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The Weird Journey of Urd, the Goddess of Fate

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

The Norns Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld  from under the world oak Yggdrasil (1882) from the artwork by Ludwig Burger.

The Norns Urðr, Verðandi, and Skuld from under the world oak Yggdrasil (1882) from the artwork by Ludwig Burger.

One Goddess, Several Alias

There are two modern English words associated with Urd (also known in Old Norse as “Urðr”). Her name became the origin of the terms “weird” and “fate.” At the time, the old English (Saxon) term of the word (“wyrd”) referred to one that traveled or did things without reason. This came from the Norse word that was this goddess’s namesake. These terms best fit Urd, one of the Norns of Norse mythology. After all, she has been on a journey of sorts.

Modern anime fans may recognize her as a deity in a popular Japanese series entitled, Oh My Goddess! Avid comic book readers may remember her as one of the Asgardian from Marvel's Thor series.

In one medium or another, Urd and her two sisters, Skuld and Verdandi, have survived in the annals of mythology for thousands of years, only to become part of both modern Western and Eastern cultures. She’s even become a modern symbol of women’s rights in the Scandinavian country of her origin.

So how did this goddess become a viable part of modern life? Now, that’s a weird journey, to say the least.

The Nordic Version of Fates

Urd was part of the Norns, the “fates” of Norse mythology. The Norns were three sister goddesses who were tasked with deciding the fate of people. To do so, they would “spin the threads of life, cut marks in the pole figure, and measure people’s destinies.” Each sister had a task, as revealed in the meanings of their names. Their names are translated as follows:

  • Urd’s represented “fate” or “the past;”
  • Skuld was either “debt” or “future;” and
  • Verdandi meant “happening” or “present.”

According to legends, the Norns were present at every person’s birth and decided their destiny at that time. To note, some scholars don’t consider them goddesses in the classic sense of Norse mythology. They were not part of the two forms of gods and may have been personifications of time.

...the three were given their own place to reside. That being at the mystical well, known as Urðarbrunnr (the well of fate), which existed within the vital Yggdrasil (the world tree) in Asgard...

In addition, they decided the destinies of the Norse gods, too. Often, the Aesars, the heavenly and most powerful deities, “ sought their council.” Being important goddesses, the three were given their own place to reside. That being at the mystical well, known as Urðarbrunnr (the well of fate), which existed within the vital Yggdrasil (the world tree) in Asgard, the home of the major gods of the mythology. The tree was also considered to be at the center of the known cosmos.

The (Brief) Tale of the Norns

As was the case with all Norse deities, their stores were recorded in two of its most important collections. In Urd’s case, she was mentioned in the 20th stanza of the Völuspá (Poetic Edda) and in the Gylfaginning (Prose Edda).

Relatively little was mentioned about Urd and the Norns in the two books. Their origins were a mystery and their roles in the myth were not well defined. At best, the revelations of the Norns were the following:

  • Urd and the well, Urðarbrunnr, were connected. The two shared the same name (at least with the first syllable of the well’s name).
  • Aside from deciding the fate of humans, Urd and the sisters revealed the destinies of the gods and goddesses. Even Odin and his children couldn’t escape the fate given to them by the Norns.
  • Supposedly, Urd and the sisters came from the sea (depending on the translations and various codex created from the source).
  • They came from diverse backgrounds: one from the Aesars, the second from the elves, and the third from Dvalinn’s daughters (dwarf). Also, there may be more than three Norns among the dwarves.
  • They decided the events to come, such as the coming of the devastating war, Ragnarok.

The latter seems to indicate the Norns and, possibly the Greek Fates, were somehow interconnected. At this point, this may appear to be conjecture. The same can be said about the Weird Sisters (witches) in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The inspiration for the sisters was the Greek Fates. Still, the descriptions are uncanny when compared with the Norns.

Urd and Norns Move on to Comic Books

Urd’s brief, but pivotal, presence in Norse mythology wasn’t the last time she’d appear in some form of mythology. Marvel Comics brought Urd and her sisters back to public attention. While the characters were minor and never had a comic book series named after them, they contributed through what is now known as the Marvel Universe.

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The sister’s comic debut came in Volume 1 #102 of Journey Into Mystery (which will eventually become the Mighty Thor series), dated January 1964. This particular series showcased multiple stories. The story, “ Death Comes to Thor!” was the one that introduced Urd and the Norns. As was the case with the original sisters, the Norns are catalysts for a story in which Thor goes to battle Death in order to obtain the all-powerful Mjolliner (Thor’s iconic hammer) from his father, Odin.

In this issue, Urd told Thor where to go and who to fight, as well as some omens. This would not be the last time that Urd was included in the pages of Thor. In fact, she’d eventually end up with at least 24 appearances in several titles, including Symbiote-Spiderman Crossroads, Loki, The Defenders, and Dark Wolverine. Her appearances range nearly 60 years as of this writing. The last appearance was in 2021.

The very first appearance of  Urd and the Norn sisters in Marvel Comics (1964)

The very first appearance of Urd and the Norn sisters in Marvel Comics (1964)

Still, possibly the most striking thing about this version is that Urd has a few features added, which include:

  • She’s middle-aged;
  • has brown hair and blue eyes;
  • is called the “Goddess of Destiny”;
  • Has several bases of operations;
  • is considered both a citizen of Asgard and Olympus;
  • Has the power of “Retrocognition” (the ability to see past events);
  • Uses “Allspeak” (a technique that the Asgardians use to communicate with those within the “Ten Realms,” which include Earth and its languages); and
  • speaks for herself as well as for her sisters.

The last trait, alone, is unique. She is now given a voice. This will not be the last time she will be given unique characteristics as she moves on to other mediums.

Urd on TV

Surprisingly, Urd nor her sisters have been included in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as of this writing. Still, some bloggers are asking and even suggesting a particular actress play the role.

Urd and her sisters did end up on a TV episode. Ironically, they appeared on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a show based on a comic book series that’s not associated with Marvel. No individual names were given to them.

One of several bloggers pushing for Urd to be inducted into MCU have called for [Sophia] Bush to reprise (sort of) her role in future Thor sequels or in Loki Season 2.

They were simply known as the Norn Sisters and were responsible for people’s fate.

One of the sisters was played by an upcoming actress, Sophia Bush. One of several bloggers pushing for Urd to be inducted into MCU has called for Bush to reprise (sort of) her role in future Thor sequels or in Loki Season 2. There are no words at this moment that Urds or her sisters will be included in these series.

Urd the Anime Star

Urd and her sisters have done something unique among Nordic gods. On top of being revived in comics and TV (and a brief reference to her well in the Assassin Creed game and reference to their chest called Nornir in 2018’s God of War game), they’ve been embraced by a totally different society that’s halfway across the globe from their place of origin.

In Japan, a manga and anime TV series gave Urd and her sisters a larger role in Ah, My Goddess! This version shares some of the traits of the original deities from Norse mythology; however, it is a very loose depiction.

Ah, My Goddess! is the story about a bullied college student who manages to contact three goddesses through a hotline. While Urd becomes a pivotal part of the story, she is not the first goddess that Kelichi Morisato, the protagonist, contacts. That honor goes to her younger sister, Belandy (originally Verdandi, but the Norse to Japanese translation proved to be nearly impossible—this name is also a translation from Japanese to English).

Cosplay of the goddess from Ah, My Goddess! Urd is in purple.

Cosplay of the goddess from Ah, My Goddess! Urd is in purple.

In this version, Belandy seems to take the lead among the sisters, despite Urd being considered the more powerful of them. Also, according to the episodes, Urd is considered a 2nd class goddess because she didn’t pass a licensing exam for 1st class designation.

Additionally, Urd’s appearance is unique to other versions. In this one she:

  • is tall and voluptuous;
  • has long, silver hair;
  • brown eyes;
  • scantily dressed; and
  • young (24 years old).

In addition, her heritage indicates that she is a mixture of good and bad. Her father is a god while her mother is a demon (all the Norns sisters are considered half-sisters in this version). She has an inverted triangle on her forehead that changes colors when she is either in her “goddess” or “demon” modes.

A Voice for Women’s Rights?

Urd and the Norns have never left the public eye. Throughout the late 1800s, the sisters’ images graced posters and magazine covers throughout the Scandinavian countries.

In recent times (2004), a heavy metal band called Amon Amarth paid homage to the sisters with an album entitled, “ Fate of Norns.”

However, Urd, at least her name, became a symbol and a name for an important women’s magazine in Norway. The Urd magazine existed from 1879 to 1958. It was founded by two sisters and was noted for its higher content of arts and culture. Also, the magazine published many articles that championed women’s rights and showcased the struggles many women in Norway went through during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

It’s been a weird trip for Urd and the Norns; however, these minor goddesses have managed to endure in several cultures and mediums. This is especially true for Urd. Her name may be associated with the past, but it appears that she will be around in the present and possibly the future.

Poster for Urd Magazine.

Poster for Urd Magazine.

Work Cited

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Dean Traylor

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