The Norse embodied the idea of personal luck in a spirit called a hamingja. (It’s pronounced HA-ming-yah; thanks to Alda Villiljós for the correct pronunciation!) Each person has their own hamingja following them around, and just like some people have stronger muscles than others, some people’s hamingjas are stronger than others. Nobody’s hamingja wishes them ill – they’re all trying to be helpful. In fact, the word in Icelandic has come to mean “happiness.” But for some people, the dice just roll a little better and for some people the dice seem to come up snake eyes every time. Some people have a hamingja that can stack luck better than others.

Leif Erikson was also the original European to discover America, nearly 500 years before Columbus. But his colony didn't stick.

A strong hamingja was considered one of the primary qualities in a good leader, because the hamingja of a leader affects everyone who follows him (or her). In fact, as I mentioned in the Freyfaxi post, a chieftain who had too many years of bad luck (proving he had a weak hamingja) was sometimes expected to offer himself up as a sacrifice so the village could find a new leader with a stronger one.

On the other hand, a leader with a particularly strong hamingja could lend it out to other people. For example, if somebody was going to war, a king could send his personal hamingja out into battle with the general. The belief was so strong that even into the Christian era there are examples of it happening. In Eric the Red’s Saga, chapter five, King Olaf sends Leif (Eric’s son) to Greenland to preach Christianity and promises him he’ll have good luck. Leif says that will only be the case if, “eg njóti yðvar við” – “I carry yours with me.” They don’t call it a hamingja in the saga; they simply call it “giftu” – good luck or fortune – but the idea of a king loaning out his luck is still there (granted, Leif was a recent convert to the new faith!).

It was also believed that at death a person could choose to pass their hamingja on to their children or grandchildren, much like any other inheritance. In a reversal of this idea, parents would sometimes name a child after a famous ancestor in the hopes the ancestor’s powerful hamingja would attach itself to their namesake.

According to the Lore, magic can be used to damage a person’s hamingja, leaving them unlucky at an inopportune time. An example of this comes from the legends of Grettir, a heroic outlaw from Iceland. Thorbjorn was trying to bring him to justice, and according to Grettir’s Saga, chapters 78-82, Thorbjorn’s foster-mother cursed Grettir’s hamingja with words and a rune-spell. Because his hamingja was damaged, Grettir injured himself while chopping wood and the injury festered. He was rendered so weak that when Thorbjorn brought a band of men to kill him, Grettir was unable to effectively defend himself. The witch knew her foster-son couldn’t take Grettir in a fair fight, so she damaged Grettir’s hamingja, and the bad luck that followed gave Thorbjorn the advantage he needed.

I’ve been thinking about luck lately. My husband and I have had a very lucky few months where things have been falling our way, at least in a business and social context. I’ve always had the temptation to fear good fortune as the top of a sine wave – that things are going well now, so we should sit carefully and wait for the inevitable downward slide. But the concept of a hamingja says that’s not the case. That Luck, while whimsical, is not completely chaotic and definitely not cyclical. By making good connections with others, including our ancestors, and by behaving with courage and perseverance, we can strengthen our hamingja and increase our chances of maintaining good luck. Then if we, like good kings of old, use our hamingja for the good of our community instead of merely personal gain, we can strengthen everyone’s wyrd, increase frith, and make the world, or at least our corner of it (which is all anyone has any real control over) a better place.

I like this. Heathen philosophy does not deny that there are many things in life out of our control. A person’s orlog (wyrd that applies to one person as opposed to the whole universal fabric of it, sometimes looked at as “destiny”) is started by other people. Throughout life our orlogs are affected by both their interconnectedness with the orlogs of others as well as random acts of nature and happenstance. However, we are not expected to suffer patiently through trials or to accept that life spins some fatalistic dance and we have no say in the choreography. Instead, we are expected to forge a viable path through the strands of wyrd, to connect deeply into it by building communities of frith, and to look at our luck not as an alien force that acts on us, but as a part of who we are.

How’s your relationship with your hamingja? And what is your philosophy about how luck or fate works in a person’s life?

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+ Featured Image: Bad Dice by Matěj Baťha