Greek mythology have Many supernatural entities such as heroic quests, shapeshifting characters, vengeful Gods, bloody battles, and some super intense love stories. These tropes appear again and again throughout the Greek mythical Universe. But there are three shadowy figures running the entire show known as The Fates. They Possess powers even greater than the Gods. The Fates determine the destiny of every shape-shifting, quest-weary, lovesick mortal.
It’s rare for the Fates to make a sustained appearance in any Myth but once you know how to look for them, they’re present everywhere.
Who are the Fates?
In Today’s World, we can associate “The Fates” with the crones of Disney’s Hercules. But these characters actually blend the Fates with the Graeae. A trio of sisters who served the gorgons and shared one eye and one tooth between them. The real Fates keep their body parts to themselves, but they did preside over life and death. A closer look at their role unlocks an underlying logic of Greek mythology and raises important questions about power, free will, and the human condition that remain relevant today.
Fate’s relationship with Nyx
The Fates were the fatherless offspring of Nyx or the Night. A primordial force in her own right who was greater than any God. Nyx produced a variety of children including Death, Doom, Sleep, and Dreams. None were so powerful as the three sisters known as the Fates.
The Fates spent every day spinning. Their thread was the line of life itself and a snip of their scissors signaled death. In Greek, they were known as THE MOIRAI, from the Greek word for share or portion. It’s an appropriate name for those who cast lots to determine every human’s fate.
The scholar Hyginus wrote that the markings on the Fates divination stones were the first appearance of the vowels in the Greek alphabet. This reinforces the idea that we owe a whole lot to the Fates.
Role of the each Fates
Within the trio, each Fate had her own role. When a baby was born KLOTHO, or “THE SPINNER,” spun the thread of their life. She was armed with a spindle and a small loom, which was also called the Book of Fate.
LACHESIS, or “The Apportioner”, determined the length of the lifeline. Her tools were a measuring staff and a globe upon which she charted people’s fates.
ATROPOS, Or “The Inflexible”, chose the cause of death. And when the time of Death came, she severed the thread of life. With her ominous scissors and scale of judgment, she’s probably the most feared of the three.
The Fates have long been associated with the march of time. Aristotle imagined Klotho spinning out the present moment, Lachesis determining the future, and Atropos presiding over a past that cannot be changed.
They’ve also been portrayed in many different guises and stages of life. Plato imagined them as young women sitting on celestial thrones, singing in harmony, but they have also been visualized as three older women.
Other depictions split the difference, showing Klotho in her youth, Lachesis in middle age, and Atropos in old age. This is classic Maiden-Mother-Crone iconography.
Fate in Different Mythology
In Norse mythology, the Norns are female deities who sometimes appear in multitudes, or are depicted as three tree-dwelling giants who scribble humans’ fates on wood.
Albanian avatars come in one or three and have been depicted as female spinners who write babies’ fates on their foreheads.
In Korean Jeju mythology, a single goddess known as Kameunjangagi presides over fate. Banished from her parents’ home for her crass humor and witchy powers, which she used to turn her sister into a mushroom. Kameunjangagi goes on to live an independent life helping other outsiders. She ultimately stands for the concept of finding one’s purpose, in spite of life’s uncertainties.
Although they were understandably feared, the Greek Fates also offered solace and hope. Seeing as they were more powerful than God. It’s no surprise that the Fates were worshipped in their own right. They were the subject of cults, monuments, and inscriptions throughout Ancient Greece, while the Sicyonians sacrificed black sheep to them.
As harsh judges and watchful caretakers, the Fates remain a paradox. While they’re readily associated with the uncomfortable thought that death comes for us all, they’re also responsible for colorful lives and good fortune. Perhaps this duality is why they remain so resonant today and, like life itself, there’s a magic to their mystery.