When I first started looking into Asatru (Norse/Germanic paganism), among the first concepts I was introduced to were the twin concepts of Ørlög and Wyrd. Ørlög is more or less “fate”, not a fate declared from on high per se (more on that in a moment) but rather a fate one builds through the accumulated weight of their actions (and, also of the actions that came before). Wyrd (from whence the Norn Urd–also rendered Wyrd–gets her name), is web built by all these various accumulated Ørlögs and how they interact with one another.
In common representation the three Norns (Skuld, Verthandi, and Urd) dictate the fate of mankind. In modern Asatru many hold a slightly different belief: a person’s fate isn’t so because the Norns declare it. The Norns declare it because it’s so. The Norns can understand the Ørlög of an individual, and how it interacts with each other individual’s Ørlög and, as a result, can foretell what an individual will do and what will happen to them.
This strikes me as a reasonable interpretation of “fate”. As a person goes through life, the choices they make, the consequences of the choices, and the habits they build, all combine to constrain what they will experience in life, what their “fate” will be. Different choices, leading to different habits, and evoking different consequences, lead to a different fate. Certainly there are things that are beyond individual control, but how prevalent is that really. One may not predict the severe storm, but if one lives in an area prone to such storms, and is not prepared to deal with them, that is a choice and has consequences. One may not predict a monetary crash, but as even healthy economies have occasional corrections, not being prepared to deal with them, that too is a choice and has consequences. An asteroid may strike the Earth wiping out all higher life forms and, well, how’s that space program coming along?
Of course, lacking the godly ability to see the entire web of Wyrd and all outcomes, the best any individual can do is make their best guess and hope to ride out the cases where one guessed wrong or when preparations for disasters prove inadequate.
Another thing to consider, note that when I described Ørlög I mentioned “and also of the actions that came before”. Ones own choices are the largest factor in ones Ørlög , but they are not the only factor. The choices that those in the past made also affect the you you are now and, therefore, your Ørlög. I am not just the result of my own actions. I was born to parents who raised me setting powerful influences on me starting before even my earliest memories. I attended schools where teachers had their influence, as did my peers. I watched television and movies, more influences. I attended church and received yet other influences there. All of these things added their weight to my Ørlög to the point where I cannot even point to some element and say “this is because of that influence”, they’re an inextricably mixed mass that makes “me”. And the choices I make now, and the Ørlög so generated, are constrained by all of that, a huge mass of “fate” pushing me toward a particular end.
This is not to say that one’s fate cannot be changed. It can, but it is not changed by ignoring the accumulated weight of Ørlög. And it is certainly not accomplished by looking at that Ørlög, shrugging, and saying “it’s not my fault, not my responsibility.” Instead, one has to recognize the accumulated weight of Ørlög and that changing course will require work, a lot of work. The more one wants to change the destination from where the Ørlög is pushing, the greater the effort required. Make new choices. Build new habits. And, as a result, evoke new consequences. Changing ones fate is difficult and very much a “long term” plan. Recognize that. Accept it. And commit to making the change.
Most people won’t. It’s simply easier to follow the path of their accumulated Ørlög to the bitter end. History is rife with tales of folk doing so. It’s easier to flow with the current of the swift-running stream, and to lay blame on that current than to fight the current and go a different way.
Easier, that is, until one is broken on the cataract.