Time, Ragnarok, and Doom as a function of Wyrd and Orlæg
As we have seen, Wyrd is an ever-becoming action, a way of interpreting cause and effect, action and reaction. Orlæg is a function Wyrd. It is the limits of what is possible within Wyrd, defining what possible shapes the pattern might take. Orlæg determines what is possible and impossible.
There are questions, however, that challenge this interpretation of Wyrd and Orlæg. Specifically, the idea of cyclical or non-linear time, the myth of Ragnarok, and the concept of Man’s Doom.
It has been said that our ancestors had a non-linear view of time. However, it appears that the function of Wyrd and Orlæg are decidedly linear. Are scholars incorrect? I don’t believe so. It is quite possible to square a proper understanding of causality by also understanding that for primitive relgions, time exists in two contexts. There is sacred time, that time, the time of myth and legend. It happened before, but when we enter into sacred space, we are also participating in that time. Our sacred space becomes a reflection of that sacred time, and in effect becomes that time. So by entering into the space, we move out of the normal, historical time, and instead enter sacred time, where things have happened, are happening, and will happen, wholly together. In Myth, there is never a time when the Gods were not around, but there is that time when the Gods were born.
How can this be? If Wyrd is linear, and Orlæg defines what is and is not possible within the confines of Wyrd’s becoming, how can we have time that exists outside of Orlæg? The answer, I believe, has to do with the nature of the creation of the world.
The Gods predate the existence of the worlds. They are, substantively, part of “That Which Came Before.” There natures contain some small portion of Ginnunagap, the yawning void. They are untainted by death; they are eternal. Because they exist outside the beginning of the worlds, they exist outside the establishment of linear time. They exist in a perpetual state of becoming, of being, and of been. They simply are.
Ragnarok is the belief of a set Fate of the Gods, a doom or prophesy of what will happen. To believe in this is something that generally runs counter to the ideas behind Wyrd and Orlæg, but may yet still be something that our ancestors believed in. But I do not believe that to be the case. I believe that the Ragnarok myth was the result of a desire on the part of the Germanic, and in particular the Norse, people for an eschatology. Part of this belief comes from the way I have come to understand the mechanics of Wyrd and Orlæg, part of it comes from an interpretation of the Cosmogeny, and partly out of the nature of our evidence for Ragnarok.
The strongest evidence for the idea of Ragnarok is found in the Eddic Poem The Volusupa. There is the strongest evidence for an end of the world, but there are things about the Voluspa that lead me to suspect it. It was probably composed between the beginning of the 10th Century to the middle of the 11th.1 In either case, it is a poem of late provenance in terms of cultural exchange – the myths expressed within the poem feature pivotal characters – Viðarr is brought up by Simek in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology – that are not particularly old or well attested gods, and some think of him as purely a narrative device.2
I find the strong evidence for the lateness of the composition to be evidence of the influence of the Prestige Culture of Christianity that it had on the Nordics who wrote it. In structure, the poem makes a lot of references to other myths. It is written by someone who has extensive knowledge of the myths, which mean that it is attempting, in some sense, to explain Myth. Myth explains Truth, usually ritual truth, but in all cases, inspired myth is there to create and drive meaning. The Volusupa’s reliance on other myths in order to make its case means on some level it is a response to other myths that were generated out of ritual action. Thus, the Ragnarok myth is in some way a meta-myth, a myth about myths. It is also an example that our ancestors were no more immune at confusing a property of an object for its nature than we are today.
Wyrd oft nereð
unfægn eorl, þonne his ellen deah.
So fate often saves
an undoomed man when his courage holds.3
And of the Norns:
Out of this hall come three maidens, who are called Urd [Fate], Verdandi [Becoming] and Skuld [Obligation]. These maidens shape men’s lives. We call them norns.4
Else where in myth, there is much made of the Norn’s abilities to shape mens lives, to determine their fate. But in a mythological context, a proper understanding mythic type, the Norn’s actions are occuring, have occured, will occur. Eliade’s illo tempore is “in that time,” not “in the beginning.” Mythic narrative has no history (even if Myth does). In this context, the man who meets his doom, who succumbs to orlæg, either on the battlefield, the Norns are there, measuring, weaving, and cutting the destiny of his life.
A man’s doom is a function of orlæg, both personal and impersonal. On some level, it is a measure of physics. The bullet that intersects the body will tear and destroy it. On another, biology: a body that contains a genetic determinate for, say, Huntington’s Disease, will get it. It may also be a function of personal orlæg, such as when a man incapable of backing down in a fight eventually bites off more than he can chew.
This approach to Time and Wyrd may seem too much synthesis. It is a criticism not without merit. There is a lot of synthesis here. Given the prevalence for self-fulfilling prophecy in Greek Tragedy (Particularly the prophecy in Oedipus the King) which shows that many prophesies of tragedies are themselves the instigator of that tragedy, and that paying too much attention to divination, particularly divination of doom, is a sure way to make it happen. Which, fits far better with a model of deterministic past that places emphasis on the unfolding of events, the layering of action upon action until Wyrd is expressed as Orlæg, than on any deterministic model where events are rushing towards an endpoint that was determined in the past.
This project is, as I hope is becoming clear, an attempt to lay out a structure, a case, for Heathen theology. It is an attempt to look at the underlying structure of the world and its application of meaning. I am not hoping to present to you a manifesto of what to believe, but rather a case for what I believe, and to set a pattern for the kind of exchange of ideas where we don’t devolve into echo chambers. There is so much bad Heathen writing out there. Not that I’m claiming this is good Heathen writing; my goal here is somewhere around Doesn’t Suck and approaching It’s A Start. But there is a lot of bad heathen writing where we avoid discussing how we take all these concepts and synthesize, and synthesize in a manner that actually creates a religious expression.
None of this is static, unchanging dogma. I am open to changing my mind on any of these ideas, that I’ve shared, or that I will be sharing in the future. I can be wrong on this. I don’t think I am, but I accept that the possibility that I might be. Still, I think this helps form the basis for my world view, and what changes may come as I discover new information, and new challenges are encountered, will still be in line, like this, with my understanding of Wyrd and Orlæg.
1: Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary Of Northern Mythology, p366
2: Ibid, 359-360
3: Beowulf, lines 572-573. Chickering Edition
4: Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. Gylfaginning 15, p26