Today, when people use the word luck, they often mean “chance.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the official, modern definitions of “luck” are:
- a force that brings good fortune or adversity
- the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual
- favoring chance
However, the ancient Germanics’ concept of luck (hamingja in Old Norse) is very different from the modern concept. To them, luck is an intangible quality that everyone possesses in an indeterminable amount. Every person’s luck is different; in the past, a king’s luck was considerably greater than a farmer’s luck. When people come into conflict with each other, in battles of either physical might or wit, their luck battle on a spiritual level. The victor is said to possess greater luck than the loser. Following that train of thought, great luck often goes hand-in-hand with a great reputation, and people will be eager to weave their luck together with others whose luck is also good. People generally will not associate with a person who is luckless or possesses a lot of ill luck, for fear that their own luck will be impacted negatively.
If a person’s luck is great enough (for example, a king’s luck), they can lend it out to other individuals, to help bring success to endeavors. This may be the origin of the phrase, “Good luck,” as in, “Good luck go with you.”
But what is luck?
Many things make up the totality of one’s luck:
- the quality of one’s character (morals, ethics, etc.)
- the strength of one’s frith-bonds with one’s kin
- physical strength and agility
- individual will, to an extent (see below for further explanation)
- the socioeconomic circumstances of one’s birth
- one’s skills and talents
A person can possess great luck in one skill or quality while simultaneously possessing little luck in another. For example, a person can have great luck in gardening: they will always receive a bounty of produce, and their plants are always healthy and strong. However, that same person can have little luck in terms of being an office worker. They might have trouble understanding modern corporate culture, lack the charisma to speak at team meetings, or make a lot of mistakes trying to create a spreadsheet. The ancient Germanic would suggest that said person earn their living as a gardener or farmer instead of in an office.
Luck is also hereditary, meaning that every person is born possessing the same luck of their forefathers. However, luck has a certain level of elasticity. One of the most complex concepts of luck is that it can be influenced by the strength of a person’s will; at the same time, a person’s will is subject to the fixed and limited nature of one’s luck.
Luck in modern Heathenry
Start thinking about your world and the events within it in the context of this new definition of luck. It is impossible to try and quantify your own luck. Instead, think about the areas of life in which you might possess great luck. Include what you know about your ancestors and parents, and how their luck contributes to your own. When starting new projects or embarking on new endeavors, understand that your luck directly influences the outcome, and that the outcome will directly influence your luck. Keep in mind, too, that your reputation is a reflection on your luck — whether positively (possessing great luck) or negatively (possessing little luck or no luck at all).
- “The Norse Concept of Luck” — Bettina Sejbjerg Sommer