A little bit of luck
A bit of wyrdness
When faced with apparent results from following the principles of feng shui or some other form of geomancy, the reflex response of most sceptics is to say “So what? It’s just luck!” And the reflex response of most ‘believers’, in turn, would be to say something on the lines of “It isn’t luck! It’s because… and because… and…”
Well, there’s bad news, and there’s good news. The bad news is that the sceptics are dead right: it is just luck. The good news is that the sceptics, like almost everyone else, have completely failed to understand what luck actually is – and that by understanding what it is and how it works, we start to have choices in how it impacts upon us.
Luck we might say, is weird. What we may not realise is that that’s literally true: luck is weird – or, more accurately, a form or manifestation of weird. If that sounds a bit confusing, it’s probably because there’s a crucial item of etymology that you need to know at this point: historically and linguistically, ‘weird’ is both an adjective and a noun. (It’s arguably also a verb as well, but that isn’t immediately relevant here.) Weird is a thing, an experience: one which we do all know well, because we describe that experience whenever we call something ‘weird’ – “Hey, you know, this really weird thing happened to me today…”. For clarity’s sake, we tend to use the spelling ‘wyrd’ when we mean ‘weird-as-a-noun’, and I’ll stick to that convention from now on: but note that it can be spelt either way. Whenever you see the word ‘weird’, remember it’s both an adjective and a noun, and you won’t go far wrong.
At this point you may be wondering what on earth this arcane piece of ancient grammar has to do with geomancy – or luck, for that matter. The shortest answer, of course, is “lots” – which isn’t exactly helpful! The shortest useful answer I can offer at this point is that it’s one of the few ways in which we can directly experience what geomancy is all about: a point which should become clear by digging a little into the mythology of wyrd – and of luck.
Anglo-Saxon poetry refers often to wyrd as a kind of synonym for fate: “Lo, we suffered many dreadful Wyrds that night!”. In fact, wyrd is the Nordic version of the common Indo-European myth of the ‘three sisters of fate’; luck is derived in part from an early Germanic variant of the same concept, referred to as ‘geluk’. Luck, fate, destiny and wyrd are all essentially based on the same idea: that there is a kind of agency – usually personified in the form of either one or three women, such as ‘Lady Luck’ or the three Fates – which manipulates and manages the path and pattern of human life. In the Nordic version, for example, the three sisters are named Urðr, Verðandi and Skuld; in the Greek version, they’re Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos; but the overall idea is much the same, with the notion that the sisters respectively spin, weave and cut the threads of our lives, to create an overall fabric of Life itself. In later Icelandic and, particularly, Scottish, the ‘ð’ character in Urðr’s name became hardened to a ‘d’, leading to the word ‘weird’, and the three Weird Sisters in the real-life story behind Shakespeare’s Macbeth; whilst in early Germanic myth the ‘ð’ was softened to a ‘th’, leading eventually to the modern word ‘earth’, meaning ‘the everything’ – much like the Greek word ‘Pan’. It’s a point which becomes important when we return shortly to geomancy: but for the moment, we’ll delve a little more deeply into the myths of fate.
Sharing the same mythic root, the local versions of the story at first seem much the same: but there are some fundamental, and crucial, differences in the detail. In the Greek version, and the almost identical Roman concept of the three ‘sisters of Destiny’, the fatal fabric is a flat cloth of parallel threads: each life is almost entirely separate, connected to others only by an ill-defined cross-warp of ‘blind chance’. Atropos, whose name literally means ‘one who cannot be turned’, cuts the thread at the end of life: we can’t fight the Fates. Everything is predestined, so we have no real choice: all we can be is fatalistic, and wait for The End…
A bleak prospect: but in fact it doesn’t describe very well what we actually experience. That’s described much better in the Nordic version: instead of a fabric of isolated lives, the sisters of Wyrd weave a fabric of life, one that’s not so much a cloth as an infinitely interweaving Celtic knotwork, along whose threads we each choose our own path. So, unlike the fabric of the Fates, Wyrd always offers us a choice: but we can never be certain where any choice will lead, as the knotwork contains all manner of twists and loops and strange possibilities – and sudden dead-ends. There’s always a choice, says the wyrd, but there’s also always a twist; and somewhere, usually hidden behind some wry joke, or an unpleasant kind of lesson, there’s also always an ending.
That mythic model does match much more closely what we each actually experience in life. We can’t fight the Fates: but we do have choices – even if our choices seem, for some weird reason, to so often be the wrong ones! That’s wyrd; that’s the experience that we so often, and so casually, describe as ‘weird’. We experience it, but can’t ever fully describe it: to paraphrase the Tao Te Ching, “the wyrd that can be told is not the eternal Wyrd”. And we don’t, and can’t, have ‘control over our lives’: but we do still have choice in the direction our lives may take – and in listening to the weird feedback that the wyrd does provide us about those choices, whenever we can find the courage, and the humility, to listen to what it has to say. And that’s why coming to understand the fact that wyrd is a noun – and making use of that fact – can be so important in bringing real, valuable choice back into our lives.
In case this still sounds abstract, let’s bring another well-known character into the conversation: Murphy. Murphy’s Law is infamous everywhere, the engineers’ experience of wyrd’s often unpleasant ubiquity. What’s interesting is that the usual phrasing of Murphy’s Law – “if something can go wrong, it will” – may seem weird, but actually isn’t weird enough: it’s too rigid, too definite, too certain. A more correct version would be “if something can go wrong, it probably will”: it’s the uncertainty that makes it the real law that it is. Arguably not just a law, in fact, but the law: all the other ‘laws of science’ are nothing more than guidelines. Sometimes they can be very good guidelines indeed, in the ways they describe how reality ‘really works’, but they’re still only guidelines – whereas Murphy’s Law really is a law, The Only Law In Town. And anyone who believes otherwise is only fooling themselves: as one electronics engineer put it, in a wry article entitled ‘Should Ohm’s Law Be Repealed?’, “Mother Nature just loves to throw a surprise party…”!
Murphy’s Law really is a law: and it’s easy to feel fatalistic about that too. But, by the nature of the wyrd, there’s always a twist: one that we can use to advantage if we choose to do so. The twist is that if Murphy’s Law really is a law, it has to apply to everything, including itself: so if Murphy’s Law can go wrong, it probably will – thereby usually cancelling itself out. It’s what gives us the illusion that other guidelines or so-called ‘laws’ are actually laws: a mistake we’ll discover at some point, usually to our detriment… because Murphy’s Law only cancels itself out most of the time, not all!
If that were all there was to Murphy’s Law, it would remain no more than a bleak joke. But there’s a further twist which really does help us – especially in understanding the concept of luck. If Murphy’s Law applies to everything, including itself, then what it really shows us is that it’s always possible that things can ‘go right’ – if we let them. And if we only allow things to ‘go right’ in ways that we expect – such as in accordance with those supposed ‘laws of science’ – then we’re limiting our chances. “Mother Nature loves to throw a surprise party”, but they’re really only ‘surprises’ because of our limited perspective, our limited expectations: by allowing things to also ‘go right’ in unexpected ways, we can let those surprises lead to things we want to happen, rather than only to things we don’t. If we can find the courage to do that, we’ll have turned Murphy’s Law entirely on its head, into what we might call ‘Inverse Murphy’.
By the nature of the wyrd, wherever we look, wherever we are, there’s always a choice, and there’s also always a wry twist in the tale – creating potential problems in the form of Murphy’s Law, but also potential options, advantages, escape-routes in the form of Inverse Murphy. By teaching ourselves to become more aware of the weird twists that are an entirely normal part of the wyrd, we can also become aware of the hidden choices – and hidden solutions – that are concealed behind those twists of wyrd. In that sense, Inverse Murphy allows us to create our own luck, from nowhere – simply by being aware that there are always other choices, other chances, other possibilities than those that seem at first to be the only ones which present themselves for our perusal.
The wyrd being what it is, there is also such a thing as ‘providence’: as Ulbricht the Badger implies, we do have some kind of natural ‘immunity system’ against the uncontrolled rampages of Murphy’s Law – if we let ourselves be guided by that immunity-system, rather than insist on doing things according to our usual expectations. So luck, in the form of Inverse Murphy, is not just about being in the right place at the right time: it’s also about not being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The catch is that, almost by definition, it’s difficult to know when we’ve used this kind of ‘precognitive recovery’ (as one friend describes it!): and even when it becomes more evident than usual – such as when we only just avoid a nasty accident – we’re likely to just dismiss it as ‘good luck’, a ‘lucky escape’. In the strict sense, yes, it is ‘just luck’: but it’s also much more than that. It all depends on how we understand luck – and on how we choose to use it.
Earth-luck, heaven-luck, man-luck
It’s only if we make the effort to observe what actually happens that we’re likely to notice the weird reality of Inverse Murphy, and hence have the option – and ability – to create our own luck. Yet this isn’t the same as ‘taking control of our life’, because there’s actually no such thing: despite the idealised arguments of some writers such as Stuart Wilde, the Fates are still as implacable as ever – as we soon find to our cost. What we can do is choose the direction of our life: a subtle but important distinction! We make a choice, and watch what comes back from Reality Department; and if it ‘doesn’t work’ – or, more accurately, if Reality Department doesn’t work in the way we expect, which is actually the usual case – then we note what ‘didn’t work’, and try again. Sometimes something ‘doesn’t work’ because we’ve tried the wrong thing, or because we’re not trying hard enough; quite often it ‘doesn’t work’ because we’re actually trying too hard; but in either case it’s up to us to pay attention to what the wyrd is showing us, and adjust our aim accordingly. What makes it difficult is that the wyrd, or Inverse Murphy, or whatever we want to call it, seems only to be able to ‘speak’ in riddles: even in the Christian tradition it’s acknowledged that ‘the hand of the Lord moves in mysterious ways’. To improve our ‘luck’, we have to learn the strange sign-language of luck itself.
And it’s here that we come back to geomancy, and feng shui in particular. “It is the boast of the feng shui system”, wrote the Christian missionary E.J. Eitel in 1873, “that it teaches man how to rule nature and his own destiny by showing him how heaven and earth rule him… It is left in great measure to man’s foresight and energy to turn his fortunes into any channel he pleases, to modify and regulate the influences which heaven and earth bring to bear upon him.” To say that Revd Eitel didn’t approve of this is something of an understatement, but at least he had the honesty to record the then-current concepts of feng shui in considerable detail, to allow others to decide for themselves. In particular, he showed that the Chinese model divided ‘luck’ into three distinct areas, which are generally described as ‘heaven-luck’, ‘earth-luck’ and ‘man-luck’.
Heaven-luck describes what happens because of our nature: who we are, when we live, and so on. In terms of wyrd, this would be our geasa, the ‘bonds’ we accept within the current life: this part of the concept of wyrd effectively describes our chosen ‘starting-point’ within the fabric of life, and in some ways closely parallels the Hindu or Buddhist concept of karma. In the Chinese model, heaven-luck is classically described by ‘the Four Pillars of Destiny’ – an odd mixture of astrology and numerology, applied to each individual at each location. From a Western perspective, the same kind of description of a person’s heaven-luck could be obtained by any system of natal astrology, or simply by an assessment of their life-history. The fact that these models often contradict each other actually doesn’t matter much: all we’re looking for is clues, pointers, suggestions, guidelines about how our life ‘really works’, and then use our own awareness of Inverse Murphy in relation to those guidelines to plot out the probable success of any choice at any moment. But as Murphy’s Law warns us, it’s essential to remember that they’re only guidelines: believing that astrology and the like describe absolute ‘facts’ in a scientific sense is a quick way to get into a real mess… We won’t be looking at heaven-luck in much depth in this book, but it’s worthwhile remembering that it can be just as relevant as geomancy in understanding and expanding our luck – an alternative route to the same answers, perhaps, though one that’s often rather less accessible than geomancy, or as easy to understand.
Earth-luck describes what happens because of where we live: our location in space rather than in time. Earth-luck describes the ways in which the qualities of the landscape in which we live impact upon us, at every level. In that sense, understanding our earth-luck is what geomancy is all about.
But man-luck – the many ways in which we choose to work with our heaven-luck and earth-luck – is what really matters: “it is left in great measure to man’s foresight and energy to turn his fortunes into any channel he pleases, to modify and regulate the influences which heaven and earth bring to bear upon him”. I’ve noted with bleak amusement at the way in which many people (myself included, I hasten to add) effectively maintain their own earth-luck: moving from one house to escape some destructive aspect of geomancy, for example, and moving to another house with exactly the same geomantic problem – or even immediately recreating the same problem in another form. Being ‘fatalistic’ – lying back, saying lots of affirmations and complaining that ‘moving stuff around’ hasn’t sorted out the mess of our life yet – doesn’t help in solving this; and neither does trying to ‘wrest control of our life from the fates’ – all that that does is increase the size of the problem!
To break free from these self-created loops within our wyrd, we do need to understand and accept the weird weavings of our heaven-luck and earth-luck: yet we also need to understand and accept the ways in which we are part of the problem – and hence an essential part of any solution. That’s why it’s called ‘man-luck’: we create or destroy our own luck, according to the way in which we choose to work with what we have. Although in one sense our heaven-luck and earth-luck are fundamentally important, describing what is available to us as a result of who and where and when we are, in another sense they’re also almost irrelevant, because we do have real choice as to what we choose as our own luck – as we saw in that example of ‘self-maintained luck’ above.
As with Murphy’s Law, for most of the time, most of the various influences – or whatever we might like to call them – almost cancel each other out, giving the kind of null-circumstances that sceptics want to believe in, and where luck is just… well… luck, y’know… So most of the time most of the fine detail simply doesn’t matter: we can get by without it – and certainly without worrying about whether the toilet is in the supposed ‘relationship sector’ of the house! But at times those odd details do seem to matter: it does help to have a little foreknowledge of this…
And we can also choose to look at some aspect of the detail, and use that detail to not so much create as leverage real change. That’s our choice: that’s man-luck. But our luck also happens in context – the context of the whole of our lives, the whole of our wyrd. So context is what we need to turn to next.