Wyrd- the Heathen Concept of Fate

Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Heathen basics, Heathen worldview

Fate. The word often conjures up the image of some deity on high, planning out your life for you in advance. I blame this on the Christian theology of predestination, a Christian doctrine of the time. I do not think this is how it works in Paganism though. And it’s definitely not how it works in Heathenry.

Wyrd is an Old English (the language of the Anglo-Saxons) word meaning literally, “that which comes.” (Online Etymology Dictionary). It is often described as a tapestry, weaved together by the Wyrdæ, a trio of divine sisters who are known in the Norse mythology as the Norns. Each thread is an action that either you make or that someone else makes which involves you, and it is weaved into your wyrd as it happens. Your fate, then, is created mainly by your actions. Each action you take has consequences (positive and negative) which limits what you can do in the future. The Wyrdæ do not decree your fate, your actions do.

Of course, we do not start out with completely blank slates. The Wyrdæ do have something that they start out with when they start to weave our wyrd. This is our orlæg, those things which were decided for us and which we had no control over.

Orlæg (also spelled orlaeg) is an Old English word. It comes from or-, meaning “original or fundamental” and læg, “that which is laid, law”. (Wiktionary) It means “that which was originally laid”. This refers to things like your race, family, birth religion, etc. It may also refer to things that happened in your childhood, like what school you attended, and even some of the actions of your ancestors long before you were born, such as leaving their homeland and immigrating. Orlæg is anything that has an influence on your life that was beyond your control. If you had any say in it whatsoever, it’s not orlæg. For example, doing something that your boss forced you to do is not orlæg because you chose to work at that job.

As noted above, your wyrd is not solely created by your own actions, though this is the largest part of your wyrd. Any action taken by any other being that affects you also becomes part of your wyrd. This includes gods, other people, and even non-sentient beings like animals. It is wise to avoid interactions with humans and even deities that are known to be destructive or have other negative attributes, as any action taken by them that affect you becomes part of your wyrd. Choose your associations wisely.

After the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity, the meaning of wyrd began to change. It was believed that God (the Christian God, that is) ordained everything that happened, that everything happened according to his Will. So wyrd, that which is to come, came to mean whatever God wanted, and thus there was no way to escape or change your fate. But this is not what it meant to ancient Anglo-Saxon heathens.

So how can knowing about wyrd help you? There is a power in knowledge. If you don’t like how your life has turned out, examine what actions have led to it being a part of your wyrd. If those threads are due to someone else, try limiting how much you are around those people. If it’s due to your own actions, change the things that you do in order to change the situation. Most likely, it will be a combination of these things.

Remember, your fate is not decreed by some deity on high. It is created by your actions and your associations. Your fate is in your hands.


Online Etymology Dictionary, “Weird”

Wiktionary, “orlæg”