We have all heard declarations ranging from “Everything happens for a reason,” to “Nothing happens for any reason.” It is so easy to get caught up in absolutes and polarized binaries that it is easy to drown in the waters of all or nothing, even though the reality of life is never that neat and clean. Nothing has only one answer or one cause, and how the events of our lives shape us and the rest of reality is a complicated mess of interrelations, cause and effect, random chance, personal choices, and metaphysical impetus. Sure, some things may boil down to a form of fate or destiny, or Fate or Destiny, but in either case most things are very explainable through abject mundanity.
If you believe all is Fate, then you will see everything that happens as proof of Destiny. If you believe all is coincidence, then you will see everything that happens as proof of randomness. For my part, I see both and more, all happening at the same time.
Fate and Destiny
I see a huge difference between fate and Fate. In both cases, a thing happens because it was an inevitability. In fate, that inevitability is a result of the natural course of events, with little to no chance of a drastically different outcome. In Fate, that inevitability is the result of some cosmic plan or influence, inexorably moving events in the direction of a predestined outcome.
The perspective of “everything happens for a reason” deep dives into absolutism of Fate and Destiny by declaring that all events have a cosmic, unavoidable greater purpose, that is most likely part of some Grand Plan for All Things. It clings to the idea of some cosmic order and intelligence that is driving all of us forward along an inexorable plan of some sort. This is true whether someone is part of a formal religion which teaches absolute Fate, or they are giving Fate over to “The Universe”.
What faith in Fate ignores is the fact that each of us, and all the other creatures and spirits which inhabit this world, have free will to choose what we will and will not do with our lives. When destiny knocks, we may or may not realize it, and we usually have a choice whether or not to answer the call.
It also ignores the fact that unavoidable events and inevitabilities usually have very mundane mechanisms behind them. There are decades of political maneuvering, structural violence, and erosion of civil rights that led up to Trump in the United States. Without addressing the root political and social problems that empowered him, we were fated (not Fated) to end up with a president who valued personal aggrandizement, racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, and bigotry over the welfare of the country and its people. If it had not been Trump, it would have been someone else. No cosmic Destiny required. Mundane destiny was more than sufficient, and by the same token it is through our actions that we can change the course of events to oust him and his ilk and create a more inclusive future.
I love The Fates. I truly do, in whatever form They take. Some people interpret Their stories as proof that everything is pre-destined, and The Fates have laid out our threads in a specific pattern. And yet, there are at least as many stories which warn of the dangers of being noticed by The Fates. This implies that they do not pay specific attention to every single thread, and instead most of us are free to determine our own fates, unless they step in to weave our lives in specific directions.
We are warned against the attentions of The Fates because when they do step in to influence our lives, things tend to get difficult, interesting, and important. It puts pressure on us to accomplish specific goals which may or may not align with our personal goals, meaning that we are potentially drug through troubling situations kicking and screaming. If we are able to embrace what The Fates want, and work with it instead of fighting it, things tend to go better, but when The Fates step in, it is never easy. Boring, mundane lives tend to be much easier, and throughout history your average person usually has a rather boring and mundane life.
In the same way, deities will sometimes call upon specific people to do specific things for Them. Most of the time They are going to ask someone They already have a relationship with, who will be happy to do Work for Them. That is a lot easier than trying to force someone who is unprepared.
This may feel a lot like Fate, as that is a natural question when a being as powerful as a Deity wants you to do Their Work. However, most of the time people, even devotees, have the option to say no, and it is generally easier and more effective for the Deity to move on to someone else who is more willing or able to do the Work.
I see deities as independent beings who act within the universe, much like ourselves, but on a different scale. When They have something that They think needs doing, They will usually persevere until it gets done, which is more a measure of self-determination than Fate.
Coincidences and Random Chance
There are a lot of things in life that are random coincidences. I do not buy into the idea that it is Fate to be born poor or rich, or that any person “deserves” to have abusive family. When a stray bullet hits a random bystander, it is more likely than not just bad luck. When someone is disabled, it is usually either bad luck, inherited from one or both parents, or the result of an accident or illness.
All of those things can have a HUGE impact on a person’s life and opportunities, and so some people point to that impact and declare Fate. Maybe in some rare cases it is Fate, but I believe most of the time it is not. The vast majority of people in the world are born poor, and presently the number of poor people is increasing astronomically because of income inequity and lack of economic opportunities. That means the vast majority of children being born are being born into poor families, regardless of any influence of Fate or Destiny.
It is ableist, callous, and dismissive of the very real complexities of living with disability to say that such a situation is Fated, or even worse, that it is a “learning opportunity” and the disabled person should be “grateful”. The only person who can decide if such events are “Fate” is the person experiencing them. Odds are, it is just happenstance.
We cannot control everything in our lives, but each of us has the ability to make our own choices regarding the things we can control. When things happen to us, our responses to those things usually determine the future as much as the event itself. The plans we make, how we act, and the decisions we make in regards to the situations we find ourselves in, can have a huge impact on our lives. If we make one choice, things go one way. We make another choice, and things go another way. Choose not to make any choice at all, and things go yet another way. And so on.
That means we have the ability to critically evaluate the factors which led up to a situation, weigh the potential outcomes of different courses of action, and take deliberate action to create the futures we prefer. When someone attributes everything that happens to Fate, they are ignoring and dismissing the very real responsibility each of us has to conscientiously approach our decisions in life. They are potentially rejecting the very important issues of personal agency and personal responsibility.
Personally, I believe it is critical to recognize the autonomy and agency in ourselves and each other. It underpins the ability of people in a community to interact with each other in healthy and beneficial ways for everyone involved. Respecting the agency of other people is central to consent culture. Taking responsibility for your actions, without deflections like “it was meant to happen”, respects your own agency and how your decisions affect other people.
Recognizing the power of personal will and self-determination is also central to most spellwork, witchcraft, and other magical thinking. If we did not believe we could change things and affect the future through our will and our magic, why would we bother doing it at all?
Putting It All Together
It certainly is possible, and even likely, that Fate happens at times, to some people, or in some places. But, the mundane complexities of circumstances that lead up to Fateful events are always present, and they always involve a web of coincidence, cause and effect, and self-determination. Within that context, exactly what is or is not Fated to happen is unlikely to be a practical question. It is a matter of semantics, or an exercise in meditation and personal reflection. It changes nothing about specifically what has happened, or the myriad mundane factors which led to it.
We each have the ability and the responsibility to acknowledge all possible factors that contribute to the situations we find ourselves in. That means recognizing societal pressures, systemic pressures, interpersonal pressures, our own attitudes and actions, and more, and then working to consciously create a better future for ourselves and the other people and beings we share this earth with. We cannot shrug our shoulders, drop the lifeline, and call it “Fate”, or we are doomed to fail ourselves and each other. We have the very real ability to create our own fate, especially when we work together.
Even if you believe that a higher power has planned out everything, those plans depend upon us taking the actions we do, and making the choices we do. We are still on the hook to make those choices and take those actions, or the “cosmic plan” is likely to fall apart. I prefer to think that the flow of reality is not so rigid, or so fragile. I prefer to believe that I have real choices, and some measure of control over my own future and my own destiny, without the need to be puppeted by higher powers, even The Fates.
When Destiny knocks on the door, we can choose to rise to the occasion, or we can turn away and ignore it. Even in genuine issues of Fate, the choice is still usually your own, even if that choice is limited to how you face your Fate.