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WYRD, FATE AND GEIS Essay, Research Paper


The old Nordic word ‘wyrd’, from which the modern adjective ‘weird’ is derived, is a kind of synonym for ‘fate’. Yet unlike the Greek concept – with everything preordained, predestined, fixed, wyrd is dynamic, active, a chaotic interweaving of choices and consequences, and sometimes some very strange twists… which is why it’s called ‘weird’!

Although the basic concepts underlying both wyrd and fate come from the same Indo-European myth group, they’ve developed in very different ways.

In the Greek version, Fate is, well, fatalistic: everything’s fixed, predestined. (’Destiny’, incidentally, is the Roman version of the same myth, and is essentially the same as that of Fate.) For every individual, the ‘three sisters’ (the three Fates) spin a life and weave it into the fabric of life itself, and cut it off, coldly, dispassionately, at its end. The fabric is held together by a loose cross-warp of chance, but chance seems to play no active part in life?s story, individuals are offered no choices at all.

Unlike the Fates, Wyrd always offers the human being a choice, but there’s always a twist! Which is where the concept of wyrd becomes useful. Rather than a fabric of lives, each entirely separate, and only loosely connected to others by the cross-warp of chance, the ‘three sisters’ weave a fabric of life. Unlike the flat cloth of the Fates, the fabric of wyrd is more like a Celtic knotwork, twisting, weaving, and turning back upon itself in weird ways. Another image is that it’s like an immensely complex M?bius loop: somehow, without any clear boundary, the inside becomes the outside, and the outside inside – there is a boundary of sorts between ‘I’ and ‘not-I’, between ourselves and everyone else, but it’s a distinctly weird one…

And like the ultimate in fractal geometry, every point within the fabric seems to contain, or at least intersect with, every other point: every moment also includes everything, everyone, everywhere, everywhen. Hence, whatever it may seem like at the time, there is always a choice to be had; the catch is that wherever there’s a choice, there’s also always a twist, which is why Murphy’s Law is a law! Working within this approach to reality it would appear that people have far more choices, but in order to utilize these options the individual must be able to work with the twisted nature of the wyrd, rather than trying to control it or fight against it. One must also have to cope with the fact that the wyrd is weird: when everything, everyone, everywhere, everywhen seem to all merge impossibly into here and now, it’s hard not to fall into panic.

Yet in the original Greek myth, panic would be the natural response to the failure of the individual to uphold courage when meeting up with Pan (whose name literally translates as ‘the everything’). (If you’re familiar with Greek mythology, one of the best ways to understand the nature of the wyrd is to merge the cold, dispassionate image of the Fates with the lively passions of Pan.) Since ‘the everything’, by definition, includes those many issues of which one is afraid, it’s not surprising if the person sometimes falls into panic when met with the wyrd: yet that moment of panic also contains every chance, every possibility. Every point within the wyrd can be a fulcrum, a place of change in the raging storm of reality. Facing that weird moment of panic, one can find for themselves in a moment of calm at the center of the storm, a turning point at which mere individuals do change the world not just for themselves, but for everyone. Within the wyrd, there is always a choice: how one uses that choice is up to them. Yet there is a need to be cautious, wary, careful, and respectful when dealing with wyrd because like a weird game of Snakes and Ladders, each simple-seeming choice within the wyrd may lead one to a place least expected.

The concept of wyrd does also contain something like fatalism: there’s always some kind of weird twist, which contains an ending. It’s not necessarily a literal ending of life but more often a completion, a closing of some phase, the ending of some hope or fear. As one of the Anglo-Saxon sagas put it, (about the result of yet another blood-soaked battle) “lo, we suffered many dreadful wyrds that night!”

In the Gaelic variant of wyrd, this personal twist within the wyrd is known as a ‘geis’ (’geasa’, in the plural): it’s something that belongs to that person alone, no matter whether they should wish it otherwise… Yet the twisted nature of wyrd means that they will often receive clear hints, in advance, of what this geis may be. Each geis is an ending of some kind, there is not a choice about that, yet sometimes one does have the choice about what form, or what intensity, that ending may take. If they want that choice, it is up to them to recognize it (preferably before the event!) and act on it as they choose.

Unlike the Greek story of Fate, though, there is always a choice to be had within Wyrd: one needs only to accept that in every choice there’s always that weird twist somewhere… Faced with the natural weirdness of life, the individual could just give up, be fatalistic, and let reality roll over the top of them, which will get them nowhere. Instead, one might try to fight against the unfairness of fate, which will also get them nowhere. Or they could accept that reality is weird – and in doing so, learn to craft a unique relationship with fate. A weird choice in itself, perhaps: but which would you choose?

A comparison/contrast of wyrd, fate, and geis.

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