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Wyrd

Wyrd

Wyrd is a concept in Old English and Old Norse culture roughly corresponding to fate or karma. The word is ancestral to Modern English weird, which has acquired a very different signification. The cognate term in old Norse is Urðr, with a similar meaning, but also personalized as one of the Norns, Urðr (anglicized as Urd) and appearing in the name of the holy well Urðarbrunnr in Norse mythology. The concept corresponding to "fate" in Old Norse is Ørlǫg.

Etymology

The Old English term wyrd is attested earliest from Beowulf in 725, and originally developed from the Proto-Germanic term *wurđís. Wyrd is cognate with Old Saxon wurd meaning "fate", Old High German wurt, and Old Icelandic urdhr. The term wyrd is also related to the Old English term woerthan, meaning "to become." The term developed into the modern English adjective "weird" around 1400, and was originally used as an adjective for weird sisters. The meaning of "odd" is first attested in 1815.

The term ørlǫg is from ór "out, from, beyond" and lög "law", and may be interpreted literally as "beyond law", or as "fundamental/absolute/primary law". It should not be confused with the Old Norse word "ørlygi" (war), a word still found in Dutch (oorlog) and Swedish (örlog).

Concept

In a simple sense, Wyrd refers to how past actions continually affect and condition the future, but also how the future affects the past. The concept of Wyrd highlights the interconnected nature of all actions and how they influence each other. Wyrd, though conceptually related, is not congruent with predestination. Unlike predestination, the concept of Wyrd allows for one's wyrd or agency: albeit agency 'constrained' (Proto-Germanic: Naudiz) by the wyrds (the intentions and activities) of others, but nevertheless capable of weaving reality. This view is also prominent in the concept of Karma, as used in Indian religions. Wyrd is "inexorable and "goes as she shall, the fate (Norse ørlǫg) woven or scored by the Norns. Indeed, the term's Norse cognate urðr, besides meaning "fate", is the name of one of the Norns, closely related to the concept of necessity (skuld). The name of the younger sister, Verðandi, is strictly the present participle of the verb cognate to weorþan.

According to Voluspa 20, the three Norns "set up the laws", "decided on the lives of the children of time" and "promulgate their Ørlǫg. Frigg, on the other hand, while she "knows all ørlǫg", "says it not herself" (Lokasenna 30). ørlǫglausa "ørlǫg-less" occurs in Voluspa 17 in reference to trees (as opposed to humans).

Attestations

The Old English poem The Wanderer states that "Wyrd bið ful aræd": "Fate remains wholly inexorable". The poem Beowulf tells us that "Gæð a wyrd swa hio scel!": "Fate goes ever as she shall!". Wyrd is the fate (Norse ørlǫg) woven by the Norns, the female personifications of fate or destiny in Norse mythology. The term's Norse cognate urðr, besides meaning 'fate', is the name of one of the Norns, closely related to the concept of necessity (skuld). According to Voluspa 20, one of the poems of the Poetic Edda, the three Norns "set up the laws", "decided on the lives of the children of time" and "promulgate their Ørlǫg.

See also

Notes

References

  • Barnhart, Robert K. (1995) The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology. Harper Collins ISBN 0062700847
  • Bauchatz, Paul (1982). The Well and the Tree. Amherse: University of Massachuetts Press.

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