Groups of Fates in different cultures are :
- three Roman Fates, the Parcae, Nona, Decima and Morta
- three Norse Fates the Norns, Urdr, Verdandi and Skuld
- Shakespearean three Weird Sisters, named from the Old English word wyrd which means “fate” or comes from from the name Urdr [and so would indicate past.]
Perhaps these are the same three Goddesses of Fate just translated to different cultures, but there are other Fates or fata. There are birth spirits that attend childbirths and prophecy the baby's future such as the disir and fairy god mothers. In fact the fairies that visit Sleeping Beauty in the Grim's fairy tale are messengers of fate coming to announce the fate of a royal baby at her birth or her name day. The root word for fairy comes from the Latin plural word fata or singular word fatum which means “fate, decision or decree.” If you keep going back fatum comes from fatus plural for fari which means “to speak.” Perhaps this makes the Fates more of a title, position or role than a species.
I find the consistent use of the number three for the Fates across cultures interesting. Three is a number often used for gods and goddesses, Greek goddess especially:
- Gorgon sisters, Medusa, Stheno and Euryale
- Hesperides, often said to be three, such as in the legend of Hercules, but sometimes more
- Horae, also called the Hours, goddesses of the seasons and orderliness, and keepers of the gates of Olympus
- Furies, also called the Erinyes or the Eumenides, assistants of Nemesis who avenge unpunished crimes, named Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone
- Graeae, the sisters of the Gorgons, who share only one eye
- Keres, delivered the fatal blows of destiny, delivering their victim to the land of shadows.
Another consistent trait of both the Moirai and the Parcae is the use of the spinning motif. Traditionally Clotho and Nona are said to be responsible for the past, spinning the thread of life around their symbol the distaff. Lachesis and Decima are responsible for the present, wrapping the thread of life on their symbol, the spindle [drop spindle or spinning wheel] with the random patterns made representing chance. They are referred to the drawer of lots. Atropos and Morta are responsible for the future, measuring out the thread of people's lives and their future, snipping the string short with their symbol, the scissors, and ending people's lives. They are referred to as inevitable.
The Fates are also said to weave our futures with their threads. Perhaps as this website suggests, the Fates used knot magic to bind an individuals future into their tapestry of life and the future.
It is interesting to me that the Fates are said to have power even over the gods themselves. Mighty Zeus is subject to his fate and can not gainsay it. In the Norse myths, the gods are fated to almost all die in Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods that they can not avoid.
The Norns, Verdandi (present), Skuld (future) and Urdr (past), are said to weave the web of life. They are known to tend the Well of Urd and to care for both the white swans swimming in this well and the roots of the World Tree Yggdrasil itself which is being constantly gnawed on by Nidhogg the Serpent coiled at its roots. [Does the image of the Norns among the roots of Yggdrasil remind anybody else of the threads of the Morai?] They are called “three powerful women who cut on wood”, referring to the Nordic practice of cutting notches in the planks of wood above windows or doors of houses to represent important dates in the lives of the occupants of the houses.
I find reading about the fates in various cultures interesting because of the similarities across cultures and the antiquity of myths, often predating the gods themselves. Do you know of any other cultures that have woman who are in charge of fate? If so, I'd love to hear it.