The Fates and The Weird Sisters

A little more Greek mythology for you.

The other day, I wrote about the Furies, and as usual I initially confused them a little with the Fates

The Fates are a similar group of women in Greek mythology, and their role was to control the thread of life of every individual in the world. There are three of them: Clotho, who spun each thread; Lachesis, who measured them; and Atropos (meaning inexorable or inevitable) who cut each thread.

Their original Greek name was the Moirai, from the word moira, meaning allotment or portion of a whole, from which we also get the word merit in English.

The myth of the Fates is the reason we often refer to life as a thread, or a tapestry made up of various intertwining threads.

The word fate (of Latin origin) entered the English language in the 14th century, and not long afterwards, it came to be used to refer to the Moirai. Do you know what’s weird though?

There was a pre-existing Old English word meaning fate. And that word was wyrd, from which we get the modern word weird.  Weird came to have its modern meaning of supernatural or uncanny because Germanic mythology (like most European cultures) had its own conception of the Fates, known as the Norns, or the Weird Sisters. Weird in this sense originally still meant fate, but the Weird Sisters were often portrayed as hideous crones or witches (most famously in Shakespeare’s Macbeth), and the word gradually came to mean supernatural or uncanny through this association.

Weird, eh!?

7 thoughts on “The Fates and The Weird Sisters

  1. Well, of course they’d have to be female deities in people’s imagination, since women were the ones occupying themselves with the spinning of yarn and the making of clothes in everyday life. It’s quite flattering, if you think about it. Everyone’s “life thread” is in the hands of these three women, so they’d better not handle yours if they’re having a bad day (Or hot flashes? But I shouldn’t make fun of these things). Otherwise, a “fatal” accident might befall you.

    Anyway, next time you visit an eye specialist, and you’re given “atropine” so your pupil is dilated and they can examine your eyes in depth, you’ll know you should thank good old Atropos for that. As for Clotho, I know her name has probably nothing to do with “clothes” and “clothing” in English, but isn’t it a happy coincidence?

    Question for an inquisitive, linguistic genius like you: What would you call a “spin doctor” if you had to come up with a term based on the name Clotho?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I’d go for “clothier”. It sounds like a real word for a job. I’d also guessed that “Clotho” and “clothes” were unrelated, but still had to check to be sure. Similarly for “Atropos” and “atrophy,” which are fairly different.

      Like

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