Posted by Byron Pendason on , in Heathenry, Heathen worldview, Philosophical musings, Stoicism
Wes hāl!1 As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been studying philosophy lately. Stoicism, to be precise. An important concept of Stoicism is the idea of accepting one’s fate and not fighting against it. People familiar with Heathenry may know that in Heathenry, it is generally thought that our Wyrd (the Heathen concept of fate) is not predetermined nor is it pre-ordained by some god. So, how can we translate this idea of accepting fate to Heathenry?
Stoicism is a product of the Hellenic and Roman eras. As these are separate branches of the Proto-Indo-European tree from the Anglo-Saxons, a lot of the concepts will apply but some will not. As Stoicism has translated to modern culture in such a remarkable fashion though, I think it’s fair to say that it’s concepts are more easily translatable to other cultures than some other visual philosophies. The reason for this, I think, is that Stoicism is mostly based around practicality and ethics. It had cosmology, of course, and the founders of Stoicism2 thought it was just as important as ethics. Later generations seemed to have disagreed to some extent though, as they almost never mention metaphysics/cosmology and provided support for their philosophy more on grounds that we today would identify as empirical. Modern Stoicism is more about being a philosophy of life than it is about telling us how the universe works.
So what about this idea of accepting fate? I think not only is it essential to Stoicism, but it’s perfectly compatible with Heathenry as well. It’s true that we don’t generally see Wyrd as predetermined or ordained by gods, but I don’t think this is what accepting fate means. Rather, it means accepting that fate is outside of our control. We can influence our Wyrd and the direction it will take but we can’t entirely control Wyrd.
We do control aspects of our Wyrd, of course. Our actions, of course, and our reactions to the events that happen around us, for example, is entirely in our control. But there are too many factors that go into our Wyrd for anyone to be able to control it in its entirety. Our orlæg, for example, is completely outside our control. In addition to our own actions, there’s also the actions of other people, gods, and other wights. Each have their own desires and agendas. And we can only control our own actions, we can’t control the actions of these other beings. Yet they all go into determining our Wyrd.
The famous Stoic Epictetus began his Enchilridion (meaning “Handbook”) with the following passage:
There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power. Within our power are opinion, aim, desire, aversion, and, in one word, whatever affairs are our own. Beyond our power are body, property, reputation, office, and, in one word, whatever are not properly our own affairs.
There’s a reason he began his handbook on Stoicism with these words. It’s because it’s the foundation upon which an understanding of Stoicism is built. Like our Wyrd, the examples Epictetus gives as beyond our power are things in which we can control aspects of, but which ultimately are beyond our control. We can choose what to do with our bodies, but they still fail us at times regardless of how well we take care of them. We can only control our own property to the degree that it’s within our power to with our limited resources. Our actions contribute to our reputation, but bad actors can still spread lies about us that nonetheless affects our reputation. Basically, we should do what we can to take care of these things but not worry about them beyond that.
The serenity and happiness (the apatheia) that Stoicism offers cannot be achieved without learning to distinguish between that which is not in our control and that which is, and accepting that fact.
Which brings us back to accepting one’s fate. If you accept that you do not, and that you cannot, control your Wyrd in it’s entirety, then you have taken your first step to a life of peace, serenity, and happiness.
It was an aha! moment for me when I realized this. So much of my unhappiness comes from my anger and resentment at the way others have treated me. These feelings are only natural, of course, but what do they do for me? Make me unhappy. It’s better to treat each “negative” incident3 as a learning experience rather than to dwell on it and let unwanted emotions to take over. I think every event has the potential to be a learning experience. Sometimes the lesson is just Sometimes bad things happen for no reason. But more often than not, it’s an opportunity to examine what actions we’ve done that played a part in the events so we know not to do that again in the future. For example, I should have better insulated my house so that it’s not freezing cold when a blizzard hits. Or That person betrayed me. I should be more careful who I put my trust in.
So, what’s your thoughts on Stoicism and/or accepting fate? Are there other areas of philosophy that you’d like me to give my views on? Sound off in the comments below 👇
Wes hāl and Beo gesund are Old English greetings and farewells that literally mean Be well/whole/healthy. The first seemed to be more common among the Anglian dialects and the second more common among the Saxon dialects. I prefer to use both though, the first as a greeting and the second as a farewell. ↩ ↩2
In including here not just the actual founder of Stoicism (Zeno of Citium) but also the first couple generations after him since Chrysippus (one of his successors) seems to have had just as much influence on the shaping of the school as Zeno did. ↩
Stoicism also teaches us to not things as “good” or “bad”, as everything has it’s positive and negative effects. But that is, perhaps, a subject for another blog post. ↩