A to Z Challenge Folklore

X-Factor: The Fates #AtoZChallenge #folklore

X is for X-Factor.

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No matter the name or how you spell it, the Fates are everywhere and in every culture.


The Poetic Edda

“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.”

The Quest of Merlin by Richard Hovey [1891]

Interior of a cavern in the bowels of the earth, beneath Mount Hecla. Huge rock-fragments, amid which twists tortuously a great root of the tree Yggdrasil. A flickering flame, by the light of which are seen the NORNS , colossal but shadowy shapes, about a gigantic but indistinct Loom. Dull, heavy sounds, out of which arises a strange music, which resolves itself continually into imperfect harmonies, which leave the heart in unrest. A sense of striving and struggle beats through the music.

THE NORNS . We are the Recorders!
We are the Finishers!
Nothing we initiate;
All things we fulfil.
Odin initiates
And Freyja and Loki,
Divine Balder and the other Immortals.
Whatsoever they begin,
Relentlessly we fulfil.

Ye, too, O men, are as gods;
Ye are free and the free create;
Ye have part in the Imperishable.
Ever as ye follow the Beautiful,
Shall the worm transfigure itself
And the new-born god appear.
But over your destinies we sit in doom;
Whatsoever ye begin,
Relentlessly we fulfil.

Think and we seize the thought;
Act and the deed once done
Sinks into our iron hands.
Only the unthought thought, O man,
Is thine own and the deed forborne.
Thou canst neither love nor doubt
But the doubt and the love alike
Pass into the infrangible weft of the world
That we weave with inexorable fingers.

We are the Queens of Time,
And, while Time is, we endure.
With the calm of the Empyrean
We mix not, neither dwell we therein;
But over the shifting
Our shuttles are inflexible.
God having given us Time,
Over Time we are greater than God.
We are the Finishers.

The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum [1920]

The three Norns, Urda, Verdandi, and Skulda, sat beside the well that was in the hollow of the great root of Ygdrassil. Urda was ancient and with white hair, and Verdandi was beautiful, while Skulda could hardly be seen, for she sat far back, and her hair fell over her face and eyes. Urda, Verdandi, and Skulda; they knew the whole of the Past, the whole of the Present, and the whole of the Future. Odin, looking on them, saw into the eyes of Skulda even. Long, long he stood looking on the Norns with the eyes of a God, while the others listened to the murmur of the swans and the falling of the leaves of Ygdrassil into Urda’s Well.

The Element Encyclopedia of Fairies by Lucy Cooper


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.

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.

*More can be read in the book.

Encyclopedia of Fairies in World Folklore and Mythology by Theresa Bane


Variations: Incantatrice, Maga

In Italian poetry there are two classifications of the Fates. The first is benign and protective of mankind while the other is malicious and seductive. The words fata, incantatrice, and maga are used freely and interchangeably to describe each group.

The Fates

Variations: Destines, Fata, Fatal Sisters, Moirai, Parcae.

Depicted as three sisters who guide over the fate of man rather than control or determine it, many of the classical Greek authors saw them as beings more powerful than the gods. In mythology, they do not play an active part.

In Late Greek tradition, Clotho’s name with its reference to spinning lent to the Fates being depicted as three elderly women spinning out the thread of a man’s life, measuring it, and then cutting it at a specific length.

Homer, the greatest ancient Greek epic poet and author of the Iliad and the Odyssey says there was only one god who presided over fate, Moipa, and even the gods were subject to her plans. However, according to Hesiod, the Greek oral poet (750 and 650 B.C.), and all poets after him, said there were three such beings born the daughter of Nyx; their names were Atropos (inevitable), Clotho (the spinner) and Lachesis (drawer of lots).

In Upper Brittany, the Fates are referred to as the fetes.

*More can be read in the book.

The Forest in Folklore and Mythology by Alexander Porteous

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.

*More can be read in the book.

Further Reading:

Folklore in a Nutshell by Ronel

The Norns, Moirae, Parcae, Hadas, Feés, or whatever you want to call them, the Fates are fate personified. They control the fate of gods and mankind. Usually the Fates are three women who are often portrayed as spinning and cutting the skein of life. The triune figures can be found in Greek, Norse, Lappish, Indian and Irish myth under various names.

The Fates sometimes appear as an old woman (the past), a young woman (the present) and a veiled woman (the future) – though they can all look similar. Depending on the region, the Loom of Fate is woven with either thread or entrails.

The Fates in Modern culture

The Legends of Tomorrow

Clotho, better known as Charlie, is an ancient Greek deity, specifically one of the three Fates, distinguished as the former spinner of the Loom of Fate, and a member of the Legends.

Thousands of years ago, Clotho betrayed her sisters, destroyed the Loom of Fate, wanting mortals to shape their own destinies, and scattered its pieces all across the multiverse, diminishing the Fates’ powers drastically. 

Charlie as Amaya Jiwe. Image credit.

Disney’s Hercules

We Know.

The Fates’ catchphrase.

These three sisters share one eye, which they use to see the future. They 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 have extreme psychic abilities, knowing everything that has happened, is happening and will happen, and are an authority above the gods in this respect, though the one thing they cannot do is kill a god.

The Fates in My Writing

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 more power than others (like the Valkyries and the Furies).

Fates translated to Afrikaans: Skikgodinne

See them in action:

Black Moon (Faery Tales #8)

Emma watched the Moirai/Norns for a moment longer. They cut threads willy-nilly on the loom while laughing maniacally. Some threads turned black – those were the souls taken by the Furies. Emma wasn’t sure what the gold signified. Though seeing the old ladies cut thread with daggers would give her nightmares for a long time to come. Especially since they only had one eye between them…

Black Moon, Faery Tales #8, Ronel Janse van Vuuren

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 Fates.

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image credit https://pixabay.com/illustrations/ai-generated-fairy-wings-magic-8121013/

No-one writes about the fae like Ronel Janse van Vuuren.

6 thoughts on “X-Factor: The Fates #AtoZChallenge #folklore”

  1. It’s not for nothing that in Italian fairies are called Fata! I found them when researching my children’s book on monsters. Fairies were never cute little winged things which hang around in flowers, they were scary – as scary as the Fates!

    As for the Norns, I keep remembers Anna Russell’s twenty-minute Ring Cycle, in which she says – quite accurately – that the Norns are Siegfried’s aunts(in fact, there is only one woman he ever meets, Gudrune, who was NOT his aunt! )

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