The Nordic culture and religion heavily rely on symbols as a way of expressing their faith and beliefs. As such there are many symbols in Norse mythology although only a few are known today. That is because of the scarce written records on the Nordic culture.
The Web of Wyrd is among the most important symbols in Norse Mythology. It has been mentioned several times in the Poetic and Prose Eda. You must be wondering what is the meaning behind the symbol? Where did it originate from? In this post, we will explore what the Web of Wyrd is, its origin, and the meaning behind it.
What Is The Web Of Wyrd?
The Web of Wyrd goes by many names. It is also referred to as Skuld’s Net or the Norse Matrix of Fate. It is believed to have been woven by the three Norns who are responsible for the fate of all beings in the cosmos. The web is said to be a representation of all the possibilities of the future, present, and past.
The Web of Wyrd is a metaphor derived from women’s spinning. According to Norse mythology, just as the individual fibers turn on the spindle, so do the Norns weave the warp and woof to form the thread of our lives. Much like the umbilical cord and human genome.
The name Wyrd comes to form a verb in old English, weorþan which means “to come to pass”. This loosely translates to how the Norse believed fate worked. The word was also believed to be feminine, alluding to the Norns who were believed to have created it. The term Web, on the other hand, is a representation of how the past, present, and future of every being is intertwined.
The symbol is made up of three sets of three lines, that is, one set of three vertical lines and two sets of three diagonal lines. The vertical lines are connected by the diagonal lines to form the web-like appearance that depicts interconnectedness. The nine lines joined together form grids within which the 24 Norse runes can be found.
The Web of Wyrd, therefore, served as a reminder to the Vikings that the past will always affect the present, which in turn will always affect the future. It is also believed to share a similar meaning to the tree of life, Yggdrasil, which also represents interconnectedness.
The Web Of Wyrd Origins And History
Like most of the Nordic culture and religion, there is no written record or evidence of when or where the symbol first appeared. Most scholars agree that the Web of Wyrd is not an ancient symbol from the Viking Age but a modern one, made from combining the runes on Elder Futhark. It is, therefore, more accurate to call the web a pagan symbol as opposed to being a Viking symbol. The connection of the Web of Wyrd to ancient times can therefore only be explained through interpretations of the sources it is mentioned in.
As you know, the web of Wyrd is tied to the three Norns, Skuld, Verðandi, and Urd. The name Norn means twinning. In the Poetic Edda, there have been several mentions of the Norn and what is believed to be them weaving the Web of Wyrd. These sources could explain the origin and history of the web and they are as follows:
Helgakviða Hundingsbana I
This poem was about Helgi Hundingbane, a destined hero in the Nordic Folklore. The poem starts with the Norns visiting the family on the night of Helgi’s birth. They are mentioned to create the Wyrd for him, to ensure his life of greatness.
This is a 13th-century ancient poem, of the story of Võlunder. It talks about how he was captured by king Níðuðr, and how he escaped and later sought revenge. The opening stanza of the poem starts with three maidens spinning at the seashore. These three maidens are believed to be the Norns who are always depicted spinning. They could have been spinning the Web that would lead to Võlunder’s story.
This poem talks about a man named Dörruðr, who observes Valkyries, instead of the Norns, spinning on their looms. The Valkyries are referred to as the choosers of the slain and therefore were believed to be weaving the fate of soldiers on the battlefield. It is believed that they determined the outcome of the battles in ancient Ireland.
Aside from the poems, the Web of Wyrd also appears in the Norse Cosmology, in the myth that explains the Norse cosmos. The myth talks about the tree of life, Yggdrasil, being at the center of the cosmos. It is interconnected with the Nine world and three wells from which it receives nourishment. It is within one of these wells, the well of Urd, that the Norns dwell, weaving the web of Wyrd throughout the cosmos.
The Web Of Wyrd Runes
As we’ve mentioned within the grids of the Web of Wyrd, are the 24 Norse runes. It is also believed by scholars that the web was created from the combination of runes in the Elder Futhark. Some background information of the uses of these runes by the Norse people, is therefore useful, to understand their connection to the web.
In Viking culture, runes are believed to carry the cosmos’ destiny, which is what the Vikings used them for. In ancient writing systems the symbols on the runes were not so different from others in appearance, although, unlike other writing systems, they weren’t written on paper. The runic symbols were always carved into metal, bone, wood, or stone. The surviving runes today from centuries ago are written on stones.
Some Vikings would perform rune casting, which was the use of runes in divination. This involved throwing the bones or stone with rune symbols on a white cloth and deciphering the message they carried. Even today, runic divination is used, much like tarot cards. The rune stones are picked and spread or arranged in a particular template. The arrangement is believed to reveal something about a person’s life. It could be the obstacles in their way, the direction their life is taking, or a change that they will experience in the future. Given the connection of runes to people’s fate, many scholars believe that the runes are what was used to make up the web of Wyrd.
The Web Of Wyrd Symbol
Like we mentioned before, the web of Wyrd is a symbol of the connection between the past, present, and future. It is considered a metaphor for weaving. Just as the fibers turn on the spindle to form a thread, so do the Norns weave the fate of all who exist. The web is regarded as a thread that of our past present and future that is impossible to separate. As a symbol, it depicts the connection of our fates.
What’s more, the web of Wyrd is also seen as a sacred symbol. That is because the web contains nine lines. In Viking culture ad Nordic mythology, the numbers 3 and 9, are important figures that appear throughout the Norse folklore, and poems. For example, there are nine worlds connected to Yggdrasil, Odin’s ring, Draupnir, which multiplies every nine nights and the Valknut symbol has three triangles hence nine points in total. The reason these numbers are so special is that they are believed to be a symbol of completeness. Hence the interconnection of the web through its nine lines, also makes it a sacred symbol of completeness.
The Web Of Wyrd Meaning
The Web of Wyrd derives its meaning from the weaving metaphor, given that the Norns are always depicted either weaving or spinning. The web is therefore seen to mean that it is the fabric of tome ad the universe, made from meshing various threads to form one whole. From this, many meanings can be derived from the web of Wyrd, with the following being the most important ones:
- Interconnectedness – this is the main meaning of the web. It is a representation that all things are connected and in the same way, our past present, and future are connected. That means that every single thread that forms the fabric of life is important as each one can affect the rest.
- Completion – the web can also mean completeness. This is mainly because the web is made up of nine lines in three sets. As we’ve discussed, in Viking culture, the numbers nine and three are taken to mean completeness. Also, the web is a representation of the weaving together of the different lines to form a complete whole.
- Destiny and fate – the web of Wyrd can also be taken to mean destiny or fate. That is because the Norns are known to weave the destiny of the cosmos and are said to have weaved the web, hence the web could be the fate of every being in the cosmos.
- A network of time – because the web is a representation of the past present and future, their connection can be taken to mean the network of time. That different moments or times in life aren’t separate but connected to form a whole. That is why we can look back at our past and connect to our present as well as use our present to predict our future.
Although the web of Wyrd is not the most recognized Nordic symbol, it carries a powerful message. Even today, it remains a popular symbol among pagan groups and can often be seen on clothes, jewelry, or as tattoos. The symbol serves as a reminder of how the past can affect the present and how the present can affect the future. It is also a prompt for us to always take into consideration the influence we have on others’ lives since we are all connected in one way or the other.