Appeal: Wyrd, Past, Present, Future, Destiny
These three Goddesses, known as Urd (past or fate), Verdnadi (present or being) and Skuld (future or necessity) are more than mere Goddesses; they are personifications of the vastly powerful universal force variously described as Fate, Wyrd, Kismet and Karma. They may very well be the same beings known as the Fates in Greco-Roman mythology. While there may be only three Norns with a capital 'N,' there are countless norns with a lowercase 'n' – norn is an Old Norse word for a generic practitioner of magic.
The Norns are often depicted as very old women who hide their appearances underneath a hooded cloak, and are able to see the past, the present and all possible futures with ease. Others describe them as three maidens and their carvings consist of runes or weavings. They most likely cycle through ages just as the Well does. They live around the Well of Urdr in Asgard, and see to it that the fates of mortals and Gods alike are weaved according to plan. Thus, the Norns are said to wield tremendous power that is respected even by God Odin.
In Norse mythology, there are two swans that drink from the sacred Well of Urdr in the realm of Asgard, home of the Gods. According to the Prose Edda, the water of this Well is so pure and holy that all things that touch it turn white, including this original pair of swans and all others descended from them.
According to Sturluson's interpretation of the Voluspa, the three Norns, Urd, Verdnadi and Skuld come out from a hall standing at the Well of Urdr (Well of Fate) and they draw water from the well and take sand that lies around it, which they pour over Yggdrasil so that its branches will not rot. The Norns also visited each newly born child to allot his or her future. The length of the thread or carve is how long the child will live.
A common misconception is that the destiny woven or carved by the Norns is final and unalterable, as in the Greek concept of fate. The Norse model of destiny, however, is far more dynamic and volatile than this, and leaves ample room for an individual in the shaping of destiny.
The starting point for understanding the Germanic view of destiny is the mythological image of Yggdrasil and the Well of Urdr. Yggdrasil is a tree that stands at the center of the cosmos and holds the Nine Worlds, the dwelling-places of humans, Gods, and all other beings, in its branches and roots. It grows from the Wells. Water is central to the image; the waters of the wells nourish the tree, whose evergreen leaves then shed dewdrops into the well.
The water cycle in this image expresses a circular passage of time. The Urdr Well, which corresponds to the past, influences the growth of the tree, which corresponds to the present. But then, unlike in our modern, linear conception of time, the present then returns to the past – even retroactively changing it. This is the significance of the dewdrops that fall back into the Well. That dew which falls from it onto the Earth is called by men honey-dew and thereon bees are nourished, which makes honey and men make the sacred mead.
Time is cyclical rather than linear. The present returns to the past, where it retroactively changes the past. The new past, in turn, is reabsorbed into a new present, whose originality is an outgrowth of the give-and-take between the waters of the well and the waters of the tree.
Destiny cycles through the image, following the course of the water. In the Well of Urdr live the Norns, three wise women who carve or weave into the tree the lives and destinies of children. All of the beings who live in the Nine Worlds of Yggdrasil, from humans to Gods to salamanders, are subject to these carvings. However what the Norns carve into the tree is the earliest form of the destinies of the beings who inhabit the Nine Worlds, but not their only possible form. The words of the Norns are not absolute.
The Norns may be the shapers of destiny par excellence, but they are far from the only beings capable of altering the course of destiny as it flows through the Well of Urdr and Yggdrasil. All life is an interconnected web, where the slightest thrumming of one strand can cause the whole web to tremble.
Norns feature in the prologue of Richard Wagner's opera Gotterdammerung. Viking death metal band Amon Amarth has an album titled Fate of Norns. The band itself has many songs involving Norse mythology.
In the name of Urd, That Which Is, may I use my orlog wisely.
In the name of Verdande, That Which Becomes, may I strengthen my maegan and hamingja.
In the name of Skuld, That Which Must Be, may I bravely accept my wyrd.