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On Caterpillars and Orlog

Consider the caterpillar.

It begins its caterpillar existence. It inches forward, eats along the way, until its biochemistry signals that the time has come. It forms a chrysalis, grows, and emerges a butterfly. Unless, of course, it’s a moth. We humans – pagans especially, I find – tend to focus on the metamorphosis. We tell our children, you can change like the caterpillar does. We identify with this transformation because it is so incredible. Many a frightful caterpillar emerges a fantastic butterfly. Many moths are gorgeous, too. In short, the image of the caterpillar centers on its becoming.

This essay focuses less on the metamorphic miracle, and more on the fundamentals of caterpillars. A caterpillar – any caterpillar – comes to being after its parents mate. Butterflies lay tens, hundreds, and even thousands of eggs in their brief time on earth. They have to; caterpillar death rates are catastrophic. Broadly speaking, we can consider the caterpillar one lucky bug. Every surviving caterpillar leaves most of its brothers and sisters behind in death, often before their metamorphosis can occur. What we, in our awe at the transformation of this insect, forget is one of the basic caterpillar realities. No matter what, if the caterpillar survives, it becomes a butterfly. More than that – a caterpillar of any given species will become the same butterfly its parents were. It is, in that sense, born to become one thing. Not all caterpillars become butterflies, or moths. That doesn’t make any difference, in the long run, because the point is this: a Morpho peleides caterpillar will become a Blue Morpho butterfly, every single time. Lymantria dispar, on the other hand, will never become a Morpho, for it is only able to be a Gypsy Moth.

This is the function of örlög.

Örlög, Anglicized ‘orlog’, is a compound word made from ör- (German Ur, ‘primal’) and lög (ON ‘laws’). Thus, ‘primal law’ is its most common translation. In the heathen, or Ásatrú, world view, örlög and wyrd are inextricably bound together, and often described as the warp and weft of a weaving, or the river’s bed and its water, or in any of a number of ways. As a whole, the two concepts form the largest component of our religio-cultural understanding, and yet, in many ways they are difficult to comprehend. Until, that is, we consider the caterpillar.

The primal law of a caterpillar is fixed, just as with every other being in the universe. Caterpillars cannot change their wings. Even when the most amazing transformation occurs, örlög is already sealed – what goes into the chrysalis comes out a new form of the same being that entered it. The result is predictable and fixed. We cannot change örlög. It is, quite literally, what we were, are, and are becoming.

Think of it this way. A caterpillar, if it can be said to ‘know’ anything, knows what plants to eat, and what plants not to. It does not need to think at all, really; caterpillars have no need for existential angst. Its butterfly mother laid her eggs on an edible leaf, so why go farther than that? Most humans do not stray far from the lifestyles they are born into, either. A caterpillar eats. That is its primary function. Some stick with plants in the pea family, like the Morpho, and some eat everything they can, and ravage entire forests, like the Gypsy. A caterpillar is not concerned with calorie-counting or nutritional quality. It does not count its carbs. It eats what it eats, in order to grow. Should it live through its caterpillar span, it forms a chrysalis. No caterpillar worries about the size of its chrysalis, or its shape relative to other chrysalises, nor even how it would look if it doesn’t manicure its leaf. The caterpillar simply does what it is intended to do.

Now, any number of events can shape a caterpillar’s life. Bird and bat populations. Droughts. Smog. Human intervention. A stray sneaker-bottom coming down fast from the skies above its caterpillar sight line. An absence of all of those things. Caterpillars have choices, such as they are – it might munch to the leaf on the left, and thus avoid notice. It might creep to the right, along a twig, only to discover there’s no leaf at all. A caterpillar might lift its head and see a sudden, sharp flash of yellow-orange beak, or keep its head down. All of that is true – and all of that is wyrd – and that is another essay. The point of örlög is this: no matter what happens, that caterpillar has no choice in the butterfly it becomes. Örlög sets its caterpillar feet in motion.

We, too, are subject to our örlög. Technology enables humanity with an amazing array of adaptations. We optimize our bodies at the gym. Our homes ward off weather. We have haute couture. We have haute cuisine. What we are, though, are the creatures we are born being. No caterpillar has access to, or really requires, haute anything. A caterpillar’s butterfly parents created its egg. That caterpillar’s parents each had parents. Each of those four parents had their own parents. Caterpillar ancestry expands backward, and funnels forward. The caterpillar is the sum of all its ancestors, and that ancestry forms its örlög.

We are the same. Our örlög is formed for us. It is the fixed point in our universe – our spiritual DNA, if you will – and we cannot change örlög. This is not to say that we cannot have transformations of our own. Some are at least as radical as any caterpillar’s. We are no more certain of our life’s outcome than the caterpillar. We can see and say what we are, though, because our örlög forms the central part of our being. The truth of örlög is the one truth we all live with – some of us may become butterflies. Some may become moths. Some of us might not make it out of our caterpillar selves. But we are what our örlög makes us.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 23rd, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU. Finally, an explanation of the difference between wyrd and orlog that actually makes a deeper level of sense to me. I've been chewing on these concepts for YEARS and can parrot back the difference but I haven't really ever fully gotten the difference. One little essay about caterpillars and I finally feel like I get it.

have I mentioned recently how awesome you are? ;)
Aug. 24th, 2010 02:09 am (UTC)
Awww, you're awesome, too.

I've wrestled with the same problem, for at least as long :) Honestly...I was at the Butterfly Conservatory in Key West, Florida, watching and shooting photos of butterflies, when it hit me. It was one of the biggest 'well, DUH!' moments I've had recently, to tell you the truth.

Next essay (already up in my head, stewing) will be strictly about wyrd. Essay after that will be how they work together. There's something about order (orlog) and chaos (wyrd) forming "existence" in there somewhere, too...

I think - THINK - this might wind up a series of 1,000 word essays covering the Asa-basics. We'll see what happens. MIght be cool to put together enough for a lulu pamphlet/book kind of thing...we'll see.

Meanwhile...shoot this out wherever you want, please! Give due credit (since it's, like, mine, and all, right?) but I am fascinated to see what other people think about this.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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