was a verray parfit gentil knyght."
The House of Fame, (1379–1380), line 1830–1831:
"We ben shrewes, every wight,
And han delyt in wikkednes."

Old Norse

As with "wight", Old Norse: vættr (pl. vættir) means a being, especially a supernatural being. It occurs in compound nouns such as mein-vættr ("evil wight"), land-vættr ("guardian spirit of a country"), vitta vettr ("witch wight" or "sorceress") and bjargvættr ("helping sprite").[15][16][17]

Modern period

Modern English

Modern Fantasy

Wights feature in J. R. R. Tolkien's world of Middle-earth, especially in The Lord of the Rings, and in George R. R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire[citation needed][18] and HBO television series Game of Thrones.[citation needed] Since its 1974 inclusion in the RPG Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), it has become a recurring form of undead in other fantasy games and mods, such as Vampire: The Masquerade.[19] and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.[citation needed]

Examples of usage


A similar change of meaning can be seen in the German cognate Wicht, meaning a living human being, generally rather small, poor or miserable man (not woman). The word is somewhat old-fashioned in today's language, but it is still used and readily recognized in everyday speech.[citation needed]

The diminutive Wichtel refers to beings in folklore and fantasy, generally small, and often helpful, dwelling in or near human settlements, secretly doing work and helping the humans, somewhat similar to the more specific Heinzelmännchen. Wichtel in this sense is recorded since the Middle Ages. Today, Wichtel is more often used than Wicht.[citation needed]


The word wicht can be used to refer, to any woman, often with negative connotations. It is not used to refer to men.[citation needed]

Booswicht (literally evil-being) matching 'villain', can be used to describe both men and women.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Hines 2019, pp. 38–39.
  2. ^ wight.
  3. ^ *wihtiz.
  4. ^ Slade, Line 120.
  5. ^ a b BT-wiht.
  6. ^ BT-eall-wihta.
  7. ^ BT-á-wiht.
  8. ^ Wilcox 1996, p. 180.
  9. ^ Slade, Lines 120, 3038.
  10. ^ Farrell 2015, p. 182.
  11. ^ Farrell 2015, p. 184.
  12. ^ Farrell 2015, p. 186.
  13. ^ Farrell 2015, pp. 180–182, 193.
  14. ^ Farrell 2015, pp. 184–186.
  15. ^ CV-Vættr.
  16. ^ OID-Landvættr.
  17. ^ OID-Bjargvættr.
  18. ^ Martin, pp. 533–536, 545–548.
  19. ^ Sins of the blood. McCoy, Angel., White Wolf Publishing. Clarkston, GA: White Wolf Pub. 2001. pp. 9, 17–24. ISBN 158846217X. OCLC 62150117.((cite book)): CS1 maint: others (link)



  • Martin. "Chapter 52: Jon". A Game of Thrones.
  • Slade, Benjamin. "Beowulf". Retrieved 3 December 2023.