Fate: A Jungian Perspective

My fate cries out,
And makes each petty artery in this body
As hardy as the Nemean lion’s nerve.

Shakespeare, Hamlet

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.


image via


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.

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52 Responses to Fate: A Jungian Perspective

  1. Don says:

    I find the whole aspect of fate linked to the Mother archetype fascinating. I liked your description of the distinction between symbol and archetype. It’s a distinction that is often not made. Thoroughly enjoyed your post. Thank you.

    • Thank you very much. It was Jung who made this distinction but only suggestively in his typical murky style that I adore of course. He despised definitions. I think people often use archetypes and symbols interchangeably, me included, and I do not object to that. The bottom line is that they communicate something numinous and primirdial, not man made.

  2. The mother tends to tasks, feels the pain of childbirth, makes filial connections through identification… all requiring or causing, it seems, a snapping into the present. Without having read the shamanictracking article, maybe fate is the collective experience and developed capacities of a person in the present (feminine awareness). Destiny then, the weaving of aligned or unaligned fate moments into the greater stream, or fabric. Ones own course into that of others. I just popped in and read the article. A troubling distinction because neither state, the present, or how that present fits in to the greater fabric, suggests inertia or stasis. Both are process.

    • I really like what you are saying here about the distinction between fate and destiny! The greater stream metaphor connected to destiny hits the nail on the head, I think.

      • The process within process part is fascinating. The two terms fate and destiny (agreeing on these definitions, for argument) suggest determinism. Or, at least they become concepts that determinism is sought in, by lives that feel less-that-free. (a little opinion there) As examples, present-awareness just “is”, and seems like a “fate photograph”, an non-moving image. Then, given a series of fate-images, we get a single reel, one narrative destiny or lifeline. Hard to see Will, or an alterable destiny in that scenario either.

        Yet the working developmental processes that inform upward, from connection to the ground, to original experience, then becoming raw material for subsequent layers, all referenced back to the body of collective experience, these process can never be said to stop. So being and becoming, fate and destiny seem to be both in constant motion.

        Maybe they unite in an “aligned path, as governed by the love of all.” Then, the concerns of becoming will dissolve into the present, in to and by loving being. Abraham Maslow talks about conceptual dualisms (reflected accurately from nature) as being dissolved as conflicts in peoples psyches, rather than being solved or mastered.

      • Thank you for this thoughtful comment. I totally hear you with determinism. In fact this is an argument most often used against astrology but mainly by those who do not know a lot about it. I think astrology is only a tool for self-knowledge, and a very fine tool it makes. It allows us to look deep into our souls. It shows that what we called fate was actually our character, psyche, psychological make-up or what you may call it. And psyche is not static, it is developing constantly, as the light of consciousness spreads and deepens.

      • Well said. Any homework teacher? 🙂 I feel like I am in class.

      • Sorry, Jim, I am a teacher in fact. Maybe I just got carried away. Did not mean to preach. 🙂

      • oh Monika no… see, that’s my humor there… You didn’t–never do. Not to me. Keep being like you are…:)

  3. Another great read. The connection between Mother (Earth) – Matter – Fate – Unconscious, is interesting. The whispering Norns seem to equate the quiet inner voice. Recently I came to believe that the inner voice has three ‘tones’. Yes, no, quiet. A traffic light now comes to mind. The Giants are the children of the Earth, yet they seem to represent subtle bodies to me. Could it be that women have a masculine subtle body?
    Of course, I am also weighing how fate, destiny and karma, bind us in this life. First to see without what is within. Trinity. Heart chakra. Weighing of the heart. That is the exit. I see fate as deciding on the entrance. Karma swirls around our actions, and in the end the heart gets weighed to see if negative karma has been accumulated. That leaves destiny. Destiny has many levels. The ultimate destiny is to go home already. But, what is the destiny in this life, this body? The Norns are whispering. The subtle body awaiting unification.

    • Oh my God, you are raising so many fascinating questions. The subtle bodies of women could indeed be masculine if we take Jung’s concept of Animus seriously. I agree that the inner voice can also shriek like the Erinyes. I also thought a lot about karma writing this.

      • Lol. I went to bed after all that brain activity. The concept of anima and animus came up when I did archetype work several years ago, and it remained somewhat unsolved. Now it comes up again connected to the subtle body. Very interesting.

  4. Gypsy Lizardkilt says:

    One of my favorite depictions of the Fates, comes, delightfully enough, from Stephen King. In his book Insomnia, the main characters encounter what they first think of as the bald doctors, and later come to understand as not exactly Fate itself personified, but technicians of fate. They give the three (who are genderless, though the characters seem to respond to them as males) the names of the Greek Fates, names that please them greatly. Some of King’s best writing goes into two of those “doctors” (The third has gone rogue, not really through any fault of its own.). They let the characters witness the cutting of the life-cord of one of their friends; it’s done with enormous love, respect, and gentleness. They seem fascinated and a bit awed by human beings’ short, bright-burning lives. And in one of the few scenes in a book that’s ever made me cry; they give one of the main characters an incredibly beautiful gift that’s for her alone, because interacting so closely with humans as they’ve done by the end of the book has changed them just a little. A great deal of King’s writing (up until a recent rather nasty turn that’s ended my reading of him) centers on that idea — that love and courage can to some degree change fate. In that book, he made it a literal occurrence.

    • This is beautiful. I have never read Stephen King and I am quite surprised because I imagined his books to be something else. I also believe that love and courage can change fate.

      • Gypsy Lizardkilt says:

        Most of his books are horror, but that thread also runs through most of them. Insomnia is probably my favorite because I love the doctors. I think you’d find the Dark Tower books well worth reading; they’re layer upon layer of symbols, steeped in movies and literature. Imagine the Arthurian tales set in something very like the Old West, add in a large dose of Robert Browning, alternate realities, and The Wizard of Oz, and that gives an idea. A lot of people hated (and I mean utterly loathed) the ending, but I found it incredibly powerful and moving. The series (seven increasingly enormous books) is about redemption through love to me; it comes to all the main characters in different ways. And to me, it’s why the ending had to be what it was.

      • Perhaps I will give it a try. Thank you very much!

    • I have Insomnia somewhere in a stack of unread books. After reading your comment I look forward to finally reading it this summer. 🙂

      • Gypsy Lizardkilt says:

        It’s (obviously!) one of my favorites. It’s a bit divisive among fans, it seems like, because it is a very slow-paced book most of the way through. I think it needs to be; that suits the characters and what’s happening to them. And if you’re read the Dark Tower Books, there’s a big surprise for you in there. I would argue that Insomnia is actually one of the central of the DT books because of it.

  5. Hi, this is a great post! I have really enjoyed reading about different mythologies and (your) dreams. Also loooved discovering the art of Susan Sedon Boulet. Thank you!
    I am very happy that my post on fate and destiny inspired you in some way and am grateful to you for mentioning it. I believe that where psychology and shamanism differ, is that in psychology we work from the place of human development and potential, whereas in shamanism we work from the place of spiritual development and potential. When we learn to work from the place of spirit, we train ourselves to operate from a different place, so it becomes possible to overwrite our natural instincts (which doesn’t mean they stop existing but they take the back seat…). We rewire our brain to operate differently, rather from our higher brain functions (prefrontal cortex, neocortex) than being stuck in our ‘lower’ brain mechanism (the limbic system including instincts, emotions, automatic defense mechanisms etc.). So the reality from which we operate shifts…
    Maybe I can write more about this in Changing your destiny part 3… Cause part 2 ready to go 🙂

    • Thank you for this thoughtful comment. I was hoping you would notice this post.
      I agree about the spiritual perspective and practice giving us freedom from our conditioning. I like to see myself as someone situated at a crossroads between psychology and spirituality. I like to merge different perspectives and seemingly conflicting points of view.
      With gratitude,

      • yes, yes, I saw it already yesterday but wanted to take time to read through and think about it 🙂 You evoked some fond memories for me… I used to study transpersonal psychology (lot of it based on Jung) and organizational psychology and adult learning. I wrote my final paper in high school on F. Goya and used to immerse myself in his life and work. And I love mythology but have a very short term memory so always feeling like I am discovering again hahahahaha
        thanks for everything! I will also link to your post from my Facebook page later today: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shaman-Tracker/324014247720450

      • Thank you! I only have a private account on fb. But I have just ‘liked’ your page.

      • Thanks for that and for letting me know. For some reason, I cannot always see who ‘liked’ my page… M not very good at fb-ing 🙂

  6. Pingback: Changing your Destiny, part 2 | shamanictracking

  7. Three fates, three furies… and three graces. What’s your take on the latter? The Furies make me think of phylogenetic fantasy… straight up!

    • Phylogenetic fantasy, good one! When it comes to the Harites/Graces, perhaps Graves was right with his triple goddess theory. Maybe the triads were indeed remnants of an older matriarchal order. I also thought about number three symbolism when I was writing this. If one is the original creative spark, two the earth where the idea is planted, three unites jin and jang but is still in the realm of ideas, we need four to have manifestation. maybe there were three goddesses because that established the jin/jang equilibrium in the archetypal realm. Three is the number of completion in the spiritual realm. Don’t know if I am making any sense.

  8. renatembell says:

    One of my favorite astrologers (he passed away a few years ago, unfortunately) is Bepin Behari. Not sure if you ever heard of him. He combined so beautifully the ancient wisdom of Vedic Astrology with Western Theosophy (ie: Leadbeater, Bailey, Blavatksy, etc). You might be interested in his astrological mythology book: The Myths and Symbols of Vedic Astrology. Western astrologers would likely enjoy it as well.
    Beautiful post. What a powerful dream. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you very much. I have never heard of him but he sounds great. I have a passion for looking for combinations between the East and the West. I am a total dilettante when it comes to Vedic astrology. All I know is that it classifies me as a Taurus.

  9. Gypsy Lizardkilt says:

    Happy birthday! Kiltbomb’s was yesterday; you two are almost birthday buddies. 🙂

  10. Thank you for a well written essay.
    You have other Greek legends like the one with Hermaphroditus and Salmakis who joins to create man. Hermaphroditus, the Hermaphroditic godling was a son of Hermes and Aphrodite. His form was merged with that of the Naiad [water nymph] Salmakis to form a creature that was half male and half female. He was travelling from the mountain Ida [Kundalini ?] when she pulled him down deep into the lake, symbolizing the etherbody, and merging with him giving him form. Connotations to Sophia.
    We also know Salmakis as Lilith, where Adam was Hermaphroditus.

    In the start Lilith is joined with Adam, the body with the soul, but when Lilith joins the physical world they loosen their connection again, they separate each night when we sleep, where the soul leaves for the spiritual world and body+etheric stays in the physical world. The story with Lilith is the symbolic story describing man when he received the raw etherbody, which we had to transform so it became our own. It’s part in the chümische wedding, the lower union of ether and astral body. When Lilith leaves Adam and goes out in the desert, it was our etherbody that joined the physical body (desert) and separated from Adam, became loosely connected to the astral body, they were separated at night and together at day.

    Later came the separation in man and woman, where the first merge were a horizontal join, the separation was a vertical split.

    Nyx and the Norns are also quite fascinating, they are fate and they are living in the death world which is known as the astral world, the star world, connected to astrology and the laws of fate, of karma. The goods (dharma) was afraid of the astral world, they were not conscious in the death world, that were below the human plane, they became conscious on the physical plane through man, and they had not reached deeper then. For the Greek the world of the death were a bleak place. In the bible a little understood text tells that Jesus entered the death world, and so what? For the Greek it meant that there came light in the death world, the goods became conscious in the world of death.

    • Thank you for such a rich comment. It gives me much to ponder on. I tried to tackle the hermaphrodite in my Gemini post. I am also fascinated by the story of Lilith and your insights are really welcome.
      With gratitude,

  11. Fate and free will is the all time most popular question, and I have a proposal:
    When we talk about free will or not, it’s usually either or, seldom both of.
    We connect usually fate with karma, where karma is unresolved relations to other people, that we are going to handle in this life. This karma we have our free will to handle as we see fit, we may resolve it through understanding and aggravate it further through lack of understanding.
    But there is a problem, how are we going to meet those people we have shared karma with. If we have totally free will to choose between what jobs we take, where we live, where we go to school, and so on, we would never meet those people. This is were dharma comes in, it’s the gods or higher ‘I’ that gently pushes the lower ‘I’ to the situations where karma are handled by the lower ‘I’. So we have free will to handle the personal relations, but not to handle the general outline of our life.

    You can say that we are a ship sailing on a ocean of karmic powers and dharma is the wind blowing our ship from encounter to encounter with karma.

  12. I want to ditto the suggestion of the book Myths and Symbols of Vedic Astrology. It is very deep and rich. Only a few pages at a time for me because of the amount of pondering!

  13. contoveros says:

    To: Symbol Reader,

    I love reading this. Anything having to do with Jung is a synchronicity in my book!

    I do have a piece of information about where one of the Titans ended up when the Olympians battled and defeated them. The myth is memorialized on a frieze at the Parthenon. It is the first frieze one sees upon approaching the temple entrance. And it involves the island where my father was born.

    When the Titans or giants were being vanquished, one of the Titans’ wives is shown on the frieze conferring with the god Poseidon on behalf of her husband. Some say her husband, the giant Polyvotis, tried to escape, others that Poseidon wanted to treat the giant differently than the others. But all agree that Poseidon submerged him in the Aegean Sea. In order to keep the Titan below the surface, Poseidon broke off a piece of the Island of Kos and covered the Titan with the piece.

    That land mass became the island of Nisyros, a rugged island of less than one thousand inhabitants occupying its four small villages. It has special significance to scientists because of the volcano activity. The volcano is currently active, but not erupting.

    In addition, Homer makes a reference to a Nisyrion warrior in his epic, the Iliad.

    Pretty cool, huh!

    From: michael j — whose father was one named contoveros

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  15. Henry Jekyll says:

    I’ve removed the word coincidence from my vocabulary so getting here was no mere “accident.” This was a truly interesting read and I look forward to exploring more of your writings. It seems as though the question of just how much free-will man really has is as old as humanity itself. Nice analysis.

    • Thank you very much. These issues are very close to me. I also have had a look around your blog and I am definitely going to be back to read more. Nice to meet you!

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  17. I just enjoyed reading this post of yours from the past. Very interesting about Orestes and the Erinyes- especially to me how they arose from the blood falling on earth, in contrast to how Aphrodite arose from the blood dropping in water. You created a great exploration of Fate and Free Will here. I think another way to describe what you are saying is the idea of participation, how everything being interconnected we participate with our fate so to speak, and it is possible for us at times to dramatically shift the course of our life events away from where it had seemed we were fated to go. I know I am so happy that the course of life events for me has been altered to such a great extent since the time you wrote this. with gratitude, Gray

    • Thank you 🙂
      I am sometimes embarrassed rereading my old stuff, so I am really glad you liked this one. I totally agree that we participate in our fate, and if we do not – we are dragged by it kicking and screaming.

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