One of the most important ideas in Norse mythology was that of fate. The future was something that had already been written, at least to an extent. The universe was ordered in a very specific way and things would always play out as they were meant to do. In Norse mythology, this wasn’t just because of a divine plan – it was because of a very specific set of goddesses. These goddesses, known as the Norns, were in charge of the destiny of everyone – even the gods themselves. While the Norns weren’t written about extensively, they were still very important to the world of the ancient Norse.
Who Were the Norns?
It’s hard to tell exactly who the Norns were to the Norse, largely because of the way that Nordic myths were recorded. In some tales, they were goddesses – probably not Aesir or Vanir, but something similar. In other, more modern stories, they are a specific type of giantess. In all cases, they were the creatures that were in charge of fate. Norns weren’t around at the beginning of the world, but they did show up at the end of the golden age of the gods. They were not the gods’ enemies, but they brought about the end of their best days. Instead, they were considered to be an ally of humans – and they’d bring about the fates of heroes as well as those of ordinary men and women.
Depending on which version of Norse myth you might read, there are anywhere between three and an untold number of Norns. In some versions, Norn is more of a job description than anything else – and there are as many Norns among the gods as there are among the elves or the giants. In the most common versions, though, the Norns have very specific identities. The three Norns are:
– Urd (the Past)
– Verdandi (the Present)
– Skuld (the Future)
These three Norns live by Well of Fate at the base of the World Tree.
What Did They Do?
The Norns are the female entities involved with fate. There’s no real evidence that anyone ever actually worshipped the Norns, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Nordic peoples thought of them as the people in charge of fate. How they determined the fate of people varied greatly depending on the tale – they might cast lots, carve runes into wood, or even weave fate into cloth like the Greek Fates.
It’s also important to note that the Norns might be in charge of fate, but that people could change how fate worked. The Norns didn’t seem particularly concerned with making sure that people stayed in the roles that were assigned to them – they merely did a job. As such, there are plenty of stories involving heroes who changed their own fates. The most important stories, though, are those that involved heroes struggling against what the Norns had foretold and failing to find a way out.