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.

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    Ben Johnson famously said of Shakespeare that had a little "Latin and less Greek" so it's a fair assumption Shakespeare was influenced by Classical material in his imagining of the Weird Sisters. Goddess triads are quite prevalent in Classical mythology.
    – DukeZhou
    Nov 16, 2016 at 21:16
  • @DukeZhou Indeed they are! I am curious to know if they share a common etiology as many share similar traits.
    – Rincewind
    Nov 16, 2016 at 23:40
  • @Gibet I don't see where I made the affirmative connection. The given paradigm is the aforementioned similarities and I was asking if substantiating evidence exists regarding a common etiology. And also, "multiple [quotation] marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind."
    – Rincewind
    Nov 18, 2016 at 4:40
  • @Gibet It isn't so much a direct correlation between those two specific examples but I was wanting to know if they can trace their origins to a common source. Trying to connect Shakespeare to Greek mythology is like tying skyscrapers with the Egyptian pyramids. Some of the earliest mentions go back to around 600 BC. Revering female deities or feminine symbologies (outside of fertility) can be seen as far back as 6500 BC.
    – Rincewind
    Nov 18, 2016 at 16:09
  • @Gibet You mentioned proto-Celt mythologies. The timing of the emergence of the characters in both western Europe (celts) and in Greece are about the same, which means it is likely one got the idea from the other. However, the distance between the two goes against that idea. Additionally, the use of Norns and Fates/Graeae don't appear to be the first time literary figures matching that format were used. I appreciate the "safe bet" but I was probing for something a little more substantial.
    – Rincewind
    Nov 18, 2016 at 16:17

1 Answer 1


I think the most obvious connection between the 3 witches and prior mythologies is the witchcraft goddess Hecate, particularly since she's mentioned explicitly in Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 5.

Originally Hecate was considered a beneficent figure and among others had a large cult centre in Byzantium (modern-day Istanbul, Turkey). She was described as a titan in Hesiod's Theogony, but unlike other titans, she sided with the Gods and was therefore subsequently allowed to retain all her former power and providence.

Her representations are many and varied, including association with Zoroastrianism via the Chaldean Oracles, with the Orphic mystery cult, and subsequently with Neoplatonism was featured as the World-Soul. A sculpture of the triple goddess Hecate Chiaramonti is still on display in the Vatican Museum. During the Roman period, she became increasingly associated with death and evil doing in spite of the fact that she was originally credited with averting evil.

Her character and attributes were syncretized many times through history as different cultures came in contact, so it's likely that there is also relation with the Nornir from Anglo-Saxon myths who are quite comparable to the Moirai and Eileithyia with whom Hecate is also often associated.

Depending on how far back you want to go, she can also be considered descendent from the cult of the Matrons, who are most commonly depicted as triple Goddesses, and which has precedents going back close to 30 thousand years according to evidence in the archaeological record. The Matrons cult was widespread and according to scholar Maria Kvilhaug, still persists in a nearly identical form in some remote parts of Siberia. Venerable Bede specifically mentions Mōdraniht as a winter solstice festival in Britain honouring the Matres and Matronae.

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