On the eternal question of free will vs. fate, our ancestors were mostly Team Fate.
Is that because they lived in a time when even the rich and powerful could be devastated by the randomness of Nature? When ordinary people had few options in life beyond what their parents and grandparents before them had done?
Or perhaps, as polytheists, they respected the divine beings who spun, measured, and cut our lives, those the Greeks called Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos (whether persons such as the Norns are the Fates by other names or whether each culture has their own Fates is another topic for another time).
However they understood the metaphysics of fate, they realized that the world was large and they were small. For them, living heroically didn’t mean overcoming all obstacles. Rather, living heroically meant living virtuously no matter the obstacles. It meant understanding that, like Cú Chulainn caught between his two geasa, sometimes you can’t win – you can only choose to fight valiantly and die on your feet.
Free will taken to harmful extremes
Our culture is very different. We are largely on Team Free Will. Much of that is because we live in a time and place where we have many more options and much more agency, where the volatility of Nature is minimized (though hardly controlled) with technology and medicine.
And also, because when something bad happens, we want someone to blame. It’s the other political party, it’s people who speak other languages and follow other religions, it’s people whose sexual orientation and gender identity don’t align with what we think they should be. We want credit for our own good fortune, and we want to absolve ourselves of any responsibility for helping those with less… and especially for changing the structures and systems that favor some at the expense of others.
It goes so far that some claim every bad thing that happens to you is your choice. If you’re poor or sick or oppressed, it’s because you chose that.
Much of this thinking comes from Calvinism, which teaches that the rich and powerful are blessed by the Christian God, and that the poor and sick are poor and sick because they’re sinful or lazy or both. Which is ironic, considering that Calvinism’s doctrine of predestination is the ultimate in fixed fate.
I believe in free will… up to a point
I am firmly on Team Free Will. Whether we have free will or only the illusion of free will – how can we ever truly know? – we’re better off ordering our lives as though we do. Much of what we call fate is simply the cumulative effect of countless decisions, some of which we didn’t recognize as decisions at the time we made them. One of the advantages of practicing magic is that no matter how dire our circumstances, there is always something we can do to influence our situation for the better.
At the same time, I recognize that however much control I have over my life, there is much I do not control. I could not stop Donald Trump from becoming President and all that brought with it. I could not prevent a worldwide pandemic… although I could and did take steps to minimize its impact on me.
Let me be clear: I believe in democracy. I believe we all have an obligation to be engaged citizens. There is so much we could accomplish if people of good will would just show up and vote. But the older I get, the less interested I am in trying to change the world through politics and the more interested I am in doing what I can to take care of me and mine… and maybe show people who are interested a better way to live.
If you feel differently, by all means pursue your calling. But that requires a lot more than arguing on social media.
Tower Time Redux
I haven’t been talking about Tower Time lately – the term seems to have lost much of its impact. Byron Ballard, who coined the phrase, warned everyone that Tower Time isn’t Mercury Retrograde – it’s not something that’s going to be over in a few weeks or months. I emphasized that in my own writing and teaching about it. What we have been experiencing over the past few years isn’t the beginning of the end – it’s the beginning of the beginning.
The fact that people aren’t responding to the term doesn’t do anything to alter the fact that our world is changing in a dramatic and irreversible manner: climate change, reactionary politics, the decline of the Anglo-American empire and extreme efforts to prolong it. The centuries-long trends that led to “the end of history” are over and they’re not coming back.
And then there’s the Otherworldly component of Tower Time. Back in March we talked about The Great War in the Otherworld and in this World. I’ll let that post stand on it’s own, but I’ll repeat something Morgan Daimler said at the time: “the unhael are continuing to gnaw away at the edges of everything.”
So what does all this have to do with fate and free will?
Fate is a hurricane
You don’t fight a hurricane.
Well, you can, but it doesn’t do much good, whether you fight with technology or with magic. The hurricane is bigger and stronger than you will ever be. Instead, you deal with a hurricane. You board up your house and evacuate. If you can’t evacuate, you take shelter. Then when it’s over, you come back and start cleaning up.
A hurricane is fate. You didn’t cause it and you can’t stop it. Ranting against a hurricane accomplishes nothing. Worse than that, ranting against a hurricane distracts you from doing the things that will help you survive the storm and thrive in its aftermath.
I see too many people ranting against hurricanes.
I find myself ranting against hurricanes.
Instead of living wisely and virtuously in the face of hurricanes.
Temper fate with free will
We ignore fate at our peril, whether we delude ourselves into thinking that we are capable of creating our own reality, or if we simply ignore the political, environmental, and spiritual forces in our world that are bigger and stronger than we are.
At the same time, we do ourselves no favors if we assume our entire lives are either predetermined or simply controlled by others and we can do nothing to make them better. Or worse, if we use fate as an excuse for doing things that are easy but unhelpful… or unethical.
We can do better. We can make things better.
Accept reality. Accept that things are the way they are. You don’t have to like them – there are large parts of current reality I truly dislike – but you do have to deal with them as they are.
Decide what you want. Not what you think you want or what you’ve been told you’re supposed to want, but what you truly want in the depths of your soul. Honestly, for most of us this is the hardest part.
Make a plan to get there. Include both magic and mundane effort. If you do nothing, you’re likely to get nothing. If you do something relevant and specific, good magic will multiply the impact of your efforts. And also, improving the odds of a low-probability event still leaves you with a low-probability event. If your plan involves winning Powerball it’s not likely to be successful, no matter how strong your magic.
Work the plan. Track your results. Review periodically and make adjustments as needed.
Use your free will to temper the impact of fate.
I’m too old to fight fate – or to accept it
As with so much of my writing, this post is deeply personal. I’m getting too old to keep ranting at hurricanes. It’s frustrating, and I have a lifetime of experience that tells me it’s not helpful.
And also, the evidence – both scientific and spiritual – points toward the universe being probabilistic, not deterministic. There are always things we can do to improve the odds of things working out better.
I intend to spend my time making things better for me and mine, and in the process, doing my part to make the world a better place.