Skáldskapr: Understanding Fate and Destiny.

In this episode I’d like to organize our thoughts around the this physical life time by discussing the inclusion of the effects of what is referred to as “the fates” as well as the underlying principle of “destiny”. I’ll apply some Norse beliefs around these concepts based on both: the sagas, and the Germanic-Dane legends that have been ingrained in my mind since childhood. While my personal ancestry is of Germanic Dane descent, I find that the legends of the Landvætti stem from the Germanic tribes migrating north with their beliefs in tow. However, my ancestry are, by no means, the only culture who discovered the spiritual world that surrounded them. In this consideration, we see that the indigenous peoples of the eastern asian cultures included the spirits, and would ultimately deliver them to North America across the Beringia Land Bridge during the dawn of man. We also find the same ideas surfacing in Western and Southern Africa, ultimately migrating to Haiti, arriving in the southern North American continue as Voudou. In seriously considering the validity of the spiritual world, the first question we need to ask is “Why would there have been so many cultures throughout the history of human evolution who legitimized their existence, independently?” This is an interesting phenomenon, however, let’s talk a little about the how I (based on my Norse beliefs) see the spiritual world is kept in balance by the fates, and one’s personal destiny.

Within the Norse legends there is an understanding that there were three sisters called the Nornir, some tried calling them “the fates”. For those of you not familiar with the Norse legends, the center of existence for the Norse was the tree called Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil is tended by the Nornir who live near the tree. They water the tree with pure water every day, which falls down to earth as dew, and whiten the tree with clay from the spring to preserve it. According to the poem Grímnismál, Yggdrasil has three main roots: one planted in Midgard, the world of mankind; one in Jotunheim, the world of the giants; and one in Hel, the underworld.The text of Völuspá mentions only one well beneath the tree: the Well of Urd (Urðarbrunnr, “Well of Fate“) which is where the idea that the Nornir were the one and same as “the fates”. The eldest of the Nornir, Úrdr would foretell our lifespan before birth. Upon one’s death, one’s spirit goes before Skáld who will determine one’s eternal feasting hall, based on reading one’s life tapestry, sewn with great details by her sister Verdándi. However a critical distinction here, is that these three are completely absent from the time we spend between birth, and death, as this timeframe is completely up to each individual to navigate through. To make both: the easy choices, and the hard. To balance our spiritual self to ensure that we share more of our lighter spirit than we do of our darker one.

The self. This idea was pretty much front and center in my ancestor’s lives. As they would forge out their own lives based on their needs at the time. But just looking at the nine noble virtues (which we will see replicated in a multitude of cultures after the Age of the Vikings concluded around 1050), we can quickly understand their desire to be independent, and able to make decisions for themselves. Traits like honor and truth, but just as important were industriousness, hospitality and self-reliance. This demonstrated that my ancestors didn’t ask their gods for help, nor the Landvætti, for the most part, but made their own way throughout their physical life times. Things that were out of their hands like growing seasons, or successful raids, including travel at sea, were placed in the hands of the gods, but that was typically because our ancestors had physically done all they could do before seeking assistance. The self was a very central idea and practice in those days.

When we discuss the “worship” and the only asking for assistance when all mortal influences had been exhausted brings to mind the analogy of the apple tree. Where somehow a seed would be planted, and cultivated for years, in hopes of getting fruit one day. The support network would bring the necessary water, heat, and sunshine to the tree. As the caretaker, we would work to ensure that nothing interfered with this process. We would defend the tree from drought, sunlight blockage, and predators to ensure the tree matured to produce fruit. However, the actual growing of the fruit was still in the gods hands.

The journey. As mentioned earlier, the Nornir sisters intervened in human’s lives, before birth, and after death, otherwise they didn’t interact with the human’s making decisions about the journey of life. As humans, we are free to choose the direction of our lives, every minute of every day. We need to understand the ramifications of making those decisions, but we are free to make the regardless. While the old Norse did believe strongly in luck, they also realized that it was fleeting, at best. Having to put our trust in our own abilities into things to make them successful. That was the only real way to guarantee the successful outcome. If one got lucky, thank the gods, but more often than not, those ancestors put their noses to the grindstone and made it work.

Another tough definition for modern humans to grasp was the idea that destiny was/is a moving target. This is where the new beliefs came along and put a fly in the ointment. Destiny is defined as an arrival point, and there were so many factors that could interfere with our arrivals, that it’s impossible to think of all the outcomes (well, for mortal minds anyway). New practices brought the idea that their deity knew the entirety of your life before you lived it, decimating at its very core, the idea of free will.  The idea of free will means that you are truly at the mercy of your life’s decisions, and ultimately at the end you’ll be invited to a feasting hall that fits the life you led here (and the way you died). However, in this feasting hall you may retell the sagas of your life, and how you ultimately got to the hall.

In much the same ideology was that the idea that fate is not a force, but an arrival destination as well. As I mentioned during the section on destiny, fate is the other side of that coin toss. Fate is what happens when your plans didn’t pan out the way they should have, many try to associate a negative connotation to the idea of fate, when in fact, it is just presenting another option. This is a hard concept for many to grasp, as it puts the accountability where it belongs, and most don’t enjoy the lessons of life. 

The legends speak of individuals who sought honor in every part of their lives. Whether they were planting in the spring, taking gold and monies from the churches of England in the summer, harvesting in the fall, and drinking and feasting during the winter, they did so honorably. They lived their entire lives by a code of being true to themselves, and if they wanted something to happen, they made it happen. They relied on themselves for earthly tasks, and asked the gods to grant favors in larger ones. They lived their lives in quest for a favorable destiny, and attempted to avoid the fates of a bad life decision, but they knew that if they had to face fate, it was a matter of them making a change to conquer whatever it was. 

Well, we’ve covered the ideas behind the self, the fates, and our destiny. What does it really mean in todays world? It means the same exact thing it meant back then, that each of us should strive to live honorably, know what our destiny is today, and try to avoid the fates. We should be ourselves, not trying to prove to anyone that we are something we are not. Realizing that we are going to make mistakes, if you’re like me, probably make a lot of mistakes. But we are going to know that tomorrow is a new day, opportunity to create a new destiny, to start over and do what needs to be done honorably.

Our lives upon Midgard are guaranteed to be fraught with challenges, and tough decisions that we will need to make to be successful in our physical life times. If, one considers themself at the mercy of the fates, then that is where they will exist. Whereas if we are fighting our way to our destiny, that too is where we will be until we accomplish it. Then, we can turn our sights to the next milestone in our lives whatever that may be. If you will, you can consider these two states as the painted lines on the road. I encourage all to keep these lessons in mind as we move about our day.

  1. Be honorable in everything we do.
  2. Continue to establish our destiny, so that we may forever be in the quest to arrive at our destiny.
  3. Avoid with all our hearts, the fate. But know, that if we find ourselves facing fate, the burden is on our shoulders to change our direction.

There are many ways that we can focus the potential of our success. By keeping our eye on the destiny that we seek will provide us with a constant source of direction that we can move forward on.


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