Voluspa stanzas 19 – 20: The Norns

* As usual, this section of Voluspa is taken from Bellows translation. This segment is only two stanzas and tells of the Norns.

19. An ash I know, Yggdrasil its name,

With water white is the great tree wet;

Thence come the dews that fall in the dales,

Green by Urth’s well does it ever grow.

20. Thence come the maidens mighty in wisdom,

Three from the dwelling down ‘neath the tree;

Urth is one named, Verthandi the next —

On the wood they scored, — and Skuld the third.

Laws they made there, and life allotted

To the sons of men, and set their fates. 

This small segment focuses primarily on the Norns where Yggdrasil seems to be mentioned just as a way of showing where they are from in the layout of the tree. One of the interesting things about the Norns is how these three are mentioned in such a primary role even though many sources agree they are not the only Norns. Not only are there other Norns, but they are also not all of the same race of beings. In Gylfaginning of the Prose Edda, it says “There are also other norns who visit everyone when they are born to shape their lives, and these are of divine origin, though others are of the race of elves, and a third group are of the race of dwarfs”. The question then is, would Norns be considered something like practitioners of a particular type of magik in the way a person may be a Volva, Healer, Seer, etc? Or are they something more like spirits of these various races that have taken on this particular job the way some may view ancestors as doing? And in either case, are these particular three, then, the first of the first and that being the reason they reside at that particular place by the well?

Another interesting aspect of the Norns is the way they are shown carving into a tablet on the tree, and elsewhere. With them being writers of fate, is this an unchangeable fate, or are the fates written in these materials where they could be changed if it were needed or the person did something that changed their lot? As we’ve mentioned before, it was often what one did to stop their fate that caused it to happen, as when Odin took Loki and Angrboda’s children to try and prevent Ragnarok. So we are again facing the question of is this a set destiny or self-fulfilled prophecy? Or perhaps, with some accounts of carving into the roots and Yggdrasil itself, maybe it could be a bit of both. And then, what of the “laws” they wrote? We know that the Aesir have their rules and laws just as the Jotun and dwarfs and others have their own sets of rules and laws. Yet there are some customs that are relatively accepted across most of the races. We also know there are laws and customs set for everyone by Odin and the Aesir. So are these “laws” the customs of the times that were incorporated as divine law much like the commandments in the biblical Old Testament? Or, with them being ancient and written into Yggdrasil, are they referring to something more like the laws of nature or universal laws? 

There are many other topics that could be discussed and debated where the Norns are concerned in the myths. However, for the purpose of this entry, I will stop here with just this segment of Voluspa. What are your thoughts on this section, or the Norns? As always, feel free to comment and discuss and I will respond as able. That’s all for now. See you soon.

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