Honoring Gaia Through Stories

HOLY WELL AND SACRED THREAD by Nancy Vedder-Shults (as originally published in New Avenues, April 1998)

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. Then 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. There is no end to life.