My fate cries out,
And makes each petty artery in this body
As hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve.
The following article is greatly inspired by Liz Greene’s book The Astrology of Fate. I have yet to find an author who goes deeper into myth and symbol, weaving the Jungian psychology and astrology into the mix. All references to Greek myth come mainly from Karl Kerényi, the author of The Gods of the Greeks.
Even Zeus was afraid of Nyx, the night goddess. Her three daughters were the Moirai, goddesses of fate. They were born before other Olympian gods. According to members of the cult of Orpheus, the three sisters of fate lived in a hole in the sky over a pond. From that hole white water was cascading into the pond, which was symbolically suggestive of lunar light. The three Moirae (Greek for parts or allotted portions) were very much lunar goddesses. They personified the three phases of the Moon. Klotho, the Spinner, would spin the thread of life, Lakhesis, the disposer of lots, would measure it, Atropos, she who cannot be turned, cut it. I must admit I always feel a shudder reading about these three primordial goddesses, whose power seems so final and immeasurable.
The other formidable mythological trio related to the Moirai were the Erinyes (avengers and persecutors). They had snakes for hair, their skin was black, their clothes grey. Philosopher Heraclitus wrote about them: “Sun will not overstep his measures; if he does, the Erinyes, the minions of Justice, will find him out.” When the Titan Cronus castrated his father Uranus, Erinyes were born from the drops of blood that fell to the earth (Gaia). To our day they symbolize all kinds of violent and destructive emotions and are looked upon as metaphoric avengers of moral injustice. What I found interesting and portent symbolically was that they appeared fastest and without fail when evil was committed against a mother. First and foremost they protected the law of family ties, avenging any transgressions against the mother. Thus Fate is inextricably bound with the symbolism of Mother.
Susan Seddon Boulet, Triple Goddess
Symbolically and etymologically, Mother is linked to Matter and to the law of fate. Jung devoted much of his writing to the Mother archetype, who broadly speaking is symbolic of the left and nocturnal side of existence, the water of life and the passive acceptance of natural phenomena. She is connected with the body, the flesh, pain and pleasure, birth, heredity, disease, decay and death. Archetypes and symbols, which emerge from the collective unconscious, are also within her realm in the sense that they signify natural laws not made consciously by humans. They have always been and they always will be. We are forever subject to them.
One Greek story which links mother, fate and the Erinyes is the myth of Orestes. He was ordered by Apollo to murder his mother in order to avenge his father’s death. He lost his sanity as a result of being pursued by the Erinyes and had to undergo a lengthy and arduous process of expiation and purification before he was able find peace. Orestes’ trial was a clash between the new Olympian gods and the gods of the old order, the Erinyes. The only way to contain the wrath of the Erinyes, who were called the Furies in Roman mythology, was to build an underground temple for them and keep them there. Thus they were honoured and Orestes was saved. The younger gods represent here consciousness and the modern idea of justice while the Erinyes stand for the implacable fury of the instinctual violent emotions as well as an old idea of justice related to blood ties.
In Norse mythology, there were the three Norns who ruled the fate of gods and people. They ruled over the past, present and future and were the most powerful of all deities. They tended the World Tree by watering it with water drawn from the well and sprinkling gravel around it, not allowing its roots to rot or to dry. They possessed knowledge of the delicate equilibrium that characterizes the way Nature works, and the wisdom of great cycles of birth and death. I was inspired to read that the name Norns might have actually meant “the ones that communicate quietly, by whispering.” I find it quite fascinating that the Norns would whisper, for this can be related to the unconscious inner voice that lacks the extroversion or forcefulness of self-confident public speaking, but can nevertheless be very potent and powerful. I am reminded of my favourite lecturer at university, a female who taught us existential psychology. Her voice was very low and very subtle, yet the ones who wanted to listen to her were mesmerized and enchanted.
David Kreitzer, Norns Roots
The interesting question that Liz Greene asks in her book is why in all myths the deities of fate are always female. The following pivotal quote explains this very elegantly, I think:
Fate is imagined as feminine because fate is experienced in the body, and the inherent predispositions of the body cannot be altered regardless of the consciousness that inhabits the flesh just as Zeus cannot, ultimately, alter Moira. The instinctual drives of a species are also the province of Moira, because these too are inherent in flesh and although they are not unique to one family or another they are universal to the human family. It seems that we cannot overstep that in us which is nature, which belongs to the species – however much we repress it or feed it with culture.
The quote would suggest that fate is related to the realm of instinct, it is biological or natural. It springs from within and is compulsive. On a related note, Carl Gustav Jung spoke of an instinct to individuate, to grow from an inner seed into a tree. “My fate is what I am, and what I am is also why I am and what happens to me,” writes Liz Greene, summarizing Jung’s thought. All the events that fall upon us, all that happens to us, is caused to happen by our inner reality, by the inner archetypes that govern our lives. Instincts and archetypes can be thus differentiated: instincts determine our physical or natural behavior, they are natural forces governing our lives; while archetypes are images of these natural forces, they are unconscious patterns that are experienced by the psyche in the form of myths, images and symbols. Archetypes go deeper than symbols, they are shared by all humans irrespective of culture; whereas symbols and myths are culture specific. The Greeks had the Moirai, Scandinavians the Norns, but they both expressed the same basic archetype of the immutable law of fate.
All great archetypes are ambivalent, that is possessing the dark and light side. The dark aspects of the mother are typically symbolised by monsters, death, the experience of being devoured, seduced and poisoned. It is important to remember that the Moirai were given birth by the goddess Night without the help of a male. In The Great Mother Erich Neumann writes (quoting here after Liz Greene): “The terrible aspect of the feminine always includes the uroboric snake woman, the woman with the phallus, the unity of childbearing and begetting, of life and death…” As I was reading that passage, I remembered a dream I had when I was a girl. It was a very vivid dream, the one that Jung would call numinous. According to the theologian Rudolf Otto, the numinous experience shows the tendency to invoke fear and trembling, as well as the tendency to attract, fascinate and compel. My dream inspired fear and awe in equal measure. I did not dare to look but I did all the same. I dreamt that I was looking at a full Moon out of my bedroom window. I was trying to see the features of the face on the Moon. Suddenly the face became alive and it seemed to be looking at me. It was a man’s face. I was a child so I obviously did not analyze it: why was the face male if lunar goddesses are usually female? Suddenly a giant emerged out of the Moon, whose head was touching the sky. He bent forward and put his giant face opposite mine, pressing on the window pane. I was terrified but also fascinated. No words were said, we were just looking at each other.
Francisco Goya, The Giant
In Greek myth, the Giants were the children of Gaia (Earth) who like Erinyes sprang up from Uranus’ blood that fell on Gaia’s body. There were also the Titans, who were the primeval race of giants also born to Gaia and Uranus, but long before the Giants. The Titans were imprisoned by the new gods, the Olympians, in the Tartarus. There seems to be a clear pattern emerging in Greek mythology showing how repression of our primordial instincts work. They can be shoved into the unconscious but they can never be completely eradicated. The Giants were defeated through the joined effort of the Olympians, the Moirai and Heracles. They were subsequently buried beneath the earth, where their seething rage and writhing caused volcanic activity and earthquakes. How could that be interpreted in symbolic terms? I believe I can try to rephrase this symbolic tale. The hero in each and every one of us needs help from his or her ‘Olympians’ that is the traits of his or her own psyche, his inner qualities symbolized by the gods (or planets in his astrology chart), he or she needs fate (luck?) to be on his or her side, and he or she needs to remember that the natural instincts can be contained momentarily but cannot be destroyed forever.
Writing all this I was also inspired by this article: http://shamanictracking.com/2013/06/01/changing-your-destiny-part-1/
I basically agree that we humans have a higher potential and we are not prisoners of our fate. The questions on my mind were the following: How can the notion so old and ancient as Fate be translated into the terms of modern psychology and symbolism which would be palatable for a modern man/woman with our strong belief in self-determination and free will? In what sense are we still bound by fate? In what sense are we free or how can we free ourselves?
There is Fate but it comes from within – this is what Jung seems to be saying. Fateful events may appear to come out of the blue but in fact it is our own internal archetypal structure and make-up that bring the events into our lives. Central to Jungian thought is the polarity of ego self and the Self, i.e. the principle of higher order emerging from integrating all that was repressed or unwanted by the ego (the shadow) but also all that we could become or achieve, our highest and brightest idea of ourselves. The Self connects us with our inner divinity, our infinite potential. I think that shamanictracking may be on to something important when they differentiate fate and destiny. All I was trying to say was that in order to grow into our destiny, our highest and lofty potential, we need to honour the gods of Fate that forever reside within us.