Shakespeare's Witches & Lady Macbeth

Wednesday, November 26, 2014




Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble! 

Where did Shakespeare get the idea to include the weird sisters in Macbeth? Why did he make them seem so malicious? The weird sisters play an important role in my upcoming novel, Lady Macbeth: Daughter of Scotland (releasing December 3rd but available for pre-order). While I love the bard, Will did an injustice to these ladies of the cauldron. Below, you will find just a taste of what I discovered about Celtic goddesses and fate-makers in the course of my research. 



Where did Shakespeare get his inspiration for the witches?

While I practically lived in the stacks of the library at The University of Alabama researching the history of the real Lady Macbeth, I also spent a lot of time delving into Celtic and goddess mythology to understand where the idea for the three witches came from. We are all familiar with the witches' chant in the Macbeth play, but who were the witches and were they really so sinister?
 
As fans of my steampunk series can attest, I love researching ancient religions. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (her name was Gruoch) were the last Celtic rulers of a slowly-converting pagan Scotland. Before conversion, the Celtic people had a very intricate polytheistic (many gods) belief system. While their religion consisted of many gods and goddesses (as well as a chief mother goddess and father god), the goddess was often viewed as a trinity: the maiden, mother, and crone. The great mother is depicted during these three important stages of a woman's life and finds magic and power in each stage. This trinity can also be seen with specific kinds of goddesses. For example, the goddess of battle/death was sometimes seen in trinity: the Morrigu, Macha, and Nemhain (associated with Irish Celtic beliefs but also tied to Morgan le fay in Arthurian legend). The goddess in triplicate is not unique to the British isles. It is seen in other belief systems.

We see this triple goddess in Greek mythology as the fates: weavers, spinners, and death-bringers. We also see the triple witches as the Norns, who also influence fate, stemming from Norse mythology. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, the Weird Sisters (I call them Wyrd Sisters, wyrd meaning fate) seem to have similar power. In Shakespeare's play, the Weird Sisters appear to Banquo and Macbeth and offer a prophecies that prompt Macbeth to kill King Duncan . . . in an indirect way, the witches influenced fate. But Shakespeare also depicts his witches as wicked "hags" ruled by a menacing version of Hecate. That's not very nice, Will.

While the true role of the triple goddess gets murky by the time Shakespeare writes his Scottish tragedy, the Celtic people themselves would have been familiar with the triple goddess. During the 11th century reign of the Macbeths, conversion to Christianity was in full swing, but that doesn't mean the people had forgotten their old religion. This begs a question, what might Celtic Scotland look like if their queen was in league with such magical ladies . . . you'll find the answer to that question in Lady Macbeth: Daughter of Ravens!  

 

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