The use of a trio of witches is quite common in literature and lore. Greek, Slavic, and British tales have used them as antagonists or catalysts in their (sometimes cautionary) stories. In other sociological constructs, such as pagan and wiccan religions, their qualities and form (maiden, mother, and crone) are often revered.

I'm curious to know if the Three Witches from Macbeth share a common origin with other similar people/creatures such as the Stygian Witches or The Graeae.

  • 2
    I always assumed they were the prototypical maid,/mother/crone combo, or possibly the three fates. – Valorum Nov 14 '16 at 13:57
  • 2
    @Valorum I forgot about The Fates. In some Greek mythos, they are seen as separate entities from The Graeae. Awesome example, thanks! – Rincewind Nov 14 '16 at 14:25
  • It's been a very long time since I studied Macbeth. – Valorum Nov 14 '16 at 14:26
  • 1
    I love this question but I wonder if the Mythology SE could answer better. – Detective Chimp Nov 14 '16 at 17:31
  • 1
    Plus the Norns from Norse mythology. – Lexible Nov 15 '16 at 1:10

At least according to the wiki entry for the Morai (Emphasis mine):

In Shakespeare's Macbeth the Weird sisters (or Three Witches), are prophetesses, who are deeply entrenched in both worlds of reality and supernatural. Their creation was influenced by British folklore, witchcraft, and the legends of the Norns and the Moirai.[76] Hecate, the chthonic Greek goddess associated with magic, witchcraft, necromancy, and three-way crossroads,[77] appears as the master of the "Three witches". In Ancient Greek religion, Hecate as goddess of childbirth is identified with Artemis,[78] who was the leader (ηγεμόνη: hegemone ) of the nymphs.[79]

Along with the Greek/Norse, there are the Weiße Frauen, or White Ladies, which are echoed by the Witte Wieven (Dutch) and Dames Blanches (French). All of these are literally "white ladies" (quite often depicted in threes) who have supernatural influences. (Jacob Grimm later attempted to codify the Weissen Frauen as Holda, Perchta and Ostara/Eostre. Eostre is the namesake of the festival of Easter).

TL; DR - It looks like the origins are a cobbling together by Shakespeare of several similar legends of influential women trios.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.