Under the great sycamore tree in Berlin, a romance which had not happened, still did not. The lease was to end on the apartment that I’d stayed a month in. My money had run out and here’s me not too enthusiastic to make more from the streets of this city. Stay here? On the couches of friends – for what? My trip had sought the glamours of companionship, artistic fraternity, inspiration, romance. Should I persist to chase tattered illusions? In Scotland I could return to friends, a cheap rent, possibilities.
If I only get to tell you one thing, remember this: ‘weird’ is an old Scottish word. It can now mean a million things. Six hundred years ago it meant something only in Scots. It defined someone who could control the fates. A ‘weird’ or ‘wyrd’ individual could talk with the forces that wove fortune. The word came into common English via Shakespeare’s witchy Scottish play, and his witches, the Weird Sisters. Then the word gathered tongues to become what we mean by it today.
THE WIND SAYS MOVE
There was a big sycamore tree in the courtyard of the tenement in Berlin. The flat’s patio door opened to the base of it. I stood staring at its leaves that laid slack against a still summer’s day. The leaves drooped like open palms of green hands. I thought about whether to leave Germany. Without preamble a skirl of wind arrived and blurred the branches of the tree, then left just as quickly. The leaves shoogled back to their stillness. I went back inside and booked a plane. Two days later I was back in Scotland. I went to a festival to work with my friends. A romance with my future girlfriend began that weekend.
I have not always believed in portents. Though it is not belief that has brought them to me. Not an idea adopted like that season’s fashion, tried with apprehension and found to be acceptable for a while. I believe in portents in the same manner that I believe in friends. The knowledge of who an individual is, and what they bring, happens gradually. Trust is learned. So it has been with portents. A gradual familiarising. So it becomes that one day the wind blows through the trees and you sense a message is being spoken to you.
In the pub, they each had ideas. Sly or accusatory, doleful and cynically they would roll them out: a parade of potent predictions. Ideas would pour from them, and posture for position as most plausible.
The future happened faster now. These imaginations chattered on a global platform. Predictions became spells that caused an idea to zoom through the present. Predictions gained vitality by virility. The futures that some had come to believe in, began to take place. Global pandemics, new weather, authoritarianism.
Today we do not talk of the fates. We do not talk of our part in a wider, wilder world of untameable forces in such a way. Cleverness has labelled the parts of our physical reality in an attempt to reduce all objects into smaller parts. They find the things that make up things, and give them names. Then find the things that make up those things, and give them more names. Often the names that are given are those of the scientist whose aim was to find something left unlabelled. The result is that human scientific knowledge reads like a great school jotter of graffiti tags. Read the names on the periodic table and the elements of the solar system. In female anatomy, there is now, and forevermore will be, the Pouch of Douglas (named by James Douglas, d. 1705).
This attempt to name new parts of reality happened whilst old voices were silenced. Fate and such were dismissed by the patriarchal powers of the Enlightenment as ‘old wives tales’. Those who persisted in resisting were executed as witches. By silencing the knowledge of women’s voices and weird voices, huge harm was caused.
Our current vocabulary shies from the unmeasurable. That which has no mechanical instrument to sing out its terms is judged silent. The world as we speak of it now is populated only by measured knowns.
To talk to fate, as the Weird sisters did, was to talk with something unaccountable. The knowledge of the Enlightenment did away with the unaccountable, the folk gods, the superstitions. The enlightened scientists drove quickly into a single furrow of the darkness, pulling modern society along behind them. Now we sit in the dark woods, learning to listen again, learning to be weird.