Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Orson Welles "Macbeth"
~by Marie Robinson

Okay, so I'm an admitted vampire lover, but what you may not know is that I also LOVE witches!

I'm going to take this chance to pay homage to my three favorite cunning women, the three sisters of "Macbeth".

Boy, do I love me some Bill Shakespeare, and I'll be damned if you haven't read "Macbeth". The weird sisters are three witches who predict that Macbeth will become king. You probably know some of their famous lines like, "Double, double, toil and trouble." Or, "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes." Let's explore...

Henry Fuseli's "The Weird Sisters"

We can only speculate on how Shakespeare got his inspiration for the Weird Sisters. Here are a few guesses of mine--all of them happen to be really fun.

FOLKLORE- There are several figures in different countries and cultures legends that resemble Shakespeare's witches. For example:

A witch in European lore is often called a cunning woman. They used a mixture of folk and ceremonial magic, and offered many services. One of them (that conveniently relates back to our topic) is scrying; a kind of ritual that is used for fortune-telling and divination. The medium can be a number of things--stones, smoke, fire, water, mirrors, or a crystal ball, of course.

The Norns--Slavic mythology
A race of beings exist in Norse mythology called the Norns. They are female deities that rule the destinies of all. There are three main Norns, described as "powerful maiden giantesses" (the word for giant is Jotun) who represented destiny and controlled the flow of time. They live beneath the Yggdrasil, the tree of life and keep it watered with the water from the Well of Urðr.

The Graeae--Greek mythology
In Slavic mythology there are three women called the Sudice. They are spinners who loom (see what I did there?) over the cradle of each newborn child and determine its fate. They all are old and ugly, but each one has its own unique deformity;. the one who always wets the thread has a sagging bottom lip, the one who knots the thread has a big fat thumb, and the one who pedals the wheel has a nasty bloated foot.

The most well-known incarnation of these women are the Moirai, or the Fates from Ancient Greek mythology.

The Fates--Greek Mythology
During the time Shakespeare was writing "Macbeth", James VI was conducting witch hunts in Scotland. James thought witches were responsible for sending storms upon his ships and then proceeded to persecute witches, torture them, and execute them. This event in history is thought to be a major inspiration for the play.


"The Tragedy of Macbeth" and the Weird Sisters, themselves have lived on through the ages and have been the inspiration in many mediums of art.

A most famous depiction of them is in Henry Fuseli's painting, "The Weird Sisters" (1783).

They have of course been in any production of "Macbeth", but I just wanted to give a shout out to my favorite adaptation, Orson Welles' 1948 film version.

The Three Brides in "Bram Stoker's Dracula"
An obvious reference to the three witches come from Bram Stoker's "Dracula" in the from of Count Dracula's three wives. Bram Stoker was the manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, where many Shakespeare plays were put on, including Macbeth.

Now, pray tell me, what is your favorite version of the witches?

No comments: