Holy Well and Sacred Thread by Nancy Vedder-Shults


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I usually share this myth as a storyteller and singer.  After introducing each of the goddesses, I sing a verse pertaining to that goddess from Starhawk’s chant, “No End to the Circle.”  When I’ve finished the tale, I sing the chorus one more time: “There is no end to the circle, no end.  There is no end to life, there is no end.”

~~~~~~~

Before the very beginning were the Norns.  Older than the oldest gods, they sat from the very beginning of time and even before at the root of the World Tree Yggdrasill.  There they spun the web of life and watered the World Tree from their holy spring, the Urdarbrunnr.

This story, like all good stories, has a beginning, a middle and an end.  But unlike most stories, the ending is not the end of the story, but a new beginning.  The beginning, of course, is Urth, the first Norn, She who started the spindle turning and who spins the thread of life to this very day. You might guess from the sound of Her name that Urth was the Earth Mother.  As the Earth Mother, She knew no temperance.  She was a creator, so She created.  She spun the thread of life, and spun and spun and spun some more.  Soon there was thread everywhere.  As far as the eye could see thread curled and tangled, twisted and twined, criss-crossed and matted itself into little balls.  Thread coiled around Her feet, becoming knotted and dirty, then wound around the tree Yggdrasill, looping through its branches and getting caught in its leaves and on its tiniest twigs.  Finally the thread began to clog the Urdarbrunnr, the holy well at the foot of the ash tree. 

One day when Urth put down Her spinning to water the World Ash, She noticed that Her pail no longer fit in the well.  This was a problem for Urth.  She loved to spin.  It was Her greatest joy.  But She also knew that She needed to water the World Tree every day, not too much and not too little, or it would die.

As Urth stood pondering this dilemma, She gazed at Her reflection in the holy spring.  And then She knew what She had to do.  She spun from Her body a sister who looked just like Her, and named Her Verthandi, the weaver.  Urth was ecstatic, for now She had someone to share Her days.  She hugged Her sister and kissed Her and wondered why She had waited so long to create Her.

Then Urth turned to Her sister and said, “Verthandi, look around you.  What do you see?”

And Verthandi, who was a weaver after all, saw thread and yarn, string and cord in every color and hue, and in every fiber – in wool, and linen, cotton and silk – and She said, “I see all the material from which to weave a world.  But Urth,” She continued, “first I must fashion a loom.  Help me to cut limbs from the World Tree on which to hang the warp, and then we’ll make heddles and shuttles from what’s left over.”

So Urth and Verthandi fashioned a loom, and Verthandi began to weave the world.  First, She wove the material from the Holy Well, and it became the oceans and seas, the lakes and the rivers, all the running water and the still ponds on the face of the Earth.

And when She had finished with the wet threads, She wove the string hanging from Yggdrasill’s limbs, and soon there were plants of all kinds covering the surface of the land – ferns and trees, flowers and mushrooms, vegetables and fruits, grasses and shrubs.

And after Verthandi had populated the planet with plants, She began to weave the knotted, dirty yarn at Urth’s feet.  From it She fashioned the animals – humans and monkeys, foxes and wolves, hedgehogs and porcupines, lions and tigers, cats and dogs, elephants and hyenas.  And as they worked, the two sisters chatted happily, each pleased with Her creations.

But soon the Holy Well began to fill with Verthandi’s weavings.

When Urth noticed this, She didn’t hesitate one minute, but knew immediately what to do.  For the second and final time, She spun from Her body a sister who looked just like Her and Verthandi, a sister they named Skuld, the one who cuts life’s weavings from the loom.

“Welcome, Skuld,” said the first two sisters.  “We need your help.”

“Yes,” said Skuld, looking around Her, “you two need someone like me with the power of endings.  But that kind of power,” She continued, “must always remain hidden.  Only I shall know when to cut the thread of life.”

Nodding their heads, Urth and Verthandi agreed.  The three Sisters decided that Skuld must always wear a veil to cover the scrolls of fate She carried with Her everywhere.

So Urth began the task of spinning a thread of such fine darkness that you could only see it from one direction.  And Verthandi wove the stars into this veil of darkness, so that Skuld was forever hidden from view.

Since Skuld’s arrival, the Holy Well has always been clear.  And Yggdrasill is watered every morning, not too much and not too little, so that it lives to this very day.

But this is not the end of the story, because every day Urth spins new thread from the material that Skuld provides for Her.  And every day Verthandi weaves new tapestries from the thread that Urth spins.  And every day Skuld cuts the weavings from the loom to supply Urth with the makings for a new beginning.

So you see, “there is no end to the circle, no end.  There is no end to life, there is no end.”

 

Nancy Vedder-Shults, Ph.D., is the thealogical columnist for SageWoman magazine as well as a Wiccan blogger for Tikkun Daily.  She has offered ecofeminist and spiritual growth keynotes, workshops, and classes since 1987.  Nancy honed her speaking and workshop skills teaching in the emerging field of Women’s Studies from 1975 – 1991.  In the early 1990s her muse nudged her out of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to record Chants for the Queen of Heaven, a CD of goddess songs from around the world, and become the musical consultant for the Unitarian Universalist goddess curriculum Rise Up and Call Her Name.  She is currently writing a book entitled The World is Your Oracle.  Check out her website at http://www.mamasminstrel.net.

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Categories: Fiction, General, Myth

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23 replies

  1. Thank you Nancy – a beautiful telling of creational and seasonal story! I have shared it on my FB page, and may lke to use it in some of my workshops – with your acknowledgement

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  2. Beautiful, Nancy. I know the chant and hear it weaving in and out of your beautiful telling of the story.

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  3. Hi Nancy, what I love about your myth is that it’s rooted in traditional women’s activities, women at the loom, women at the well, except mythologically you’ve transformed that productivity into the work of Creation itself. Mind-boggling stuff.

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  4. I love this, Nancy! Thank you for sharing your story of the Norns!

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    • Thanks, Deanne. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

      My ethnic heritage is mostly German, but as a feminist, I’m not drawn very often to the Norse/Germanic gods and goddesses. However, not being Aesir (i.e. warlike, like Odin, Thor, etc.), the Norns have always spoken to me much more directly. Someday I have to do more research on the Vanir, the god/desses whom the Aesir conquered. Maybe then I’ll find myths among their ranks that inspire me.

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  5. Love it! People need to pay more attention to the Norns and learn the lessons their story teaches. Spin, but don’t spin so much you get all clogged up. Weave, but don’t weave so much you run out of space. Cut the threads when they need to be cut. Thanks for adding a story to our community here.

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  6. Just beautiful! The story is so very well told. You are an inspiration. Thank you:)

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  7. Love the story, love the names, love that tree.

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  8. The names are traditional for the three norns, found in the ancient texts. Like you, I love Yggdrasil, the world tree. And the holy well beneath it.

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  9. Nancy, I love this creation story! Thank you so much for sharing it! I’d like to know more about the norns. What could I read?

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  10. Wonderful! My heart is clapping! I especially love “As the Earth Mother, She knew no temperance.” Reminds me of the Creation song by Ann Mortifee.

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  11. This story is not based on Norse tradition, only using the names of the Norns. Your false etymology of Urd and Earth is misleading. It would be best to make it clear that you don’t know the Norse creation myth rather than mis-represent Norse culture.

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    • Kari, I suppose you’re entitled to your opinion about “Norse tradition.” But when I read the Eddas in Old Norse while studying for my Ph.D. in German Literature, what I found were fragments of a myth concerning the Norns. Here’s one translation of the story (from the _Völuspá_): “I know an ash that stands/ called Yggdrasil,/ a tall tree, watered/ with white silt;/ from there come the dews/ that fall in the valleys;/ it stands eternally, green/ over the well of Urdr.// From there come maidens,/ knowledgeable of many things,/ three, from that lake/ which stands under the tree;/ one they call Urdr,/ Another Verthandi,/ — they carved on slips of wood –/ Skuld the third one./ They laid down laws,/ they chose life/ for the children of men,/ the fate of men.”

      What we know about the Norns from all of the Eddas and Sagas, skaldic poetry, etc. is very little. They are associated fate, and with textile-making and law-giving as metaphors for fate. The best book I have read about them is _The Norns in Old Norse Mythology_ by Karen Bek-Pedersen. My tale is a poetic evocation of the Norns as I see them.

      As to the etymological connection between Urd and Earth, there is controversy about the etymology of Urd; some people believe that it is related to Eorth, Hertha, Jörd, and Erd, all names for Earth in a variety of Germanic languages.

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      • Thanks for your reply. Yes, your tale is a poetic evocation of the norns as you see them. That would be a good introduction line. I know the Eddas in Old Norse, Norwegian and English also and of course we are all entitled to our own interpretations. Your poetic story then is a pre-cursor to the lines in the Voluspa? A “what happened before they appeared on the scene” sort of story?

        How do they relate to Ymir and to the tri-partite creator gods Wod, Willi, and We? Not that there needs to be a chronology in mythos. I am just wondering.

        I will check out Karen Bek-Pedersen’s book. Thank you for the recommendation.

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