Norns are any creatures in Germanic mythologies that correspond to the Moirai in Greek mythology. In Norse mythology they are Urd (the past, "fate"), Verdandi (the present, "necessity") , and Skuld (the future, "being"), three sisters who are sometimes also known as the Disir, Dises, Idises and Hagedises. Daughters of the giant Norvi, they control not only the fate of men, but also the gods and the laws that forever rule over the cosmos. They dwell in Asgard at the base of the ask Yggdrasil, the world tree. Their primary jobs were to weave the web of fate and time and to care for the world tree and the Well of Wyrd, since one of Yggdrasil’s roots grows into the water (to save it from aging) and the gods hold their daily council there.
Urd spins the thread of life, Verdandi winds the thread, and Skuld cuts it off. Fates of men are carved into a piece of wood. The norns will care for Yggdrasil until the day of Ragnarok, the day of the end, by mixing the water from the Well of Wyrd with sand and spreading it on the tree. On Ragnarok, the Earth will be torn apart during a battle between the gods and the giants, taking Yggdrasil along with it.
Urd is the oldest - always looking back into the past. Pictures show her as an old woman.
Verdandi is young - only concerned with now. In visual records, she is always the young and beautiful sister.
Skuld is covered by a veil and sometimes holds a tightly bound book or scroll, since the future is not for anyone but her to know
From the Völuspá of the Poetic Edda about the Norns:
Then from the throng | did three come forth,
From the home of the gods, | the mighty and gracious;
Two without fate | on the land they found,
Ask and Embla, | empty of might.
Soul they had not, | sense they had not,
Heat nor motion, | nor goodly hue;
Soul gave Othin, | sense gave Hönir,
Heat gave Lothur | and goodly hue.
An ash I know, | Yggdrasil its name,
With water white | is the great tree wet;
Thence come the dews | that fall in the dales,
Green by Urth's well | does it ever grow.
Thence come the maidens | mighty in wisdom,
Three from the dwelling | down 'neath the tree;
Urth is one named, | Verthandi the next,--
On the wood they scored,-- | and Skuld the third.
Laws they made there, and life allotted
To the sons of men, and set their fates.
While the word "Norns" is only present among the Norse, cults with similar beings of worship exist in a few other Germainc groups. According to the poet Snorri Sturlason, related Norns who are also decendents of the immortal are present at births to determine the fate of the child.
Burke, Nikki. "Norse Mythology: Gods and Goddesses: The Norns". 13 July 2004 <http://www.gods-heros-myth.com/norse/norns.html>.
"Norn." Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2004. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. 13 July 2004 <http://search.eb.com/eb/article?eu=57557>.
"Short, William R.". "Hurstwic Norse Mythology: The Norns". 2000. Hurstwic. 13 July 2004 <http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/mythology/myths/text/norns.htm>.