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Article ID: 6300
Age Group: Adult
Posted: May 11th. 2003
Series 04 - Four of Fates...
"Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. " *
Before the earth was, before the Gods came into being, there was Fate. The earliest mythological accounts point to a belief that fate is a primordial force much like creation itself. Homer, in his Iliad, primarily depicts Fate as an impersonal force of destiny. (Although even this great thinker struggled with Fate's little quirks. You will die, Achilles, but you may choose the manner and/or time of your death.)
When our first human ancestors looked around their strange and often hostile world, they undoubtedly noticed that many things were beyond their control. Snowstorms, lightning and even the migration of the animals seemed as ethereal powers that humans could not perceive. These mysterious forces -- if they could not be understood or controlled by humankind -- came to be simply accepted as 'the way things are'. Fate just is.
As humankind evolved and our thought processes matured, we began to recognize certain patterns. While randomness still ruled the days and nights, humans learned how to harness certain elements of nature (such as fire) and began to fashion useful implements (such as tools and weapons) from objects found within their natural environments. As humans wrestled some control over nature, we began also to create some small semblance of order out of chaos. Some things are not entirely random; some things can be controlled.
And so, perhaps it was at this point in time that we began to personify the forces and give names to our Gods. For if we humans could control a little, it made sense that perhaps there was also some greater-than-human "We" out there who controlled a whole lot more. Fate then was no longer an impersonal force. It had a name. In fact, Fate usually had three names.
In ancient Greece, the Three Fates were known as the Moirai or the Parcae. According to the legends, Klotho spun the thread at the beginning of one's life, Atropos wove the thread into the fabric of one's actions, and Lachesis snipped the thread at the conclusion of that life. Yet even here -- at this more advanced stage of abstract thought -- humans (and it is here too that we come to both recognize and empathize with Homer's conflict), The Fates remain above all things that a man or a woman -- or a God -- can control. For even the Gods must subject Themselves to the will of The Fates.
The Norse also have their Fates. They are the Norns (Or "Wyrd Sisters"), UrÝr, VerÝandi and Skuld. Again, the Sisters are depicted as having the final word (even over the protestations of mortals and Gods). The Norns in Norse myths seem to take a more active role in the affairs of both mortals and Gods than did the Greek Fates. In fact, one could say that They delighted in putting a few kinks in the thread. When things got a little 'weird', well, Norsemen/women could make a good guess as to who was yanking their threads.**
With the rise of the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Fate was dethroned. No force could be beyond the control of the 'One God' and so the fate of humankind now came to be equated with 'the will of God'. Rather than resolving the old quirks of Fate in the Pagan system however, this usurption presented some interesting new ones.
If the will of the 'One God' is absolute, if the fate of humankind rests solely within His will, then why bother with humanity at all? Early on, the founding fathers of Christianity ran into that little glitch in their system. If the 'One God's' will is absolute, humankind must simply endure a predestined future. Each man and each woman's fates are sealed. He or she is who and what the 'One God' has predetermined.
Now for a religion based upon sin and redemption, this was a dilemma. No one can be guilty of sin -- a willful disobedience of the One God's will -- if it is that same Divine Will that predetermines that he/she will sin. If one was born to be a thief or a murderer, then one is simply fulfilling one's destiny and the One God's will. And there can be no 'sin' in that. Du'oh!
Another fact revealed in some Biblical stories -- that the One God seems to arbitrarily change His mind quite often-- only complicates matters. Or did the One God predetermine that He would change his mind and so by not destroying all of His people as He had threatened that He would do, He was really following "the plan" all along? I'm confused.
The 'evolution' from a dispassionate force of fate that applies the rules equally to all -- to God and Man alike (even with a few quirks) -- to a One God who seemingly has predetermined that He will not be in any way consistent (or who plays favorites in often cruel and manipulative ways) can hardly be considered a step forward for humankind.
For like the Greeks and the Romans and the Norse before them then, the early Christians (and I dare say any thoughtful Christian who has come after them) also found themselves up against the very same and formidable stumbling block apparent in any religious system: Free Will.
As do we.
Modern day neo-Pagans** seem to be caught between a rock (karma) and a hard place (fate) on the fields of Free Will. We claim 'karma' is the explanation for what happens to us as individuals -- or to excuse and/or justify ourselves (which is another rant best left for another day) -- and we call upon the name(s) of Fate for everything else.
Our motto is "personal responsibility". Sub-title: "I accept the result for my actions." Footnote: Just don't ask me to become involved with anything greater than myself."
Karma is our personal classroom and we can control our destiny by carefully controlling our actions. Fate then is what happens to everyone else and the world because we have no control over that.
Like the ancient Pagans, we view Fate as impersonal when it happens to someone else or includes world events (It is beyond our control.) And because we view many things not personally under our control as being beyond our control, we perhaps like the Christians, entertain the notion that there simply has to be a Great Someone or Great Someones with a bigger plan to run things.
And so, we look to our Gods -- Whom we feel must surely be more kindly disposed towards us than a mere arbitrary force of an abstract Fate -- to determine the outcomes in the big picture. But we too eventually -- if we are thoughtful Pagans -- begin to rattle at the gates that stand between the will of Gods and the free will of men/women.
The questions remain. What is Fate? What is Free Will? And what is the relationship or balance between the two?
Obviously time and space do not permit me to further expound upon all of the arguments and philosophical threads devoted to such questions over the centuries. But I have broken down my own thoughts on the matter into four general theories for your consideration:
Fate One: Fate is an impersonal force much like creation. It may be the same force as creation. When the moment of creation occurred, either everything that would occur, did occur (and we are simply watching the movie) or creation/fate is the one and only plan and it cannot be altered by God, Gods or man. There is no Free Will. Fate just is the way things are.
Fate Two: The Fates exist in reality and They may or may not be open to arbitration. Humankind and Gods are subject to the rule of Fate (or The Fates) and Free Will -- if it exists -- can only be used to slightly modify the outcomes, but never to change the rules themselves.
Fate Three: Fate lies solely or primarily within the will of a God or the Gods. He or They may be petitioned or called upon to bend and/or change the rules for His or Their followers. He or They may or may not oblige based upon His or Their whim, the rituals or offerings presented or in relation to any great plan He/They may have for running the Universe. Free Will then exists within humankind merely as the choice to follow or not follow the One God (Obey or be damned) or to follow Gods as the Great Planners (They have a divine software update running here. Log in, please.)
Gods and Humankind may also work in cooperation under this theory with each having the Free Will to make choices that are open to consideration on all sides.
Fate Four: Humankind has Free Will. Period. We make our own fate. There are no limitations placed upon what humankind may do save those that we impose upon ourselves by appointing a God or Gods to act as overseers on our behalf. The Gods exist as Guides and Guardians. They will continue to guide and to guard until we come into the full understanding of and the power to fully exercise our collective Free Will.
And here, lurking within Fate Four, we also must confront the most frightening prospect of all: There are no Gods. We are on our own here. Our Fate -- the Fate of humanity -- rests entirely upon us. No one to save us. No one to blame. Total responsibility. And no excuses.
I do not know which -- if any- of these theories might hold true. But I wonder...
What if The Fates do exist in some form -- and what if the Gods do -- and what if someday, They should appear and say, "Our time of guardianship is over. The fate of humanity, O Man, O Woman, now rests solely with you. You shall create your own destiny. You can weave a strong cloth that covers all of humanity. Or you can make the final cut and thus destroy yourselves."
And should we notice then that there before us is a Spindle and a Thread and a pair of Scissors...
What will we do?
Co-Founder - The Witches' Voice
Monday, May 12th., 2003
* William Shakespeare; Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2.
** While writing of the Greeks and the Norse in the past tense here, I remain cognizant of the fact that there are on-going traditions based upon these religions and cultures. That the modern day Reconstructed/Reclaimed Hellenistic, Norse and Kemetic religions may have some further insight on the role of Fate, The Fates, or The Norns in this current era is acknowledged and I would be interested in their commentary on this subject.
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