Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Wyrd Way of Seeing: The Worldview of Wyrd as Primordial Cybernetics

The Spinning of the Nornir and the Ancient Worldview of Wyrd as Expressed in Terms of Modern Systems Theory

Heathenry's Most Precious Gift

The worldview of Wyrd- the Heathen name given to the web-like reality of interconnected and interacting forces of which all beings and phenomena are a part- is arguably the most enduring and important gift of Heathenry to this world.

Even though most people don't consider this perspective often, preferring instead to focus on Heathenry's adventurous spirit and straightforward moral code, or its preservation of the traditional religious culture of the ancient northern peoples, the very concept of Wyrd runs as deep as the ocean, and has the power to carry all people into a shared space of philosophical relevance, understanding, and communication. While our Gods and religious rites and values are not shared by all people, the understanding of Wyrd as a form of systemic thinking about reality is something that all people can (and should) understand.

Wyrd, as a primordial form of Systems theory, makes immediate demands on each individual who has the wit to grasp what an interactional worldview entails. The notion- so important to me- of "spiritual ecology" is born from the idea of interactionism- the belief that all things (seen or unseen) are directly and meaningfully connected, and that our way of interacting with the many other forces in this world has a direct and relevant impact on who and what we are at the moment, and what we become in “future” moments, as well as an impact on what the world is and what it becomes.

While "ecology" by itself conjures up notions of natural relationship or interaction in the visible world, "spiritual ecology" carries this system of interaction into the vast, unseen spaces of reality, in which the unseen but very real and sentient powers of spirits and Gods and departed Ancestors exist.

The worldview of Wyrd, in which all things are seen as intimately connected and interacting with one another on countless coarse and subtle levels, gives rise immediately to the "logic" that stands behind both communication and religion, on the basic level. I can talk about how we all dwell in an interactive reality, but the impact of that statement doesn't become real and strong until I point out that interaction is, in fact, another word for communication. Reality isn't just countless parts and forces interacting; reality is a great, ongoing field of communication. Human words being passed between two people are only one form of communication; so many other forms of communication exist.

Added to this, the reality we belong to will not allow us to exempt ourselves from the essential process of communication or interaction: one cannot not communicate with others; even attempting to ignore another or cease speaking to them is itself a very clear communication. Attempting to ignore reality and the demands of life, spirituality, duty, or what have you, is an act, a communication. Breathing is interaction; seeing is interaction; living is interaction.

It is an article of my own Heathen faith that sentient beings or entities exist who are "Wyrd Wise", who have a greater ability to be aware of the system of interacting powers in a broader way, thus giving them various levels of "omniscience". I call them "Gods", and feel that my Ancestors would have done the same, though any spirit or wight could achieve the skill and wisdom that placed them within the web of interactions with greater insight than other beings.

That our religious fainings, prayers, sacrifices and devotions "shake" or "tremble" the web of Wyrd, unavoidably causing a chain of interactions or communications to spread out into the vast and unseen spaces, such that it can be "heard" or experienced by our Gods, is also an article of my own faith- a faith that is based on the basic notion that every thought, feeling, word, or deed does not exist or arise alone within the amazing web of causality that is its mother and its final resting place.

All prayer is a communication with the being prayed to; all sacrifices are communications to the being or beings to whom the sacrifices are intended. As we will see soon, communication and interaction are never "one way"- the web of Wyrd and interaction is recursive; our thoughts, deeds, sacrifices and prayers are one half of a single communication to Gods or spirits that are "answered" on the "other half" of the system; "A gift demands a gift"- the Gods or spiritual powers reciprocate in many ways, the two most common ways being guidance through dreams or the creation of omens- meaningful events within our natural systems that communicate something of importance or need to us.

Our human lives are, indeed, a Wyrd arrangement of forces- forces interacting, sustaining one another, and at times destroying one another. From the cellular level of the body, up to the complex web of interactions that tie human societies together, countless forces interact to create our experience. We are not the ultimate authors of these forces; the web of forces is massive beyond our human reckoning, and ancient beyond the usual meaning of the word "ancient". A better word is "timeless"- this very reality, at the most essential and bare level, is not a "creation", not the creation of some superior being, with a definite beginning point and end-point, but a timeless web of interacting forces which has always existed and always will.

Without a web of power enlinking all things in reality, no communication would be possible. No change or evolution would be possible. No birth or death would be possible, and thus, nothing would exist as we know it or experience it. I should simplify this and say that experience would not be possible.

Primordial Morality

In all of the amazing ranges and reaches of human experience, we often find ourselves comparing our way of living and thinking to others, after the many "ways of being and experiencing" collide and interact with one another, sometimes to good impact, sometimes to disaster. Wyrd forces us to take seriously our deeds and way of thinking; it also forces us to consider the way others act and think, for the deeds, thoughts, tendencies, and beliefs of other people can and will affect us all, eventually.

Those who wish to fall into a sort of laziness regarding the lives of other people, in the name of a truly unrealistic sense of "non-involvement" or even "leaving others to their ways" will swiftly find the danger involved. History gives us many examples of how disastrous social movements and conflicts began in very distant lands, but had a way of spreading out and eventually consuming the entire globe in their power.

The fact that our ancient ancestral culture was eventually all but wiped out by a tiny sect of renegade Roman and Hebrew religious fanatics in the Near East is a sufficient example for now. Understanding Wyrd forces us to realize that all events in our world are relevant to us, and carries us to the full meaning of the old saying "involvement is the primary duty of the wise".

When we think interactionally, we easily find our way into what I refer to as "primordial morality"- You begin wherever you happen to be, and you see yourself as a part of the social system that you are necessarily involved with- one's people, one's family, one's friends, and one's society. Those human groupings are necessarily involved with what we call the "natural" system of the world- the local water, land, forests, animals, and environment.

It's all one web of power; these distinctions are only made to illustrate a point, and made to satisfy the dualistic nature of language and human understanding. You can (usually) see who and what you rely upon, and who and what your people and your land rely upon.

Reliance is a very widespread notion within the systemic model of interactionism- in the web of Wyrd, we rely on countless powers and beings. Acting and thinking in such a manner as to ensure the safety and health of our community-systems and the natural systems upon which they rely is the greatest "commandment" of natural or primordial morality.

When we consider things in this manner, and examine the realities of life in the ancient world, we arrive immediately at the notion of "tribal" morality; people in ancient times had to live and act in ways that preserved the immediate concerns of family and people. In our modern times, in these times in which the world has perceptually "shrunk" and forced all human beings together into an unavoidable interactive wedlock, the seeds of a global morality are blooming.

This isn't a morality based on religious notions of "sin" or "God" or what have you- it is not a morality based on which culture is "superior" or "right" or "better"- it is a morality based on interactions that give rise to the common good of human beings and planet earth. Our own "good" is tied to the good of others- what any group of people do to the web of life, they do to all life. Our own survival- and the survival of our cultures- is also tied to others.

Wyrd, Reliance, Reverence, and Respect

The ancient idea of Wyrd and modern Cybernetics or Systems Theory are clearly related; they are, in fact, one and the same in their worldview and implications. It is a testament to the great wisdom of the past that modern and postmodern worldviews like Systems Theory effortlessly reflect and (in a way) give new life and usage to the older models.

In Wyrd, we understand a vision of connection and reliance that has implications far beyond the horizons of simple ecology or social life. In the vision of reliance and interaction, something else arises: a sense of reverence for the forces and beings upon which we rely, and a sense of respect. The truth of inter-connectedness gives us the single greatest vision of kinship that we can have: all beings are, truthfully and fully "kin" to one another. The natural reverence that arises when we understand our reliance on many other powers and beings is the origin of primordial and animistic religion, in the deepest sense of the word.

I have always thought that the modern-day "kindred" or congregation of Asatruar occupies two places in our religious understanding and experience: firstly, it is the immediate group of people with whom we mingle our own Hamingja and Wyrd, for the purposes of allegiance, mutual support, friendship, and honor to the Ancestors and Gods. Secondly, the kindred becomes a small and local working model of the frithful and respectful, supportive way we should approach the many other communities of beings in any world.

We celebrate our larger connection to the many beings of the many worlds through our participation in the kindred's activities: the same can be said of successful families in any other capacity. We celebrate a righteous and wholesome manner of moral and ethical living when we successfully work and live alongside the kindred.

The Norns by Frowe Minahild

Wyrd Lays Down Layers and Spins In Accordance

In the thinking of the Ancestors, the primordial "layers" of interaction- those established at the dawn of the current world-order, were called Orlog. The web of Wyrd, the reality of timeless interaction, has no beginning or end, but an perceptual order for experience does arise within the web of Wyrd- captured in the Ancestral myths as the "shaping" of the Nine Worlds by the Allfather and his Brothers.

In a sense, mythology as a whole represents the best attempt on the part of humanity to give a name to the mysterious processes that are rightly called "fateful" and "divine", and which structure so much of our experience, from the deepest level. Mythology and Wyrd are tied together, solidly, for all mythical statements (like any other sort of statement) are "Wyrd statements"- attempts to capture the essence of some aspect of this vast reality.

Orlog is a name given to the "primordial layers" of causality and interaction that came together at the perceptual "beginning" of the processes that would lead to this experience we have of our "world" and our "lives"- and Orlog is what truthfully decides the shape of things present and to come.

It does not "decide" like a man or woman may "decide" what to eat at night; what I mean to say is that the arrangement of primordial forces and their interplay are the deciding factor as to what "new conditions" arise, and from the point of the "new" conditions, further present-moment conditions arise, all following along with the necessities dictated by previous conditions.

From the past, then, rises the present. "Future" as a division of time or experience, has no place in this worldview; Our ideas about the past, and our hopes or fears for the future, are both parts of the present, and found nowhere else. The forces that did correlate and interact in the past, and which we have some dim record of in memory, lay their own weight and direction on the weaving of the new present experience. To know "what is" can give a perceptive enough mind a good idea of "what was", and to know what was, can give the wise a good idea of what must be, either now or in the mental construct we call "future".

Wyrd's way of seeing doesn't deal with mystical visions of a future that has not yet arisen; prophecy in the tradition of Wyrd deals with strong, deep interaction with the realities of the present, and a deeply held knowledge of the past.

The Orlog of this universe, of the current "way of experiencing" that we call "our world", was established perceptually long ago, and our world, in common with all Nine Worlds, has a fated end, a Wyrded Doom, in line with what must come to pass based on Orlog's lay. Each part of the system of our world has a similar doom or fate, again, based on Orlog as a whole, but also on that "balance of causes and realities" that exist on every family line, on every living creature, and on every form arisen from interaction. When we focus on "beginnings and endings" in this way, we are already removing ourselves one step from the Wyrd-reality of acausality and non-linear thinking, and this is certainly a concern.

The simple and hard truth is that "truth" for humans must be expressed in symbols and language- communication between most people is a very haphazard thing, especially considering the depths to which "communication" truly runs. At times, linear models can communicate something of essence, but more often than not, they are harmful to our deeper causes of wisdom. I can discuss the arising and falling away of the Nine Worlds in terms of a linear storyline, but this is not a "whole" truth regarding these things. If a person can remember that a story is just a story, a communication that is attempting to pass along some lesser or greater insight, then they can engage stories without being too trapped by them.

That the world-order certainly exists (or should I say, that it appears to our experience, as conditions arise) is without a doubt. But conditions perceptually come and go, change and spin out. It is a convenience for us to link these arisen conditions together with stories that give them a sense of coherence and meaning, but again, this convenience should never become a stumbling block, and need not become so to the wise.

I would like to turn now to what modern Wyrd-knowers have said about Wyrd. These perspectives are born in an ancient perspective which has (understandably) unfolded into the modern day in new ways, but in ways that still maintain the basic logic of interactionism. These people speak, in their own ways, for the most important wisdom of our shared past- the wisdom born from seeing the world as an inter-connected series of forces, a series from which we cannot meaningfully separate ourselves.

The Words of the Wyrd-Knowers

William Bainbridge, of the Troth organization, had many important things to say regarding Wyrd, which he describes as the "central mystery" of Heathenry. In his essay "The Ego and Heathenism", he writes:

"...Approaching this view of human life from a Heathen religious standpoint, I find it both very difficult and unrewarding to fit this complex understanding of the individual into some fixed theory, diagram, moral lesson or comprehensive program of self-improvement. Life simply is too complicated to be meaningfully explained by such things, and in any event, does not work precisely the same way for each of us, since the balance of significant causes is probably different for each of us.

What is the same for all of us is the process of working out old causes and adding new ones, and also the web of causation that ties us all together in many and profound ways, some of which we can understand and some of which remain mysteries approached only through myth and metaphor. Each of us was created by a multitude of causes, each will ultimately be destroyed and dissipated by a multitude of causes, and in the space in-between, each will be constantly transformed by a multitude of causes. While it is tempting to identify with one or a few of them, and cling to them as to a seemingly sturdy raft caught in turbulent waters, to do so is fundamentally inconsistent with the way things--the way we--really are. The raft, after all, will break up in the end, and the only resolution that promises any stability is for us to understand once and for all that we and the waters are, at bottom, not separate things.

Understanding ourselves in light of Wyrd, as patterns within the universal web of life and destiny, removes barriers that too often stand in the way of our arriving at the gratitude that impels us to give thanks. To get there, we must give up what we will inevitably lose anyway, and reach beyond ourselves to grasp what is, in fact, the true essence of ourselves.

it is not enough to give thanks for the innate rightness of life; one should go farther, and participate in that rightness, strive to carry it forward. How that further obligation seems to me to work itself out in religious practice and personal conduct, though, is not much expressed either in the lore or in modern Heathen thought, and although I believe I have arrived at my conclusions through following a relatively traditional understanding of Wyrd out to its logical consequences, I also believe I have gone out on this particular limb about as far as I intend to for now, at least in public.

Be that as it may, I would close with the suggestion that Wyrd, not gods or ethics, might actually be the central mystery of Heathen religion; but one does not drink from her well for free, and having drunk, cannot become again the person one was beforehand."

Mr. Bainbridge brings us to the doorstep of one of the most contentious and important topics in any worldview: the ego and the nature of "self". When we do as Mr. Bainbridge has done, and as the worldview of Wyrd requires us to do, and when we cease holding the perspective of "self" as a static, "independent" entity, and instead see "self" for what it is- a dynamic process, created and sustained by interaction, totally interacting with countless other powers in a neverending existence of communication and change, then amazing new vistas of wisdom open up to us. What we call "we" and the web of Wyrd which is the totality of the forces that give rise to the processes of our minds and bodies, cannot meaningfully be separated.

"We" are, in reality, parts of the web of life that can experience themselves as though they were separate from the whole, but, in final analysis, we are not ultimately separate. This is not to suggest (as so many others have done) that "we" ought to be struggling to lose "ourselves" into a sea of undifferentiated "Wyrd stuff"- such a proposition is absurd.

The truth is that even the sense of "self" as "thing apart" that we all experience is an important part of the outplay of forces, a fateful part of the way things are and ought to be- we are intended to understand our experience of self with wisdom, with Wyrd-wisdom, not destroy our experience in favor of a "singularity" or a "loss of self" into the "great totality". The fullest joy of living in this world is found in a wise appraisal or clear vision of our inseparable and timeless participation in the natural system of Wyrd.

Brian Bates, a foremost Wyrd-knowing sage in our modern day, writes (through the words of his Seidman Wulf) in his essential work "The Way of Wyrd":

"The patterns of Wyrd far exceed the tiny horizons of the ordinary person, for he is capable of seeing only short spans of time. Your eyes break up the course of life into tiny segments and label them as separate entities. The eyes of a sorcerer do not have this false focus. Life is comprised of waterfalls, rapids, eddies and whirlpools, but they are all part of the same watercourse. For me, life and death flow together as aspects of one river. For you, life is like a series of unconnected rain puddles and death comes when the sun dries them all up."

Understanding the deepest implications of Wyrd lead us beyond the myths of "life" and "death", as most people understand them today. The deep web of subtle forces that coalesced to give rise to mankind- to the minds and bodies of men and women- do not cease when a man or woman's body ceases to function. What we call "death" certainly includes (what seems to us to be) a change in how certain forces interact- but these interactions do not go "all the way down", as they say; "death" cannot thwart life for the simple reason that it is the totality of Wyrd's countless interacting forces that are the seat of mind and life. The true roots of life, like the roots of the World Tree itself, are so deep that not even the wisest know where they run.

Wyrd requires a new understanding of what "life" really is- and with it, the reality of that mystery we call "mind". Mind is not a field of awareness generated by a brain, which vanishes when the brain vanishes; mind relies on a complex web of forces to exist, and the coarse, obvious features of "mind" that we can observe empirically- like the coarse, obvious features of life that we can observe- are not the full story of "mind" or "life". In a very real sense, we cannot know the full story of anything- To know the fullness of forces and powers that give rise to anything like an idea or a dream, or the fullness of interactions and powers which give rise to an oak-leaf, a bird, a human, or a God, is simply not in our power.

We can say this with assurance: mind is immanent within the system of Wyrd. "Mind" as we experience it is the offspring of many forces and conditions, and always changing as its environment changes. Mind and its environment are not truly separate things- perception or experience of environment relies on mind as much as mind relies on environment. This "reciprocation" or recursive, constant arising of "mind" and "environment" leads us to the conclusion that so long as the system of Wyrd exists- and indeed, it will always exist because existence itself is nothing other than Wyrd/interaction, environment and experience will also exist.

And it is precisely this ongoing reality of experience that we find what we call "ourselves" within- though we have a very unwise habit of defining "ourselves" as "outside observers" to experience, without ever realizing that we are each inseparable parts of the neverending river of experience, which amounts to interactional immortality. It flies against our language-born logic to say it, but the "experiencer" of something is not a substance apart; if it were so, experience could not be had, by virtue of the "apartness".

There is the whole matrix of experience, which we divide, using linguistics, into a "person having" an experience, and the experience itself. Experience and experiencers are all the same watercourse, just like life and death, and thus, life and death cease to be a true concern to the wise. When one is freed from constant fear of death, the true business of living can begin- wisdom becomes the primary concern of life, the wisdom to live well and fully.

Eric Wodening, in his superb essay "The Web of Wyrd", writes:

"By far the most familiar icon for the process of wyrd is the configuration of the World Tree, Yggdrasill, and Wyrd's Well. There is good reason for this, as the iconography of the Well and the Tree fit the upward and outward action of the past as it shapes the present quite well. Yet the process of wyrd also suggests another activity, that of spinning and weaving. This comparison has had very little written about it, and even Bauschatz, in his nominal work The Well and the Tree, barely touches upon it. Still, the view of the Wyrd Sisters (ON Nornir) as spinners and weavers has much to offer heathens.

The name Wyrd itself derives ultimately from the Indo-European root *uert-, "to turn, to spin, to rotate." This in itself brings to mind the image of spinning thread and, in fact, MHG wirtel, spindle, distaff, and wheel come from the same root. The relationship between Wyrd and weaving, however, goes beyond simple etymologies. An Old English source links Wyrd directly with the activity of spinning. Wyrd, then, was viewed as the spinner of orlog. This view appears in Beowulf as well, where the end of Beowulf's life is spoken of as a thread being cut.

It is unknown whether the Germanic peoples borrowed the idea of the Wyrd Sisters as weavers from the Classical Parcae or if it evolved from the general background of the Indo-European cultural complex. There are valid arguments on both sides. The very fact that the elder heathen applied spinning and weaving as a metaphor for the process of wyrd should lend it some importance to modern heathen.

Some modern heathen believe that one of the aspects of wyrd is the interconnectivity of all things, but only one scholar, Brian Bates, has written anything on the subject. According to Bates every event is connected to all others much like the crosshatching of a spider's web. Anyone who has looked at a piece of cloth under a microscope knows it is not unlike a spider's web, so it should come as no surprise that Bates also makes comparisons to woven cloth.

In light of the loom model, Bates's comparisons appear very well grounded. Consider, each action is represented as a strand within one of the warp threads. The warp threads are interlaced with the woof threads (influences from the past?). Each action, then, is interconnected to all others through the influence exerted by the past.

That all events are interconnected has more implications that it would appear on the surface. For instance, if each man's life is represented by a thread, and every thread is connected to the others through the web of Wyrd, then each man's life is interconnected with the lives of all other men.

Not just human life would be interconnected through the web, but all other forms of life as well. In the past several decades a new science, ecology, has been developed to study the interrelationships between various forms of life. While it evolved independently of heathendom, many of ecology's conclusions are remarkably close to the concept of Wyrd's web. All life is regarded as being interdependent upon each other, in one vast, biological network, and the slightest change in that network can upset its over all balance. In terms of Wyrd's web, such activities as cutting down the South American rain forests qualify as a "bad weave" which can weaken the over all strength of the web."

If only Mr. Wodening had encountered the science of Systems theory, before he wrote this fine essay of his! He would have probably written an entire book by now on the parallels between Wyrd and the modern science of Systems theory. Still, his comparison with Ecology is quite apt- and it follows on the heels of what I have been writing thus far in this essay. We are, (whether we would be or not) parts of an ecological vision of reality, parts of a system, interacting and inter-effective parts. It is a web, a weave, and it is sacred. It does bring us into communion (and communication!) with all other beings who live.

The Wyrd of Community Systems

A few words should be said about Wyrd and its implications for the psychic and physical center of human life: the community or the communal living situation that we all must come to terms with, whether it be expressed in terms of a family, a tribe, a clan, a city, or a nation. A while back, I wrote the following passage in an essay:

"Community" did not begin as a band of scared primitive individuals that grouped together in ancient times to help protect themselves from other humans or predators; the community is not some evolutionary accident nor behavior driven solely by analysis of benefit. Community is sacred, a reflection of the sacred order which is inscribed in the souls of human beings. The Mystery of MANNAZ or Man- meaning all Mankind- is a mystery that arises not as an individual but as many men and women, and they are bound together naturally by unbreakable bonds of affection, power, and kinship.

Each person alive depends so much on others- from our parents at the beginning of our lives, to the men and women who grow our food, prepare it, and sell it; the men and women who train to be doctors, healers, therapists, soldiers and protectors; the men and women that we marry and love and who support us emotionally, and help us to create the future generations of this world. In some way, the web of human relationships and support is a perfect model of Wyrd- each person affects so many other people, and is in turn affected by them. Without the other people in the world, we could not be here, living and thriving. From our interactions, new people arise, and others die away. Between us, love and joy and sorrow arise.

The Old Ways ask us to extend that web of relationship to new dimensions- more subtle dimensions. These "subtle dimensions" of which I speak are the unseen reaches of this world, and the other worlds. Living alongside us in this world are unseen wights, sentient beings who exist in what can be conceived of as their own continuum of life. The Land upon which we walk and depend contains boundless depths of being, and the Landvaettir or Land Wights are one example of unseen sentient beings who dwell alongside us, though few people take the time to appreciate or consider them.

People wonder at the "point" or "purpose" for belief in such beings. To this, it must be said that life and mind are not gifts that humans alone possess, nor is reality as simple as what appears to our eyes. The bulk of life that we can see is just a tiny amount of life, compared to the life that dwells in the vast reaches of reality. The web of Wyrd is a vastness that cannot be comprehended. Within it are places, spaces, "dimensions of reality" and "ways of being" that are every bit as natural as the one "slice of life" that human beings experience. And Wyrd being what it is, the entire continuum of Wyrd, the entire web- including all unseen realities- affects the rest of the web. That means that numberless unseen powers affect us every day of our lives, and we affect them in return.

The Wyrd-wise have always known this, and they have always worked to become conscious of the affects the unseen world and its inhabitants have on us, and just as importantly, they have worked to be aware of what affects we have in return."

Wyrd Ways: Some Propositions Regarding the Ancient Systemic and Interactive Vision of Reality

I am going to list a few propositions about how Wyrd "works", at least based on the perceptions of those who have studied the nature of natural systemic interaction, and the perceptions of those who have looked at the system of life from other angles of investigation- angles that took them out of the neat and tidy "linear" and "divided" models that are so popular today, and so tainted by materialism- and into regions of holistic wisdom.

-The Wyrd way of seeing denies that linear causality is an ultimate reality; Wyrd is holistic, non-linear and acausal. That people tend to perceive in linear ways is a function of limited perception and not some "objective" reality. That "limited perceptions" should exist is not evidence of some "flaw" in Wyrd or in human beings- such things are another part of Wyrd, with a sacred role and purpose.

-The Wyrd way of seeing focuses on patterns, processes, and relationships, not "matter" and "material". "Matter" is itself just a name given to a seemingly stable moment in a long process of interaction and change.

-Wyrd is inclusive and mysterious, even with respect to what we label as "individuals" and "observers"- Wyrd cannot be observed from the "outside" because all observers are part of the Web of Wyrd and cannot be separated from it. The full range of Wyrd's many interactions are therefore hidden from the limited perspective of any person.

-Wyrd, as a universal system of interactions, was not begun or created by any being; it is the ongoing dynamic activity of reality. Any actor that we identify as a "being", whether human, animal, spirit, God or Goddess, originally arose and continually arises from the many interactions of the web of Wyrd.

-All parts of the web of Wyrd recursively affect one another, no matter how distant they seem- "recursive relationship" means that each part has some affect on the other parts, and vice versa. The seeds of a primordial "morality of interaction" is found in this unavoidable fact of Wyrd reality.

-The interactions of Wyrd not only give rise to all beings and phenomenon, but sustain them moment to moment, in whatever form they exist in the moment.

-"Control" cannot be found in the system of Wyrd, nor in any subsystem that we can experience and label, up to and including what we call "our own lives". Control in Wyrd is radically diffuse, and based on the interaction of countless parts. We experience things we call "choices" and "decisions" but we are not ultimately the sole and only controllers of why these things arise nor where they end up. This unavoidable consequence of any complex system of interactions has led directly to the conflict between philosophical ideas of "Fate" and "Free Will", however misunderstood these terms usually are.

Wyrd and Positive Fatalism

I am what I call a "positive Fatalist"- I do not believe in absolute or ultimate free will. I do not believe that my Heathen ancestors did, either, and I have written quite extensively on the topic. Positive Fatalism is a consequence of understanding the Wyrd-reality of interaction; it means accepting Fate or Destiny as a reality, and realizing that there is a complex order in the outplay of things- what you are, what you feel, and what you do is not ultimately in your "control", and in a sense, everything happens for a reason. The Norns or the Fate-weavers fix our dooms for us.

To make such a statement relies heavily on a sort of "faith" born in the Wyrd-worldview; with so many complex systems and sub-systems of force and interaction existing, and with the power of these things influencing us, we cannot begin to guess at every angle of the truth of our existence. Anyone who claims to know the full truth about "what's going on" in life is certainly suffering from a deadly species of vanity.

Part of the trouble with the entire notion of "free will" and "self control" is this: with so many complex, ancient, and timeless forces pre-existing "us", our entire cognitive structure and matrix of self is influenced in a pre-conscious manner, long before we build our current sense of self-identity, and long before we begin to perceptually make "our choices" in life. In a way, my notion of "Fate being in charge" is a blanket notion that puts the human being (in his or her typically limited definition) secondary to the great weave of forces that gives rise to him or her, and makes the man or woman subject to this cosmos of Wyrd.

It could not be otherwise; we are all woven by the same system. Instead of being vain and assuming that we are each powerful enough to "separate" ourselves from the weave of Wyrd, and "create" uninfluenced and independent expressions of will, apart from Wyrd's weave, I believe we should be realistic and realize that our thoughts, deeds, and actions are influenced by countless powers, and truthfully, they cannot be separated from those powers.

Now, I call my belief "positive Fatalism" because I don't think this belief means that you should sit back and do nothing with your life- in fact, I think we have all been Fated to feel as though we DO have free will, and even the belief in destiny doesn't stop us from struggling with our destiny, most of the time. The Northern European people, in their own legends, sagas, and the like, didn't sit back while the world trampled them; they fought hard- and yet, they still believed in Fate or destiny, in a very grim sort of way. Their beliefs even said that the Gods themselves had to face a dark Fate one day. They had no illusions about how hard life was.

Yet, they lived life to the fullest, thankful for the gift of life and for the gifts of the Gods, and they didn't make apologies for being the best they could be. They didn't sit back and accept substandard situations; they explored, fought, conquered, and composed majestic songs and poems. These strange contradictory things fly to the heart of the Indo-European belief in Fate, which isn't as simple as most people want to make it out.

Most people today strongly believe in "free will", but I don't believe that it can exist as they say, because we are all parts of a great and immense system of life and causality. If you look at even a simple system, you can see that the idea of "control" cannot be found anywhere within it, because all parts of a system affect the others. Control is largely an illusion. What I mean to say by this is that we are all parts of a system, and we react to the many forces that affect us, and we affect the system, too. When you have a system in which the parts all affect one another, you can't find where the ultimate "cause" of things is.

For example, you may build a fire when it gets cold outside, but can you say that you made the decision alone to build the fire? It seems that conditions arose in the natural world that led to you making the decision to make a fire to keep warm. If those conditions had not arisen, you would not have felt the need for the fire, and would not have made a decision to build one. If the conditions weren't there, you wouldn't have made the decision- so can your decision belong only to you? Can it be a thing separate from those conditions in the world around, conditions that you didn't choose to be there? The answer is no.

So we can look at this system and ask "where was the decision ultimately made?" Was it in the cold weather, the conditions that made it cold, or the human who responded to those things? The decision is not in one place or the other- the decision arose in the system, because of the system. The decision is not the full "property" of the human actor in the system.

That's how the weave of Wyrd seems to work, at least from a limited perspective- decisions appear through the various parts of the system, but they don't belong fully to any one part. Anyone who thinks they are making decisions apart from the world around them, is being very limited in how they perceive the reality of things. We are not isolated from the weave of Wyrd; we are parts of it.

We can say that "we" had an idea, but the seeds of "your" ideas were sown long ago in the combinations and interactions of many powers that pre-existed "you". This is Wyrd, the weave of causality and reality, and we are all parts of it. What we call our actions are not fully "ours"- it is more realistic to say that the universe itself is working through us, rather than to say that we are separate from the universe, and working "inside" it somehow.

The belief in "free will" requires people to believe that they are very separate from the natural world, and it is a belief which is central to Christianity- early Christians often scorned Pagan beliefs in Fate, and bragged that their God was not beholden to any "fate". To believe in Fate is to put yourself directly back in the genuine stream of pre-Christian thinking.

To believe in "Free Will" is, in final analysis, to make the bold (and untenable) announcement that each human being is a miniature "First Cause", capable in and of themselves of creating "new" strands of Wyrd, capable of changing the essential nature of the cosmos, capable of creation and action completely independent of the many other forces that create the web of causality in which we are all inseparably suspended, and which we cannot remove ourselves from. Such a belief in this sort of "free will" is not a part of a genuine understanding of Wyrd.

If a person bears all these things in mind, their entire worldview changes; they approach life in a fearless way, realizing their kinship to all powers that exist. They realize that things must work in a certain way, and there's no need to worry yourself over things that are outside of your control, and indeed, many things that people usually do worry about are far outside of their control.

Positive Fatalism asks us to be as good as we can be, to be brave and honorable, but not to be so foolish as to think that we are separate from the world, or not affected by it. It's a very "Wyrd" way of seeing; positive Fatalism is "world concern" as much as it is "self concern". It also asks us to endure whatever befalls us with acceptance and fortitude, but never to settle for bad situations if we think it's possible to do better.

Even if we are Fated to fail at our efforts, that really doesn't matter- our desires and efforts must be expressed, and these are the things which (in a certain manner) make us "who we are" to others, and which decide how we will be remembered. It's better to die trying for a better world than to succeed at maintaining a mediocre world.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Giants in the Water

Of all the great natural bodies of power that our Ancestors dealt with on a daily basis, the seas and oceans inspired more awe than most. When we stare at the great waters, we see not just an endless reservoir of power, but the origins of our very lives- the primordial genetic material that was the foundation of all life on land was once in the ocean. There is a great awe and fear of the oceans and seas, because they are containers of immense and mysterious powers, not all of them friendly to mankind.

The elements in their primordial form (which includes the ground under your feet, the water in rivers and oceans, lightning flashing through the sky, forest fires, and winds, among others) are by nature "giantish"- untamed and occasionally dangerous to man. It's impossible to avoid the feeling of awe when you see these hurricanes on satellite imaging, swirling with their massive spiraling arms, moving relentlessly towards land.

There is no evil in them; they are simply expressions of the might of nature itself, so massive and powerful that they move along on their Fated courses, heedless of the tiny specks of life that they blast by. I always compared them to the most massive whales in the deep ocean: massive creatures plowing along through the water, steadily, consuming thousands of pounds of tiny life-forms in the ocean as they go- they don't viciously seek to destroy life; they are simply doing as they do, never thinking twice about it.

We humans are tiny compared to these rightly-called "Giantish" forces. The sheer difference in scale is one of the reasons why we fear them- we know that they are blind and heedless of our lives, in the same way you or I may be blind or heedless of the tiny insects we crush in the grass as we walk by, hiking in the forest or just spending a day in a park.

The Ancestors firmly believed that the Gods- aided spectacularly by the Thunder-God, the greatest enemy of Giants- kept this world, this Middle-Earth, safe from Giantish powers. In light of what is going on right now, the implications of this belief are profound. The Ancestors dealt with disastrous weather-patterns and natural disasters just like we do, and one could say that they suffered worse from them (in a way) because they didn't have the networks of preparedness and response that we have.

So why were they so happy to point out how "safe" the Gods made the world? Because without the Gods, the elements and the other Giantish forces- deeper and more destructive than we could imagine- would overwhelm this world. Old Redbeard is a skilled killer of Giants, but even he can't destroy them all- there has to be a 1% that make it through, and have time to wreak havoc before their Fated course ends.

I think the Ancestors were aware of the fact that it could always be worse. And one of the reasons why it wasn't as bad as it could be is because powerful sentient forces, who care for mankind as their kin, were faithfully performing a Fated task of preservation.

There is one more element to this equation: the fact that we are literally in what the Ancestors described as "A wind age, a wolf age"- the final age of the world in which the decline of things was higher than it ever had been, and even the elements were possibly more destructive. "The wind age" refers to the destructive force of the winds, and in a way, the elements, but the "wolf age" refers to the destructive force of greed in human beings.

As I have said countless times, and as I believe the prophecy in Voluspa makes clear, the world is not destined to get better, in these last millenia. This makes our current age a time when the greatest heroes can (ironically) be produced. We need not just the support of the Hammer-God and his family; we need human heroes who are ready to perform what seems to be a lost cause: the cause of preserving as much as they can in the face of blind, naked natural fury.

The Gods and the Heroes go to the final battle of this world in full knowledge that they will be meeting their doom. Who does that? Beings that know that the ends are not the important part. The important part is that they will make a stand, come what may.

Help the soon-to-be victims of this storm in whatever way you can; even tiny help, help that seems pointless in the face of so much misery, is heroic. You can join me in sacrificing to the Gods for final aid and rescue for as many people as can be helped, but in this case, in this age, what we need are strong people, not just strong Gods.

I work in the Therapy field, and I face a lot of misery in my clients every day. I see cases that anyone would describe as hopeless and unthinkably depressing. When I first started, I (like most people) had the odd "savior" complex that led me to get overly concerned for my clients- but in the end, you have to realize that we don't write the story of other people's lives.

I talked to a friend and colleague of mine about my concerns regarding getting too attached to clients, and he told me one of the most amazing things anyone has ever told me. What he told me was a quote (horridly enough) drawn from a recent movie starring Kevin Costner, called "The Guardian" or something like that. But the quote was very relevant. What do you do when you see so much trauma, and you know you can't help everyone?

My friend said that in one scene of this movie, a young Coast Guard member asked Kevin Costner's character (who apparently plays a more experienced Coast Guard life saver) what he does when he faces a situation where many people are drowning, and in need of help. How do you know who to help or save?

Kevin Costner's character said this:

"I swim as hard as I can, I swim as fast as I can, I save as many people as I can, and the sea takes the rest."

At first I hadn't realized the full impact of what my young colleague had told me. Then it hit me: Fate had spoken here. Fate was the final answer. In the disguise of a pop-culture movie reference, I believe that an ancient and important wisdom was transmitted, then and there.

In our lives, however we help people, we do the best we can, and Fate takes the rest. The nobility in us- that nobility that does not die, and will survive to be reborn in the regenerated universe- does the best it can, regardless of the darkness of the situation.