San Francisco loves its fairs and festivals! My personal favorite among them is How Weird, during which several blocks of the city’s Financial District centered around Howard and 2nd Streets are transformed into a celebration of all things creative, trippy, fun, and weird. Though it normally would have occurred the first weekend in May, it has been postponed like everything else. (The good news is they are having an online livestream version Sunday, May 3rd from 11:11am ’til late!) In its honor, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite fun facts: the origin of the word “weird”!
The word “weird” is currently used to describe something that is unusual, out-there, funky, strange, wacky, odd… you catch my drift! But did you know that this word used to have an entirely different meaning? Ancient Germanic traditions believed in the concept of the Three Fates, three goddesses of fate weaving the world’s destiny. Fate was called Wurd by Germans, and Wyrd by the Anglo-Saxons, meaning “to be, to become.” In Old English this was known as Werd or Wyrd. This became the medieval word that originally meant destiny: weird.
The Three Fates were often pictured as weaving or spinning the threads of fate or destiny. Weaving and spinning as magic to influence the course of fate has also been practiced by witches since ancient times. “Weirding” became a term associated with the magical acts of witches such as honoring nature and performing healing spells, and Weirds became a synonym for Witches. This association was even referenced in Shakespeare’s MacBeth, by the appearance of the Three Weird Sisters.
So how did a word that originally meant “destiny” go through such a strange change? Unfortunately, when Christian missionaries began to arrive in pagan Europe, this term was demonized and distorted along with so many other pagan traditions. To discourage people from getting “weird” – aka involved with worship of the earth rather than the Christian God, the term was used in a negative context and has since become synonymous with strangeness like it is today.
I hope you enjoyed that witchy fun fact – it is one of my favorites! My source for this was Max Dashu’s Witches and Pagans, which is definitely worth checking out for more juicy tidbits of magically historical knowledge.
Please find a safe and fun way to get weird this weekend! I’ll be weirding out in all the strange and magical ways! Wishing wonderful weirdness to all!