The concepts of wyrd and orlog are interconnected, but can sometimes prove to be stumbling blocks as their meanings are learned. In Heathenry or Northern Tradition Polytheism we have no absolute concept of one’s fate, rather we have a notion that our destiny, or doom is comprised by choices and while a certain fate may come to pass, we also have the ability to make other choices to potentially change it. To understand how wyrd and orlog are connected, let us explore the meanings of these words.
The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology gives us an illuminating background for the Old English term wyrd derives from a Common Germanic term * wurđíz. Wyrd has cognates in Old Saxon wurd, Old High German wurt, and Old Norse urðr. The Proto-Indo-European root is *wert- “to turn, rotate”, in Common Germanic * wirþ-with a meaning “to come to pass, to become, to be due” (also in weorþ, the notion of “worth” both in the sense of “price, value, amount due” and “honour, dignity, due esteem”).
That’s a complex answer I know, but it’s to illustrate that this word is highly nuanced. Most simplistically it is defined as our native concept of ‘fate’, and the root word is also where we get the Goddess Urd, she of the Norns whose well Urdabrunnr waters the great world tree Yggdrasil.
The weavers of the web, the Nornir, were the powers all the Gods and Goddesses turned to for wisdom; this can be demonstrated etymologically. Paul Bauschatz expands upon our understanding in his Well and Tree, where he describes the source of Urðr’s name, the verb verda which means ‘to turn’ is “not only the source of the German werden, but Middle High German wirtel ‘distaff wheel, spindel’ as well.” Weaving and spinning of textiles could easily become a microcosm for the greater macrocosm of weaving the web of existence. John Lindow sees that the Nornir were very much associated with spinning and controlling a person’s fate, and we know that Urðabrunnr (Urðr’s Well), rooted to the world tree, was where the Gods had their place of justice. We see this connection with justice further underlined, as the etymological origins for the word versus (as in legal cases) also derives from this same family of words (vertere, PIE wert).
Christy Ward, influenced by other scholarly works, tells us that Ørlög is literally “ur”, meaning ancient or primeval, and “lög” is law: ørlög is the law of how things will be, laid down by wyrd or fate by the three Norns. The Norns, Urðr (“That Which Is”), Verðandi (“That Which Is Becoming”) and Skuld (“That Which Should Become”) are the embodiment of wyrd.
The Norns give to us our orlog (or the laws and absolutes of our fate), as much as they in conjunction with ourselves weave the wyrd that is becoming. The absolutes of our fates are those items that cannot be changed, like who our biological parents are, the situation and circumstances into which we are born. The ‘past’ always influences our present and our future. Think of it like this, we know that there are certain scientific laws and principals that affect all things, such as gravity. Gravity can be thought of as a type of orlog. While gravity may dictate that we humans stay on the earth, through our ingenuity we have built planes, spacecraft, etc. that can leave the earth and even the atmosphere. These items are still affected by gravity of course, and gravity is always exerting its force and presence. Similarly, it’s like DNA. DNA can be the orlog we are given, we may be very susceptible to certain types of diseases, but if one knows about this genetic inclination and vulnerability and takes steps in their life to try to stave it off, it is possible to in fact stave off such things. In fact recent medical studies show that survivors of traumatic ordeals, pass it on genetically to their descendants, as an epigenetic inheritance.
But while wyrd is our concept for fate, it is also changing and not absolute. We can take the orlog, and then from our choices and actions, and the choices and actions of those around us, we together ‘weave’ what our wyrd will be.
To better understand how orlog and wyrd interconnect, let’s try thinking of it as the weaving of a tapestry. When one weaves a tapestry or rug, there are regularly spaced threads that all flow in one direction (these are called warp threads). These threads always exist. They are the foundation, or if you will the rules. Those items, like the orlog, that cannot be changed.
To create the pattern, to truly weave, one then takes threads known as weft that go perpendicular to these other threads. It is the manipulation of these threads through the warp threads that gives you the pattern. Does your weft change colors? How many warp threads does the weft threads go over, before going under? etc.
Therefore even with the weaving analogy, the orlog remains the framework or warp, and then our actions, and all other factors represent the weft, and its through the combination of these factors that wyrd is woven.
Updated text from a previous column that was originally posted as part of my Wyrd Designs column at Patheos on June 11, 2011.