One of the aspects of Norse culture and faith that can be the most confusing to people is their concept of Fate, or Orlog. There are many ways people view fate, one way is that everything in life is fated to happen and nothing we do changes the course of our pre-destined day to day lives. This is NOT the view of the Norse. The Norse concept of Fate is far more complex than that of the more mainstream faiths. The Norns, the Wyrd, those around us, generations before us, and our own actions have ripple effects that can change not only our Orlog, but those around us and those who come after us as well.
The Norns Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld under the world oak Yggdrasil (1882) by Ludwig Burger.
The Norns who carve the fates of man are called Urdhr (That which has become), Verdandi (That which is becoming), and Skuld (That which should become). In Voluspa, of the Poetic Edda it is said “Scores they carved, laws they laid, lives they chose. They worked Orlog for the sons of men.” From this stanza in Voluspa we can see the Norns have a direct effect on our fate, but how much of an effect? We see that they choose who is born, and who dies. We see that they lay cosmic laws in effect. No where in the lore does it say, nor is it believed the Norns weave our every action into existence, rather, as we make choices or meet new people Verdandi and Skuld have to work that thread to turn That Which Is Becoming into That Which Should Become. To make this a little clearer I will put it like this:
“You wake up one morning, and as it were, you planned to go to the mall today to check out the new metaphysical shop (That Which Should Become). You’re on your way there when you witness a vehicle stranded on the side of the road. So you as an honorable person stop to make sure everyone is okay (That Which Is Becoming). You find that the person stranded is an old Highschool crush of yours, and you guys start talking. You both decide to go get something to eat as soon as the tow truck leaves with the car…… You’re not going to the mall anymore are you? That is an example of the endless cycle between Verdandi and Skuld.”
As we can see from that extremely simplified example that not everything is dictated by the Norns, however as they are tirelessly working, our actions completely change our Fate or “That Which Should Become”. Our death is the only thing that is certain after we are born.
Now let's talk about how our actions affect other peoples’ Orlog, and how our actions affect others’. Let's look at Orlog like a small pond shall we? If you were to stand on the shore of a pond and drop a feather into it, the ripple would make it a few inches, maybe a foot before smoothing back out. Now, take a rock the size of a fist and drop it. The ripples travel much further, possibly disrupting the plants and sand underneath. Maybe even a splash that lands on the shore. Now lets go one step further and drop a boulder the size of a go cart into the pond. The splash alone can reach the shore all around the pond, and the ripples cross the entirety of it more than a few times from that one boulder. This is a good way to view how our actions affect others, and how others affect us. The feather represents a decision such as choosing not to put creamer in your coffee one morning. This decision truly only affects yourself, and not in a major way, thus the few inches of ripple effect before smoothing back out. Now, the rock the size of a fist represents a slightly bigger decision with more implications such as someone with a full family deciding to get a divorce (This is not advocating for or against any such decision, just used as an example). Not only does this decision affect you, but it affects everyone in the immediate family as well as the family of both parties involved. Much like the rock affected not only the few inches the feather did, but the immediate surroundings and even some of the shore. Now for the boulder, the boulder represents such a massive decision that everyone and everything is affected. This can be easily illustrated by thinking of a world leader starting a new major war. Not only is the assaulting country affected, but the defending country, the allies of each side, the economy and resources, and the people of all countries involved are affected, even in the most minute ways. Our actions and decisions cause ripple effects that can either only affect us and our day to day, or affect everyone in contact with us. It is up to us to make that a positive, or negative ripple effect.
Web of Wyrd
How does our actions today affect the Orlog of those yet to be born into our blood line? Well that in part can also use the pond metaphor, however to understand it on a deeper level in regards to blood line we need to know the parts of the self. The parts of the self are Hamr, Hugr, Hamingja, and Fylgja. Hamr literally translates to “Shape”, meaning that this part of the self is referencing the physical form we carry, or rather how others perceive us through their eyes. Hamr is not so static though, as Hamr is brought up in much lore in regards to shape shifting, known as skipta hömum or “changing Hamr” and those who could perform these feats were Hamramr or “of strong hamr”. Hugr is best described as the “consciousness” or inner self. The hugr resides within us, but can cause effects outside the body, either through shamanistic practices or rather unintentional means. It is said that this is the part of the self that ascends to the afterlife, while our current Hamr remains here on Midgard. The Fylgja is what some would call an accompanying spirit, or guardian spirit. This spirit’s well being, as well as its characteristics are deeply tied into that of its human counterpart. This spirit normally takes the shape of an animal to those who can see it, so seeing as their characteristics are deeply tied together the spirit normally is that of an animal characteristic to the human. Fylgja translates as “follower”, yet most times the Fylgja flies ahead of its human arriving at the destination first, checking for danger. The Fylgja is also tied to fate, as in the Fylgja keeps its human counterpart from meeting a demise that is not fated by the Norns. The final part of the self we will talk about is the one that affects your descendants Orlog, Hamingja.
There is a lot to say about Hamingja, because its literal meaning is heavily debated. There is debate on whether Hamingja is a spiritual being that follows you, sort of like the Fylgja, or if it’s something used to simply describe good luck, or if its something that can be built upon and passed down. I will give you the sources for these different takes from the lore, however, for the purposes of this article we will be considering Hamingja as the latter version. In Egil’s Saga, it is said that Kvedulf had already been warned once, and that visiting the king wouldn’t bring good hamingja to his family, hinting that Hamingja is something obtained and possibly used here as simply good fortune or luck. Later in the same saga Thorolfr wanted revenge, but did not know if he had the “hamingja” of revenge. In the Vatnsdæla saga, a newborn baby boy was named Ingimunder, after his maternal grandfather who had just passed. The family named him this hoping that the grandfather would pass his Hamingja onto the baby boy. Finally in Olafs Saga Tryggvasonar, Jarl Hakon was said to be a great leader, have great prudence, was fearless in battle, and had great ancestry. It was said that all of these attributes gave him good Hamingja. However, later in the saga it is said that Jarl Hakon had extreme Ohamingja in death, meaning great misfortune. This saga hints that good or bad hamingja is something obtained through actions. The belief is that Jarl Hakon had bad hamingja in death due to his “womanizer” ways of his later life. Given the last two sagas mentioned, that is what we are going to use for the purpose of this article.
Hamingja is something that can be obtained through good deeds, yet can be lost just as easily through bad deeds. If we live life honorably, we gain good hamingja to pass down to our descendants. Think back to the ripple effect, and you can even think of “karma” VERY loosely here. If you make rock to boulder sized honorable decisions throughout your life, with a few rock and feather dishonorable deeds, chances are you will have good hamingja to pass down to your descendants. Yet on the flip side, if you make rock and boulder sized dishonorable decisions, but rock and feather honorable deeds, then bad hamingja can fall on you and your descendants. If Hamingja is something that keeps getting passed down, then it can be theorized that bad hamingja can be repaired through working with our ancestors and building on it through our actions today. Though some may have inherited bad hamingja that does not mean all hope is lost!
Many followers of the faith think or are taught that we live life honorably to please Odin and the gods, and that may be because some treat the Havamal and Eddas as the “Bible” of the Norse faith. However, that is a very Abrahamic way of thinking. After reading this I hope you realize that we try to live honorably not completely for the gods, but for those immediately around us and those coming after us. We will not necessarily be “punished” for dishonorable deeds in the afterlife, however we will be in this life, and if not us then our friends, family, and descendants will. We want to ensure the best life for our family, that we are ancestors worth being venerated when our time has passed, and that our bloodline inherits good fortune from our deeds!
Jones, Gwyn, translator. The Vatnsdalers' Saga. Kraus Reprint Company, 1973.
Snorri Sturluson. Egils saga. Edited by Bjarni Einarsson, Viking Society for Northern Research, 2003.
Laing, Samuel, and Snorri Sturluson. The Heimskringla: Or, The Sagas Of The Norse Kings From The Icelandic Of Snorre Sturlason; Volume 3. Edited by Rasmus Björn Anderson, Creative Media Partners, LLC, 2018.
“The Self and Its Parts.” Norse Mythology for Smart People, https://norse-mythology.org/concepts/the-parts-of-the-self/. Accessed 18 January 2023.
Gundarsson, Kveldulf. The Teutonic Way: Magic. Amazon Digital Services LLC - KDP Print US, 2020.
Cover Art by Milivoj Ceran 2017