Heathen Round Table: September

The Norns as depicted by Marvel Comics. Image from Marvel Wiki

The Norns as depicted by Marvel Comics. Image from Marvel Wiki

I thought that the Heathen Round Table had stopped, but turns out it’s just moved from WordPress to Tumblr and is now HERE. This month’s prompt: Somebody requested a discussion of Wyrd and Orlog. what do these concepts mean to you? how do they fit into your practice?

I had heard of “Wyrd” before, mostly thanks to Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters and also Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen. In both cases, “Wyrd” usually means something equivalent to “fate”.

In Norse myth, it is spun by the three sisters, or Norns, who tend for Ygdrassil, the world-tree. Their names, Urdh, Verdandi and Skuld, translate as “had been”, “becoming” and “will become”, showing how Wyrd is affected by time.

Luckily, I have just finished a chapter in A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru by Patricia Lafayllve which discusses Wyrd and Orlog (the latter of which I had never heard of before). Lafayllve says:

Taken together, Wyrd and Orlog are very similar to a tapestry – one set of fibers is horizontal, the other vertical, and they are so interwoven that they form a larger picture. This tapestry, if you will, has a beginning, but is constantly being woven at the other end. Orlog, which translates as “ur-law” is the point at which all things begin.

“Ur-law” means first or primal law, and refers to laws by which everything in existence is bound. In a scientific sense, then, Orlog can cover the laws of gravity, time, genetics, evolution etc., which create and to an extent limit our circumstances in life. Orlog also refers to fundamental moral laws, such as caring for kin and practicing reciprocal altruism, laws which evolutionary psychologists are increasingly showing to be instinctive evolutionary adaptations.

Orlog cannot be changed. As Lafayllve puts it, a Blue Morpho caterpillar will become a Blue Morpho butterfly, and it cannot become a Gypsy Moth.

Orlog, then, for us, was originally laid down by the first of our ancestors, and we cannot change it. A mundane example would be the families we are born into – we cannot escape our DNA, no matter how much we may wish to.

Wyrd, on the other hand, is based on your own individual circumstances, and as you are the one “weaving” your Wyrd, you can change it. Going back to the caterpillar example, while two Blue Morpho caterpillars may share the same Orlog, each one’s actions will affect their own Wyrd: which direction they take, what food they eat, how they avoid predators, all will lead to a different outcome. We create our Wyrd as we go through life. So Wyrd is really rather unlike “fate” or “destiny” as it is not out of our hands.

This doesn’t mean we “create our own reality” as New-Age nonsense popularly states. We are bound by Orlog, and also limited by the fact that our Wyrd interacts and interconnects with the Wyrd of everyone else around us. Other people, both familiar and strangers, impact our lives and we impact theirs, our Wyrds entwine even if for a brief moment. Other animals and plants we share our space with also have their own Wyrd, and how we act in relationship to them affects both their Wyrd and our own. As Lafayllve writes:

Wyrd impacts every entity, both seen and unseen. Every moment we encounter people, pets, rocks, trees, ancestors, descendents, and even gods. Every time any encounter happens, it changes all of the entities involved.

In practice, the concept of Orlog reminds us that we are rooted in the past, that we have limits, and we share those limits with everyone else, both human and non-human. Wyrd reminds us that we can change our “fate” and determine our own path, but at the same time are connected with everyone and everything around us in a vast tapestry of life.

The Norns spin the web of Wyrd and Orlog. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Norns spin the web of Wyrd and Orlog. Image from Wikimedia Commons

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