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The Astrology of Fate
By Liz Green
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1984 Liz Green
All rights reserved.
Fate and the Feminine
Das Ewig Weibliche zeiht uns inan.
She may be met in the old, wild, barren places: heath and treeless mountaintop, and the mouth of the cave. Not always one, she is sometimes three, emerging out of mist or clothed in it. Banquo, stumbling upon the apparition with Macbeth at his side, cries:
What are these,
So withered and so wild in their attire.
That look not like th' inhabitants o' the earth,
And yet are on't? Live you? or are you aught
That man may question? You seem to understand me,
By each at once her choppy finger laying
Upon her skinny lips: You should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so.
... You can look into the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not.
The curtain opens upon the first act of Wagner's Götterdämmerung 'amid gloomy silence and stillness', and there, crouched upon the crag before the cave that is at once the womb and the tomb, the passage outward into life and downward into death, are the tall female forms swathed in dark veil-like drapery:
Let us be spinning and singing; But where, where tie the cord?
Daughters of Nyx the goddess of Night, or Erda the Earth-mother, they are called Moirai or Erinyes or Norns or Graiai or Triple-faced Hekate, and they are three in form and aspect: the three lunar phases. The promising waxing crescent, the fertile full face and the sinister dark of the moon are in mythic image the three guises of woman: maiden, fruitful wife, old crone. Clotho weaves the thread, Lachesis measures it, and Atropos cuts it, and the gods themselves are bound by these three, for they were first out of inchoate Mother Night, before Zeus and Apollo brought the revelation of man's eternal and incorruptible spirit out of the sky.
The spindle (of the universe) turns on the knees of Necessity; and on the upper surface of each circle is a siren, who goes round with them, hymning a single tone or note. The eight together form one harmony; and round about, at equal intervals, there is another band, three in number, each sitting upon her throne: these are the Fates, daughters of Necessity, who are clothed in white robes and have chaplets upon their heads.
Plato's intricate geometric vision of the cosmos, with Necessity and the Fates enthroned at the centre governing all, is echoed by Aeschylos in Prometheus Bound:
Chorus: Who guides the helm, then, of Necessity?
Prometheus: Fates triple-formed, Erinyes unforgetting.
Chorus: Is Zeus, then, weaker in his might than these?
Prometheus: Not even He can escape the thing decreed.
And the philosopher Heraclitus, in the Cosmic Fragments, declares with less than his usual ambiguity:
Sun will not overstep his measures; if he does, the Erinyes, the minions of Justice, will find him out.
Greek thought, as Russell states, is full of fate. It can, of course, be argued that these sentiments are the expressions of an archaic culture or world view which died two thousand years ago, prolonged through the medieval epoch because of ignorance of the natural universe, and that we know better now. In one sense this is true, but one of the more important and disturbing insights of depth psychology is the revelation that the mythic and undifferentiated consciousness of our ancestors, which animated the natural world with images of gods and daimones, does not belong to chronological history alone. It also belongs to the psyche of modern man, and represents a stratum which, although layered over by increasing consciousness and the hyper-rationality of the last two centuries, is as potent as it was two millennia or even ten millennia ago. Perhaps it is even more potent because its only voice now is the neglected dream-world of childhood, and the incubae and succubae of the night which are better forgotten in the clear light of morning. We understand, from our much more sophisticated knowledge of the physical universe, that the sun is not a 'he', and that it is not the snake-tressed screaming Erinyes who prevent it from overstepping its measures. At least, the ego understands: which is to say, that is only one way of looking at it.
The language of myth is still, as ever, the secret speech of the inarticulate human soul; and if one has learned to listen to this speech with the heart, then it is not surprising that Aeschylos and Plato and Heraclitus are eternal voices and not merely relics of a bygone and primitive era. Perhaps it is now more than ever important to hear these poetic visions of the orderly nature of the universe, because we have grown so dangerously far from them. The mythic perception of a universe governed by immutable moral as well as physical law is alive and well in the unconscious, and so too are the Erinyes, the 'minions of Justice'. Fate, in the writings of the Greeks, is portrayed in images which are psychologically relevant to us. Fate in the archaic imagination is, of course, that which writes the irrevocable law of the future: beginnings and endings which are the inevitable products of those beginnings. This implies an orderly pattern of growth, rather than random caprice or chance. It is only the limits of human consciousness which prevent us from perceiving the full implications of a beginning, so that we are unable to foresee the inescapable end. The second century gnostic text, the Corpus Hermeticum, phrases this with beautiful succinctness:
And so these two, Fate and Necessity, are bound to one another mutually, to inseparable cohesion. The former of them, Heimarmenê, gives birth to the beginning of all things. Necessity compels the end of all depending from these principles. On these does Order follow, that is their warp and woof, and Time's arrangement for the perfection of all things. For there is naught without the interblend of Order.
It is a very particular kind of fate with which we are dealing here, and it is not really concerned with predestination in the ordinary sense. This fate, which the Greeks called Moira, is the 'minion of justice': that which balances or avenges the overstepping of the laws of natural development. This fate punishes the transgressor of the limits set by Necessity.
The Gods had their provinces by the impersonal appointment of Lachesis or Moira. The world, in fact, was from very early times regarded as the kingdom of Destiny and Law. Necessity and Justice — 'must' and 'ought' — meet together in this primary notion of Order — a notion which to Greek religious representation is ultimate and unexplained.
In order to grasp the particular flavour of Moira, we must dispense with the popular conception of preordained events that have neither rhyme nor reason but which happen to us out of the blue. The famous 'you will meet a tall dark stranger' formula of the parlour teacup reader or the newspaper astrology column does not have very much bearing on the profound sense of a universal moral order which the Greeks understood as fate. This moral order is very different from the Judaeo-Christian sense of good and evil, too, for it does not concern itself with man's petty crimes against his fellows. To the Greek mind — and, perhaps, to some deep and forgotten stratum of our own — the worst sin that man could commit was not any found later in Christianity's catalogue of deadly vices. It was hubris, a word which suggests something including arrogance, vitality, nobility, heroic striving, lack of humility before the gods, and the inevitability of a tragic end.
Before philosophy began, the Greeks had a theory or feeling about the universe, which may be called religious or ethical. According to this theory, every person and every thing has his or its appointed place and appointed function. This does not depend upon the fiat of Zeus, for Zeus himself is subject to the same kind of law as governs others. The theory is connected with the idea of fate or necessity. It applies emphatically to the heavenly bodies. But where there is vigour, there is a tendency to overstep just bounds; hence arises strife. Some kind of impersonal super-Olympian law punishes hubris, and restores the eternal order which the aggressor sought to violate.
When an individual is afflicted with hubris, he has attempted to overstep the boundaries of the fate set for him (which is, implicitly, the fate portrayed by the positions of the heavenly bodies at birth, since the same impersonal law governs both microcosm and macrocosm). Thus he strives to become godlike; and even the gods are not permitted transgression of natural law. The core of Greek tragedy is the dilemma of hubris, which is both man's great gift and his great crime. For in pitting himself against his fated limits, he acts out an heroic destiny, yet by the very nature of this heroic attempt he is doomed by the Erinyes to retribution.
These themes of natural law and the transgression of fate-imposed limits could, and do, fill volumes of drama, poetry and fiction, not to mention philosophy. It would seem that we curious human creatures have always been preoccupied with the difficult question of our role in the cosmos: are we fated, or are we free? Or are we fated to attempt our freedom, only to fail? Is it better, like Oidipus or Prometheus, to strive to the utmost limits of which one is capable even if it invokes a tragic end, or is it wiser to live moderately, walk with humility before the gods, and die quietly in one's bed without ever having tasted either the glory or the terror of that inexcusable transgression? Obviously I could go on for several thousand pages on this theme, which is what most philosophers do. As I am not a philosopher, I shall instead focus my attention on the curious fact that the 'minions of justice', in whatever mythology or poetry one finds them, are always female.
Perhaps one of the reasons why there is an inevitable association between fate and the feminine is the inexorable experience of our mortal bodies. The womb that bears us, and the mother upon whom we first open our eyes, is in the beginning the entire world, and the sole arbiter of life and death. As a direct psychic experience, father is at best speculative, but mother is the primary and most absolute fact of life. Our bodies are at one with our mothers' bodies during the gestation that precedes any independent individuality. If we do not remember the intra-uterine state and the convolutions of the birth passage, our bodies do, and so does the unconscious psyche. Everything connected with the body therefore belongs to the world of the mother — our heredity, our experiences of physical pain and pleasure, and even our deaths. Just as we cannot remember that time when we did not exist, a mere ovum in the ovary of the mother, so we cannot conceive of the time when we will no longer exist, as though the place of emergence and the place of return are the same. Myth has always connected the feminine with the earth, with the flesh, and with the processes of birth and death. The body in which an individual lives out his allotted span comes from the body of the mother, and those characteristics and limitations ingrained in one's physical inheritance are experienced as fate: that which has been written in the hieroglyphs of the genetic code stretching back over aeons. The physical legacy of the ancestors is the fate of the body, and although cosmetic surgery may alter the shape of a nose or straighten a set of teeth, yet we are told that we will inherit our parents' diseases, their predisposition to longevity or the lack of it, their allergies, their appetites, their faces and their bones.
So fate is imaged 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. In this sense Freud, despite himself, emerges as one of the great affirmers of fate as instinct, because he was compelled to acknowledge the power of the instincts as a shaper of human destiny. The instinct to procreate, differentiated from what we call love, exists in every living species, and that it operates as a force of fate may be observed in the compulsive sexual encounters and their consequences which punctuate virtually every human life. It is no wonder that the Norsemen equated fate with the genitals. Likewise the aggressive instinct exists in us all, and the history of war, which erupts despite our best intentions, is testimony to the 'fatedness' of that instinct.
The soul too is portrayed as feminine, and Dante's great poetic edifice to his dead Beatrice stands as one of our most awesome testimonies of the power of the feminine to lead man out of mundane life and into the heights and depths of his inner being. Jung has a considerable amount to say about the soul as anima, the inner feminine which can lead a man both into the torments of hell and the ecstasies of heaven, igniting the fire of his creative individual life. Here fate seems to come from within, through the passions and the imagination and the incurable mystical longing. Whether an actual woman carries this role for a man in life or not, the soul will nevertheless drive him towards his fate. This soul sets limits, too: she will not permit him to fly too high into the remote realms of intellect and spirit, but will ensnare him through the body's passions or even the body's disease. In myth it is the goddesses, not the gods, who preside over disease and decay — as Kali does over smallpox — and in the end they restore even the most spiritualised of men to the dust from whence he came. These inadequately covered connections are perhaps some of the threads which link the mythic image of fate with the feminine. However we wish to understand this triple face of fate, she is imaged as an eternal presence, spinning the cycles of time, the birth gown, the nuptial veil, the shroud, the tissues of the body and the stones of the earth, the wheel of the heavens and the eternal passage of the planets through the eternal zodiacal round.
We meet the feminine face of fate also in the humble fairy tale of childhood. The word 'fairy' comes from the Latin fata or fatum, which in French eventually translated into fée, enchantment. So fate not only avenges the transgression of natural law; she also enchants. She spins a spell, weaves a web like the spider who is one of her most ancient symbols, transforms a prince into a frog and sends Briar-Rose into a hundred-year sleep.
A long time ago there were a King and Queen who said every day: 'Ah, if only we had a child!' but they never had one. But it happened that once when the Queen was bathing, a frog crept out of the water on to the land, and said to her: 'Your wish shall be fulfilled; before a year has gone by, you shall have a daughter.'
What the frog had said came true, and the Queen had a little girl who was so pretty that the King could not contain himself for joy, and ordered a great feast. He invited not only his kindred, friends and acquaintances, but also the Wise Women, in order that they might be kind and well-disposed toward the child. There were thirteen of them in his kingdom, but, as he had only twelve golden plates for them to eat out of, one of them had to be left at home.
The feast was held with all manner of splendour, and when it came to an end the Wise Women bestowed their magic gifts upon the baby: one gave her virtue, another beauty, a third riches, and so on with everything in the world that one can wish for.
When eleven of them had made their promises, suddenly the thirteenth came in. She wished to avenge herself for not having been invited, and without greeting, or even looking at anyone, she cried with a loud voice: 'The King's daughter shall in her fifteenth year prick herself with a spindle, and fall down dead.'
Who then are these 'Wise Women' who are gracious and generous if acknowledged, yet vengeful and merciless if ignored? 'Little Briar-Rose' is a fairy tale, and therefore a tale about fate. I cannot resist associating those numbers twelve and thirteen with some very ancient things, for there are thirteen lunar months in a year and twelve solar; and the king in this fairy tale, being a king and not a queen, has opted to set the solar measure above the lunar. Thus his own problem with the feminine is visited upon his daughter in the form of a punishment, and the Erinyes, in the guise of the thirteenth Wise Woman, claim their retribution.
Excerpted from The Astrology of Fate by Liz Green. Copyright © 1984 Liz Green. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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