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No matter the name or how you spell it, the Fates are everywhere and in every culture.
The Fates from Folklore
“Norns: Birth fairies in Nordic mythology. Similar to the three Fates of classical Greek and Roman mythology, these female spirits foretold the destinies of newborn babies.
Urdr, Verdandi, and Skuld are the three Norns most commonly named, although there are many more, encompassing both benevolent guardians and malevolent harbingers of tragedy. In some interpretations, Urdr, Verdandi, and Skuld represent the past, present, and future respectively. They dwelled in the Well of Urdr, or Well of Fate, at the base of the sacred ash tree Yggdrasil, the world tree.”
From The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper.
“URDR (“Past”, “Fate”): One of the three Norns (which are a Norse conception roughly corresponding to the Roman Parcae, the Fates) and likely the oldest of the three. She owns the well that bears her name and which is located next to the cosmic tree, Yggdrasil, or beneath its roots. She and her sisters, VERDANDI (“Present”) and SKULD (“Future”), are said to have come from the sea.”
From Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic by Claude Lecouteux.
“The fountain of Urdar, the water of which was supremely holy, was guarded by the three Norns or Fates, named respectively Vurdh, Verhandi, and Skuld, who represent the Past, the Present, and the Future. These daily water the roots of the tree with water drawn from the fountain in order to sustain and invigorate the tree.”
From The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous.
“The Fates: Classical Greek and Roman female deities said to be present at a baby’s birth and to determine the future course of that life. Their name originates from the Latin root fatum, meaning ‘destiny’ or ‘fate’. In Spain they were known as the Hadas, in France as the Feés, and in Nordic mythology as the Norns. In Albania, the Fatit rode on butterflies three days after a birth to determine the course of a child’s life. In Serbia, the oosood performed a similar function.
There were three Fates, known as the Cataclothes, or Spinners. Their names were Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Clotho spun the thread of each individual life. Lachesis shaped and twisted the thread. Atropos took her shears and cut it at the appointed time.
The belief in the Fates as guardian spirits who watch over us, especially at times of transformation such as birth and death, has endured over time and they have entered into popular fairy tales, such as the story of Cinderella, in the form of fairy godmothers.”
From The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper.
“Norns are figures of fate who may be present at a child’s birth, prophesying his future, as in the First Poem of Helgi Hundingsbani. As determiners of fate, the norns are sometimes blamed when events go against human heroes or other mortal beings.”
“The norns’ judgement: the norns are fate-figures – their judgement is the hero’s doom.”
From The Poetic Edda.
Fate in world folklore can be embodied in any number of ways. Often fate is seen as a human figure or figures, particularly female; one of the oldest personifications is Mammetum, the goddess of destiny, in Babylonian myth.
Other personifications of fate feature three goddesses. These goddesses, who are often portrayed as spinning and cutting the skein of life, may be found in Greek, Norse, Indian, Lappish, and Irish myth. The Three Fates in Greek myth are known as Moirae (Parcae by the Romans): Clotho spun, Lachesis assigned to man his doom, and Atropos broke the thread. The Norse goddesses, called Norns, were named Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld; they lived in the roots of the great ash tree Yggdrasil, the world tree.
It has been suggested that such triune figures were originally inspired by the waxing, full, and waning phases of the moon (Dornseif 1925).
Scottish and Irish folktales depict supernatural female fate figures as local spirits – the Banshees. They often comb their long hair, and their wiling signals that someone in the vicinity is about to die.”
From Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature.
“The Fates (the Weavers of Destiny).
Mention has already been made of the Norns, Moerae/Parcae and the Fates. The general term for fairy in the various forms it takes in different European languages (fairy, fée, faîtchieaux, fata, etc.) is derived directly from the Latin Fates. These three demi-goddesses appear in numerous cultures weaving the future of individuals and mankind in general on the loom of destiny, in the case of the Scandinavian Norns, using the bloody entrails o men for the warp and weft. The Norns (Urd, Verdandi and Skuld) sometimes have swan plumage, identifying their roles as messengers, and the design of their weaving is guided by the ‘eternal law of the Universe’. In terms of their direct contribution to the ancestry of fairies, they survive both in the spinning and sewing of the domestic fairies and in the guardian roles of the personal fairies and the fairy godmother. In Greek tradition the Moerae can be the principal weavers of destiny, or similar local triumvirates, or triplets of personal guardians, indicating that as personal guardians the fairies are ultimately surviving forms of these semi-divine weavers.
The appearance of the Norns as an old woman (the past), a young woman (the present) and a veiled woman (the future), may be reflected in traditions of fairies such as the korrigan appearing both young and old (in different contexts).
Although the fairies incorporate attributes from many sources, even when these relate to prophecy and divination, one of their clearest pedigrees is from the type of being represented by their destiny-weaving namesakes.”
From Jersey Folklore and Superstitions Volume 2 by GJC Bois.
The Fates in Popular Culture
Perhaps one of the most vivid images of the Fates in popular culture is that of the three of them sharing an eye in Disney’s Hercules.
The Three Fates are the tertiary antagonists in Hercules. These three sisters share one eye, which they use to see the future. They are wise and also determine the deaths of mortals, cutting a mortal’s Thread of Life to send them to the Well of Souls in the Underworld. They know everything that has happened and will happen, and are an authority above the gods in this respect though they cannot kill a god.
The Fates in the film are a combination of the Fates of Greek Mythology (also known as the Moirae) and the Graeae(or gray sisters), three hag-like creatures featured in the story of Perseus. The Graeae share one eye, which Perseus steals as one sister is passing the eye to another. He blackmails them into providing information that will help him on his quest to defeat Medusa, to whom the Graeae are related. While the Fates in the film bear a physical similarity to the Graeae, their role as weavers of fate is faithful to the Moirae. However, the Moirae do not appear in the original Hercules myth.
The Fates feature in my own writing too.
“Saphira and Kael carefully entered the cave. It was freezing. Even through her thick fur the Faery Dog could feel the cold creeping through – into her essence.
Three women – one young, one middle-aged and one silvery grey in age – stood in the middle of the cave as if they were expecting Saphira and Kael. The young one grinned when she saw them.
‘We came, oh great Fates, to ask that you take away the gift you placed on me,’ said Kael in his best laird-to-be voice.
‘Really? You’re not enjoying our favour?’ the middle-aged Fate asked.
‘Of course not! He’s a child!’ spat the oldest Fate and glared at Kael.
Saphira’s hair stood on end.” – Saphira and the Fates, The Adventures of Saphira the Faery Dog by Ronel Janse van Vuuren
Origin of the Fae: The Fates
The Fates rule the destinies of all Fae and Mankind. They also decide the fate of those not so easily classified. Even the Cù Sìth are wary of them.
They can take on any form. Sometimes they like to be seen as old crones sharing a single eye. Other times they are seen in the passing seasons of life: a young woman, a middle-aged woman and an old woman. They can also appear as formless, hooded entities. Whatever their appearance, they are to be feared and revered.
They have spools of thread made up of Time, Life, Disease, etc. that they use to weave tapestries.
For fun, they watch the reactions of those who believe that they have power more power than others (like the Valkyries and the Furies).
What do you think of the Fates? Any other stories of the Fates you’d like to share? Check out my Pinterest board dedicated to the subject.