Norns: The Norse Fate Weavers

The Norns are three women living in Asgard with immense power. They alone determine the fate of humans and the gods, and even Odin is powerless to change the fate that the Norns decide.

These three wise women reside under Yggdrasil or the World Tree. They tend to care for the world tree using the water from Urðarbrunnr (the Well of Life, or Well of Urd). The world tree gives life to the gods of Asgard, so protecting the tree plays an essential role in Norse mythology.

So, who are the norns, and what influential role did they play in Norse mythology?

Let’s dive in!

How did the Norns come to be?

While they have an influential role in the fates of humans and the gods, their origins remain a bit of a mystery. Depending on the source, their origin story shifts

In Völuspá (medieval poem of the Poetic Edda), for instance, the Norns hail from a place outside of time. They are not residents of the world of humans or the gods.

When we look at Fáfnismál (Eddic poem in the Codex Regius manuscript) or the Gylfaginning (first part of the Prose Edda) the Norns are a race of people of great numbers. Some believe they are descendants of elves, valkyries, dísir, or dwarves.

In the Gylfaginning, Snorri Sturluson describes the Norns in great numbers, with good and evil Norns determining fate. The best example of this lies in the poem Reginsmál, a dwarf named Andvari who blames his bad luck on an evil Norn that doomed him the moment he was born.

The 3 Wise Norns Urd, Verdandi and Skuld

The Norns are composed of three wise women. When used in plural form in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda, they are called Nornir. To understand who the Norns are, think of them like the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.

Urd or Urðr (sometimes referred to as Weird or Wyrd) is the personification of what was. Verdandi is the personification of what is, and Skuld is the personification of what shall be.

While these three wise women possess great power, it’s important to note that they are not goddesses in old Norse mythology. These three wise are spinners to the threads of fate and determine whether you will lead a good life or a life of suffering.

The Norns played an influential role in the lives of Icelandic Vikings. When a baby was born, Vikings would offer porage to the new baby as an offering to the Norns in the hope of pleasing them. If you pleased the fates, they would allot your a long lifespan.

At the beginning of every life, the three fates spun out a web. The three women measured the thread, and they alone determined where the thread was clipped. If you pleased the fates, they would lend you a long life. If you didn’t, they cut the line short.

The Nornic trio of Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld beneath the world tree (called an oak in the caption) Yggdrasil
The Nornic trio of Urr, Verdandi, and Skuld beneath World tree, Yggdrasil; Ludwig Burger (1882)

What Do the Norns Do Other Than Weave?

While weaving the thread of life is their claim to fame, Norns were also caretakers of the World Tree (Yggdrasil).

The three women live near the base of the tree, and every morning they water it to sustain its life. Without the Norns, the World Tree would rot and fall. So, why is supporting life to the World Tree so important?

The branches of Yggdrasil reach out into the heavens and connect the world of the gods to the world of humans. It also poses as a place where the gods met to govern. In the Gylfaginning, it is described as a holy place of the gods. If the World Tree fell, it would sever the connection between the nine worlds.

Norns weaving destin
Norns weaving destiny; Arthur Rackham (1912)

Why Are The Norns Considered More Powerful Than The Gods?

In Scandinavian culture, the Norns are more powerful than the gods, including Odin. They determine the fate of all living things in the nine worlds. Once the Norns decide your future, there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Some scholars even believe that the twilight of the gods (aka Ragnarök) came to be through the Norns.

They are the deciders of the world’s fate, and no praying to the Norns will change your fate. This makes the Norns incredibly powerful.

Tara Summerville

Tara is a freelance writer deeply involved with history in general, old mythology and Vikings in particular. She enjoys sitting on her deck with a cup of coffee reading books on Norse myths, deities and the fantastic stories behind each and every Norse god. Her fascination with mythology began as a child; spending afternoons at her grandma’s house going through the library in search of history and mythological books. She has since carried her love of mythological stories into adulthood also studying diverse aspects of the Viking culture in general.

Recent Posts