The Web of Wyrd

by

Eric Wodening

The Wyrdæ as Weavers

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.1 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 Wyrdæ (ON Nornir) as spinners and weavers has much to offer heathen.

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, wheel,” comes 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: “Hwæt béoþ ða feówere fæges rapeas.” Wyrd, then, was viewed as the spinner of orlæg. This view appears in Béowulf as well, where the end of Béowulf’s life is spoken of as a thread being cut.

It is unknown whether the Germanic peoples borrowed the idea of the Wyrdæ as weavers from the Classical Parcae or 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 spinnng and weaving as a metaphor for the process of wyrd should lend it some importance to modern heathen.

The Mechanics of the Web

Before discussing spinning and weaving as an analogy for the process of wyrd, it might be wise to discuss the process itself. Actions taking place in the present move towards the past and become part of it. In turn, influences from the past move back into the present to further shape events there. The entire process of wyrd is governed by the Wyrdæ speaking the orlæg, which gives structure to the various events throughout the worlds.2

This process can easily be seen in the activity of spinning and weaving. the very reason that few modern heathen have used this analogy is that very few of us have even seen a distaff or a loom, let alone spun thread or woven cloth. To understand the distaff and loom as icons for wyrd, then, one must know something about spinning and weaving first.

In spinning, animal or vegetable fibres are twisted. A bundle of fibre is wound loosely around the distaff, which is held in the left hand or tucked in one’s belt. The spindle, a smaller tapered rod, is then turned to give the twist, and the thread is wound around it as it is twisted.

Weaving is a process whereby a set of crosswise threads, the woof, are interlaced with a set of lengthwise threads, the warp. Each warp thread is stretched out parallel to the others upon the loom. The woof thread is then passed back and forth between the warp threads by way of the shuttle. A comb is afterwards used to force each individual woof thread against the one before it, thus forming the woven cloth or web. The web is then taken up on a roll, or cloth beam, at the front of the loom. As weaving continues more and more warp is provided by way of a roll at the back of the loom, the warp beam.

Viewing the process of wyrd as one of spinning and weaving, then, the various actions occuring throughout the worlds would be the fibres used in spinning the threads. Some of these fibres, those actions with no real impact on the Worlds, would be thrown out. Other fibres, those with some impact on the Worlds, would be spun into thread. These threads would consist of fibres centred around a certain person or phenomenon. Hence each person’s life would make up a thread, and the significant actions in his life would make up the fibres.

Within the process of weaving itself, the warp threads are made up of actions (”fibres”) taking place in the present. The influence of the past upon that present would be the woof threads, passed back and forth through the present (the “warp”), the shuttle serving as the orlæg spoken by the Wyrdæ. The past is represented by the web itself, ever expanding as more and more woof is woven in with the warp.

On the surface the “distaff and loom model” of wyrd differs little from the Well and the Tree one. In the Well model the movement of the present is represented by the downward movement of the dew as it falls into the Well. This finds its parallel in the foreward movement of the warp threads as more warp is provided. Similarly, the Well ever-filling with actions of the past corresponds to the web, ever-filling with the threads of the past. Finally, the speaking of orlæg is reflected in the movement of the shuttle, interlacing the warp (the present) with the woof (the past).

That is not to say that the Well model and the loom model fit together perfectly. In the Well model the influences of the past rise directly from the Well itself, much like steam spewing forth from a geyser. In weaving, on the other hand, the woof does not come from the web, so it is a little harder to see the link between the past (the web) and its influences (the woof). In this respect, the Well and the Tree model seems to be superior; however, this does not mean the distaff and loom model has nothing to offer us.

The Interconnectivity of Events

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.”3 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’ 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.

Of course, some threads would be related more closely to each other than they would be to yet other threads. A husband’s life (his thread, if you will) would be more closely related to his wife’s than it would be a total stranger’s. Such interrelationships of various threads would probably form patterns upon the web of Wyrd, not unlike the patterns found in a tapestry or a carpet. The web of Wyrd, then, is hardly a cloth of one colour.

The interconnectivity of events found in the loom model of wyrd can be seen, to a degree, in the Well and the Tree model as well. Events from the past mingle together in the Well, linked to each other much as drops of water within an earthly well are. Events from the past regularly move upwards and outwards from the Well to shape and influence the events in the present, thus linking them to the past. While harder to visualize, the Well and the Tree model of wyrd does demonstate a degree of the interconnectivity found in the loom model.

Implications of Interconnectivity

That all events are interconnected has more implications that it would appear on the surface. For instance, if each man's life is represented bya 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.

This line of thought never completely died out. Most readers are probably familiar with the movie classic It's a Wonderful Life. The hero, George Bailey, finds his life seemingly in ruin and decides he is worth more dead than alive. His guardian angel, Clarence, arrives in the nick of time to prevent him from committing suicide. Shortly thereafter Clarence grants George's wish that he had never been born, and Geroge gets to see what life would have been like without him. It isn't a pretty sight; indeed, bereft of its only champion, George's hometown is much the worse for wear. As Clarence tells George, "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"4 While the movie's trappings are "Christian" in orientation ("God," guardian angels, and so on), the sentiments it expresses are solidly heathen. When George Bailey ceased to have ever existed, he left a rip in the web of Wyrd which changed the course of the town's history for worse.

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. 5 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.

Working With the Web

If we heathen have one thing to learn from the distaff and loom model of wyrd it is thta we must work with the web. By considering that everything lies within its threads, we realize that everything is interconnected and what we do can have a far reaching impact. The man who acts without honour and slanders his fellows may soon find himself an outcast. The factory that dumps toxins into a nearby stream may find its workers dying of cancer because some of the toxins got into the local water supply.

When we take interconnectivity into account we realize the need fo racting responsibly and considering the consequnces of our actions. We can avoid becoming outcasts for a lack of honour or dying of pollution we created ourselves. The lesson of the distaff and loom model is an important one, one we must not forget.

Wordhoard

cloth beam: The roll at the front of the loom, upon which the web is taken up.
interconnectivity: The state in which several different things are linked or interconnected.
loom: A machine for weaving thread into woven cloth. In the Old English period the word geloóma could refer to nearly any utensil or machine, and was even used for the male member!
orlæg (ON orlög): The most important layers of action within the Well of Wyrd (or, alternatively, the most important threads within the web) which determines what shall become and what shall be.6
shuttle: A device used to pass the woof thread back and forth between the warp threads in weaving.
spindle: A slender, tapered rod for twisting and holding thread in spinning.
warp: The threads running lengthwise on the loom and crossed by the woof.
warp beam: The roll at the back of the loom which provides more warp threads as needed.
weaving: The process of interlacing threads to create woven cloth.
web: Woven cloth.
woof: Crosswise threads interlacing with the warp in the web.
wyrd: 1. (capitalized)The primary Norn who governs the flow of the present into the past. 2. The laws of causality by which the outcome of a deed is determined by what has happened in the past. 3. What will hapen to an individual as determined by what has happened to him or what he has done in the past.

Endnotes

1. Bauschatz, p. 21.
2. Bauschatz, pp. 117-154.
3. Bates, p.1.
4. It's a Wonderful Life
5. Corrick, pp. 99-107.
6. Gundarsosn, p. 293.

Bookhoard

Bates, Brian. The Way of Wyrd (2nd Edition). New York: Harper and Collins, 1992 (previously published in 1983).
Bauschatz, Paul. The Well and the Tree. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1982.
Capra, Frank. It's a Wonderful Life. New York: Liberty Films, 1946.
Corrick, James A. Recent Revolutions in Biology. New York: Franklin Watts, 1987.
Gundarsson, KveldúlfR. Teutonic Magic. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1990.

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