Posts Tagged ‘wyrd’

Wyrd. An ancient word that echoes into today’s weird and wonderful domain of genre fiction. Today we use the word “weird” to describe anything strange or hard to explain. “Did you see those weird lights in the sky?” It can also encompass unexpected or unpleasant behavior. “That kid was acting weird.”

But for our long-ago ancestors, wyrd was a religious and philosophical concept. It grappled with the question of predestination. Do people have free will, or are we all prisoners of an unknowable fate?

The origin of this word comes from Norse mythology. The Norns were a magical sisterhood who were responsible for the fate of all creatures. Best known of these are Wyrd (or Urd), Skuld and Verdandy, three goddesses who represented the past, present and future. They held a role very similar to the Three Fates of Greek lore. Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos were depicted as weavers whose tapestry spanned the universe. Both sets of goddesses were believed to hold power over every human, from the lowly peasant to the mighty king.

In the Norse version, Wyrd was not only the goddess who determined one’s destiny, but was also used to indicate the actual destiny. Many tales referred to Wyrd and the other Norns as whimsical and inscrutable beings whose will could never be gainsaid.

Yet, there was a parallel belief that people’s own actions could influence their wyrd. Presumably, good and kind actions would bring about a happy destiny, while selfish or evil actions would lead to disaster. This applied to groups, as well. The collective actions of a clan, community, or even a nation could shape its wyrd by pleasing or offending the Norns.

This idea of a magical fate that couldn’t be denied is one that comes down to us in many forms of modern fantasy and science fiction. How often does a story begin with a prophecy? How many times have we witnessed the struggles of a Chosen One who must rise to meet their destiny?

It would seem that the eternal question of Wyrd is with us to this day.

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