by Mark Puryear
Out of ‘the sea,’ which is Urdarbrunn or ‘Urd’s Well,’ comes the three sisters of Fate, called the Norns, meaning ‘The Proclaimers.’ Although we are going to dedicate an entire chapter to the concept of Fate or destiny, it is important here to briefly introduce these very important figures in our lore.
Each one is a representative of a different place in time: Urd’s name means ‘That Which Is,’ meaning the past, all the things that have happened up to now. Her sister Verdandi’s name means ‘That Which Is Becoming,’ denoting the ever-moving present. Finally, Skuld, the youngest Norn, signifies the future that is to come, for her name means ‘That Which Is Owed.’
It shall be demonstrated that among these sisters of Fate, Urd is the most prominent, for she oversees the entire process of existence, from the birth of all living things to their death, and then their afterlife. This is fitting considering that she arose from the elements of creation itself.
I do not know if we should consider the Norns Goddesses or not, considering that their position, like the power of Fate they represent, is innately neutral. As stated, one cannot manifest Fate and at the same time have an agenda, for then all that happens in the universe will be subject to your whims.
The Norns ‘Proclaim’ Fate, they do not create it.
Perhaps they are connected to oracles and prophecies, and can thus be prayed to for a glimpse of the grand ‘Web of Wyrd’ that they weave, just as Odin once had to sacrifice himself and offer gifts for a vision of the fate of all creation.
But they can never be asked to intervene in our favor, for this is the duty of the Gods and Goddesses with their magnificent balance of divine power within the order of existence. The Spirit element, as you may recall, is the great intelligent collective that brings the other elements together, as when the wind blows leaves in a storm.
The patterns within the Web are too chaotic and random for us to interpret, but the Norns know the destiny of every living thing through their relation to the Well of Destiny (Urdarbrunn) and through their own work in weaving the web.
As we have stated, heat represents action and action results in heat, while at the same time all actions have consequences. This is why the well of heat from the creation, Urdarbrunn, becomes the Well of Destiny, and not Mimir’s Well. Urd’s Well thus acts as a conduit with the spiritual essence, representing its active form that allows Urd to pull the ‘threads of destiny’ (örlögþættir) out of the fountain, which Verdandi weaves into the Web, and Skuld cuts with her silver sickle. The symbolism is both cosmic and spiritual. The sickle is the crescent moon, the threads are connected to each of the stars in the sky, and we are all a part of a grand scheme of Fate, each playing our roles on the universal stage.
When the creation was taking place, Burr’s sons (Odin, Hoenir, and Lodur) took Ymir’s skull and from it made the sky. They took embers and sparks from Sokkdalir (in Urd’s realm) and placed them in the sky to make stars. Then they fixed positions for those stars, the Sun, and the Moon so that they would light up the Earth. Since these all have their origins in Urd’s Well ‘in the south’ (TAE LIII. 35-6), it is only proper that the Norns would have dominion over them.
The idea is that everything in the universe is moving along a ‘fixed’ (i.e. fated) course, which is predestined in that its destiny could be predicted if we had enough of an understanding of it. The Norns do, and they have told us that one day the fires that rose out of the realm to create the world will eventually be used to destroy it, but then a new one will rise from it and the cycle will begin anew. We learn in the earliest age of our lore that the realm these fires are from “is bright and hot. That area is flaming and burning and was impassable for those that were foreigners there and were not native to it” (TAE I. 3).12:51 If indeed the Norns did come from ‘the sea’ whence came the fires of creation, we should consider them ‘natives’ to this region, which is why they are capable of handling the hot, fiery stars in which they weave the Web of Wyrd.
In the Norns, our trifold symbolism of Water/Fire/Spirit in the divine is seen through their fountain, which is described as a ‘sea,’ as a lake in which swans swim, and as the origin of the pure mead/water which the Norns use to strengthen Yggdrasill. This ‘sea’ also provided the warmth (Fire) of creation due to the fiery realm of Sokkdalir beneath it, and it directs the activity of the ever-present power of Spirit by its manifestation of Fate. As Mimir’s well represents the Spirit itself, Urd’s directs its course through the never-ending cycle of Fate, symbolized as the Web of Wyrd. Because of this, Urd and her sisters “established laws, allotted life to the sons of men, and pronounced orlog” (LIII.45, IV.4). This orlog or urlag (‘original law’) is the Odinic karmic principle that shall be examined later.
Since the Norns established the law, they were also to become the purveyors of the consequences for violating it. Thus they established the Helthing, where the dead are judged and declared fit for either a blessed or a damned afterlife. This Thing, or ‘Assembly,’ which is here a court of law, is likely considered to be an actual court and ‘damnation’ comes in the form of a sentence rather than anything that would be thought of as ‘eternal.’
In the land of Helheim rests the blessed dead, who are judged by the Gods and the Norns for all the violations or nids they have committed during their lives and have been determined to be worthy of their station. They live in the hall called Gimle or Vingolf with the Norns, which “righteous men will inhabit ... through the ages” (IV.4, XXIV.45, LIII.89, LXXXIII.5). But if they have performed horrible, disgraceful acts in complete defiance of the law without making amends, they will spend at least some time in Niflhel where they will suffer the lot of the damned. Although we will go into this in further detail later on, it is enough to explain for now that the symbolism here simply refers to the idea that justice must always prevail, whether in this life or the next.
The Norns represent the underlying knowledge of how, when, and where all things will connect at some point. Each time one thread of the web overlaps another, this represents a vast network of relationships that are all linked to one another and all form a synergetic bond. Like ripples in a pond, my actions affect all those I am connected to, and all those they are connected to, and so on, so that what I do resonates throughout all of creation, and eventually comes back to me. This resonance is orlog.
Therefore, if I am to have positive things in my life I must positively influence those around me. It’s just that simple.
Besides Urd and her sisters there are lesser norns who are allotted to men at birth, who aid and protect them throughout their lives, and who witness for them at the Helthing. Thus they are in Urd’s employ and act as agents of destiny to steer their chosen in the right direction and inform the higher Norns of all that is taking place within the web, or existence. The nature of these norns, also called hamingjas, fylgjas, giptes, etc. will be discussed in the next chapter.