Wyrd, Urr, rlg and skp

 

 

I undertook to analyze these three concepts by starting from the original texts using these words. This asks for quite a large work of information collection which I began with the Anglo-Saxon wyrd. I acknowledge that my research is not really exhaustive because I do not easily read the Anglo-Saxon language. However, for some translations that looked too far from the literal meaning I took the freedom to restore this literal meaning, while broadly keeping the meaning of the translations made by the specialists in this language.

For the Norse texts, i.e. Urr and rlg, you will find my own translations and my quotations will be almost exhaustive, including poetry and sagas.

 

Presently available on rlg:

rlg in Vlusp

rlg in Hvaml

rlg and skp in the other eddic poetry  (now completed)

 

Quotations containing the word wyrd

 

This score of quotations tells what we really know about Anglo-Saxon wyrd. They belong, except the two last one, to texts classified as Heathen because they do not cover biblical subjects.

You will see that the Heathen texts show some Christian influence but, symmetrically even the Christian texts do not completely forget their Heathen origins.

 

The dictionaries explain that the words wyrd (= fate in Anglo-Saxon) and urr (= fate in Norse) are cognates, i. e. at some point in the past they have a common etymology. This is expressed by an even more striking link. Wyrd is related to the verb weoran, to become. The Norse word urr is related to the verb vera, to become, (uru in its the plural preterit = they became).

Nevertheless, the Norn Urr is certainly different from Norn Verandi (present participle of verb to become = becoming). On the other hand, the wyrd does not seem to differentiate between what became and what is becoming.

 

 

Beowulf

Line 455

G a wyrd swa hio scel. Fare the fate has it shall.

 

Line 475

wigheap gewanod;      the warriors disappear

hie wyrd forsweop       since wyrd swept them away

on Grendles gryre.      by Grendels violence.

 

Line 572

Wyrd oft nere                         Wyrd oft protects

unfgne eorl,                          the non-doomed earl,

onne his ellen deah.               when he is of courageous hue.

 

Line 734

Ne ws t wyrd a gen        Let wyrd prevent

t he ma moste                     that he takes more

manna cynnes                         men of the kin

icgean ofer a niht.               often again after this night.

 

Line 1056

one e Grendel r                the one that Grendel already

mane acwealde,                      killed

swa he hyra ma wolde,           and greedy he would kill others

nefne him witig god                 if not the wise god

wyrd forstode                          had protected their wyrd,

ond s mannes mod.             and the mans (Beowulfs) bold mood.

 

Line 1205

hyne wyrd fornam,                  him wyrd destroyed

syan he for wlenco              when by arrogance,

wean ahsode,                          he looked for danger,

fhe to Frysum.                    enmity to the Frisian.

 

Line 1233

Wyrd ne cuon,                       Wyrd they did not know,

geosceaft grimme,                   fate grim,

swa hit agangen wear           that they possessed would

eorla manegum,                      the many earls

syan fen cwom                  when the evening comes.

 

Note : geosceaft means also fate.

 

Line 1526

ac unc furur sceal                  such further shall

weoran t wealle,                 become near the wall,

swa unc wyrd geteo,              such wyrd has settled,

metod manna gehws.            fate of humankind everywhere.

 

v 2040

wyrd ungemete neah               wyrd excessively near,

se one gomelan                     then the aged

gretan sceolde,                        to approach shall,

secean sawle hord,                  seize the souls hoard,

sundur gedlan                       sunder to pieces

lif wi lice,                               life with body,

 

Line 2575

swa him wyrd ne gescraf         thus to him wyrd not allotted

hre t hilde.                          victory at war.

 

Line 2814

Ealle wyrd forsweop               all the wyrd swept away

mine magas                             my family

to metodsceafte,                       to their fate-building,

eorlas on elne                          earls in their courage.

 

Note : metodsceaft = fate-construction , death.

 

The wanderer

 

Line 5 

Wyrd bi ful ard!      Wyrd will be fully resolute!

 

Line 15

Ne mg werig mod     Not may weary mood

wyrde wistondan,      wyrd withstand,

ne se hreo hyge           nor does scabby heart

helpe gefremman.        help bring.

 

Line. 100

wpen wlgifru,         the weapons death-givers,

wyrd seo mre,           wyrd famous,

ond as stanhleou     and those cliffy stones

stormas cnyssa,         storms strike,

 

 

The seafarer

 

Wyrd bi swire,                                 Wyrd is stronger

Meotud meahtigra,                              God mightier

onne nges monnes gehygd.            than any man could think.

 

 

Maxims 2

 

Line 5

wyrd by swiost, winter by cealdost.

wyrd is the strongest, winter the coldest.

 

The Ruin

 

Line 24

Beorht wron burgrced,      Shiny was the fortress

burnsele monige,                     bathes many,

heah horngestreon,                 haughty the abundance of pinnacles,

heresweg micel,                       martial sounds many,

meodoheall monig                   the mead-hall many

dreama full,                             of joy full,

ot t onwende                until this moved

wyrd seo swie.                       wyrd this swept away.

 

The Rhyming Poem

 

Line 70

Me t wyrd gewf,               For me what wyrd spun,

ond gewyrht forgeaf,               and my deeds brought,

t ic grofe grf,                    is that I a trench dig,

 

Dream of the road

 

Line 74

a us man fyllan ongan                       then the men to cut down began

ealle to eoran.                                   all to the earth.

t ws egeslic wyrd!                        Was that a horrible wyrd !

 

 

Here I give now two examples of purely Christian texts that use the word wyrd.

 

Part of Exodus called The Crossing of the Red Sea

 

Line 458

ne r nig becwom              not one came back

herges to hame,                       of the warriors at home,

ac behindan beleac                 but locked behind

wyrd mid wge.                      by wyrd among the waves.

r r wegas lagon,               Where was a way laying,

mere modgode,                       the sea became furious

mgen ws adrenced.            the army was drowned.

 

 

Life of St Guthlac

Line 1351

roht eodengedal,                 suffering God-separation

onne seo rag cyme,           when that times comes

wefen wyrdstafum.                  spun by the wyrd-staff.

 

Note : stf mean stick, staff, wyrdstafum = with wyrds stick (see the final footnote).

 

Comments

 

These examples show that the concept of wyrd has been assimilated by Anglo-Saxon Christianity, i.e. by Christians still born among Heathen concepts: The Jews are saved because the Egyptian warriors have got a bad wyrd. This would be deemed today as being slightly iconoclastic. Worse, St Guthlacs wyrd is what broke the connection between him and his lord God!

Conversely, it is also obvious that Heathen poems show some influence from a Christian way of thinking, which carries a Roman influence. Even though the witig god in Beowulfs line 1056 could well be Heathen god, Navigators Meotud (= fate, God, Christ) almost certainly is the Christian God. However, again here, paralleling Gods and wyrd powers is iconoclastic.

The power of wyrd is described as being huge, it sweeps away, overpowers, allots, grants, it secretly makes ready to strike us, it is egeslic and mre, that is terrible and famous or great [sometimes translated as inexorable in the online versions.]. We also note that, according to the texts, it is described in a contradictory way.

For example, Beowulf line 1526 says that wyrd has settled, fate of humankind everywhere, line 5 of Wandering known as which it "is fully decided" i.e. one cannot to it be opposed and this direction is implied in many of other places.

Its absolute power is nevertheless several times disputed. Beowulf line 572 the earl of courageous hue is protected by the wyrd, implying that courage may accommodate the wyrd; line 1205 announces a rational, such as arrogance, may trigger a bad wyrd; The Wanderer line 15 states that a scabby heart nor a weary mood may withstand wyrd (implying that the opposed dispositions might keep it away); line 70 of the Rhyming Poem says that wyrd and our deeds both lead us to death (I suppose the trench is a grave).

We finally observe the idea that human ones are partially responsible for their destiny, which is so well summarized by the Christian formula: God helps those that help themselves. This is why I observe here some Christian influence, which bursts up in the present civilization in which each one wants to and believes he/she can drive her/his own destiny.

 

Another influence, that one of Heathen origin, is partial assimilation of wyrd to the Greek Parquae. For example, both, Rhyming Poem and Life of St Guthlac say that wyrd spun the heros life. We see in these ways pf speech the origin of this practice describing our destiny as a fabric woven by the wyrd. This practice is thus justified, for the wyrd, by very former practices. In studying Old Norse rlg, we will see that this weaving has nothing to do with Heathen Germanic mythology: the Norns do not spin the rlg, they carve it on wooden tablets.

 

 

Note: a digression on sticks.

 

 Hvaml speaks several times about a stafr that, in stanza 142, everyone agrees to translate by runes (i.e. a staff upon which runes are carved). This word also took the meaning of written letters, words because of this use. On the other hand, in stanzas 59, 27 and 8 the translators do their best in order to very to avoid using this meaning, magic being allowed only as a last resort. See HERE my long comments of stanza 8 in which try to counter Dronkes arguments claiming that stafr as a suffix is nothing but a final derivative.

You could note that I translated here the word wyrdstafum by the word of the wyrd because it is very probable that St Guthlac did not have a runes nor ogams engraved stick and, more obviously, that weaveing is not performed with a stick, although one spins with one. The traditional translation of wyrdstaf, destiny decree, moves the ides of a staff to the one of written letters, which suggests Scandinavian influences, by the way perfectly possible ones, on this Anglo-Saxon word.