Die Nornen (1889) by Johannes Gehrts
William Sasquatch Jones was talking a bit about “old Line Eclectics” and Dirt Sorcery and it brought up another concept I have found very helpful: ur-sorcery.
Ur is prefix meaning proto (first, as in ‘prototype’), primal (“first or earliest of its kind”), original (“beginning, source, origin”).
Sorcery is largely used to mean ‘operative magic’ these days- magic that brings change in the world of deeds & men- and has it’s roots in the concepts of both ‘fate’ and ‘sortilege’- destiny, and the laying out of lots. Magic and divination. So when I talk about ur-sorcery, I am speaking of the root of all the possible forms, schools, and methods that come after. It’s the actual core, the ‘thing itself’, and all that follows are extensions and permutations of that thing.
I believe that sorcery is a natural by-product of the human experience. I think it is in some sense the root of human culture. It carries within it some ideas that I find fascinating, as they spreads ‘out’ or ‘downstream’ into a vast array of branches.
If we dispense with academic & religious arguments about myths & magic, there are all sorts of really interesting connections that can feed us information about this ‘thing itself’. We can also get lost in trivia (see below) if we decide the get all divisive and discursive with it. I prefer to let the river take me where it will, and ride the current to (and from) the source.
Lets look at a few things. The first is fate, or the old Norse 'Wyrd', which can be viewed as the reality that all men die, all things pass. Fate then gets personified, into the Fates or in the Old Norse the Norns, called the Wyrd Sisters. The Fates are sort of a pain in the ass in the Greek sense, as you don’t get to have any influence with them, which is of no use at all so we will leave them there. Instead I will be speaking of the Norns.
This is the form that actually makes sense to me. The Norns, or Wyrd Sisters (Wyrd being Fate in Viking) are threefold. Their names mean Was, Is, and Is To Come. A person has a fate, or Wyrd. And that Wyrd shifts according to his or her actions. Meaning that yeah, a left turn during lunch hour means you are dead and a right turn means you aren’t. Pretty clear, right?
Magically, I think of the Norns as:
Urd, Was - the past, the Ancestors, that which led to the present, and the Underworld (Urd- Ur...right)
Verdandi, Is - the Present, the spell or prayer, the turning point, the Middle World
Skuld, Is To Come - the Future, the destination, the outcome, death, and the Empyrean
So Wyrd is mutable, changeable, changing. Yep, you end up dead, but you have agency until then. Agency is cool. It means that as a human, you get to choose. Now sure, you don’t get to choose everything, and sometimes all of the choices really suck, but still.
Magic, sorcery, and prayer (some schools of thought see a difference, some do not) are all about agency. They are about seeing the reality you are in, and choosing. They state, by their very natures that you can act in your own (or someone else’s, or the whole of the universe's) best interest and have an effect. They are about the effect of what Was and Is on what Is To Come.
Now the actual mechanics of the act will depend on all sorts of things: culture, belief, perception of personal power (or lack thereof), innate talents (or lack thereof), training (or lack thereof), etc etc etc ad infinitum. But the core, the Ur if you will, is an action. It may be physical action, a mental one (as in visualization), language driven, image driven, using physical bases, Congress with Spirits, Gods or Ancestors or more commonly, a variety of these things combined in an artistic way.
I think the artistic aspect is implicit. Human expression is artistic, and what I like to think of as Soul Expression, just sort of happens during magical work. Sometimes it’s all jammed way up the ass of propriety and correspondence and some religion or school or other - but it’s trying to do/be something true and beautiful within all those constraints.
Magic and sorcery in the way I learned it is a bit obsessed by threes. Why? Well, I think sorcery is about the operations of the Wyrd Sisters, who are threefold. It is about how one modifies circumstance in the critical ‘frames’ of one’s existence. If I can change what Is, I can change Is To Come (and if I could change what Was...well that's a whole other can of worms!). I can only determine the likely result of inaction or action based upon knowledge of ‘where I Was’ and ‘where I Is’ now. Two points create a line, follow the line far enough forward, and it finds me dead. But between here and there lie multitudes of possible future Is’s.
Three's allow for triangulation, which as all parent's know, is the best kind of fun. More seriously, with three points you can know where you are, pretty precisely. It's critical part of a functional OODA Loop.
In a FB chat, someone had asked about threes and I answered:
"Also the idea of the power of three can be related to spell craft. There's an approach that as three is a 'changing' number, you bring three things to a spell (or prayer) to produce change. Candle, incense, words. Nail, apple, sigil. Any three elements can be used to move things in a particular direction, by exclusion of the remaining options. So by nature, a fire, earth, air spell will function differently than a earth, air, water spell."
Hekate, she of Three Faces and Three Roads, somehow ended up being the Patron Mother of Witchcraft (one of many), which outside of religious & academic circles is a word usually just meaning ‘sorcery’. Funny that the medium, the Wyrd Sisters are reflected in the Mother, Hekate. And what are the Three Ways (tri-via) but the intersections ofwhat Was, what Is, and what Is To Come?
So if Sorcery is all about Wyrd, and shifting it/influencing it, then I believe that it is the root of all religious impulse, all magical structures, shamanry, and other attempts to modify or influence or more clearly perceive Fate/Wyrd.
So Ur Sorcery is the ‘actual thing’ below all the structures and strictures we place upon it. Which to me is very freeing. It means I can be religious and pick my form or philosophy. Or not. I can just choose to read cards and let them steer my path through the world irrespective of belief. I can also ‘lay out lots’ (sortilege)- pick the runes, cards, symbols & sigils that will steer my course for better ways & brighter days. I can choose a life of contemplation or prayer. All of these are classical, prototypically valid approaches. I can be a Rootworker, or I can just work with roots. I can be a Witch or a Wiccan, a magician or a Magickian. I can be a Buddhist Monk or a lapsed Catholic or serve the Morrigan, or be an atheist who practices magic. All the arguments for or against any of these positions are irrelevant to the actual, primary practice.
All of which is incredibly cool.
Digression one: from the Wikipedia entry on Guna: My notes in italics:
Guṇa (Sanskrit: गुण) means 'string' or 'a single thread or strand of a cord or twine'. In more abstract uses, it may mean 'a subdivision, species, kind, quality', or an operational principle or tendency.Right, and the Wyrd Sisters are also "the Weavers"!
In Samkhya philosophy, there are three major guṇas that serve as the fundamental operating principles or 'tendencies' of prakṛti (universal nature) which are called: sattva guṇa, rajas guṇa, and tamas guṇa. The three primary gunas are generally accepted to be associated with creation (sattva), (Urd) preservation (Verdandi)(rajas), and destruction/transformation (Skuld)(tamas) (see also Aum and Trimurti).The entire creation and its process of evolution is carried out by these three major gunas.(Emphasis mine)
*Additional digression: I’ve always loved the ideas that churn when I think about Hekate and the Norns. The Norns work in the Upper and Lower worlds, they are both Chthonic & Empyrean. They can be seen as Three Roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. The planetary cycles visible to the naked eye allow us to track time- the Was, how it relates to what Is, and give us a map to extrapolate what Is To Come. In another peculiar twist, we have Odin (and I expect I am not the only one who works with both Hekate & Odin) who “hung on the Tree for nine long nights” to gain wisdom. Now if the Wyrd Sisters are the roots of the Tree….are they not then the Tree itself? So perhaps Urd is the roots, Verdandi is the trunk, and Skuld is the branches? Was not Odin’s act to sacrifice Himself to Himself on what is essentially the body of God Herself to gain influence and knowledge of Her/Their actions?