In Greek mythology, the Moirai—often known in English as the Fates—were the white-robed incarnations of destiny. Their number became fixed at three: Clotho (spinner), Lachesis (allotter) and Atropos (unturnable). They controlled the metaphorical thread of life of every mortal from birth to death.
The Fates were even more powerful than the gods, though this did not stop the gods from trying. Homer writes it was the will of fate that the Greeks destroy Troy, when Rumor and Panic caused the Greeks to want to flee. Aeneas was fated to go to Italy, despite the best efforts of Hera. Hera's actions in attempting to defy fate led to a premature death of Dido, the queen of Carthage. Since her thread was not cut to so short a length, she would not die even though a dagger had pierced her breast.
In nearly all mythologies the three Fates, rulers of the past, present and future, are represented and many believe they symbolize the Triple Goddess, Virgin, Mother and Crone (Creator, Preserver and Destroyer). The most prominent are the Moerae, or the Greek Fates. Clotho was the Spinner, Lachesis, the Measurer; and Atropos, the Cutter of life's thread. All were aspects of the archaic Triple Aphrodite of whom it is said that her name was Moera, and she is older than Time. Moera is actually a late name for the Fate goddess. In the Mycenaean period it meant a landholding, possessed by a female property owner during the matriarchal period. Hence, Moera might mean a lot, thus later "allotted fate."
The Fates were often depicted as ugly hags, cold and unmerciful. But the Fates were not always deaf to the pleading of others. When Atropos cut the thread of King Admetus, who happened to be Apollo's friend, Apollo begged the Fates to undo their work. It was not in their power to do so, but they promised that if someone took Admetus' place in the gloomy world of Hades' domain, he would live. The king's wife, Alcestis, said she would take his place. But Hercules, who happened to be Admetus' guest, rescued her from the underworld, and Admetus an Alcetis were reunited.
Neither Homer not the later Greeks seemed clear on how the Fates related to the other gods. One author, Hesoid, describes them as the daughters of Zeus and Themis (Righteousness), whereas Plato calls them the daughters of Ananke (Necessity). Sometimes Fate is a force with unlimited power over all humans and deities, and Zeus performs its commands; on other occasions Zeus can change the course of Destiny, and even humans sometimes succeeded in reversing their fate.
The Fates, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos who were three lame and wrinkled old women. They were dressed in rags, with burnt skin, snakes as hair, dog's heads, bat's wings and blood shot eyes. Zeus weighed the lives of men and informed the Fates of his decisions, their task then being to "to spin and cut the thread of life." Their victims died in torment.
The personification of fate as three goddesses, the Moirai, is first clearly described in Hesiod's epic poem the Theogony (ca. 700 B.C.E.). Hesiod presents the Moirai as the daughters if Zeus and the goddess Themis. They are imagined as working at the womanly task of spinning - drawing out a thread of yarn that determines or represents each person's life. Into the thread may be woven sorrow, wealth, travel, and the like.
The Fates were popular figures of cult worship. Evidence suggests that there were sanctuaries to them in such major cities as Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes. People made offerings to the Fates ay festival times in Athens, Delphi, Olympia, and Sicyon, among other places. […] One reason pope may have honored the Fates was for their role in accompanying the major figures in the Greek pantheon, including Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and Demeter.
On the third night upon a child's birth, the Fates direct the course of the child's life. Some say they even decide who's good and bad and exactly how your life will turn out. Not even the gods dared to cross the fates. It's said that they control their fates as well.
Clotho (Spinner) spins out the thread of life, which carries with it the fate of each human being from the moment of birth; Lachesis (Apportioner) measures the thread; and Atropos (Inflexible), sometimes characterized as the smallest and most terrible, cuts it off and brings life to an end.
The Fates were three goddesses—Atropos, Clotho and Lachesis—who controlled the fates of mortals—and sometimes the gods. Even Zeus could be subject to the decisions of the Fates. Some myths describe the Fates as spinning several threads, each representing a mortal. The threads could be cut, they could cross paths or be twisted in several directions.