In the rich tapestry of Norse mythology, there are surely no more enigmatic and mystical creatures than the Norns.
Norse mythology has remained popular over the centuries due to the richness and color of the plethora of gods and mythical beings, and the Norns are no exception.
These deities, invariably depicted as female, bear the grave responsibility of shaping the lives of both Norse gods and mere mortals.
For people in Viking societies, fate was perceived as something controlled by mythical beings due to the harsh and unpredictable nature of everyday life.
In an era predating modern medicine and healthcare, sickness and death loomed over communities, with seemingly healthy individuals at risk of succumbing to sudden, unexplained illnesses.
Moreover, in the absence of any state infrastructure or security, there was no certainty upon waking whether one would live to see the day's end.
Yggdrasil, the immense tree in Norse mythology, is where the Norns draw water from the Well of Urd, believed to be imbued with cosmic wisdom vital for shaping the universe's fate. Illustration: The Viking Herald
A trio of past, present and future
If we examine the sagas and sources, we can find a trio of Norns, and it is always a trio. This trio consists of Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld, each representing a distinctive aspect of time and fate.
Urd (Old Norse for "fate") is associated with the past. This association with both recent and ancient history helps to signify how the present moment is constantly being shaped by preceding events.
The Norn of the present, Verdandi ("becoming"), is associated with weaving (literally and figuratively) the ongoing "threads" of life and the unfolding present.
Finally, that leaves Skuld ("shall be"), the Norn of the future, who holds the key to what is yet to come and helps to shape the destiny of all beings.
These entities, representing the combination of past, present, and future, show how the concept of time was deeply ingrained in the psyche of people in Viking societies.
Unlike other mythical gods and deities, the Norns reside not in their own realm but at the base of the majestic world tree, Yggdrasil.
Here, the trio draws water from a well, the Well of Urd. This water is regarded as a source of great cosmic wisdom and serves as the epicenter of fate creation.
It is here that they engage in the cosmic artistry of weaving fate.
Weaving fate and destiny
Sitting at the base of the great tree, Yggdrasil, the trio of Norns is commonly depicted with a loom.
This loom features threads of various colors and textures, symbolizing the interconnected nature of existence.
The Norns spend time intertwining and weaving these magical threads, creating a pattern that shapes the destiny of all gods, mortals, and all living creatures residing in the Norse cosmos.
However, with great power comes great responsibility, and the Norns are portrayed as strictly impartial.
They must act as mere conduits of the cosmic order.
Aside from weaving the destiny of all living things in the cosmos, the Norns were also said to visit a child shortly after their birth.
Upon a child's arrival into the world, the Norns would decide the fate and destiny of that child.
This speaks to a sense of predestination that people in Viking societies obviously felt was a part of a person's life.
It also suggests that from the very moment of birth, a person's life is bound up and interwoven with the grand and intricate pattern that the Norns weave.
The Norns, located at the Well of Urd, intricately spin the destinies of both gods and mortals, using magical threads to weave the complex patterns of past, present, and future. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Featured in the poems and sagas
The trio of Norns can be found scattered throughout the Norse sagas and skaldic poems.
Some modern scholars have interpreted this to mean the "final judgment" that a Norn can make on someone's life, essentially signifying death.
Another gripping depiction appears in what is surely the most famous of sagas featuring Sigurd, Brynhild, and Atli (Attila the Hun).
In the Gudrunarkvida, which was an inspiration for Richard Wagner's epic operas in the 19th century, Attila the Hun is saved by the Norns, who come to him in a dream and warn him that his wife plans to kill him.
However, the plan fails, and Atli is eventually killed, with his wife blaming the Norns for the misfortune that befalls her following her deadly murder.
The Norns also feature in the Prose Edda.
Here, Gylfi, the King of Sweden, arrives in the great halls of Valhalla and receives what we at The Viking Herald would love – an education in the rich tapestry of Norse mythology and cosmology, imparted by none other than Odin himself.
He tells Gylfi that while there are indeed "three main Norns," there are also norns that visit every child upon birth to determine their destiny.
Profound power and influence
In Norse mythology, the Norns serve as powerful and unbiased weavers of destiny and fate.
From their position at the Well of Urd, they intricately shape the destinies of gods and mortals by weaving and spinning magical threads of the past, the present, and the future.
They embody what people in Viking societies perceived as the intricate dance of life, a timeless force bound by profound power and influence.
Their mystical and enigmatic nature makes them some of the more intriguing characters found in the rich tapestry of Norse mythology.
The Brooklyn Museum has more information on the Norns available here.
This deep-dive article was written thanks to the support of subscribers to The Viking Herald's Facebook page. Do you enjoy our work? You can SUBSCRIBE here or via our Facebook page. You'll get access to exclusive content and behind-the-scenes access.
Feel free to reach out to discuss potential stories that may be in the public interest. You can reach us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the understanding that the information you provide might be used in our reporting and stories.