A hall stands there, fair, under the ash by the well, and out of that hall come three maids, who are called thus: Urdr, Verdandi, Skuld; these maids determine the period of men's lives: we call them Norns; but there are many norns: those who come to each child that is born, to appoint his life; these are of the race of the gods, but the second are of the Elf-people, and the third are of the kindred of the dwarves, as it is said here:
Most sundered in birthI say the Norns are; They claim no common kin: Some are of Æsir-kin, some are of Elf-kind, some are Dvalinn's daughters.
Then said Gangleri: "If the Norns determine the weirds of men, then they apportion exceeding unevenly, seeing that some have a pleasant and luxurious life, but others have little worldly goods or fame; some have long life, others short." Hárr said: "Good norns and of honorable race appoint good life; but those men that suffer evil fortunes are governed by evil norns.
Gylfaginning, Prose Edda. Brodeur Translation (1916)
Let’s cover some fundamentals about the pre-Christian Nordic perception of the world. While clouded in mystery and intrigue, there’s one thing that’s absolutely clear – the Nornir play a crucial role in all of our lives. What is debated is the extent of their influence, and what may have been conflated over time with more classical inspirations, or folkloric evolution.
We have three named Norns: Urdr, Verdandi, and Skuld. Seemingly there are many more, though their names have since been lost to time (if there even was a consensus among people at all).
The image of three mysterious women presiding over fate or holding some sort of great power is seen across cultures and geography. The most obvious being the Moirai, the Greek Fates, who are seen spinning and are directly involved with deciding the length of an individual’s life. The Norns are different in this regard, as the Nordic idea around fate isn’t set in stone. We can see this with “the youngest Norn” Skuld – her name doesn’t mean future, but doubt, becoming. It suggests a potential path forward rather than an absolute.
This is echoed in the ideas around Wyrd/Urd and Orlog – but that is a much larger discussion for a more in-depth post. Let’s just say that our actions not only impact our own path, but everyone around us, and even those not yet born. That idea is crucial in heathenry, and reflects on how we conduct ritual, how we hold frith and grith, and how we practice our beliefs. Our words and actions matter and must be considered carefully.
When it comes to the Nornir themselves, there’s less of an element of actively managing the state of things, and more making sure things keep ticking. That the world remains ordered. They don’t decide what happens, but they can see what may happen, what is likely to happen, and how one thing may affect another. For this, they hold a power that Odin craves, and hold a station beyond – or perhaps better worded, outside - all of the gods.
But, again, there’s much we cannot know about the Nornir. There’s a lot of potential ‘contamination’ when it comes to outside influences flavouring their duties and purpose. So, when it comes to modern practice, there’s plenty of room for interpretation. And with that segue, I’ll ask:
Do you have practice with the Nornir? How do you perceive fate in heathenry?