Wyrd And Fate

 
Although the basic concepts underlying both wyrd and fate come from the same Indo-European myth group (see Wyrd Myths), 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 each of us, the 'three sisters' - the three Fates - spin our life, 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 this story: we are offered no choices at all.

It's a feeling that's common enough... And there are two standard responses: to try to fight the Fates; or to just accept that that's the way things are, and let the waves of Fate wash over us... In the New Age movement, the first response is typified by, say, the Stuart Wilde "take control of your life!" approach; the second by the "say these affirmations, pay us lots of money and somehow everything will magically change itself for you" attitude. But neither of these approaches work well: in practice, control is even more of a myth than the story of the Fates; yet if we lie back and do nothing, nothing much is going to change... We can't fight the Fates; and they aren't interested in limp prayers in the guise of 'affirmations'...

Yet these two approaches also can't work, because the basic model they're working to simply doesn't match the weirdly twisted nature of reality. There's no advantage in being fatalistic, since it's clear that we do have some choices (even if, as Murphy's Law so elegantly warns us, they often turn out to be the wrong ones!). And whilst Reality Department makes it all too clear that we can never truly control anything, we do have enough choice to direct what happens to us and with us - a subtle but crucial distinction! To be able to direct our own lives, we also need to listen to what reality is showing us: and that's where things can get somewhat weird...

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 (from whom we get the word 'cloth' in the first place: the name of the youngest sister is Clotho), the fabric of wyrd is more like a Celtic knotwork, twisting, weaving, turning back upon itself in weird ways. Another image is that it's like an immensely complex Möbius 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, we always have choice; 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 with this approach to reality, we have far more choice, but to do so we have to be able to work with the twisted nature of the wyrd, rather than trying to control it or fight against it. We also have to cope with the fact that the wyrd is weird: when everything, everyone, everywhere, everywhen seem all to merge impossibly into here, now, it's hard not to fall into panic...

Yet in the original Greek myth, panic would be our natural response if we fail to hold our courage when we meet 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 - not easy, but worthwhile!) Since 'the everything', by definition, includes those many issues of which we're afraid, it's not surprising if we sometimes fall into panic when we meet up 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: by facing that weird moment of panic, we can find for ourselves a moment of calm at the centre of the storm, a turning-point at which mere individuals do change the world not just for themselves, but for everyone. Within the wyrd, we always have choice: how we use that choice is up to us... Yet we do need to be cautious, wary, careful, respectful: like a weird game of Snakes and Ladders, each simple-seeming choice within the wyrd may lead us to a place we don't expect!

The concept of wyrd does also contain something like fatalism: there's always some kind of weird twist which contains, for us, an ending. It's not necessarily a literal ending of life - 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!" - but more often a completion, a closing of some phase, the ending of some hope or fear. 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 is ours alone, no matter whether we should wish it otherwise... Yet the twisted nature of wyrd means that we'll often have clear hints, in advance, of what this geis may be: as Terry Pratchett put it in one of his 'Discworld' novels, "some shadows are so long, they arrive before the light". Each geis is an ending of some kind - we have no choice about that - yet sometimes we do have choice about what form, or what intensity, that ending may take. If we want that choice, it's up to us to recognise it (preferably before the event!) and act on it as we choose.

Geis is odd, weird... "The concept of geis is difficult to explain briefly", comments Marion Campbell, in a note at the end of her novel The Dark Twin; "[it] is something tabu; a forbidden act is geas. (The word is linked, perhaps, to the Latin nefas, 'do not, lest...'). Not only is it tabu, it is doomed to happen. A geis may seem absurd, a thing one is never in the least likely to encounter [the example in the story is 'a sword over water'], but inevitably some chance will bring about the fated deed or meeting."

Unlike the Greek story of Fate, though, we always have choice within Wyrd: we just need to accept that in every choice there's always that weird twist somewhere... Faced with the natural weirdness of life, we could just give up, be fatalistic, and let Reality Department roll over us - which will get us nowhere. Instead, we might try to fight against the unfairness of fate - which will also get us nowhere. Or we could accept that reality is weird - and in doing so, learn to craft our own relationship with fate. A weird choice in itself, perhaps: but which would you choose?