They controlled the metaphorical thread of life, the good and bad moments of every mortal from birth to death. This article provides facts and information about the Three Fates.
Definition of the Three Fates (Moirae)
Who were the Three Fates of Ancient Greek mythology? The meaning and definition of Three Fates are as follows: Definition of Three Fates: The Three Fates were the goddesses who were reputed to be the personification of destiny, the weavers of fate who determined when life began, when it ended and all that happened in between. The names of the Three Fates were Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. Life is woven by Clotho, measured by Lachesis and the thread of life is cut by Atropos.
Genealogy of the Three Fates (Moirae)
According to most sources of Greek Mythology the three Fates were the daughters of Zeus, the king of the gods and and Themis, one of the Titanides. The primordial deities Chaos, the first of all divinities and Nyx, the dark goddess of Night are named in other sources, as are the Titan Cronus with Ananke, the goddess of inevitability and the personification of destiny, necessity and fate. The children of Nyx and Erebus also included Doom (Moros), Old Age (Geras), Divine Retribution (Nemesis), Death and Sleep (Thanatos and Hypnos), Strife (Eris, the goddess of Discord), Charon, the Keres and other personifications. There was a link between the Moirae and the Tyche the goddess of fortune and luck.
The Three Fates (Moirae)
The three goddesses accepted as the Fates were the personification of destiny, inevitability and fortune. Each of the three Fates, the weavers of fate, had specific tasks that they were divided between them. Clotho spun the thread, Lachesis measured it and Atropos cut the thread. Their name means "Parts." "Shares" or "Alottted Portions." The Three Fates (the Moirae) were believed to appear three nights after a child's birth to determine the course of its life. As goddesses of birth, they had the power to prophesize the fate of the newly born, as goddesses of fate they clearly knew the future. Zeus was entitled the Leader of the Fates, and the three goddesses sat in attendance of his throne, presiding over the sacred laws of heaven. They were the distributors of good and bad fortune to mortals and to nations. The three Fates were also present at the birth of gods to declare their divine privileges and functions.
The Three Fates (Moirae) and the 'Death Fates' (the Keres)
Their was also a belief that a person's 'Ker' or life force developed with his growth, either for good or evil. When the ultimate fate of a mortal was about to be decided, his 'Ker' was weighed in the balance by the Death Fates, the hateful goddesses of death called the Keres, and, according to its worth or worthlessness, life or death was awarded to the mortal in question. This concept originated in ancient Egyptian beliefs in which souls, including the 'Ka' were judged in the Hall of Two Truths where the heart was weighed against the feather of truth and their fate would be decided - either entrance into the perfect afterlife or to be sent to the Devourer of the Dead. It is therefore evident that according to the belief of the early Greeks, each individual had it in his power, to some extent, to shorten or prolong his own existence and not totally reliant on the judgement of the Fates.
The Three Fates (Moirae) - the Underworld and the Furies
As goddesses of death, the Fates appear together with the infernal goddesses called the Furies (Erinnyes) in Hades the Underworld. The Furies, also called the Erinyes, acted as agents of the Fates (Moirai), exacting the punishments decreed by the gods. The Fates spent some of their time in the Underworld, the province of Hades, the god of the Underworld. It was here that they kept the Archives of the Fates that contained the complete records of all mortals and events, on indestructible tablets of brass and iron. The wicked and evil dead were sent to be tormented by the Furies in Tartarus, a dark abyss, below the Underground - the equivalent of Hell. The Fates (Moirai) only allowed the good to pass to Elysium and the Elysian Fields.
The Three Fates - Clotho
Clotho was known as the "spinner" spun the thread of life from her distaff (a staff holding the bundle of unspun fibers) before being drawn onto her spindle (a shaft used to twist the yarn in spinning).
- Clotho was depicted as a maiden
- She was the youngest of the Moirae
- Her symbol is a spindle
- She had the power to make major decisions not only choosing who was born but also to decide if a mortal should be saved or put to death
- Her Roman counterpart was called Nona
The Three Fates - Lachesis
Lachesis was known as the "allotter" measured the thread of life allotted to each person with her measuring rod. She was the 'caster of lots'. (Casting lots meant throwing dice).
- Lachesis was depicted as a matron
- Her symbol is a scroll or globe
- Her Roman counterpart was called Decuma
- The Moirae were credited for creating invented seven of the letters of the Greek alphabet (alfa, vita, ita, taf, iota and ipsilon) because the lots, or dice, contained various symbols which were originally used for the purpose of prophecy and divination
The Three Fates - Atropos
Atropos was known as the "inevitable" and was the cutter of the thread of life and chose the manner of death for every mortal using "her abhorred shears"
- Atropos was depicted as an old crone
- She was the smallest of the Moirae
- She was the most terrible and the most feared of the Fates
- She was the oldest of the Moirae
- Her symbol is a pair of shears
- Her Roman counterpart was called Morta
The Attributes of the Three Fates (Moirae)
The ancient Greek gods and goddesses were associated with special symbols and attributes that were depicted in the pictures, mosaics, statues and images of the deities making them instantly recognisable. The attributes of the Three Fates included:
- The Moirae were depicted holding various threads
- Staffs or sceptres, the symbols of dominion
- Clotho: A spindle
- Lachesis: A scroll, the book of fate Scroll or globe representing a horoscope
- The Shears (Atropos)
- Dice: Dice have been used for gambling but they were also used for divination and prophecy. The throw of a dice was not just considered to be luck, the outcome was believed to be controlled by the Fates (Moirae) and casting dice was a method of prediction