There are three Wyrde, three Wyrd Sisters. These take the form of spinners, spinning out the fate of men and measuring them out. If Wyrd is strung together like a great tapestry, each individual life is a thread being woven together to make that tapestry and affect the threads around it. But for all that they are, the Wyrde do not weave; they spin, they measure out, they cut, they do not weave. Their names are a hint.
The Wyrde, this term referenced their association with Wyrd. The Bosworth-Toller definition of Wyrd has “Fortunae” as the Latin gloss for “Wyrde” indicating that it is a concept associated with the Fortunae, the Parcae.[i] Wyrde will be the collective term we use for the three goddesses of fate for the Anglo-Saxon peoples going forward. Individually, the names of the three Wyrde to the best of my reckoning are Spinel, Metten, and Deaþ.
The first of the Wyrde should likely be Spinel, or at least that is the word best associated with her. This name is pulled from the Bosworth-Toller but is less secure than having it directly spelled out for certain as is the case with Metten. In this case the Word Spinle is associated through the examples in the definition to the word; it reads “Spinle fusa (si parcae . . . fila gubernant, mortali vitae fusaque rotante minantur)”.[ii] In this, the writer is associating the word Spinel (spinle) to the Parcae (si parcae). As far as the etymology of Spinel goes, it is obvious; Spinel is very clearly related to the modern English word Spindle.[iii] It variably means the spindle itself, or even the amount of thread collected on the spindle. (For those who may not be aware, a spindle is a device that spins fibers into thread.) In this case, it is connected to the spinning of fate for the individual.
The most well attested of the Wyrde is Metten, she being the second of the Wyrde. Her name is found forthwith within the Bosworth-Toller right in the definition as it spells out that she is “one of the Fates”.[iv] The etymology of Metten helps us understand her better; the word Metten is related to a modern English word, mete.[v] To mete is to dole out something, to give it out by measure.[vi] In much the same way, Metten apparently measures out the length of a person’s life. There was a related word with became an epithet of the Christian god in old English, Metod (Meotud), meaning effectively “the allotter” but becoming merely a poetic way to reference the Christian god.[vii] This had Yahweh taking over the role that would have been held by Metten. However, while Metod was masculine Metten was the feminine.
The last of the three Wyrde would likely have been named Deaþ. For this one you need look no farther than the Bosworth-Toller once again where there is an entry for “deáþ-wyrda” defined through the example as “Deáþ-wyrde fata”.[viii] It is meaningful that it made the swap to Wyrde because they Wyrde are the fates and it is further meaningful that they utilized “fata” as that was the vulgar-Latin term for the goddess of fate.[ix] In this case, Deaþ is given as the name of the third of the Wyrde.
So why these three names, Spinel, Metten, and Deaþ? And how should they be treated? For this we need to examine the Parcae and the Moirai.
The Moirai and the Parcae
The Parcae and the Moirai tend to not be mentioned individually but instead in most mentions they are given as a collective three. In art is when they are most prominently seen as three individuals. The names of the Wyrde appear very similar to the Greek terms for the Morai. In Greek the three Fates, the Moirai, are called Clotho (“the spinner”), Lachesis (“the allotter”) and Atropos (“the unturnable”, this being a metaphor for death).
The Moirai were most certainly considered goddesses and indeed were worshipped at their own altars and temples. In the very least they had notable temples at Corinth, Thebes, and Lacedaemon (Sparta) as well as altars at Olympia, Lycosura, and Delphi.[x] Of their worship, the rituals treated them similarly to other chthonic deities, which had offerings given holocaust (burnt whole rather than shared).[xi]
Throughout Greek religion there is a current of fatalism though, an element of predestination. This can be seen developing early even as far back as the Illiad and the Odyssey where it is mostly found in off-hand comments. One off-hand comment found in the Odyssey:
He must endure whatever lot the Fates
Spun for him in the moment of his birth.[xii]
This comment exemplifies the element of predestination at birth to a certain extent. This however can be contrasted to the story of Meleager which will be noted later.
The Parcae were the Roman Fates, once again three in number. They were similarly depicted as spinners but their names do not follow the same convention of the Greeks in spelling out their function within their name. Their names were Nona (“Ninth”), Decima (“Tenth”), and Morta (“Death”). Sources for them are more somewhat more scare, they being found at least in Ovid’s Metamorphosis and Vergil’s Aeneid.
The most telling moment within these Roman sources though comes from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, a Roma source not a Greek one but developing out of the original Greek story of Meleager. When Meleager was born, the Parcae came to his mother and prophesied his death would come when a certain piece of wood was burned up:
She (Althaea) remembered well,
how, when she lay in childbirth round her stood
the three attendant sisters of his fate.
There was a billet in the room, and this
they took and cast upon the wasting flames,
and as they spun and drew the fatal threads
they softly chanted, “Unto you we give,
O child new-born! only the life of this;
the period of this billet is your life.”
And having spoken so, they vanished in the smoke.[xiii]
This episode appears in earlier Greek myth as well but it gives us some insight into the Parcae and indeed the Moirai in that they spun out the length of time a person would live. It also gives us insight into a unique idiosyncrasy of the fatalism present. Meleager was doomed to die as we all are, but his time was set to a billet of wood the Parcae cast into the fire. And yet due to the intervention of his mother he lives into adulthood because she grabs the wood out of the fire. And yet due to the death of her brothers associated with Meleager she later casts the wood billet into a fire killing Meleager with its burning. His fate was set, but at the same point not set. The individual actions of those around him and indeed his own actions later influenced his fate within the bounds set out originally by the natural limit afforded him by the Parcae.
How do we apply this knowledge?
So the first thing we can gather from this all is that the Wyrde would likely be thought of collectively more than individually. In essence, if you were to worship them you would not merely worship and offer to one but to all three. But they are worshipable in these other religions and so following that pattern we should consider these goddesses with deference and consider them worshipable in our religion.
One deviation though from Greek and Roman examples though is that the concept of Wyrd present in Fyrnsidu is not particularly fatalistic. People’s fate is changeable. Further, they are not so bound to some ultimate destiny. I would propose then that in Fyrnsidu the Wyrde are not so much those who set for us our Wyrd but instead goddesses who read through prophecy the Wyrd we will set for ourselves, who see the likeliest courses of events laid out before us. Granted though, even this is subject to change as the great tapestry is woven.
[x] Pausanias, Description of Greece, trans. W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod
(Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd. 1918.), 2.4.7, 9.25.4, 3.11.10, 5.15.5, 8.37.1, 10.24.4,
[xi] Pausanias, Description of Greece, trans. W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod
(Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; William Heinemann Ltd. 1918.), 2.11.4.
[xii] Homer, The Odyssey, trans. William Cowper (London: JM Dent & Sons Ltd. 1791), book VII. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/24269/24269-h/24269-h.htm
[xiii] Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Brookes More (Boston: Cornhill Publishing Co. 1922), Book 8 line 451-546. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0028%3Abook%3D8%3Acard%3D451