Core Beliefs: On One’s Luck
Posted on March 17, 2013
Anglo-Saxon popular tradition, indeed this seems to extend to most Germanic peoples, places a great deal of emphasis on the concept of “luck” in a ritualistic and a religio-social context. This is probably a familiar statement for those already in the know about this part of the religion, but I have found that it is not something that is actively discussed, except for rare examples. At least, this always seems to be the case for myself.
In a Germanic context, the Norse word for luck is utilized to represent it as a spiritual force. This word, hamingja, often refers to a familial, social, or personalized force. It is both tangible and one that can actively affect larger cosmic powers. Historically speaking, it covered the virtues and favors of a house, clan, or society. Older Anglo-Saxonist writers often co-opted the term mana as representative of this luck, although it is distinct from the Polynesian tradition. In the Anglo-Saxon context, the idea of luck was often conflated with material riches and wealth as representative of how “divinely lucky” the king or leader was. In fact, the Old English words eadig and saelig were often used for both ‘lucky’ and ‘riches’ (Chaney, 13).
The idea of hamingja is different from the idea of wyrd, which is another central concept that people are far more familiar with in Germanic circles. Wyrd is a personal fate which also is considered to be a cosmic currency, which can be gained or lost through actions. And, of course, there is Ørlǫg, which is one’s larger personal destiny that is largely immutable without significant cosmic interference, woven by the Norns themselves.
In western and northern Germanic history, luck was an extremely important facet to the daily governing of pre-Christian peoples. It can most probably be assumed that luck would be similarly important to the eastern Germanic tribes. There have been studies, specifically, about the idea of sacral kingship transcending the pagan past and influencing the Christian period. The idea is tied in to a king’s rule. A leader’s luck was depended upon by the people for their success as a whole, and it is understandable that something so important would be looked upon as, eventually, a sacred position. The importance placed on the king’s luck went beyond simple material possessions and processes; these pagan kings were near-priests in their own right. They were the sacral holders of tribal luck and mediators with the divine, becoming tribal high-priests during the migration period (Chaney, 14).
The importance of luck is seen in Sturlson’s writings on the Yngling saga, which recounts a story of Olaf Tretelgia (Olof Trätälja, Olaf Tree-Feller) failing in his duty to perform a sacrificial blot to the Gods for a good harvest. The harvest simultaneously failed and the Swedish peasantry took it upon themselves to surround Olaf in his house and burn him alive as a proper sacrifice to Odin. A king’s luck was also said to be spread through the entire ruling clan, giving a divine mandate to the entire ruling house. In this way, Germanic luck can be seen as a way to reason the king’s intercession with the Gods, their capability to do so, and granting an inherent right to rule. It is interesting to see that simple acts of misfortune were interpreted as the flight of this “luck”, as Harold of England’s statement of Harold Sigurdson’s fall from his horse at the battle of Stamford Bridge denotes (Chaney, 12).
In the context of the late-ancient world, luck could be spirited to other people, combined with theirs, for a favorable outcome. Much has already been said elsewhere about the idea of parents naming their children after venerated, lucky ancestors in hopes of attaching their luck to that of their child’s. The idea of hamingja as mutable is one of the core facets of the concept, similar to how one’s wyrd can grow and contract based on interaction.
So then in a modern Pagan context, what would such a great power be translated as? Sure, we not all kings or sacral-leaders, with entire tribes and communities relying on our intercession with the Gods. In the modern day, the idea of hamingja can be seen as a spirit of good fortune that exists around and within any person. It has been likened to the idea of a muscle, which everyone has access to. If it is a spiritual force that one can have a very active interaction with, then it must be exercised regularly for fear of atrophy, that fleeting luck would be the result.
The growth and expansion of one’s luck is an interesting subject, and one that I am not sure how to approach at the risk of trivializing it. I am sure if one were to search the internet, hundreds upon hundreds of rituals and spells would come up with the end-result of increasing one’s luck and good-fortune. Rune-spells in the Lore have been attested as to help or harm one’s hamingja. I would assume that those processes are still very much possible.
This next part is purely my feeling on the subject. I interpret one’s luck as a reservoir as well as a muscle, which can be tapped and utilized. Sort of like a cosmic bank account in order to edge the odds a little more in your favor. But it is by no means limitless. Some people are naturally lucky, while others are naturally stricken with ill-luck (I am, admittedly, one of the latter). I feel, and not to sound too New-Agey about it, that in order to attract greater returns on luck, one must act themselves accordingly. This ties in with the concept of wyrd, to me. Acting without duplicity, with integrity, doing as one says and one intends, and performing capably are all facets of increasing one’s wyrd and, I would argue, increasing one’s overt luck.
One does not have to become an activist, by any means, but I do not believe one’s cosmic credit will accrue without some kind of effort.
I’ll end it here for today, instead of blubbering and repeating what I’ve already said.
Thanks for reading.
Chaney, William A. The Cult of Kingship in Anglo-Saxon England: The transition from paganism to Christianity. University of California Press: Berkley and Los Angeles. 1970, pp. 276.