6.02.2008

Old English: Some Etymology

The Word Weird
This has a good root in Old English's wyrd, a word whose bit of linguistic philosophy has no modern equivalent. Loosely, it refers to both the material of fate and the active process of weaving it: the past composes it, our will entwines with it, it pushes the world towards a pattern, but is itself woven by events. Mm... in my head I imagine wyrd as this very mysterious noun who is god of auxiliary verbs -- then I picture the water geyser coming out of Donnie Darko's chest.

But it's more fascinating when you're falling asleep in a dark lecture hall, listening to a bespectacled chief. Imagine: Having just finished a tale of Beowulf's dragon, he pauses to sip his lukewarm coffee, then leans in with the spark of child and quietly remarks how curious it is that the advent of Christian empire, with its kingdoms of heaven and neurotic anxieties, erased away the Early Medieval, beautifully stoic idea of nothing being eternal. What long sentences I write. But kindness (however selective) as state policy -- Jesus, I do owe you some thanks.

Anyway, the modern definition of 'weird' derives from the Norse mythology of the Three Norns: Urðr (wyrd), Verðandi (to be), Skuld (shall) -- better known as The Three Fates or The Wyrd Sisters. From their uncanny appearance has appeared the 'weird' of this day, as in, your face is weird.

The Word Hell

Also from Nordic mythology, Hel is the woman who rules over the cold, misty abode of Helheim, underworld for the unheroic. It's only a borrowed name, but point in fact -- the whole concept of Hell is borrowed from old culture. This totally describes my problem with Christianity: it believes that it owns all human history, but without properly acknowledging or appreciating what that diverse history is made of, and then tries to monopolize the universe in that ignorance and flippant disregard. I resent it, even though I know it's very childish: the sky isn't my sky, and none of history is mine either. But calmly letting religious Darwinism take its course is a lot more difficult when you have a tiny world of your own to protect.

1 comment:

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