Threads of Wyrd and Scyld: Weaving a Ninefold Rite of Life-Renewal

By Winifred Hodge

Speaking Your Intent - Step 1
Paying Your Shild - Step 2
Weaving Anew - Step 3

This article serves two purposes. One is to discuss and illustrate aspects of the workings of Wyrd and Scyld, in the context of how one might apply such knowledge in one's own life. This discussion is based on Heathen lore, ancient and modern, and also on my experiences and understanding brought about by working with the Wyrdae and the Wells in my own life. This can be seen as an exercise in, and an example of, "applied Heathen ethics." As such, I hope it will prove of interest as a discussion and illustration of certain Heathen philosophical, religious and ethical principles, even for those who do not wish to use the rite itself or who do not necessarily agree with this application of the principles.

The second purpose of the article is to provide a specific ritual based on this knowledge, which can be used to help one "turn one's life around." When you find yourself in a position where bad luck, mistakes, wrong deeds, problems of personal history, or other kinds of unhappy situations are constraining your ability to live a worthy life, this ritual can help you redesign your life and to offer a better life-thread to be woven on Wyrd's loom. Or, you may simply feel the need for a "spiritual housecleaning" and a fresh start in your life: this ritual can also serve that purpose. Please keep in mind that there is not enough strength in the words or ritual actions alone to effect such a change. The change must come about within yourself, affecting your understanding of and intentions toward yourself and the world around you, especially with respect to the Wyrdae or Norns, and your own wyrd.

This ritual is designed for followers of the faith of Heathenism or Asatru, also known as Germanic or Norse paganism, or Odinism. To enact this rite effectively, one should be familiar with and accepting of the world-view and beliefs of this religion. Heathen faith should be an integral part of one's life, in order for the ritual to make sense and be meaningful. A Bookhoard of references pertaining to the beliefs on which this rite is founded is provided at the end of this article, for those who wish a deeper understanding of the context of the ritual. If you are considering using this rite, you are encouraged to familiarize yourself with some or all of this material, if you are not already familiar with it.

One reason the ritual provided here is called a "Ninefold Rite" of renewal is that it is intended to reach all the different parts of our body-soul complex. The prose explanations provided in the discussion are for the sake of our conscious, rational minds, and are also meant to help strengthen and direct our will and intentionality. The "spells" or poetic portions of the ritual are directed toward the trans-rational parts of our souls, that deal less with logic and words, and more with imagery and symbolism, mystical consciousness, and hidden memory. The actions that are called for in the spells bring in the participation of the physical body--our lich. Thus, with rational prose, mytho-imagic poetry, and physical action, all the parts of the body-soul complex are brought to bear in concert toward one's intention. If you can make up your own tune or chant for the spell parts of the ritual, and if you wish to add more poetry of your own composition or selection that is meaningful to you, this will further help the self-tuning and focusing process. These actions of weaving together the different parts parts of oneself and focusing them on one's purpose is a personal enactment or mirroring of the weaving of the manifold strands of Wyrd in the world.

The second reason this is called a "Ninefold Rite" is because it involves three Wells, three Wyrd Sisters, and three steps. The Wells are the Well of Wyrd, Mimir's Well, and Hvergelmir. The Well of Wyrd holds the pattern of That-Which-Is, created by the strands of all significant deeds and events that have occurred, including your own--the orlay or orlog you have laid in the Well. All that is now coming into being is influenced by the pattern of Wyrd that has already been laid. To change the influence of Wyrd for the better, it is necessary for you to add another deed--a life-changing deed and a deed of might--to this pattern, which will hopefully help to turn That-Which-Is-Becoming in a better direction for you.

Hvergelmir is the churning cauldron, the whirling source of the great Wells: a mighty entity that is beyond any close-up human perception and knowledge. I believe, myself, that the whelming and stirring of this well is powered by the perpetual creative force that occurs when the ice and fire meet in Ginnungap--the chasm of unbeing within which the worlds are born. I think that Hvergelmir can be a source of randomness, newness and change, that can sometimes appear and surge up through the other Wells, subtly affecting their contents and patterns.

Mimir's Well is the collective memory of all the folk--the collective unconscious, to use another frame of reference. It contains all wisdom, knowledge and memory that have been. Woden's eye lies in this well--the price for his draught of wisdom from it. Folk go to this well to seek wisdom and understanding, and in turn, wisdom, memory and understanding that we gain during the course of our lives eventually finds its way into the treasure-hoard of Mimir's Well. Gaining even a small amount of wisdom and transpersonal memory from Mimir's Well often allows one to better understand and interpret the events and conditions of one's life, and casts the whole pattern of it into a clearer perspective.

Wyrd or Urdh is the Norn who rules the Well of Wyrd and That-Which-Is, creating a pattern out of all our deeds and events that shapes the process of becoming. Werthende or Verdhandi is the Norn who presides over That-Which-Is-Becoming, the very instant when a being or a deed comes into existence. Scyld or Skuld spins the thread that is formed from the "shild," the moral debt or obligation, that we incur by our choices, commitments and deeds or lack thereof, in our lives, current and past, and sometimes indirectly from the lives of any whose wyrd has been woven together with ours through kinship or oathbonds. The shild can be of a positive nature, as would be contained in the main (soul-power) and the luck that are generated by an oath given and kept or a good deed done. Or, it can be of a negative nature, such as the moral debt (including loss of main and luck) generated by an oath forsworn or an ill deed done. This article will primarily focus on the effects of negative shild, or moral debt. Some of the workings, effects and benefits of positive shild, leading to stronger mains and good wyrd, are discussed in my article on "Oaths: What They Mean and Why They Matter" (see Bookhoard).

Shild-threads are attached to the deed/being that arises in the moment of Becoming, and again at any time during its span of existence that the being/deed generates shild. Through these threads, Scyld tugs upon that deed/being, affecting its path and outcome, according to the shild that has accumulated from its past. More shild may be added, strengthening the thread, as the being/deed continues its existence. Looking at this effect from the outside, it may seem to us that Scyld is "the future," inevitable and set, but this is not necessarily the case. It is often possible to pay at least some of our negative shild in some way, which then reduces the strength of the shild-thread that tugs at our wyrd, leaving us with more freedom of choice for our future directions.

Thus, if we hope to create a change in our wyrd, we must first settle any shild--any moral debt or obligation--that our deeds or lack of deeds may have brought about. Or, it may be that we have made an oath, promise or commitment, that has not been fulfilled, and which we can now determine to fulfill. When this has been done, there is a greater degree of freedom, an opportunity, that opens up out of the pattern of That-Which-Is, just as it is shading into That-Which-Is-Becoming. If there are no threads of shild, or fewer, thinner ones, attached to this new Becoming, it is more free to move in a different direction, according to one's will. This degree of freedom that comes about, seized with true-hearted intent and strength of soul, offers a chance to turn one's wyrd toward the better. It is not complete freedom or randomness, indeed: all that comes about is shaped by the patterns of Wyrd that have already been laid, and this pattern cannot be torn out or uprooted. But the beginnings of a new pattern can often be woven onto the tail-ends of the old pattern, if one has the insight and determination to go about it rightly. The steps of this ritual are intended to help guide one in this process.

You will notice that in the final part of the spell associated with each step is the process of "turning." There is deep meaning associated with this process. The word "wyrd" itself is derived from an ancient germanic word meaning "to turn, to wind." In a rite of renewal, what one wishes to do is turn away from the old, negative patterns and ways, and turn toward a new and better path. Spinning--the process of turning, twisting, winding raw fiber into thread--is one of the mightiest deeds of power and magic recognized by our Heathen forebears. Spinning was thought to influence wyrd itself. Even today, many folktales survive in which a spindle and/or thread plays a fateful role in the story, or appears in the tale as an indicator that mighty magic or mystery is about to occur. The inclusion of the "turning verse" in each spell of this ritual is intended to align you with this mystery of turning, of winding wyrd. You should physically perform the action of turning around as you speak or chant the verse, holding in your focused mind a perception of the "power of turning" on all the planes of existence as you do so. Imagine yourself as a spindle, and hold the image of the Tree itself: the Spindle of Wyrd, the Axis of the Worlds, around which they turn and have their being. You may continue to repeat the turning verse, until you feel that the stated intention of the verse has been brought about. (It is advisable to turn around slowly, however, to avoid dizziness!) Alternatively, if you have the skill, you could use a distaff and spindle to spin thread as you chant the turning verses.

Step One: Speaking Your Intent

It is best to act out each of these steps to the extent possible. Try to find a body of water, a hole in the ground, a cave, a cliffside, or some other location that could symbolize the Wells for this step. If you have to, dig a hole yourself, or find some other creative alternative. Before you begin the rite, braid, spin or twist for yourself a cord or thread in colors that symbolize for you what it is you want to change or overcome in your life. It could be one or more deeds you did that were wrong or badly mistaken, a negative attitude, a run of bad luck, failure or neglect of some obligation or duty, some part of yourself that has developed in undesirable ways even if that was not all your own doing, or whatever else is wrong. As you braid or twist your cord, put into the cord all the feelings and consquences that arise from the aspect you are trying to change. Chant over your cord, shout at it (in private!), cry tears on it, grind it in your teeth, tie it in knots, stomp on it, make a small cut or needleprick and put some blood on it, carry it around with you and live with it for awhile, do a runeworking with it--do whatever you need to, to make sure you've really inserted the negative energy you're trying to change, into the cord! This is no longer just a plain old thread, but something a good deal more.

As you begin the rite, go to the place you have chosen at a time that is meaningful to you. Enact the rite by holding the cord tightly in one hand, then pulling it out slowly with difficulty and force, using your other hand. Take as long as you need, repeating the verse and/or adding more poetry to it, to visualize and feel this drawing-out from yourself of the aspects you want to change. If there is pain, anger, or other ill feelings associated with the drawing-out process, allow yourself to feel them fully. Throw the cord into the water, hole, or wherever you have chosen, representing Hvergelmir.

Then as you chant the words aloud, envision the transformation of this thread as it passes through the Wells: its unraveling and unwinding in the violent churning of Hvergelmir, then the shredded strands floating up from Hvergelmir into Mimir's quiet cavern-well, there to combine with strands of wisdom and memory from the past, and begin to reassemble itself into a new configuration. (If you are scientifically inclined, you can envision this as sort of a metaphysical "recombinant DNA" process, with the shredded strands representing bits of DNA from an outworn chromosome, the wisdom and memory from Mimir's Well as the genes that guide the re-assembly, and the new configuration being a new chromosome with different characteristics, that will guide the development of new soul-qualities in you!)

Pause as long as you wish between the phrases of the spell, to meditate on the images that come to mind. When you come to the turning-chant, physically turn yourself around. ("Hvergelmir" is pronounced "VAIR-gel-meer," with the addition of a strong, huffing H-sound at the beginning. Or if it is hard to say that way, you can leave the "H" off.) Repeat the spell as many times as you wish, perhaps with the addition of other poetic lines of your choice, until you feel a sense of completion and closure for this step of the rite.

Words to speak or chant:

Pull out and cast off cursed woe-working threads,
Thrown to Hvergelmir's spinning deeps:
Torn asunder.....  

New-shaped to ripple and shimmer
Through Mimir's moss-cool cavern,
Through World-Mind's echoing dimness,
Spinning new wisdom out of ancient strands.
Turn and turn again,
Turn and turn again,
Bind off old threads
Wind and weave anew.

Step 2: Paying Your Shild

This step must be taken with the utmost seriousness, taking all the time you need to do it right. It could take weeks, months, or more, if your shild is heavy. Even if the thing that is wrong, that you are trying to change, seems not to be your fault or not entirely your fault, it is still important to look for traces of shild, from this life, past lives, or from the orlay of your kin. The paying of shild is in part the great deed you will do, to repattern the weavings of wyrd in your life. (The other part of the deed is your firm intention to change your life, and then doing it.) Try to stand outside yourself, looking at the situation objectively so that you place neither too much nor too little responsibility on yourself for the thing you are trying to change. If you have a wise and trusted friend who is not too closely involved in the situation, you might seek this person's rede to make sure you are taking a well-balanced view of the circumstances.

Meditate on the situation, letting your mind roam back to the roots of what has happened in your life, and follow those threads through your life until you understand at least the basic nature of the causes-and-effects that brought you where you are. Mentally placing yourself in Mimir's cavern as you do this, seated next to his dark well, may help to infuse ancient wisdom and the knowledge of your forebears in your process of life-examination. You may also wish to make an offering to the Norns, Mimir, and/or to any of our Goddesses or Gods whom you think could best help you do this well, and ask their aid: their clear sight and fair judgement to guide you.

Two runes can be of special help in your efforts here: Nauthiz or "Need," and Fehu or "Fee." Strive to recognize the shape and nature of what is needed, and what fee would balance or redress that need. Fee often can balance need: this is the principle that lies behind wergild--the fee paid for damages done to person or property, or even to one's dignity in some cases. This principle in fact goes much deeper into the metaphysical realms, having to do with the balance of maegen ("main") or spiritual power between persons and other beings and processes, and how injury, damage or insult throws the balance off. Wergild was not intended as a punishment per se, but rather as a way to redress an imbalance of maegen-distribution between one person and another, caused by their deeds and injuries. This is why our forebears generally required wergild regardless of whether the injury was caused deliberately or accidentally, or even completely unknowingly. Fault, blame, and punishment were not the basic issue, nor the primary reason for requiring wergild, at least not during Heathen times. Rather, wergild was intended to right the imbalance of spiritual power--and also the dishonor--caused by the injury, however that injury came about.

The more humane and less socially-disruptive concept of wergild gradually replaced the older idea that blood-vengeance, not payment, was the only way to redress such an imbalance-- although staunch, old-style Heathens such as Egil Skallagrimson steadily and scornfully dismissed the idea that wergild could ever suffice in place of blood-vengeance! (Any detailed discussion of these principles is somewhat beyond the scope of this article. The chapters on Honor, and Vengeance, in Volume I of Vilhelm Groenbech's "Culture of the Teutons," offer a good discussion of this whole concept. Aspects of it are also discussed in several chapters of Thaet Angelseaxisce Ealdriht Handbook, listed in the Bookhoard.) In our own lives, if the fee owed is not honored, if shild is not acknowledged and addressed, then the heavy weight of need generated by shild can throw the whole pattern of one's wyrd out of kilter, causing many distressing effects in one's life.

Use the words of the rite, below, to focus your meditation and thought, until it becomes clear to you whether you have any unmet obligations, or whether any shild is owed, and if so what an appropriate wergild or payment of the shild would be. Usually, the best form in which to make the payment is one which is as much like the cause of the shild as possible (though you may wish to multiply your fee severalfold greater than the shild you perceive, in accordance with the Heathen thew or virtue of generosity). For example, if you caused someone to lose something they valued (material or non-material), try to find something to give them that they will value as much as, or preferably more than, that which they lost. If you harmed someone--whether intentionally or not (you still have responsibility, even if you do not have "fault" or "blame,")-- find some way to be of service to them or to someone else who could represent them.

You cannot always reach the one who was harmed, and may sometimes need to find a logical substitute. For example, if you harmed or neglected a child who is now grown or is unreachable, then do something good for another child. (This could be anything from becoming a Big Brother/ Big Sister, to donating good books to a children's library, orphanage or hospital.) If bad luck which has been plaguing you has made the world seem an ugly place, create beauty in some way that will bring joy to others--to humans and/or other beings such as landwights or housewights. (Not uncommonly, "bad luck" can be caused by offending or neglecting some of the other beings who inhabit the worlds with us, but whose presence is often not obvious to us.)

It is not always possible to make up for some harm you did to the same person or entity to which you caused the harm. This is especially true if the shild attached to your life was originally generated by some ill-fated pattern in your family line, that might go back many generations. For example, some of my family's genealogical reseach indicates that I might be descended from Charlemagne. (Hopefully, this will prove to be untrue!) As was pointed out to me by one Heathen, only half-jokingly, it may take the efforts of a good number of Heathen generations of Charlemagne's offspring, to repay or rebalance the enormous shild he earned for his family line by his treatment of Heathen folk during his lifetime! As a more modern example, it is unfortunately all too easy to find ill-fated, shild-generating patterns running through a family line, such as generation after generation of spouse or child abusers, as well as less lurid but still harmful patterns such as selfishness and neglect of one's proper obligations in life.

Thus, it may be that the shild that is unbalancing your life was not even earned by you, or not entirely by you, in addition to the fact that you may not be able to reach whoever was harmed in order to repay them. And, easily enough, if the shild is something that runs in your family line, you may well have been the recipient of harm yourself, in addition to owning your share of the family shild for harm done to others. Seems a bit unfair, on first glance, does it not? Sort of a double-whammy situation, a nasty tangle of wyrd- and shild-threads. Yet there is no denying that--fault or no fault--if this is indeed the case then this load of shild is a burden on your life and your wyrd. It should be addressed with courage and determination, in order to make room for a new and better strand to be cast onto the loom of Wyrd to improve your lot and that of the generations to come after you.

If you yourself suffered harm for which you also own some of the kin-shild, try to find another family member for whom you could do something good--especially a child, for whom you might try to break or mitigate the family pattern of ill before it is ingrained in the child. (It is also easier not to blame a child for any kin-grudges that you might hold, in contrast to dealing with older members of the family.) Regard this relative whom you are benefiting as being a substitute for yourself, when you were harmed in the past. This way, your chosen substitute will be gaining payment for the injury done to you, at the same time that you are paying off your share of the kin-shild, thus evening out two harmful imbalances in one fell swoop!

Rest assured that this would be an authentically traditional Heathen way of dealing with your dilemma, if you have such a dilemma. Elder Heathens regularly acted on the assumption that kinfolk were very acceptable substitutes for each other when it came to vengeance, paying or accepting wergild, erasing dishonor, and other ways of rebalancing their situation. This makes it very clear that they did not regard wergild, or even vengeance, as being "punishment." What would be the point of punishing someone who did not even commit the ill deed--who perhaps was totally unaware of it, or even tried to prevent it? But since kinfolk could stand for each other, then when they were trying to rebalance the situation--the loss of maegen, of honor, usw--one kinsman was as good as another. It did not really matter who paid, as long as somebody did. And--bottom line in terms of Heathen belief--one way or another, Scyld received her due if this was done: balance was restored and the shild did not hang on and on to plague everybody.

So, what you are seeking to do in this step of the ritual is rebalance something that is out of balance, out of kilter: rebalance "you" with "the world" so you are in right relationship with the world again. This needs to be done whether the lack of balance seems to be your fault or not, or even if it is not clear whose fault it is, or whether it is anyone's fault. Even if you can not figure out the cause and effect, or who owns the obvious responsibility for the situation, usually an act of rebalancing will address the problem. If after all your careful thought and meditation, you still seem to have no reason to pay anyone anything as wergild, then make a gift to the world out of sheer Heathen generosity. Imagine that you are sitting on one side of a balance-scale. What should go in the dish on the other side of the scale, to "balance" you? Try out various gifts to see which one looks or feels right in your imagination. A gift could be a deed of service, a donation or contribution, a work of your own craft or art, some gesture of generosity of spirit. It could be given to someone close to you, or to a needy stranger, to the environment or the landwights, to your community, to one God or Goddess or to all of them....the possibilities are endless!

Seek and use the inner core of your healthiest instincts, your inner sense of rightness, to decide what is the best gift or wergild to give. You may want to make use of some art of divination, such as runecasting or spaeworking, to help you seek this knowledge. You can use the first two verses of the following spell to help you focus your meditation and determination on this work, repeating them as long as needed, and adding more to the verses if you wish. Then, repeat them together with the last verse (the turning spell) a final time, to mark your deed when the work of this step is done. If you complete this step of shild-knowing and shild-paying, truly you will have done a great deed to mark and honor, worthy of a song!

Seek now to know what's owed;
Scyld's rede lies deep and cold.
Nor think to stint her meed:
Give fee to balance need.
All wergild find
In coin or kind:
Scyld cleanses heart and mind.
Turn and turn again,
Turn and turn again,
So Scyld is paid her due:
Now wind and weave anew.

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Step 3: Weaving Anew

Now you have cleared the decks of your life, to the extent you can do so: you have consciously sought an understanding of your wyrd, and have addressed to the best of your ability any shild that might be owing. These actions certainly do not erase your wyrd as a whole--one would not wish this to happen in any case. To be wyrdless is simply not to exist as a conscious, responsible being. But your actions have helped to "clean out the closet," so to speak, and make room for some new, brighter threads to be cast onto the loom of Wyrd. Be aware that these new threads will of course become a part of your wyrd, so think carefully about your new directions and choices, seeking always the most honorable and virtuous path according to Heathen thew (virtues and values). It is helpful to open your mind to godly guidance through meditation and perhaps an offering, and you could again make use of some form of divination, to give you indications for good choices. Your struggle, your effort to change your life, is itself a deed--a mighty one--laid in the Well or cast onto the loom to affect your wyrd. This deed of change should itself be done rightly and truly, as the first of the new and better threads to be attached to your wyrd.

Werthende, as the Norn of Becoming, helps shape your present actions and decisions, and her help and blessing should be sought--perhaps with an offering, certainly with your acknowledgement and thanks. Scyld has helped you, in her often painful way, by forcing you to clean out and rebalance that which needed such action. Though dealing with these requirements is not pleasant, it is necessary to do so. Keeping the fibers of the multiverse well-strung, taut and properly balanced, is Scyld's task. Difficult though we might find the experience as individuals, the well-being of the multiverse as a whole depends on her actions of balancing, of getting the tensions just right. As you lay the new strands of your worthy deeds into the hands of the Wyrdae, ask Wyrd herself to take them up and weave them into the fabric of That-Which-Is, continuing the process of wyrd and of life.

As your final act, now braid, spin or twist a new cord, symbolizing the new strand of wyrd that you want to attach to your life-patterns. Speak or chant the first verse of the final spell as you wind this new cord, pausing to meditate as needed:

New patterns out of ancient Wyrd-might flow; On darker web, now weave a brighter hue. From pain and struggle bring forth a new birth-- Bid Werthende's blessing on the new strand's worth.

Then, place the cord into a bowl of water. If possible, the bowl should be beautiful and/ or of special meaning to you--perhaps an heirloom of your family or a gift from someone you care about. You might wish to draw the water from a stream, lake or well, if one is available. Or, you could use bottled water from a spring. Place the cord in the bowl as you begin the second part of the spell, meditating on the actions of the Wells. Pause for as long as you wish between the phrases, or repeat them, to let the meanings and images sink in. Feel deep in yourself the strength of your intention to turn your life around, fed by the power of the Wells, as you reach in and draw forth your cord: washed, blessed, and charged with the might of the Wells. Then, perform your final turnings, turning toward a new and better wyrd and pattern for your life.

Three Wells draw in
Three Wells flow out
Shaping mighty deeds of worth.
Now: bring true honor forth!
Know that your new deeds, deeds of Heathen worth, are likely to be taken up by Wyrd and woven into the pattern of all that is, creating a new and better wyrd for you and for those whose lives you touch. Save the cord you have wound in some honored place--perhaps on your harrow--to remind you of your new path of life. As you close your rite of renewal, give honor from your heart and soul to the great Wells, to Mimir and the Wyrdae: embodiments of the processes of existence itself. It is no small thing to try to deal directly with these powers. As Heathens, we are fortunate to have ways to grasp and communicate some understanding of these patterns and powers, and have the might of soul to be able to work with them to better our own lot. Top of Page Bookhoard: References and Further Reading Bauschatz, Paul C. The Well and the Tree. University of Massachussets Press, 1982. (See esp. Chapter 1) Groenbech, Vilhelm. The Culture of the Teutons. Humphrey Milford, Oxford University Press, London, England. 1931. Gundarson, Kveldulf. Teutonic Religion: Folk Beliefs and Practices of the Northern Tradition. Llewellyn, St. Paul MN 1993 Hodge, Winifred. Oaths: What They Mean and Why They Matter. Available on the Website of Thaet Angelseaxisce Ealdriht, at Also published in Idunna, Summer 1997. Ring of Troth. Our Troth. 1993 (Especially chapter on the soul.) Stanfield, Gary. A Reconstructionist Concept of Wyrd. THEOD Vol. IV No. 2, Waelburges 1997. A Book of Troth, (Ch. 19). Llewellyn 1989. Wodening, Eric. "The Web of Wyrd." Idunna, Yule 1993 Wodening, Swain. Thaet Angelseaxisce Ealdriht Handbook: Beliefs and Practices of the Ealdriht, chapters on Wyrd and Scyld, 1997. Available on the Website of Thaet Angelseaxisce Ealdriht, at Wodening, Swain. "Wyrd and the Retroheathen." THEOD, Lammastide 1994. Home
Turn and turn again,
Turn and turn again,
Ever old and ever new:
In Wyrd, all deeds come due.

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