Read an Excerpt
Circles Within Circles
I don't make
I only sing it.
I sing my song
given to me by
the Dearest Goddess.
Latvian Women's Folk Poem No. 35802.224
On the freeway near my house there's a billboard advertising the lottery, with a picture of a bag of money and the words "You could be next!"
The other day I complimented a friend on her hair. "Thank you," she said, "but I can't take any credit for it. Curly hair runs in my family."
A friend of mine was in a car accident, then he lost his job, and then his cat ran away. "What did I do to deserve this?" he asked. "Am I doomed to be a failure?"
I know two women, best friends through college. One got married right after graduation to a successful man and had a son and a daughThe other got a job with an accounting firm and began to fight her way up the corporate ladder toward a vice-presidency. They were sure they had found their destinies. But by the time they had reached thirty, the one who was married had left her husband and started law school, and the accountant had quit her job to start a flower shop.
It makes you wonder.
What rules our lives? Is it chance, or choice, or something else? Is it the stars, or that strange force people call Lady Luck, or FortuSince the beginning of time, people have tried to figure out what determines their destiny. In Hungary we have a saying, "Ember tervez, Isten végez"-"Humans plan, God finishes."
But the Fates are beyond even goddesses and gods. They are raw forces of nature. They are rhythms of the ebb and flow of Energy,Matter, and Meaning-the three basic components of the universe. They were here first; they will stay to the last. Everyone's story is in the Fates' web. They are one; they are three; they are nine, three times three. Their mystery cannot be totally understood, or can it? All the other goddesses and gods became their emanations through time.
It was the fate of Zeus to destroy his own father. The Norse gods cannot avoid Ragnarok. When the gods must obey the Fates, you know who is in charge.
This archetype of destiny is embedded deep in the Indo-European psyche. From India across the European continent all the way to the North Sea and the British Isles, cultures big and small have stories, symbols, and ceremonies for the forces who make destiny. Some of these overlap, some diverge, but they agree on the fundamental conThere are three sisters who rule our lives.
The three Weird sisters are working women. They are spinners, weavers, cutters of the thread; they are writers of the Book of Life. They are blessers, birthers, deathers, dressed in white and red and black. They are fortunetellers. They are casters of the lots. They are gamblers and luck-givers. They are living springs of water. They are mornings, noons, and nights. What they rule must be.
Since the dawn of consciousness people have found it psychologiuseful to give names and faces to the Fates. The Greeks called them the Parcae; the Romans, Fata; in northern Europe they were the Norns, who governed men's "wyrd," or fate, and for Anglo-Saxons, the "weird" were those who could foretell the future.
I am especially fond of the word wyrd, because we use it today when something happens that we don't understand, cannot control, or fear. The word comes from a form of the old Germanic verb meaning "to become." When we feel something is weird, we activate our fate recepthe soul that knows the Fates intimately already. Only the soul can understand something weird-the action itself, the presence of the Fates, and their effect on our lives. Often we resist their promptonly to appreciate them later on.
I had to grow up and discover the Fates for myself. The discovery, however, did not come from a book; rather, it was a living process. I had to become aware. You don't really understand what the Fates can do to you unless you have had a visceral experience of them.
During the Hungarian revolution in October of 1956, I was on my way to a demonstration. When you are sixteen, being part of a collecuprising is very exciting. I lived on the Buda side of the Duna Rivand to reach the site of the demonstration, I had to cross the bridge over to the Pest side. I was running toward the bridge when suddenly something weird happened. My feet slowed as if they were weighted down with lead. Frustrated, I redoubled my efforts, but try as I might, I could only shuffle along, furious that I was going to be late.
When I finally crossed the bridge, I heard shots. That wasn't too unusual. It was a revolution, and people had been shooting off guns in celebration for days. But when I turned the corner to the plaza, everywas silent. Too silent. Instead of a crowd of cheering, shouting people, the plaza was covered with bodies. All those who had made it to the plaza on time had been shot down. The blood was still dripping onto the stones. I stood stock-still, realizing that I had indeed arrived too late-too late for the massacre.
In Hungarian the Fates are Sors Istenn?k, the destiny goddesses. But their Latin name, the Parcae, means "those who spare," and indeed my life was spared by them that day. We all have stories about incidents during which that weird feeling, usually accompanied by fear or frushas come over us, and it turned out to save us in some way.
The English name for the Fates comes from the Latin word fata. In the singular, the word was fatum, meaning "a divine utterance," the will of a god. When a child was a week old, the fata scribundus were invoked to "write" a good destiny for the newborn babe. The fata, with the birth goddess Eileithia, both established and predicted the child's destiny. The word fate, fatum, comes from the same root as the words fairy and fay. So we learn the Fates are of fairy origin.
In Greek they were called the Moirae, those who allot us our fate; there was Clotho (the Spinner), who spins the thread of life, Lachesis (Disposer of Lots), who measures it out, and Atropos (the Inevitable), who cuts it off. Clotho is usually portrayed with a spindle, Lachesis with a scroll or a globe, and Atropos with scissors, a pair of scales, or a bowl for drawing lots.
When they are in good spirits, these same Fates become the three Graces. You may have seen them represented in Botticelli's Primavor the Three Graces statue at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. They are three lush women entwined in dance with one another. Their names are Aglaia (Radiant), Euphrosyne (Joy), and Thalia (Flowering). They are the companions of Aphrodite. When the Fates are angered, they are called the Furies; they pursue you like ill winds blowing and can punish with insanity. Then their names are Alecto, Tisiphone, and Magaera. They cannot be avoided. It is said that the Fates are the parthenogenetic daughters of Necessity. They have no father. They sit under the Tree of Life next to the sacred spring, where they spin and prophesy, make pronouncements, and enforce natural law.
In northern Europe, we also find three maidens who sit beside a well in a deep cavern. These are the Norns, from the Germanic trabest known today from their appearance in Wagner's opera Götterdämmerung. They are named in Old Norse: Urdh, Verdandi, and Skuld. Their names come from the words for being itself, and so I will use these names for the Fates in this book.
Urdh (the same word as wyrd and weird) is all that went before. She is the past. She owns the Well of Life and the Tree of Life, which is fed by the well. Everything that has ever been belongs to the past. From this fertile background life emerges anew.
Verdandi (whose name means "that which is becoming") rules what is going on right now. She is flux. She is the flower of our energies. She is the mother time, the ripe time, the sexual time. She is harvest time. Her symbol is the full loom.
Skuld (whose name is related to "shall") is the one who governs what must be. She is the necessary outcome of the past and that which is becoming. Skuld is the inflexible one, but in some later legends, she likes to ride with humans and mingle with men. She is the one who may request a kiss from a handsome man and change into a beauyoung woman if he has enough gumption to kiss her old face. Strangely, the most personable of the Fates turns out to be the death goddess. Her symbol is the crescent knife, the ghostly scythe of the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper is a girl.
This original model of the three sisters is the source for all the other triple goddesses, such as Hecate, who stands at the triple crossroads, her faces looking in three directions-the past, present, and future-and Triple Brigid, who appears as a healer, a goldsmith, and a lady of inspiration. It is the pattern for the trinities of maiden, mother, and crone and all the other goddesses who have three aspects. Each of the many components of our human existence required the Goddess to show a separate face and attributes. Eventually the original trinbecame ten thousand aspects, each with her own name, each still harking back to the beginning, the middle, or the end of the life cycle, which the three Fates rule.
When we summon the Fates, we call them out from their deep hidplace in the unconscious. We draw them slowly into the conscious mind, illuminated by goodwill and understanding. This eternal magic can transform the powers that rule us from the misunderstood three Hags into the wonderful three Graces. Or at least we hope so. There are no guarantees with this force. But there are certain practices, a kind of etiquette of interaction with the Fates, that have worked for people before. We call it the technology of the sacred.
"Sacred" means that we are speaking not of a technology of machines but of souls. We behave differently and do unusual things to relate to an unseen divine force. Prayer, for example, is such a sacred technolCreating sacred space is another. Traveling between the worlds in meditation is one as well, and blessings and cursings are others.
As they learned about the likes and dislikes of the Fates, people creways to talk to them. When you mention their names, you should always show a great deal of respect. The Fates live in each DNA cell in our bodies. This is why they can hear everything everywhere. We invoke them in our language. "Good morning," for example, a blessing to set the tone for the day, evokes the name of Morgana la Fay, a Celtic fate godWe say "good night" to ward off bad dreams. Some say language was created in order to call to the Fates. Small acts of living reveal their familiar powers-holy water sprinkled around in a room to purify it against bad luck, and clinking glasses before making a toast in an effort to have one's blessings heard by the Fates so they can fulfill them.
Weddings have many kinds of good-luck rituals. As protection against the evil eye, the groom is not supposed to look at the bride before the wedding (the same reason that the bride's head is protected with a veil). Where does the custom of wearing something old, somenew, something borrowed, and something blue, come from? It's a charm to honor the Fates, who are both old and new, who are a conto the community (borrowed), whose favorite color is blue. At Jewish weddings the guests call out "mazel tov"-"good luck"-as the groom breaks the glass in the white napkin. The jumping of the broom in pagan weddings signifies the couple's wish to stay together, as they leap hand in hand into the future; the broom itself is a piece of the Tree of Life and, as such, is used to invoke good luck for the couple.
The colors of the Fates are red, black, and white. In Transylvania there are Hungarian tribes famous for the beauty of their embroidery. When weaving started as a sacred activity, bestowing protection and blessings with each stitch, there were laws governing how many colors an embroiderer could use; and to this day they use these three colonly. Red is for life's blood; black is for life, because it includes all colors; and white is for death, or the spirit, because it is drained of all color. These Fate colors are repeated on wall hangings, bed covers, tablecloths to bring good luck into the home. In other regions houselinens are embroidered with pictures of doves, roses, and blue forThe embroidery on wedding coats and jackets for work all contain images of the good luck invoked, the protection requested. Decorations on our clothes started as a prayer to the Fates. Our anceshad lucky jackets, lucky boots, lucky shirts, lucky necklaces, and, of course, blankets for dreaming. Any kind of good-luck charm is a symbol of the Fates. A horseshoe pointed downward, for example, stands for the opened cornucopia from which good luck comes.
Experience taught me that you could summon the Fates whenever the need arose, in a crisis or at a great celebration. The Fates could hear things carelessly uttered, such as a boast, or the words that slip out unconsciously in moments of great fear, joy, or even ecstasy. Dying was another fateful time, when it was believed that words uttered with the last breath could come true. Words were powerful, especially the ones you said without thinking. For example, it was thought that if you bragged about your good fortune, your luck would soon turn. There were all kinds of rituals to protect your good luck. Universally, the favorite one was to knock on wood three times. Why on wood and not bronze or iron? Because the Fates belong to the Tree of Life, and all wood is considered to come from that sacred tree.
Everyone understood that luck had to be balanced. The Greeks honored this idea in the form of the goddess Nemesis, who punished those who upset the natural balance and proportion, whether because of excessive good fortune or, more often, by the arrogance it often brings. Her emblems were the measuring rod, bridle, and yoke, which were used to exert control, and the sword and scourge with which to punish the proud. Such is a law of nature. Today we encounter it most often in the environment, where suppressing one problem can often cause a worse one. In California, for instance, wildfires are a natural part of the ecology: When you prevent them for too long, underbrush builds up, and a single spark can set off an inferno.
In Hungary, if you wanted to praise a baby, you said the opposite. It was very important to protect it from the evil eye by saying somelike "Wow, that baby is not half bad!" or even to lie, saying, for example, "What an ugly baby!" The young mother then would certainknow that you loved her baby. If happiness finally got hold of you, and you felt like shouting it to the universe, my mother always added, "Praise be the Fates!" and cautioned with her eyes not to overdo it, lest the happiness be short-lived.
The etiquette for observing nature's special favors alone could fill a book. In Hungary, if a bird deposits its poop on your head while you are waiting for a bus or walking about, it is considered very good luck. Wiping it away would erase the blessing. Stepping into dog doodoo also means good luck, but in this case you are allowed to wipe it clean, thank heaven.
So who are these crotchety ladies who are listening in every room, hiding in every tree? And why is poop sacred to them? Why is that good luck? Because they are the compost and the seed; they are the flower and the fruit; they are the green tree and the rotting grave.
The Fates are the conductors of luck. They preside over uncertainty. They do not play favorites, even if it sometimes seems to us that they are doing so. This is why we accept the "luck of the draw." They are nonpolitical and are beyond all religions. They are the forces that are. They are life.
Cycles Within Cycles
We talk about the past, present, and future as if the Fates operated in a straight line, but at each point in our lives we must deal with the effects of what has already happened, cope with what we are facing now, and prepare for what is to come. We are never done with the past, because it is always being created by what we are doing now, and that, in turn, becomes the future. We interact with Urdh, Verdandi, and Skuld in a sacred spiral cycle in which the same lessons are repeated, although in different ways, again and again.
Throughout your childhood, for instance, certain cycles were re-peated. Every time you started a new level of school, you progressed from the equivalent of freshman to graduate. Now, whenever you start a new job, you move through a period of probation and gradually attain seniority. There are cycles in relationships as well-the exciting, uncertain weeks in which you are getting to know each other, wonderhow the other person really feels; the comfortable stage when you are at ease with each other; and then, if you are lucky, a time of deepthat goes below surface interactions until you understand each other's souls. But fate is not fixed. Sometimes you don't graduate, you never do become a senior, and all relationships can sour.
Each year is a cycle, when the sleep of winter gives way to the awakof spring, summer's fruitfulness, autumn's harvest, and finally the cold sleep of winter again. The longer cycles of drought or rainfall often take us by surprise, but a long-term study of climate shows that they, too, are a part of the natural spiral.
Many cultures, from Hindu to Mayan, view the history of the earth not as a pair of lines pointing backward and forward from the year a.d. 1, but rather as a series of ages, each of which comes into being, reaches maturity, and concludes. We speak of decades, such as "the sixties," as separate time periods, each of which develops, matures, and fades. Recently we completed not only a century, but a millenand though reason tells us that January 1, 2000, should not be much different from January 1, 1999, psychologically it was anothstory. Prophecies for everything from a global computer crash to Armageddon had people stockpiling supplies and visiting their theraAnd then the new millennium dawned, and life went on very much as before. And yet, although the Fates may pay little attention to our human calendar, they act in accordance with natural law.
The Fates do not act at random, except at that first fateful moment when the Spinner pulls us out of her cauldron of infinite possibilities. Once we are drawn into existence, however, natural law takes over. At certain points in our lives we face decisions and changes. These "fate dates" are times at which it is especially productive to consciously work with destiny. Some of these times are biological, such as puberty and menopause. Others can be charted by looking at the stars. In parthe "Saturn return" cycle, in which Saturn moves around the zodiac to return to the point in the sky where it was located when you were born, has a powerful effect on destiny.
The first Saturn cycle, from birth to age twenty-eight and three-quarters, is under the guardianship of Urdh, who rules the past. In this first cycle of our lives, we learn the potential and limitations of the bodies that our genes and our environment have given us, and work out the psychological implications of our family and cultural heritage. Whether we are fulfilling parental expectations or rebelling against them, we are responding to the past.
In the second Saturn cycle, ruled by Verdandi, we "become" ourBy now most of us have worked through our old hang-ups, and Verdandi gives us a new mission. We know now who we are and what we can do. We settle into careers and relationships, build families, disour missions in life.
The third cycle, beginning around age fifty-six or so, opens the door to yet another destiny. This is the realm of Skuld-what shall be. Gradually we break loose from the bonds that we forged for ourselves in Verdandi and give birth to a new self that has been slowly maturing within. We have done everything our parents thought we should do, as well as the things that we thought we should do. We even perform stunning reversals. In Skuld's cycle, the soul can fly free.
Our own astrological cycles interact with the larger cycles that determine the ages of the earth, both the long zodiacal ages and the sub-ages into which they are divided. For instance, although the true "age of Aquarius" will not begin until the twenty-fourth century, we are now in an Aquarian sub-age that started in 1962, has colored the subsequent decades, and will last until the year 2141. This sub-age of Aquarius previews in many ways what the actual age will be like.
As we go through life, experience teaches us how to deal with change. But we will work with our Fates much more effectively when we learn to recognize the turnings of the wheel. At each point, half of a "chance" is ours to make. The Fates determine the other half.
No matter which generation you are traveling with, there are cerpoints at which the Fates touch you more than at others, visit you more often, change you more deeply. Even the Fates have their times and seasons. We sense this in portents of things to come. These fate dates are based on astrology, which tells us when the relationships of the planets to those in our birth chart indicate turning points in our lives. These are not just the obvious connections we see reported in the Sunday papers, such as the day of birth (although obviously birthdays are major celebrations of our existence); other, less-recognized portentimes are equally important.
Without turning you into an astrologer, let's just start by saying that the dance of the Fates is complex, with smaller cycles nestled within larger ones. Even if you know everything there is to know about cerfate dates and their purpose, the mystery of life will still not be explained.
The big wheels of life form the procession of the great ages. Withthat cycle we have the sub-ages that determine our particular time period's flavor. Within each sub-age, the three transpersonal planets, Neptune, Pluto, and Uranus, influence the social/psychic orientation of the generations as their cycles move through the signs of the zodiac.
Now hold on. Within the span of the generational patterns into which we are born, we experience the personal planets' shaping force. These personal planets are the moon, the sun, Mercury, Venus, and Mars. Their cycles moving through the zodiac sculpt our character. Are you still dancing?
The maturing, changing self needs one more combination, another wheel of time, to turn our passages. It is the mother lode planet Saturn, whose slow movement turns the three major destiny points of our lives. Finally, we need Uranus to administer a cosmic shift that often is expeas a fated accident from which new developments can spring.
As you will see throughout this book, within the major turning points of the Saturn returns there are times when the other planets, such as Neptune, Uranus, and Pluto, influence us with their energies. On these fate dates you can see how certain issues come to the fore in your life and need to be addressed for your soul's progress. Being able to look back on the fate dates of your life will help you see the unfolding of the larger pattern of the story of your life. Being able to anticipate upcoming fate dates will allow you to consciously engage with their energies and do your part by fulfilling your potential and using your free will. You will find it pleasurable to gain this skill for conscious living.