Wyrd: The Role of Fate

Wyrd brought you to this page.

If you can accept this, you have gone a long way in understanding the concept of active Fate known to the Anglo-Saxons as Wyrd.

Wyrd is an Old English noun, a feminine one, from the verb weorthan “to become”. It is related to the Old Saxon wurd, Old High German wurt, Old Norse urür. Wyrd is the ancestor of the more modern weird, which before it meant odd or unusual in the pejorative sense carried connotations of the supernatural, as in Shakespeare’s weird sisters, the trio of witches in MacBeth. The original Wyrd Sisters were of course, the three Norns, the Norse Goddesses of destiny.

Wyrd is Fate or Destiny, but not the “inexorable fate” of the ancient Greeks. “A happening, event, or occurrence”, found deeper in the Oxford English Dictionary listing is closer to the way our Anglo-Saxon and Norse forbears considered this term. In other words, Wyrd is not an end-point, but something continually happening around us at all times. One of the phrases used to describe this difficult term is “that which happens”.

A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, compiled by J.R. Clark Hall (University of Toronto Press, fourth ed, 1996) lists variously “fate, chance, fortune, destiny, the Fates, Providence, event, phenomenon, transaction, fact, condition” depending on the literary reference of the Old English work that mentions wyrd. Note “transaction” and “condition”, as they point to both the idea of active Fate and the environment in which life is played out.

Anglo-Saxon scholar Stephen Pollington describes it thus:

“…It is worth stressing that the modern notion of linear time was still something of a scientific abstraction among even the Christian Anglo-Saxons, whose attitudes to life and death seem to have been governed by the world-view of their heathen forbears. They believed that at a given time some men…were doomed to die – a reaction to the uncertainties of warfare and accidents not unlike that of many modern soldiers who have faith in the idea that “if it’s got your name on it, there’s nothing you can do…”

Tied in with this idea is the concept of wyrd ‘the course of events’ which is the underlying structure of time; it is this pattern which the Anglo-Saxons tried to read in the world about them… As the Beowulf poet observed:

Wyrd often saves an undoomed hero as long as his courage is good
(lines 572-3)

The implication is that while a man’s courage holds out, he has a hope of winning through since wyrd ‘the way things happen’ will often work to help such a man, as long as he is not doomed; conversely if a man is doomed then not even his courage can help him stand against ‘the course of events’.”

The English Warrior from Earliest Times to 1066, pp166-167 Anglo-Saxon Books 1996

If time is not considered or experienced in a linear fashion but instead regarded as an interconnected series of events, each affecting the other, ‘that which happens’ or wyrd becomes not a destination but a sign post, or even a crossroads. Just as the traveller affects the outcome of his journey by the path he chooses, so do we play an active role in facing what wyrd metes out to us. Wyrd can be “worked”. What you do as an individual can bend or change wyrd.

Consider Time not as a swiftly flowing river, constantly rushing us further away from our births to our deaths, but instead as a lake or pool of infinite size. A handful of pebbles tossed unto the surface of a still pool creates simultaneous, rippling impressions on the water that spreading, touch each other and overlap. Each pebble is distinct from the other. They may be larger or smaller and create a splash of greater or lesser size, but the path of each creates an impression on the watery impression of every other pebble. These pebbles represent wyrd, but ours are the hands that cast them.

Even when a man was doomed by wyrd, there were always consolations, even if it was simply accepting an unpleasant fate with courage. The last line of the poem known as Resignation, a meditation on the Day of Judgment, sums this up well:

It is still the best thing, since a man may not himself avert his destiny, that he should therefore suffer it well.
(translated by S.A.J. Bradley in Anglo-Saxon Poetry, David Campbell Publishers, 1982)

This is from The Exeter Book, written c 950 to 1000 CE, and though strongly Christian in nature reflects the importance of Fate in human striving.

The analogy of a spider web is usefully employed in considering wyrd. Each section of the web is a discreet part of the whole, yet the tiniest ensnared insect will set the entire web vibrating. Whether the spider wins her dinner depends on how skillfully she has woven her web, how quickly she reacts, and the chances of the captured insect to struggle free. The web is wyrd, but what the actors do upon it will decide the outcome.

The World Wide Web is another interwoven network, and a well named one. It is truly a web of almost endlessly interconnecting nodules (of which this page is one) linked together by invisible strands of electronic connectivity. This page has existed, waiting for you. You arrived here to learn of Wyrd because of what you selected on your path to this knowledge.

Wyrd byð swyðost
Wyrd is strongest

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • SUZANNE December 25, 2021, 6:29 pm

    Octavia, I love that you start this by sharing:
    “Wyrd brought you to this page.”
    Having come from a very dysfunctional family environment, I had a hard time fitting in, and so I was always trying not to be “too weird.” and yet I was Wyrd in Wonderful Ways! Part of my adult development, has been finding Communities where I felt more safe to Bring ALL of Me!” to embrace the Feminine Wisdom.
    I was writing an essay, to apply for a very important program to me. I remembered there was an older version of the word Weird, that was less pejorative. Your Beautiful Essay added so much depth and nuance to my “Overstanding.”
    My life has always been filled with synchronicities and inner guidance. So, of course, I found the perfect quote in the Comment section, “A single rope has many strands” (thanks Abby Brown!) I am applying to be in an innovative Enneagram program, an I am a 9, which means you have many different parts of your personality. So I opened my application essay with that quote, which will surely resonate and connect at a deep, meaningful level, and help my application be successful.
    Love & Blessings that the Old Ways & the New Ways
    Come Together in New Harmonic Ways
    Supporting Our Destiny
    To Becoming A More Loving, Cooperative, Respectful, Inclusive World
    Filled With Safety, Joy & Celebration!

  • Abby Brown January 11, 2021, 10:44 pm

    As I read this, I remember a quote I heard a few days ago ” a single rope has many strands.” By this it means it may look simple, buts its complex. There is many ways to look at the situation.

  • Paloma Anaya August 27, 2020, 4:43 am

    good book

  • Lynsmagic August 17, 2020, 12:50 am

    The Wyrd in me,
    Honours the Wyrd in you…

    This word and the current form ‘weird’ has been on my mind of late…aka 2020
    With so much confusion out there and in our own hearts I’ve come to realise we all have a sense of ‘Weird’ – or more beautifully put in your writings Wyrd…

    And so I honour the Wyrd-ness of 2020 and accept we are all a pebble tossed upon a giant lake with chaotic ripples of which I honour those different from mine…and trust that they will soothe out in the many ways of the many souls on Earth at this time.

    My pebble radiates the ripple of ‘Joyful Optimism’

    May there be peace for all
    May there be joy for all
    May we not fear the unknown
    But embrace the change…..

  • Gary February 7, 2020, 4:37 pm

    Is it a possibility that one of the Narn’s ( maybe the crone?) would make a pact to guide a child through life?

    • Octavia Randolph February 12, 2020, 1:06 am

      This – an attribution of one of the Norns taking particular interest in a single individual – would be a matter of personal belief. Certainly most hold that these three have so much on their hands, they cannot, and should not pay undue attention to any given child. But we have all seen people who from almost infanthood seemed Fated for some extraordinary ends. If any external cause is accepted – angels, saints, the Grace of God, cursed by the evil eye – there is no reason why special interest by a Norn could not also be considered. As long as we remember that in this cosmology, Wyrd can be worked for a while, before the thread is cut.

      Good and interesting question!

  • Linda Brown February 5, 2020, 11:52 am

    This was very interesting! Thank you so much. I want to mention that I now have the paperback set of all the books and the Kindle edition, plus the cookbook. I just love the series.

  • hazel kennedy February 5, 2020, 4:37 am

    Pagan book of days shows wyrd as 5th February a day for divination and fortune telling. Your detail on the 3 witches in macbeth and beowulf sit perfectly with fate and non linear time. So glad I found your page.. Ill be reading tea leaves later. Thank you

  • Lee Giles October 30, 2019, 10:47 am

    Please edit your comments for the general audience. I have students using your site. Thank you for the information.

  • Harrison May 1, 2019, 4:52 pm

    That last line slayed me. Amazing writing and philosophy in this. Thank you for putting it in my path.

  • Carrie Adams December 8, 2018, 2:48 am

    Well written. I felt a wyrd embrace as I read. Shared, thank you, and I am printing this for my vision board.

  • Lucy Paterson March 4, 2018, 6:34 pm

    Wonderful description, my fingers tingle as I sense your vibrations along that web, much love and may you continue to help to bring that balance back to the culture of the West where the dreaming has to long been represses!

  • penny May 1, 2017, 12:57 pm

    what a wonderful word – wyrd!
    have been all my life and now i know why – tis wyrd hahahaha
    living in the flat world of possessions and insensitivity has never been enough for me – tis about disconnect and insularity
    until one has been sung to by a wild bird neighbour – one has not lived in the real world
    much love to all

  • Angela January 1, 2017, 8:27 pm

    Ah! Wyrd indeed! And such is the turning of the wheel that brought me to you. It’s a disturbing pleasure to read what I’ve always felt, but rarely had anyone to understand. Your Ceridwen threw a swift stone!

    • Octavia Randolph January 2, 2017, 7:16 pm

      …Threw a swift stone….that is truly memorable. And you were quick enough to catch it! I welcome you.

  • Amy November 7, 2016, 11:42 pm

    In my own attempt to be an author, I have researched the Norn’s, which lead me to the meaning of ‘Wyrd’ and Urdr, as she is called. Being as it is, this essay jumped off my screen at me and I want to thank you for it as it gives me more to think upon.
    I have only read the first book in the saga and know my own work will go on hold as I read the rest. I find it richly written and all encompassing. I actually picked it up to see if it could give me a glimpse of the time period, as it’s near to the time I touch on, and it far surpassed what I thought it would be. You have woven together a captivating world through which your knowledge, love and respect for it, shines through.
    The research I’ve done leads to more and more research, it is a never ending web, as you say above and can be overwhelming at times. However as each new piece makes itself known I find another part of my story, which always, some how, manages to fit in just so, maybe even as fate would have it.

  • Elizabeth Beamon July 10, 2016, 3:10 pm

    Thank you for explaining the word wyrd.

  • Channing October 2, 2015, 10:45 am

    i really enjoyed reading this, thank you.

    • Octavia October 2, 2015, 11:33 am

      Thank you, Channing. The way of Wyrd is an ongoing mystery in our lives…as common, and as sacred, as each breath we draw. I am glad my words struck home for you…wes thu hal (be whole and hearty) Octavia

  • Patrick Michael Mooney September 25, 2015, 2:38 am

    Well written, Good Woman! The Sisters are indeed so wonderful, and their artistry for weaving a life in conscious cooperation with the Self is a WHOLY experience to behold!!!

    Thank you for your conscious and cogent words. May The Sidhe bless you in peace!

  • Margo July 14, 2015, 11:07 am

    Thank you Octavia for this explanation. I was so happy to read your Ceridwen series. All through the books, I felt as if I was there. I felt the cold, the wet, the fragrances. I felt everything! You made that possible. I have done past life regressions and I know that I lived in those times. Nothing glamorous, but I know how difficult those times were. I was born in Bremen, Germany but have lived all of my life in the U.S.
    I look forward to reading more of your books!

    Bright Blessings, Margo

    • Octavia July 16, 2015, 4:27 pm

      Leof Margo! (hailing you in Old English)

      Thank you for your kind words about the Wyrd essay, and your deep appreciation of the Ceridwen Saga. Knowing you absorbed the atmosphere of the novels as you did makes me very happy. I am at work now on Book Five. If you are on my mailing list (“Join the Circle”) you’ll be first to know when it is out!
      wes thu hal (be whole and hearty)

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