Anarchists as Wyrd-shapers


Onwendeð wyrda gesceaft weoruld under heofonum.
Wyrd’s shaping changes the world under the heavens.
The Wanderer (l. 107)

[Note: I write with my own belief system in mind]

The most fundamental concept in heathenry is wyrd. It is also one of the most difficult to explain and hence one of the the most often misunderstood. I will give a brief overview of the concept before I get on with the reason for this post.

The Anglo-Saxon noun wyrd is derived from a verb, weorþan, ‘to become’, which, in turn, is derived from an IndoEuropean root *uert- meaning ‘to turn’. (If you noticed the redundant use of “turn” in the previous sentence, good. The use of the modern English phrase “in turn”, illustrates wyrd in action. Watch for it throughout this article.) Wyrd literally means ‘that which has turned’ or ‘that which has become’. It carries the idea of “turned into” in both the sense of becoming something new and the sense of turning back to an original starting point. In a metaphysical terms, wyrd embodies the concept that everything is turning into something else while both being drawn in toward and moving out from its own origins. Thus, we can think of wyrd as a process that continually works the patterns of the past into the patterns of the present.

A good metaphor for wyrd is spinning with a drop spindle. As the fibres turn round and round, they twist together and become thread. In Norse mythology three female entities called the Norns are responsible for shaping lives out of ørlög, the layers of the past. Their names are Urðr (Wyrd) ‘that which has become’; Verðandi (related to the Anglo-Saxon weorþan, see above) ‘that which is in the process of becoming’; and Skuld (Should) ‘that which should necessarily be’. In the Eddic poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana 1, the Norns twist the strands of the infant prince’s ørlög (which in this case can be seen as his heritage, since he has no personal past to speak of) to create a golden cord representing his life.

Another way of understanding wyrd is through a weaving analogy. In the Anglo-Saxon Riming Poem, the narrator says of his life circumstances Me þæt wyrd gewæf, ‘Wyrd wove this for me’. In the Icelandic Njal’s Saga, valkyries weave out the course of a battle on a loom made of weapons and threaded with human entrails. Imagine a patterned piece of cloth being woven on a loom. The horizontal threads (the woof) are woven in in layers along the vertical threads (the warp). The horizontal threads represent layers of past actions. The vertical threads represent a time line. The color of each horizontal thread as it is woven in will add to the pattern that is already established and influence the pattern that emerges. The threads already woven in cannot be changed, but the overall pattern is never fixed. Existing designs can be expanded into new forms. New designs can be added. Everything we do adds one more layer to the pattern.

One ramification of wyrd in personal human terms is that our past (both our ancestry and our personal history) affects us continually. Who we are, where we are, and what we are doing today is dependent on actions we have taken in the past and actions others have taken in the past which have affected us in some way. And every choice we make in the present builds upon choices we have previously made.

The philosopher Schopenhauer voiced the notion that “our lives are somehow irresistibly shaped into a coherent whole by forces beyond our conscious will”. He believed that neither chance events nor inborn character were enough to explain the consistency and direction in the life course of an individual, and so he postulated “the intention of Fate” to explain this controlling force in our lives. Many people have equated the notion of wyrd with this sort of “fate” concept, and the Norns with the Moerae or Parcae, the Greek and Roman Fates. However, to do so is to ignore the constant interplay between personal wyrd and universal wyrd and the role we each play in creating our own destiny.

The key Schopenhauer seems to have missed is that what he calls “the intention of Fate” is itself created by an interplay between the events that happen to us and our inborn character. We interact with wyrd (that which has become) to create certain personal patterns which affect and are reflected in universal patterns. Those universal patterns, in turn, exert forces which shape our lives.

For example, say I happen to find myself in a situation where someone insults me. I can “freely” choose any one of a number of immediate reactions, from ignoring the person to slapping her. But my choice at that moment is obviously going to be constrained by a number of patterns of wyrd already in place, including my inborn personality characteristics, my social conditioning, my past experiences with being insulted, my relationship with the person who has insulted me, even my hormone levels.

To the extent that my reaction is determined by these patterns, wyrd is shaping my life at that moment, and my reaction may feel to me as though it were predestined (if I want to deny responsibility) or the only “right” choice (if I want to claim responsibility for it). To the extent that I am aware of certain recurring patterns in my life, I might feel as though the person was fated to insult me at that moment. But no matter which way I chose to react to the insult, my reaction will add to the patterns in place and constrain my future actions (if I’m insulted a second time, my reaction will be determined in part by how I behaved when I was insulted the first time.) So, at the same time I am caught up in experiencing certain patterns of wyrd, I am creating them.

Moving from the personal to the universal, my reaction will also add to the patterns affecting the behaviour of the person who insulted me. As a result of my response, she may change her behaviour towards others which will, in turn, change her personal ørlög, and so on. Ultimately, each little choice we make affects universal forces which can come back to affect us in weird ways. The larger patterns of wyrd created by individuals in a particular time and place is the source of the zeitgeist (spirit of the age) which informs the beliefs and behaviour of everyone in a society. Thus, “that which has become”, wyrd, both creates and is created by individual actions, states, and choices.

The metaphor of the “Web of Wyrd” is often used in modern popular sources to illustrate how the actions of individuals can have widespread effects. If we imagine the universe as a big spider’s web and imagine that each node where two strands meet represents an event (or a person or a life) we can visualise the interconnectedness of things. We can see how some things are directly connected whereas others are more distantly connected through a series of links. We can also see how nodes which are closely connected from one perspective (following a single strand from the centre outwards) can be distantly connected from another perspective (following the spiral that continually expands its radius as it moves from the centre). Furthermore, we can see that if we were to disturb any part of the web –say by blowing on it or shaking it, the entire thing would reverberate –though the parts closest to the disturbance would react the most strongly.

With an understanding of wyrd comes a great responsibility. If we know that every action we take (or fail to take, for that matter) will have implications for our own future choices and for the future choices of others, we have an ethical obligation to think carefully about the possible consequences of everything we do. But even if we manage to make all the right choices, we are bound to find ourselves facing difficult circumstances or tough decisions at various times in our lives as a result of the past choices of those connected to us through the web. Since we can’t control everyone else’s actions, nor can we change the past, sometimes we just have to live with what’s been woven for us. In such a case we still have choices. We can ignore our problems in the hope that they will go away, we can burden other people with them, or we can boldly face up to them and do our best to overcome them. A verse from the Anglo-Saxon poem The Wanderer observes:

Ne mæg werigmod wyrde wiðstondan,
ne se hreo hyge helpe gefremman.
For ðon domgeorne dreorigne oft
in hyra breostcofan bindað fæste;

A weary mood won’t withstand wyrd,
nor may the troubled mind find help.
Often, therefore, the fame-yearners
bind dreariness fast in their breast-coffins.

Through the Web of Wyrd may force us into circumstances we would never have freely chosen for ourselves, we always have some choice about how we react in those situations. And how we choose to react will always make a difference, if not to the world at large, then at least to our own ørlög.

With that out of the way, I think the metaphor “Anarchists as Wyrd-shapers ” is apt if you ask me. I always compare them to the Northern Europeans, at least in attitude. The Northern European people, in their own legends, sagas, and the like, didn’t sit back while the world trampled them; they fought hard- and yet, they still believed in fate or destiny, in a very grim sort of way. Their beliefs even said that the gods themselves had to face a dark fate one day. They had no illusions about how hard life was.

Yet, they lived life to the fullest, thankful for the gift of life and for the gifts of the gods, and they didn’t make apologies for being the best they could be. They didn’t sit back and accept substandard situations; they explored, fought, conquered, and composed majestic songs and poems. These strange contradictory things fly to the heart of the Indo-European belief in fate, which isn’t as simple as most people want to make it out.

William Bainbridge, of the Troth organization, had many important things to say regarding Wyrd, which he describes as the “central mystery” of Heathenry. In his essay “The Ego and Heathenism”, he writes:

“…Approaching this view of human life from a Heathen religious standpoint, I find it both very difficult and unrewarding to fit this complex understanding of the individual into some fixed theory, diagram, moral lesson or comprehensive program of self-improvement. Life simply is too complicated to be meaningfully explained by such things, and in any event, does not work precisely the same way for each of us, since the balance of significant causes is probably different for each of us.

What is the same for all of us is the process of working out old causes and adding new ones, and also the web of causation that ties us all together in many and profound ways, some of which we can understand and some of which remain mysteries approached only through myth and metaphor. Each of us was created by a multitude of causes, each will ultimately be destroyed and dissipated by a multitude of causes, and in the space in-between, each will be constantly transformed by a multitude of causes. While it is tempting to identify with one or a few of them, and cling to them as to a seemingly sturdy raft caught in turbulent waters, to do so is fundamentally inconsistent with the way things–the way we–really are. The raft, after all, will break up in the end, and the only resolution that promises any stability is for us to understand once and for all that we and the waters are, at bottom, not separate things.

Understanding ourselves in light of Wyrd, as patterns within the universal web of life and destiny, removes barriers that too often stand in the way of our arriving at the gratitude that impels us to give thanks. To get there, we must give up what we will inevitably lose anyway, and reach beyond ourselves to grasp what is, in fact, the true essence of ourselves.

it is not enough to give thanks for the innate rightness of life; one should go farther, and participate in that rightness, strive to carry it forward. How that further obligation seems to me to work itself out in religious practice and personal conduct, though, is not much expressed either in the lore or in modern Heathen thought, and although I believe I have arrived at my conclusions through following a relatively traditional understanding of Wyrd out to its logical consequences, I also believe I have gone out on this particular limb about as far as I intend to for now, at least in public.

Be that as it may, I would close with the suggestion that Wyrd, not gods or ethics, might actually be the central mystery of Heathen religion; but one does not drink from her well for free, and having drunk, cannot become again the person one was beforehand.”

The ancient idea of Wyrd and modern Cybernetics or Systems Theory are clearly related; they are, in fact, one and the same in their worldview and implications. It is a testament to the great wisdom of the past that modern and postmodern worldviews like Systems Theory effortlessly reflect and (in a way) give new life and usage to the older models.

In Wyrd, we understand a vision of connection and reliance that has implications far beyond the horizons of simple ecology or social life. In the vision of reliance and interaction, something else arises: a sense of reverence for the forces and beings upon which we rely, and a sense of respect. The truth of inter-connectedness gives us the single greatest vision of kinship that we can have: all beings are, truthfully and fully “kin” to one another. The natural reverence that arises when we understand our reliance on many other powers and beings is the origin of primordial and animistic religion, in the deepest sense of the word.

I have always thought that the modern-day “kindred” or anarchist meeting occupies two places in my religious understanding and experience: firstly, it is the immediate group of people with whom we mingle our own Hamingja and Wyrd, for the purposes of allegiance, mutual support, friendship, and in the case of a kindred… honor to the Ancestors and Gods. Secondly, the kindred becomes a small and local working model of the frithful and respectful, supportive way we should approach the many other communities of beings in any world.

We celebrate our larger connection to the many beings of the many worlds through our participation in the kindred’s activities: the same can be said of successful families in any other capacity. We celebrate a righteous and wholesome manner of moral and ethical living when we successfully work and live alongside the kindred or activist group.

I turn to Hans Gunther’s insights and scholarship, (and please read the important note on Hans Gunther at end of this article):

Hans Gunther, in his well-researched work “Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans”, makes the single statement that sums up so much about the Indo-European peoples:

“The great element of tragedy in the poetry of the Indo-European peoples stems from the tension resulting from his sense of destiny.”

“Tension resulting from his sense of destiny” is the key. Fate is the power that dominates the lives of both mortals and the Gods, in genuine Indo-European Pagan and heathen philosophical thinking. Despite the fact of merciless Fate, each person is driven to struggle, even at times against Fate and the Gods. There is a great tension here, and a sense of doom, as the world and the Gods are driven by inexorable Fate to an end- Ragnarok among the Teutons is just one example. The idea of a people who believe in Fate and ultimately accept it, and yet, who are fated to struggle with the inexorable nature of Fate, is a most powerful idea, and more than any other idea I’ve encountered, it goes a long way towards helping us answer the “hard questions” about life.

Because what no one wants to admit, and yet, what our Indo-European ancestors readily admitted and accepted, is that life is a fated double-bind. We have limits set by Fate that cannot be exceeded, yet, we are fated to desire to exceed them. We are fated to struggle, and even to define ourselves by struggle, fated to lose or to win, to live and to die, and the whole time there is a sense of tension, of doom, of energy that makes us feel that life is so infinite and full of possibility. Life, the Web of Wyrd, is infinite and full of possibility- but we are not the weavers of the Web of Wyrd.

We enjoy the same sense of the infinite and the awesome that all living beings enjoy, by virtue of our participation in Wyrd. But no matter how much we want to avoid it or go into denial over it, we- as human beings- are not capable of being the masters of Wyrd or of our “destinies”. We are capable of becoming aware of our true place in the very large scheme of things, and finding peace and acceptance, and with it, true wisdom. We are capable of penetrating into the very roots of existence itself, like the Allfather did, and finding a special power within those mysterious insights, but when we find ourselves doing this, tapping these powers, we are fulfilling Wyrd, acting as agents of the weaving of a Wyrd which is not born “only of ourselves”, but in the great and ancient layers of Ur-law and the constant dynamism of reality itself.

We are not writing Wyrd, or weaving it; in those blessed moments of insight, We are consciously experiencing what we naturally are- intrinsic and sacred parts of the Weaving. Any sense of “personal flaw” or “personal weakness” falls away in light of this great moment of truth and clarity, as does any sense that the events of our lives are “meaningless”.

The tension-filled emotional/mental/spiritual reality of “being bound by Fate, yet struggling against Fate” is the supreme defining factor of authentic Indo-European spirituality. How we express our courage- and even at times our acceptance- in the face of that tension reveals to the world just what sort of people we are.
I shall turn to Gunther now, and give some of his more penetrating insights:

Gunther writes:

“The fear of human hubris, of self overreaching, comes from the depths of the Hellenistic soul, and in the face of all hubris the limited man is admonished to keep his ordained position in the timeless ordering of the world, into which the Gods also had to fit themselves. It is the Indo-European’s destiny to stand proudly, and with an aristocratic confidence and resolution, but always aware of his own limitations, face to face with the boundlessness of the Gods- and no human species has felt this sense of destiny more deeply than the Indo-Europeans; the great element of tragedy in the poetry of the Indo-European peoples stems from the tension resulting from this sense of destiny.”

How the Indo-European peoples could fall victim to foreign philosophies and religions that underminded their own fundamental way of seeing the world is a question many have asked. One such man, quite a foolish man and an apologist for Christianity named W. Baetke, assumed that the anxiety arising from the Fatalism of the Indo-European way of thinking made the Indo-European peoples “ripe for redemption” or for the acceptance of the Christian worldview. To this, Gunther responds:

“It is completely impossible to conclude as W. Baetke has done, that tragic destiny signified for the Indo-Europeans a ban or spell and brought about an anxiety of destiny, which made them ripe for redemption. Not the God of Destiny, he claims, but the redeemer God brought the Teutons to the fulfillment of their religious longings. The conversion of the Teutons to Christianity can only be explained by assuming that amongst them many men of softer heart could not withstand the gaze from the eyes of a merciless destiny and- against all reality- took their refuge in the dream image of a merciful God. Indo-European men of stronger heart have always been, like Fredrick the Great, born Stoics, who standing upright like the devout Vergil, have recognized a merciless Fate.”

Gunther makes it clear that despite the acceptance of Fate, the Indo-European peoples were never “fatalistic” in the usual sense of the word, for they never simply submitted to whatever unsatisfactory realities their lives might bring them. They struggled, the most noble among them being born warriors. They accepted Fate while at times struggling with it, and in so doing were driven to great glory.

Without a doubt, however, Gunther’s greatest summation of the essential religiosity of the Indo-Europeans (especially the Northern peoples) comes in this excellent passage:

“H.R. Ellis Davidson has strikingly described the religiosity of the Scandanavians, whose Gods like men were subject to destiny: “Men knew that the Gods whom they served could not give them freedom from danger and calamity, and they did not demand that they should. We find in the myths no sense of bitterness at the harshness and unfairness of life, but rather a spirit of heroic resignation: humanity is born to trouble, but courage, adventure, and the wonders of life are matters for thankfulness, to be enjoyed while life is still granted to us. The great gifts of the Gods were readiness to face the world as it was, the luck that sustains men in tight places, and the opportunity to win that glory which can alone survive death.”

Gunther goes on to say:

“This is the Indo-European view of destiny, the Indo-European joy in destiny, and for the Indo-Europeans life and belief would be feebly relaxed, if this spectacle were withdrawn in favor of a redeeming God… but I repeat, this Indo-European view of destiny has nothing to do with fatalism… According to his whole nature, the Indo-European cannot even wish to be redeemed from the tension of his destiny-bound life. The loosening of this tension would have signified for him a weakening of his religiosity. The very fact of being bound to destiny has from the beginning proved to be the source of his spiritual existence. “The heart’s weave would not have foamed upwards so beautifully and become spirit, if the old silent rock, destiny, had not faced it.”

Being true to yourself in the midst of what can be seen as a grim reality is a powerful statement, one that has been shared by all people in all times, but expressed never so purely as by the Indo-European heroes, like Achilles, Hector, the heroes of the Icelandic Sagas, and others.

Gunther writes:

“It has been said that the Teutonic conception of life was a Pan-tragedy, an attitude which conceives all existence and events of the world as borne along by an ultimately tragic primal ground. But this Pan-tragedy, which appears almost super-consciously with the true Teuton, Hebbel, is not solely Teutonic, and is found amongst all Indo-Europeans, permeating all Indo-European religiosity. The Indo-European becomes a mature man only through his life of tension before destiny. The Teutonic hero, superbly characterized by the Icelandic Sagas, loftily understands the fate meeting him as his destiny, remains upright in the midst of it, and is thus true to himself. Aeschylus commented similarly when he said “Wise men are they who honor Adrasteia”, Adrasteia being a Hellenic Goddess of destiny.”

Gunther goes on to say:

“Erik Therman has found a “mocking defiance in the face of destiny, a struggle against this destiny despite recognition of its supreme power” to be characteristic of the Edda and many of the Icelandic tales. Such a defiance also still speaks from the Medieval Nibelungenlied, which astonished Goethe by its non-Christian character, which characterized Teutonic imperturbability in the face of merciless destiny.”

Finally, Gunther addresses the issue of how the true Indo-European person (that is, a person who has the strength and courage enough to understand and recognize inexorable Fate) can perfect themselves. He writes:

“It is not by dissolving the question of destiny in the idea of redemption that the Indo-European can perfect his nature- for such redemption would probably appear to him as an evasion; his nature is perfected solely through proving himself in the face of destiny. “This above all: to thine own self be true! The certainty of a destiny has not made the true Indo-European seek redemption, and even when his destiny caused him to tremble, he never turned to contrition of fearful awareness of “sin”. Aeschylus, who was completely permeated by Hellenic religiosity and by the power of the divine, stands upright, like every Indo-European, before the immortal Gods, and despite every shattering experience, has no feeling of sin. Thus, Indo-European religiosity is not concerned with anxiety or self-damnation, or contrition, but with the man who would honor the divinity by standing up squarely amid the turmoil of destiny to pay him homage.”

Anarchists exhibit these attitudes and often fly in the faces of the things that would seek to oppress be it racism, sexism, or even statist and capitalist oppression.

I think that anyone from the modern day who devotes their life to fighting against greed, selfishness and corruption, is a warrior. These can be lawyers who fight with greedy corporations, or activists who fight against financial imperialism on the parts of greedy nations. These can be people who struggle against environmental destruction, or people who fight for equal rights for others. . These struggles are reflections of deeper cosmic struggles, and they are no less dangerous- people are murdered or die everyday because they stood on one side of a struggle that was over greed, money and politics.

And they are real heroes, whether they die in battle or not. They are brave, and our ancestors thought of the quality of bravery as the gold of the human spirit.

Even if we are fated to fail at our efforts, that really doesn’t matter- our desires and efforts must be expressed, and these are the things which (in a certain manner) make us “who we are” to others, and which decide how we will be remembered. It’s better to die trying for a better world than to succeed at maintaining a mediocre world.

Note on the works of Hans F.K. Gunther: Hans Gunther was a professor at the University of Frieburg and a proponent of racial science under the National Socialist government of Germany in the last century. He was found, after the conclusion of the last World War and after a stringent trial and investigation, to be unconnected to the horrid atrocities of the former ruling party. The single work of Gunther’s that was quoted in this article, “Religious Attitudes of the Indo-Europeans”, is not a work of racist propaganda, but a legitimate historical review of religious attitudes among historical Indo-European peoples.

I have no connection with or sympathy for the Nazi party, either the historical Nazis or the modern “neo” Nazis. This particular work of Gunther’s is a good work, in my opinion, for pointing out the important differences between Indo-European religious thinking and the religious thinking of other peoples with whom the Indo-Europeans came into contact. I have not read, nor do I endorse any of the other works by Gunther, especially his books regarding race and eugenics, which no doubt contain many outdated and unscientific ideas about “race”. Gunther was, in final analysis, a product of his times. If close proximity to the ruling party of Germany during World War II is enough reason to ignore a man’s writings, I suppose people should ignore the writings of the current Pope of the Catholic Church, Joseph Ratzinger, who was a member of the Hitlerjugend.

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~ by ladycat123 on September 2, 2011.

3 Responses to “Anarchists as Wyrd-shapers”

  1. Great job explaining Wyrd! It’s a difficult concept to explain. 🙂

  2. […] I have already mentioned a striking similarity with wyrd-shapers and anarchists in one of my earlier posts and recognizing our sacred connection in the Implicate we cause […]

  3. […] of communal duty. Communal duty is another name for primordial morality which is an outgrowth of Wyrd .  In all of the amazing ranges and reaches of human experience, we often find ourselves comparing […]

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