Wyrd is cenral to many of Wednesbury Shire's beliefs. It can be roughly translated as "karma," but even this definition seems inadequate. Wyrd is not fatalistic in nature, nor is it existential in nature. One has free will to a degree to determine the outcome of their lives, but there are some absolutes that will affect that outcome. These we will address later when we talk about a person’s orlæg. The word Wyrd is derived from Indo-European *wert- “to turn,” and related to Old English weorþan “to become,” and Latin vertere”to turn.” Its orignal meaning therefore may have been “that which has turned” which shifted in meaning to “that which has become.” The Anglo-Saxon texts are rich in mentions of Wyrd, showing the ancient Anglo-Saxon Pagans believed in it. However, we are dependent on the Norse for much of our informaiton. Within the lore we see two models of Wyrd. One is the well and the tree, that is the well Urðarbrunnr and the tree Yggdrasil of Eddic myth. According to the Prose Edda:
Ask veit ek ausinn, Heitir Yggdrasil,
Hárr baðmr heilagr, Hvíta-auri;
Þaðan koma döggvar, Es í dala falla;
Stendr æ yfir gronn Urðarbrunni.
An ash I wit standing Called Yggdrasil,
A high holy tree Sprinkled with white clay,
Thence come the dews That in the dales fall;
Stands it always ever green Over Wyrd's Well.
The well Urðarbrunnr "Urðarbrunnr" is at the base of the tree, and it is here that the Norns do their work.
Þaðan koma meyiar, margs vitandi,
þrár, ór þeim sæ, er und þolli strendr;
Urð héto eina, aðra Verðandi
--scáro scíði--, Skuld ina þriðio;
þær lög löumlgðo, þær líf kuro
alda bornom, ørlög seggia
Thence come the maidens, Mighty in wisdom,
Three from the place, Under the tree,
Wyrd "Wyrd" is called one, Another Werðende
Scored they on wood, Scyld is the third;
There Laws they laid, There life chose,
To men's sons, And spoke orlay (Völuspa 20-25)
It is with these activities that the three greater Norns determine men’s lives. Each action they do is equated in some way with the determination of orlæg or ørlög (ON). Scoring in wood can be seen as inscribing runes, a magical act which is seen with curses and attempts to receive blessings. Scoring is one of the things in the Havamal required if one is to learn the runes. Chosing life is not so much a chosing of life as chosing of death. Wyrd is most often associated with death in Old English poetry, for death is the ultimate outcome of one’s life. Finally, they speak orlæg, the “primal layer” that determines the course of men’s lives. These actions represent that part of life, which is not determined by free will, those things we cannot change, or cannot change without great difficulty. But Wyrd is not fatalistic in the sense of pre-destination. There is room for free will. This is represented by the interaction between the well and the tree. The well represents the past.
“The well is named for Urth; her name represents the 'past.' This past includes the actions of all beings who exist within the enclosing branches of Yggdrasil "Yggdrasil" : men, gods, giants, elves, etc. Like the water, these actions find their way back into the collecting source; as happens, all actions become known, fid, accomplished. In one sense, it is such actions that form the layers or strata that are daily laid in the well by the speaking of the ørlög. The coming into the well is orderly and ordered; events are clearly related to each other, and there is pattern and structure in their storage.” (Paul Bauschatz, The Well and the Tree: World and Time in Early Germanic Culture, Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, page 20)
The tree represents the present. Each day the Norns "Norns" water the tree from the well bringing actions of the past back to influence the present represented by the tree.
Enn er þat sagt at nornir þær, er byggva við Urðarebrunn, taka jvern dag vatni brunninum ok með aurinn þann, er liggr um brunninn, ok ausa upp yfir askinn, till þess at eigi skulu limar hans trena eða funa, en þat vatn er sva heilagt, at allir hlutir, þeir er þar koma I brnninnn, verða sva hvitir sem henna su, er skjall heitir er innanliggr eggskurn.
Further it is said that these Norns who dwell by the Well of Wyrd , take water from the well everyday, and with it that clay above the well, and sprinkle it over the Ash, to the end that its limbs do not wither nor rot: for that water is so holy that all things which come there into the well become as white as an egg white(Gyfaginning 16, Prose Edda)
Thus Wyrd is cyclical in nature the past being brought into the present only to seep back into the past. The well and the tree was not the only model that represented Wyrd in the minds of the ancient Heathens. They also saw it as threads woven on a great loom. In the first lay of Helgi Hundingsbani in the Elder Edda, the Norns set up a loom in the sky anchoring the threads north, east, south, and west. It is implied that with this they weaved the life events of the child Helgi. Individuals are generally seen as simple threads within the loom instead of the entire web. Through out the lore, we see references to the thread of a man’s life. While the well model shows the interaction of the past with present, the thread model shows the interconnectivity of life best. Each thread touches and impacts thousands of others. Within a theod, it is represented by a section of the web, all its threads touching one upon the other.
Wyrd changes, yet some parts of it are unchanging. An apt comparison might be our own universe. Everything must obey the laws of the universe as interpreted by science, but the events that take place due to those laws are not predetermined. Thus the Norns or Wyrdæ set down certain laws by which the events of men’s lives, tribes, and the world must abide by, but the events themselves are determined for the most part by our own actions. This is known in the lore as scyld or skuld (ON). SKyld is the third Norn and her name means “that which is obligated to become.” These obligations are the things men cannot change. They are the things preordained by the Wyrdæ or the Gods or from an ancestor’s karma to come to pass, and nothing we do can change it. The Old English word orlæg also meant “sin” something one was obligated to pay for.
Each person has their own personal “wyrd” or orlæg . Folklore and the Icelandic sagas demonstrate the absolutes of one’s orlæg. Within the pages of Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology, one can find several tales that illustrate this. At birth according to folklore, three Norns show up at one’s birth. The first two generally bless the child, while the third issues a curse (Grimm, Jacob, Stallybrass (tr.), Teutonic Mythology, London: George Bell and Sons, 1900). Such a tale is found in Book VI of Saxo’s Danish history. Fridleif takes his three year old son to the temple to pray to three maidens. The first two granted charm and generosity, but the third said he would be niggardly in the giving of gifts. This speaking of orlæg is of utmost importance to the life of the individual. While the individual may determine the events of their lives, the blessings or curses will determine the outcome of many of these events. The Gods and Goddesses too may determine one’s orlæg. Perhaps the best illustration of this is the tale of Starkad. Starkad was brought before an assembly "assembly" of the Gods. There, Odin "Odin" and Thor alternately blessed and cursed him. Thor said he would be childless. Odin "Odin" gave him three life spans. Thor said he would commit a foul deed in each life. Odin "Odin" gave him the best in clothing and weapons. Thor stated he should never have land or estates. This went on until Thor and Odin "Odin" were through cursing and blessing him, at which point the Gods ordained that all this shall happen to Starkad. The Gods thus in part set Starkad’s orlæg.
In addition, to the speaking of orlæg at birth, and deemings of the Gods, inheritance of an ancestor’s orlæg will impact one’s life. The ancient Heathens felt that one could inherit parts of the soul of an ancestor. Such was the case with Olaf the Unholy (called Saint Olaf by Christians), whom they felt was thre reincarnation of an earlier Heathen King Olaf. Glumr in Viga Glum Saga claims to have the hamingja or luck of his grandfather.
All of these things plus one’s own actions contribute to orlæg . Life is not totally pre-determined, nor is it totally ruled by free will. Some things are bound to happen, while others we can make happen.
Tribes like individuals have orlæg . This is probably best referred to as dóm or "law." It is the collective actions of the tribe laid down. It is their customs, their karma, their traditions and law. A tribe like an individual has a collective orlæg, determined by the Gods, the Wyrdæ, and the acts of its members as a whole and as individuals past and present. This orlæg is impacted by many things such as the deeds of the tribal members, its mægen or hamingja (ON) or luck, favor of the Gods and Goddesses, the deeds of its leaders. The tribe is a unit unto its self, like a clan, family or individual. It has mægen and orlæg. The purpose of many of its collective acts is to ensure that good orlæg continues. Its customs are performed because they have always brought mægen in the past. The laws exist to make sure no one harms the mægen of the tribe, and set a dangerous new orlæg. Each action one takes has a chance to set a new precedent for the tribe and one’s self. A new precedent can mean that the results of any given action may change. Thus, a tribe that has always known victory in battle might know defeat as was the case with the Vandals and Lombards. The Lombards, then known as the Winni went to war with the Vandals. Out numbered and knowing Woden (Odin) had already promised victory to the Vandals turned to Frige Frigga). She told them at dawn to face the east with their women, with the women’s hair over their faces. She then turned Woden’s bed to face the Lombards. When he awoke, he said, “Who are these longbeards?” Frige responded, “Now you have named them, you must give them victory.” Ancient Germanic custom required one give a gift when naming, thus Woden owed the Lombards a gift. By turning to Frige, the Lombards used an old precedent, gifting for naming to set a new one, victory in battle.
Tribal orlæg is of utmost importance to the leaders of a theod as is its mægen. They can mean success or failure for the theod. Every action therefore is thought out carefully. Frith generally is maintained within the theod at all cost to prevent an orlæg of strife developing and destroying the theod. The Gods and Goddesses are worshipped and gifted regularly to ensure their favor. All within the theod must keep to its goals. Individuals’s actions affect the theod, and the orlæg of the theod affects them. The threads of each individual make up the theod’s orlæg, and thus it is difficult some times in one’s life to see where their own deeds caused an outcome, and where it was the theod’s orlæg that caused it. Just as theods have their own orlæg, so too do families and clans, and these too affect the orlæg of the theod. As you can see, it can become very difficult to determine which deeds have impact and why. This is the very reason for law, traditions, and customs. By keeping to these things one can more readily ensure that nothing bad comes of the theod. Although wyrd can be altered by the runes, and by rites to the Gods and Goddesses, nothing is greater than deeds to keep it on a good course.