When I first heard the unofficial slogan for Austin, "Keep Austin Weird", I was turned off. The word "weird" had too many negative connotations for me. But, then I remembered an old mythology that I had written about in March, 1989 for Creativity!, a now defunct IBM magazine*. And, some conversations with Natalie Shell (http://www.natalieshell.com/) helped connect the two concepts together and I decided to do some further research. I now understand that the concept of "wyrd" is exactly right for Austin. What do you think?
Once upon a time
A great tree grew in the earth by a pool of water that was spring fed from the bottom.
The tree was known as the "World Tree" in some customs, "Tree of Life", or "Word Tree" in others.
The pool of water nourished the tree’s roots.
The tree dropped water from its leaves back into the pool.
The pool was known as the "Well of Wyrd".
The pool was tended by three women whose names meant:
- All that has gone before,
- How the past shapes the being now, and
- That which should become.
The "Well of Wyrd" is layered with past life, represented by the dew from the tree.
And, is constantly being replenished and stirred by the spring at its bottom.
Those who drank from the pool gained wisdom.
The Anglo-Saxon word "wyrd" is derived from a verb, "weordan", to become, which in turn is derived from the Indo-European root "uert" meaning to turn. Wyrd literally means that which has become.
In a wider sense, "wyrd" refers to how past actions continually affect and condition the future. It also stresses the interconnected nature of all actions, and how they influence each other. In metaphysical terms, "wyrd" embodies the concept that everything is turning into something else while both being drawn towards and moving out from its own origins. "Wyrd" can be thought of as a process that continually works the patterns of the past through the patterns of the present into the patterns of the future.
By the way, Shakespeare borrowed from this mythology when he created the three witches in Macbeth:
"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble."
The cauldron was the well of wyrd. Stirring the well of wyrd created chaos. And, the three women became witches, who were weird. Hence our modern connotations.
The concept of "wyrd" is complex and deeply ecological. The system of the well and the tree is obviously ecological with respect to the physical world. But, by deeply ecological, I mean that it also applies not only to the physical system, but the social, spiritual and information systems as well. It is "glocal" as well involving the individual and all of humanity. Our past, ancestral and experiential, affects us continually. Yet there is the interplay of our personal wyrd and the universal wyrd and the role we must play in creating our own destiny. We interact with that which has become to create personal patterns that affect and are reflected in the universal patterns. These universal patterns then exert forces that shape our lives.
The patterns created by individuals at a certain time and place create the sprit of the community that shapes the beliefs and behavior of everyone in the community. Every action we take, or don’t take, will have implications for own future choices as well as the future choices of others in the community. Therefore, we have ethical obligations to think carefully about the possible consequences of everything that we do. We are affected and constrained by our past actions, but we are constantly creating what should become through our reaction to present situations.
The three young women tending the tree and the well don’t just simply represent the past, present and future. They stand for:
all that has gone before
the process by which what has gone before and its bonds and connections shape the being that is now
the obligations that exist between people, that must be fulfilled, that shape the present being into what should become
Barton Springs Pool is our Well of Wyrd archetype. It is a physical manifestation of the process of wyrd. We get constant reminders of our past actions and their impacts and constraints on the pool. It is spring feed, but our present state of being produces water that flows into the pool, often polluting it. Dedicated people have fought hard to maintain the obligations we have to each to each other and the future to at least keep it as it now is. As an archetype of our community and its spirit, the pool should be protected, sustained and nurtured. It’s no wonder that people who swim in the pool regularly speak of it as a spiritual experience. It is a spiritual place.
If it is safe to drink the water from the pool, drinking of it should provide wisdom if one reflects on why the water is safe to drink.
I don’t think we’ve done as well on the social, spiritual and informational aspects of our wyrd. We do have a history center, but what about modern history? I don’t think anyone is studying the process of how we have become who we are. And, I’m equally sure that no one is thinking about the network of obligations we have to each other and how that should shape our future.
Keeping Austin wyrd has to become more than an unofficial slogan. It has to become how we perceive, think and act.
* I republished this essay on my blog (http://www.innovationtravelogue.blogspot.com/200)6_11_01_archive.html).