Norns | Norse Mythology


The Norns are divine beings of Norse mythology. The term "Norn" comes from the ancient Norse "Norn" (Nornir plural) which means "[she who] whispers [a secret]" (or at least the future), they live at the source of Urðarbrunnr, where they weave the thread of fate or, depending on the sources, engrave the runes.

The Norns in the Sagas

The Norns lived at Urðabrunnr, the Well of Urd, described as white and shining. It is said that near this source there is the plain where the Aesir gods keep council, called Idavall.

They had the task of sprinkling Yggdrasil every day with water and clay to prevent it from drying out or rotting, where they weave the tapestry of destiny.

Each person's life is a thread in their loom and its length corresponds to the length of the individual's life.

In the Edda they are also described as Rune carvers, which they engrave on laths and tablets, perhaps to transcribe the different lives of the creatures of the universe, in fact it is said that in the web of fate are woven the Runes.

Their power over destiny is the reason why Runes ("whispered secrets") are engraved on the fingernail of the Norn.

The Norns established the destiny of men, the course of life of the creatures of the universe, no one excluded: men, animals, plants, supernatural beings, even the gods were subject to the criteria of the Norns, the only creatures that can truly be called "eternal" in the cosmogony of the Nordic peoples.

Peculiar to the Nordic mentality was, in fact, that everything had an end, and that nothing was eternal, not even the gods that in fact are destined to perish in Ragnarǫk. The only eternal thing is Destiny, which was precisely managed by the work of the three Norns.

The Norns are always spoken in the plural and appear very often in several passages of poetry and Eddic scaldica, mainly in their figure of hostile Norns that establish a destiny of misfortune and death, although there are also references to their positive side.

This is because they represent the goddesses of destiny, the incarnation of a superior and ineluctable fate that dominates everything, men and gods alike.

In the "Dialogue of Fáfnir" it is specified that they are of different natures, some belonging to the Aesir, others to the Vanir, others still to the Elves, since they are described as a large group of divinities of indistinct character.

Only Snorri in the Vǫluspá defines only three of this group, who dwell near the Cosmic Tree, Yggdrasil, next to the source of destiny, Urðarbrunnr.

These three Norns are very reminiscent not only of the Roman Fates, but also of the Greek Moire. Only Urðr, whose name means "destiny", is the oldest; Verðandi is in fact a much later figure and her name comes from the verb "verða" "to become".

Skuld, defined by Snorri as the youngest, carries the meaning of "debt", "guilt" and is also mentioned in the line-up of the Valkyries. The link between the Norns and the Valkyries is also highlighted in a passage of the "Dialogue of Fáfnir", where it is said that wolves are the "dogs of the Norns" because they end many lives; in the same passage is also shown the link between the Norns and the Dísir.

The belief in the Norns was so strongly rooted in the Nordic world and culture, that in some sagas the veneration of the Norns is indicated among the customs to which those who converted to Christianity had to renounce.

The Norns in Popular Culture 

In the manga Oh, my goddess!, the norns play a main role. Noteworthy is the name of one of the protagonists, Belldandy, this name in fact derives from that of the Norn Verðandi and has undergone this change due to transliteration first from Norse to Japanese, resulting Berudandī (ベルダンディー?), and then again from Japanese to Western characters. The name of the other two sisters of Belldandy is in fact Urd and Skuld. The first one deals with chemistry and potions and the second one loves mechanics and often tries to build strange contraptions.

In The Sword of the Warrior, first book of the saga Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, the Norns predict the future of Magnus.

In the animated version of God Eater (series) NORN is the operating system used by the Fenrir group.

The Norns are present in the novel by Philip K. D.  "Galactic Pot-Healer" (in Italian "Giù nella cattedrale").

They have a significant role also in American Gods by Neil Gaiman: they keep vigil near the ash tree where Shadow holds the wake for Wednesday (Odin), they bring back to life his girlfriend Laura, and they announce to Mr. Town, the secret government agent, that he will be killed.

In the animated series Steins;Gate an operation is implemented, the so-called "Operation Verdandi", which takes its name from the Norn Verðandi.