The Three Witches, also known as the Weird Sisters or Wayward Sisters, are characters in William Shakespeare's play Macbeth (c. 1603–1607). They hold a striking resemblance to the three Fates of classical mythology, and are, perhaps, intended as a twisted version of the white-robed incarnations of destiny. The witches eventually lead Macbeth to his demise. Their origin lies in Holinshed's Chronicles (1587), a history of England, Scotland and Ireland. Other possible sources, aside from Shakespeare's imagination, include British folklore, such contemporary treatises on witchcraft as King James VI of Scotland's Daemonologie, the Norns of Norse mythology, and ancient classical myths of the Fates: the Greek Moiraiand the Roman Parcae. Productions of Macbeth began incorporating portions of Thomas Middleton's contemporaneous play The Witch circa 1618, two years after Shakespeare's death.
Shakespeare's witches are prophets who hail Macbeth, the general, early in the play, and predict his ascent to kingship. Upon killing the king and gaining the throne of Scotland, Macbeth hears them ambiguously predict his eventual downfall. The witches, and their "filthy" trappings and supernatural activities, set an ominous tone for the play.
Artists in the eighteenth century, including Henry Fuseli and William Rimmer, depicted the witches variously, as have many directors since. Some have exaggerated or sensationalised the hags, or have adapted them to different cultures, as in Orson Welles's rendition of the weird sisters as voodoopriestesses. Some film adaptations have cast the witches as such modern analogues as hippies on drugs, or goth schoolgirls. Their influence reaches the literary realm as well in such works as the Discworld and Harry Potter series.
Most recently, Liz Rau tied "The Witches Three" into her tale, Magick: Secrets, Spells and Tales. She twisted her tale to reflect the story of Brighid, weaving the threads of the stories into one tale.