What is wyrd? – Wyrd myths

Wyrd is more than a myth as far as everyday life is concerned: but sometimes it’s useful to go back to the original myths, to see how other people tried to grasp an understanding of the same weird experience…

In its later form, Wyrd is the Nordic/Anglo-Saxon variant of the myth of the ‘three sisters of Fate’, or ‘three sisters of Destiny’ (respectively, the Greek and Roman variants of the same myth-group) – though there are some important differences in practice (see Wyrd and Fate). The basic myth itself goes back at least six thousand years, into a common Indo-European ancestry which has long since been lost. To confuse matters, the image of the ‘three sisters’ also comes up in many other mythic forms: for example, we see it in the concept of the ‘triple-goddess’, the Maiden, the Mother, the Crone, who themselves are linked to the three visible phases of the moon, waxing, full and waning, past, present and future; and with a strange gender-twist, we see it in the strange ‘three in one’ of Christian imagery, the trinity of father, son and ‘holy ghost’. But the basic myth of ‘three sisters’ who manage – or manipulate – our lives is a common one, and still surprisingly useful.

In the Nordic variant, ‘Wyrd’ is actually the name of one of the three sisters: the counterparts in Wyrd to the Greek ‘three sisters’ Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos (whose name literally means ‘without turning’ – we can’t argue with the Fates…) are Urðr, Verðandi and Skuld. Linguistically, ‘weird’ is a noun: in Icelandic and Scottish, the hard ‘th’ of the ‘ð’ in ‘Urðr’ becomes harder again, and the ‘U’-sound widened, resulting in the word ‘Weird’; whereas in early Germanic, the ‘th’ gets softened, and becomes the word ‘Earth’, or ‘Eartha’ – the goddess of ‘the everything’, the Germanic equivalent to the Greek Pan.

Like the Fates, the three Norns spin, weave and end our lives – though exactly which sister does which task is never very clear… Unlike the dispassionate Moirai – another Greek name for the Fates – the three Weird Sisters treat our lives as some kind of wyrd joke, to be played with, tossed around, confused, confounded; and as Holinshed’s Chronicles – the real-life source for Shakespeare’s Macbeth – describes all too clearly, they are not to be trifled with. Behind the drama and weird imagery of ‘the Scottish play’ are real events in history: Macbeth, Banquo and the rest were real people living real lives – lives turned upside down in very weird ways… Do the Sisters merely predict the results of people’s weird choices – such as those of Lady Macbeth – or do they create those choices for people to act out? We never really know… and there’s no real way we can know. There’s always a choice, say the Sisters, but there’s always a twist…

Another part of the imagery of Wyrd, which is less easily understood in practice, is that in the Nordic view they not only spin and weave our lives into a weird, twisted fabric, but maintain life itself: together, they live beside the Well of the World, and use its waters to tend the roots of Yggdrasill, the World Tree. They are all-powerful: even the gods were subject to their own wyrd, according to Nordic myth, and would meet their end at the final cataclysmic Ragnarök. We can’t argue with the Fates; neither can we argue with the Sisters of Weird – and yet they do provide us with choices, with some knowledge of where a choice will lead us… that strange sense of ‘impending wyrd’…

There are aspects of the story of Wyrd which appear to pre-date even the Indo-European expansion into northern Europe, more than four thousand years ago. In an echo of the similarly pre-Indo-European Greek myths, of Chronos and the Titans, there was originally only one ‘maiden from Giantland’, not three: Urðr was alone, the overseer of all life. In many ways, these earlier Nordic myths of wyrd are easier to work with: once the Indo-European ‘three sisters’ overlay is removed, there is only the wyrd, ‘the everything’.

To work with this imagery, though, we first need to develop wyrd minds, accepting the weirdness of Reality Department for what it is: and that can take a lot of practice!

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