The two important things when thinking about the concept of predetermination in heathenry are Wyrd and Orlög. These are two concepts that it is essential to understand to think like a heathen. To understand those you need to understand the way we look at the past, the present and the future in general. This may be a bit of a long post, so I apologize for that in advance.

 

So lets start with the past, present and future. The past you can think of as that which has become. It is set, and it does not change. That’s not so much different than one might be used to thinking, except that you have to remember that these three things are always connected. For a heathen, it’s the most important thing there is because it’s the only thing that is. Everything else, in some way, is in flux, but the past is set in stone. The present is best thought of as that which is becoming. It is less a thing in its own right as it is the leading edge of the past, the layers of that which has become as they are laid down. In the heathen mind, while it is a separate concept it is only so in order to understand the way the past works. If you can’t tell (or didn’t already know) the past is serious business. We make it, and it makes us. That is what’s at the heart of the difference between that which has become and that which is becoming… That which has become makes us, and we make that which is becoming. That leaves us with the future. Some have described it as that which will become, but an even better way of looking at it is that which MAY become. How to think of that? Well, if that which has become shapes us, and that which is becoming is shaped by us, that which may become are the possibilities left over at the end. The possibilities that may become are not endless… And they are constantly being reduced as that which is becoming, well, becomes. Every choice we make adds to that which has become, but subtracts from that which may become.

So let’s move that on to where I started, Wyrd and Orlög. Orlög is the layers of that which has become. The cosmos has Orlög, those things that are a fact, that are set in stone and cannot be changed. the laws of physics are Orlög (even if we don’t understand them 100%…). But Orlög, like I said, can be seen in layers. Midgaard has Orlög, as does humanity. Your people have Orlög, your family has Orlög and (probably most important to your question, though none of this is completely separable from the rest) you have Orlög. These are the things you have done, the things done to you, your choices, the choices of others that affect you… In short, all the things that make you who and what you are since the beginning. These are things you can’t change. You’ll often hear it said that a man is the sum of his deeds when people are contrasting the Christian concept of salvation versus our tradition of owning all of our actions. This is the reason why. No one can change Orlög, not us, not the gods, not the Norns. Orlög is the heart of that which has become. Our Wyrd is the creation of our past. It’s the combination, in a way, of that which is becoming and that which may become. Our personal story in the making.

An analogy I like is to think about it like a block of sculpting clay. The block of clay is your Orlög, what you can make out of it is your Wyrd. Your Wyrd is the shape you’re giving it, and the shape you’ve already put into it. But that shape is constrained by the block itself, the material you have to work with. Obviously, you only have so much to work with in the beginning. It’s not an infinite block of clay. However, once you’ve defined that block you can shape it however you like within those constraints. So, now that I’ve covered that, how does it apply to predetermined destiny? I would imagine you’ve already worked it out for yourself. That block of clay is limited in many ways. Not only is what you can make limited by its material, but it has a beginning and an end. The analogy here is that the start of it, your birth, is known. So is the end, your death. What is not determined is the shape you will make of it. One of my favorite quotes from the preserved lore comes from the Skirnismál: “Fearlessness is better than a faint heart for any man who sticks his nose out of doors, for the length of my life and the day of my death were fated long ago.” So the payoff here is, are our destinies predetermined? Sort of. The problem is in the word destiny… It has no meaning in this discussion. We have Wyrd, and we have Orlög.

Those are everything.

Posted by Thorin

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  1. I was coming to the site to specifically ask you, Thorin, to do a write up or Heathen Talk episode on orlog (I liked your reddit post on wyrd), and here it is already. Awesome!

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