The Well of Wyrd (‘Urd’ and ‘Urth’ are anglicized versions of the old Norse ‘wyrd’ but are all the same word with the same meaning), is mentioned in the last line of stanza 19 of the poem Voluspa where the seeress describes the location of the world tree, Yggdrasil:
above Urth’s well.
Then, in stanza 20:
Three wise women
by that well
under that tree.
Urth is named one,
another is Verthandi,
the third is named Skuld.
They carve men’s fates,
they determine destiny’s laws,
they choose the lifespan
of every human child,
and how each life will end.
The Prose Edda tells us, in Gylfaginning 15, of three wells associated with the nine worlds and Yggdrasil:
Three roots support the tree and they are spread very far apart. One is among the Aesir. A second is among the frost giants where Ginnungagap once was. The third reaches down to Niflheim, and under this root is the well of Hvergelmir.
Under the root that goes to the frost giants is the Well of Mimir. Wisdom and intelligence are hidden there, and Mimir is the name of the well’s owner.
The third root of the ash is in heaven, and under that root is the very holy well called the Well of Urd. There the Gods have their place of judgement.
‘Heaven’ in this case refers to Asgard, home of the Gods and Goddesses. It’s hard to keep track of exactly where the wells and the worlds are located in regards to Yggdrasil but it is said that Urd’s well is at the foot of the tree and this is also where we find the three wise women mentioned in Voluspa:
A handsome hall stands under the ash beside the well. Out of this hall come three maidens, who are called Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld. These maidens shape men’s lives. We call them the norns.
Within Heathenry there is a concept called wyrd which is defined by it’s connection to Urd’s well (oddly, the modern English word ‘weird’ also has it’s root in wyrd, but the meaning has since changed). Wyrd is in turn related to the concept of orlog which roughly means original law, primal law, or the place where all things begin.
The norns equate to past present and future, although not quite in the modern sense. Urd, that which is past and cannot be changed, Verdandi, that which is becoming, and Skuld, that which will become, or that which is possible.
Patricia M. Lafayllve says in her book A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru:
We are bound by our orlog – we will become what we are destined to become, but our wyrd can change.
Sometimes wyrd is considered a kind of fate and some schools of thought feel that we are destined from birth to a certain fate, which is indeed what the ancestors believed. What was written at birth by the norns could be defined as one’s orlog, our fate, or what we are destined to become (Urd), but it can be affected by our present actions (Verdandi), because our present actions will become the past and in turn affect what we become (Skuld). This is what is considered the web of wyrd. It is often thought of as being woven and often the norns can be imagined as spinners or weavers. The concept is endlessly fascinating. I have been following a heathen path for over 7 years and I still learn something new about wryd and orlog every time I look at it.
Völuspá in The Poetic Edda:Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes by Jackson Crawford, Hackett, 2015
Gylfalginning in Snorri Sturluson: Edda, translated by Anthony Faulkes, Everyman, 1988
Gylfalginning in The Prose Edda: Norse Mythology by Snorri Sturlson, translated by Jesse L. Byock Penguin, 2006
A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru by Patricia M. Lafayllve, Llewellyn, 2013