Wyrd, the Will and the Choice

By George Herda, Vitki of Hvergelmir International, shared with permission

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

— Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)

Does it seem odd, that I start a discussion on Wyrd with a quote from a work of fiction? And yet, what comprises lore? Fiction — stories — comprise lore. To say otherwise, would infer that Non-fiction — references — comprise lore. It would lead to largely unsupported claims, such as claiming that mythology contains falsifiable facts as well as poetic truth.

And, what comprises scholarship on Wyrd? I daresay, lore comprises much of it. And J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the above quote, researched some of it. At least, he researched some Anglo-Saxon aspects of it, and this discussion carries an Anglo-Saxon bias.

I found a webpage early in research for this discussion, and speaking honestly, it provides basic insights for those with basic questions about Wyrd.

Read it, consider it, and if it satisfies your questions about Wyrd, then you need not persue this discussion further.

For those with further questions, read on…

If we limited our own research to lore, then we ought to reasonably account for cultural interpretations, contrasted against out own cultural expectations. As we moderns largely lack the appropriate cultural understanding, an addition of some scientific and philosophical perspectives provides additional context to this discussion.

A belief in Wyrd is, in-part, Objective: a belief in Wyrd presupposes that Wyrd exists independently of observers, and that independent observers in the same place and time experience Wyrd in the same general way (but not the same specific way).

Yet, the Objectivity ends there. Some believe the Norns rule Wyrd, some believe the Norns are subject to Wyrd, some believe the Norns are metaphors for Metaphysical causality, some believe the Norns are nothing more than stories and Wyrd is simply a fatalistic term for social and physical causality. Ect, ect.

A common thread through the above variations, is questioning what role and duty we have in Wyrd, and what fortune we can find in Wyrd. As Wyrd influences what we do, questions of Wyrd often-enough reduce to questions of Free Will.

What Will do we possess, and to what degrees of Freedom do we posses them? Should we seek greater Will, and/or greater Freedom? Does it matter? Studious people have pondered such things, and studious people continue to ponder

Do we observe Will? Not directly. We observe not Will, but rather the Power of Will. We observe the effects of Will, and for many reasonable intents, we consider the Will as synonymous with the Power. For without a display of Power, how could we ethically assert the possession of an appropriate Will?

Do we have no Will, and simply act or react according to another’s Will? No, we have Will, though we may also bow to another Will. How do we know we have Will? Because we question it.

If our universe was completely deterministic, if Classical Newtonian Laws completely and solely defined our universe, if all relationships in our universe reduced to “cause and effect”, if all exists only due to chains of causality…then, what cause precipitated the effect of questioning the Will?

If we act as materialisticly deterministic automatons in a materialisticly deterministic universe, then all we do, has a precipitating cause. Questions about the existence of causes of displays of Power would not exist, because doubt about the causes of displays of Power would not exist. All would exist as chains of causality, whether we had in-depth knowledge of such things or not.

And yet, there existed in the scientific community a reasonable assertion that we do not know the cause of Will, because we can not know the cause of Will…at least, not in a universe completely defined solely by Classical Newtonian Laws.

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“Which brings us at last to the moment of truth, wherein the fundamental flaw is ultimately expressed, and the anomaly revealed as both beginning, and end. There are two doors. The door to your right leads to the source, and the salvation of Zion. The door to the left leads back to the matrix, to her, and to the end of your species. As you adequately put, the problem is choice. But we already know what you’re going to do, don’t we? Already I can see the chain reaction, the chemical precursors that signal the onset of emotion, designed specifically to overwhelm logic, and reason. An emotion that is already blinding you from the simple, and obvious truth: she is going to die, and there is nothing that you can do to stop it.”

— The Architect, The Matrix Reloaded

The problem is choice.

We have Will, and therefore we have choices, in a universe that — at a first Newtonian glance — ought to have no choices at all. To say that the gods gave us choices has no relevant meaning, in a world-accepting religion. Indeed, one wonders if the gods ponder Free Will, as well.

The implications are staggering. If the universe and everything in it dutifully dances like marionettes, according to the pull of Newtonian strings, then where hides the puppeteers that pull those strings? Do those strings exist only as the Power of a greater Will? If the puppets looked up, what might they perceive?

Though more options may exist, there are two often-pondered options that receive much attention: one of those options is Metaphysics.

Immanuel Kant’s position on the exercise of Reason tends to receive more attention than most others, by scholars of such things.

Essentially, Kant argues that causality exists because we cannot Reason reality in any other way. Untimately, we do not know what exists, we only know what we perceive to exist, and we perceive reality in terms of causality (1, 2).

As such, the Classical Newtonian Reasoning of the universe does not reflect boundaries of the universe, rather it reflects the limits of our Reason.

Hence, we have faith in the surety of causality in our experiences, for whenever causality did not exist, then perception would also not exist, and therefore perception implies causality.

And yet, what about the Will? According to Kant, if a Will defies the physics of causality that exist in perception, then that Will must exist outside of perception.

And, while we may not preveive Will directly, we still perceive Power synonymous with Will, and when we realize that we perceive Power and yet do not preceive its long chain of causality, then we have encountered — in an indirect fashion — something beyond our perception. Something Real. Such as consciousness, perhaps in the form of a soul or Wight.

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“And you’re ready to give it to us?” urged Loonsuawl.
“I am.”
“Now?”
“Now,” said Deep Thought.
They both licked their dry lips.
“Though I don’t think,” added Deep Thought. “that you’re going to like it.”
“Doesn’t matter!” said Phouchg. “We must know it! Now!”
“Now?” inquired Deep Thought.
“Yes! Now…”
“All right,” said the computer, and settled into silence again. The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.
“You’re really not going to like it,” observed Deep Thought.
“Tell us!”
“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question…”
“Yes..!”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything…” said Deep Thought.
“Yes…!”
“Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Yes…!”
“Is…”
“Yes…!!!…?”
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.

— The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, #1), by Douglas Adams

Though more options may exist, to explain the problem of choice, there are two often-pondered options that receive much attention: one of those options is Metaphysics.

There is a second often-pondered option: Existentialism. You’re really not going to like it. (3, 4)

What if I told you, that there is nobody behind the curtain? That no one is in charge? That everyone is in charge? That an inability to Reason without causality implies nothing about reality? That an inability of a novice to see a chess master’s planned checkmate eight moves ahead, infers not that the novice has encountered the Metaphysical, but rather infers that the novice has encountered his better?

Friedrich Nietzsche criticized Christianity, Kant, Plato, and maybe anything else that he respected. He was like an odd blacksmith: if you love something, beat it with a (rhetorical) hammer until it is shaped, or until it breaks. (5)

For Nietzsche, a strong Will required the discipline to withhold Power, as sometimes a strong Will must endure, rather than control. A Will that could not endure, would spend Power frivously, and then blame misfortune on an external Will…and therefore the undisciplined Will loses some freedom, as it submits to another Will. (6)

The irony expresses itself in “Freedom”. As a Will endures when it must and spends Power when it is prudent, that Will experiences more Freedom. Yet, that Will appears more socially deterministic, because it approaches the social behavior of “cause and effect”, because it seeks to cause social effects and endures the effects of social causes.

When a Will submits to an external Will, it appears more Free in a superficial way, yet loses deeper Freedom. That Will no longer endures the effects of social causes, but it also no longer causes social effects — such things get credited to the external Will.

Imagine a docile beast, perhaps a loyal dog. In some ways, a dog enjoys few restrictions on Freedom, because society imposes few expectations. Instead, expectations burden the dog’s master. Barring mostly theft and violence, a dog does as it pleases, and the the master gets much of the blame — and much of the credit.

If you cut the leash and dismantle the fence, does the dog experience Freedom? Not exactly. It may run and sniff and lick and frivously spend its Power, yet no one cares, other than to comment on “that cute doggie”. And it still heeds its master’s call. It submits to an external Will: the Will of its master. It cannot yet express its Will in society in a meaningful way.

Yet, a dog need not act like a wolf, to experience a degree of deeper Freedom. By expressing itself through art (in a broad context, and ignoring its animal nature for the sake of metaphor), it can learn to express itself meaningfully.

By herding sheep, pulling sleds, tracking prey, chasing trespassers, ect, a dog superficially burdens itself, and yet experiences the freedom of acknowledgement and interaction… shared with its master and team, rather than taken by them. That dog cooperates, but does not submit. (7)

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This record here’s about twelve years old. Parliament buried it and it stayed buried until River here dug it up. This is what they were afraid she knew. And they were right to fear. There’s a universe of folk who’re gonna know it, too. Someone has to speak for these people.

Y’all got on this boat for different reasons, but y’all come to the same place. So now I’m asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything, I know this – they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people… better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin’. I aim to misbehave.

— Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, Serenity

Kant may have said “To be is to do”. Nietzsche may have said “To do is to be”. It is tempting to make a false dichotomy, yet we don’t have enough knowledge to rule out a third option, and we don’t know if *both* options contain truth simultaneously.

When we don’t know what to do, then what should we do? We should do the best we can do. Arguably, a firm decision based on faith, outweighs indecision based on technicalities.

The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, written around the year 524, is mentioned in the previously mentioned book about Tolkien (8).

Some of Boethius’ passages speak about Fate, which arguably represents a concept of Wyrd in-transition to Christianization. (9)

Referring to Boethius’ term of Fate… in a Kantian way, all happenings bow to Fate, and Fate itself bows to God.

But, in a Nietzschean way, Fate itself consists of many expressions of Power, by many Wills, of both Seen and Unseen entities…and they all arguably embrace a social “cause and effect”, in their quest for Freedom and meaning. For if they did not…then they would either submit to God, and Providence would have no room for Fate…or they would submit to some other external Will, and therefore rebel against God.

A parallel can be found in Beowulf, with the hero bowing to Providence / God…yet also refusing to cross the line, from cooperation / humility, into submission. (10)

What was the term Wyrd, before it transitioned into the term Fate? We don’t know.

Perhaps the term Providence consists of Wyrd / Fate bound by God, which infers the interchangeability of Fate and Wyrd.

Perhaps the term Providence began as the term Wyrd, but with God eventually displacing the Norns.

Other possibilities may exist.

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“It is said that at the dawn of time, man, beast, and all magical beings lived together under Aeglin, the Father Tree. But man had been created with a hole in his heart, a hole that no possession, power, or knowledge could fill. And in his infinite greed, man dreamed of expanding his dominion over the entire earth. The blood of many an elf, ogre, and goblin was spilled in their war with man, and King Balor, the one-armed king of Elfland, watched the slaughter in dread and despair. But one day, the master of the goblin blacksmiths offered to build the king a golden mechanical army, seventy times seventy soldiers, that would never know hunger, and could not be stopped. Prince Nuada begged his father to agree. “Build me this army,” the king said. And so, a magical crown was forged that would allow those of royal blood to command the Golden Army, if unchallenged. “I am King Balor, leader of the Golden Army. Is there anyone who disputes my right?” And in his throne room, no one challenged his word.”

— Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm, Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Spoiler: things end badly for King Balor, despite his best intentions.

After all of this, do we now know what we should do, to find fortune in Wyrd? No, not really.

But, perhaps, that’s not the point.

Perhaps the point, is that we should think less about what we want, and more about what we need. Less about what we hope to gain, and more about what we are willing to endure.

Because, as Gandalf said, even the very wise cannot see all ends. We don’t know what we don’t know. But, we know that the only way to avoid the consequences of a willful and meaningful life, is to chose the isolation of a submissive and meaningless life.

“Shepherd Book once said to me, “If you can’t do something smart, do something right.””

— Jayne Cobb, *Serenity*, responding to Capt. Mal’s speech in Comment #4

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