Fate: Destiny or Purpose?


I recently took up cross-stitch again — something I really haven’t done since I was in junior high *cough* years ago. Originally I started back with it in order to make someone a Yule gift. But, it turned out to be really meditative and somewhat relaxing for me (when I remember how to count), so I’ve since started other projects. The stitches are really simple: just a little “x” in the right spot on a blank piece of fabric. It’s not really an instant gratification sort of craft, but soon … little by little … an image begins to emerge. Each tiny stitch contributes to the whole.

The Fates famously work with threads. We see image after image of Clotho spinning the thread, Lachesis determining the length, and Atropos finally cutting each one. What happens after the thread has been cut? What do they do with those threads? I’d like to think that rather than just cluttering up their craft room, the Fates use those threads to weave them into a larger tapestry.

There’s a story that I reference fairly often that I originally heard from mythologist and storyteller Michael Meade. It comes from a Pygmy tribe in central Africa. According to this particular belief system, every person is born to give a gift to the world – and our lifetime goal should be to figure out what that gift is, and give it unreservedly. I resonate pretty strongly with this story. It fits nicely into this image I have of the Fates taking each thread and weaving it on a loom – creating an image beyond my feeble human comprehension – but knowing that I contribute to it just by living and doing my best to give the gifts I was born to give.

I realize that I’m offering some fairly simplistic ideas here — each thread is important, everyone has a gift to give, we’re all a part of the wider tapestry, etc. But, to be perfectly honest — that simplicity is what draws me to working with this theme. Do I believe in a set Destiny? I don’t. But, I do believe in Purpose.

I believe in ongoing self-examination and personal growth work. I believe in identifying the places and things that fire my passion, and doing my best to engage with them. And while I believe that I don’t always have the privilege of following my passions due to circumstances beyond my control, I believe that I can always access lifeforce and at least make some choice that brings me more in line with my Purpose.

And, there are still complexities with that philosophy that are tricky for me. When I had a near-death experience a couple of years ago – one of the most common things people told me in the days and weeks to follow was some variation of, “Your work here wasn’t done.” or “Obviously you have something more to give.” While I do believe that both of those statements are true, the former protestant in me struggles with the arrogance of it. Did the gods truly deem my gift worthy enough to spare me versus someone else? Do victims of violence and other untimely causes of death not have anything more worthy to give? Are they not spared because they don’t have more work to do in the world? I don’t believe that for a second. So, yeah … tricky. There’s an inherent privilege in destiny, or believing that I am here for a reason that causes me some discomfort.

And yet … I do believe that we all have something to give. I really do want to believe in this metaphorical “tapestry” that each of us contribute our life’s thread to. I can’t believe in the power of Community and not believe in the idea that we all are important parts of the greater whole. These are all questions I am taking into this intentional work Expanding Inward is doing with the Fates at our spring intensive. I welcome any and all insights into how you view your place in this world. This universe. This multiverse.

I’m going to end with a poem written by a Polish woman who was in high school in Poland at the time of the German invasion. She continued to take classes, despite the ban on high school education put in place by the Germans. She avoided imprisonment and death at the hand of the Nazis, unlike many of her fellow Poles. I can’t help but think that experience inspired this piece. It asks more questions than it answers for me — but I find it provides some good fodder for this idea of destiny vs. purpose.

There But for the Grace
by Wisława Szymborska

It could have happened.
It had to happen.
It happened sooner. Later.
Nearer. Farther.
It happened not to you.

You survived because you were the first.
You survived because you were the last.
Because you were alone. Because of people.
Because you turned left. Because you turned right.
Because rain fell. Because a shadow fell.
Because sunny weather prevailed.

Luckily there was a wood.
Luckily there were no trees.
Luckily there was a rail, a hook, a beam, a brake,
a frame, a bend, a millimeter, a second.
Luckily a straw was floating on the surface.

Thanks to, because, and yet, in spite of.
What would have happened had not a hand, a foot,
by a step, a hairsbreadth
by sheer coincidence.

So you’re here? Straight from a moment still ajar?
The net had one eyehole, and you got through it?
There’s no end to my wonder, my silence.
how fast your heart beats in me.



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2 thoughts on “Fate: Destiny or Purpose?

  1. Epiphany Paris February 10, 2016

    I am so crazy excited about the work this Spring! I’ve never worked with the Fates before, or done magical work regarding the concept of Destiny, but I’m super psyched.

    You said, “I welcome any and all insights into how you view your place in this world”

    I like the way you are describing the relationship of Purpose and Destiny. I resonate a lot with Carolyn Myss’ concept of Sacred Contract. Like, before being born, I contracted with various different people to do different work. And, I feel like the work can look a lot of different ways, from different angles, so the contract is to do a certain kind of work doesn’t have a specific plan.

    Like, say someone and I contract to help each other break free from fears about our shadows (the parts of ourselves that we try to keep hidden). Depending on the path each of our lives took until now, this could look very different. It could be each of us ended up in the same support group where we very consciously engage with our personal work, and its a very positive relationship. Or it could be a highly dysfunctional relationship that nevertheless is elucidating.

    When I’m not feeling so specific as that about it, I think of it as when I have a spiritual need (something my “soul” or whatnot is ready to engage with), I sort of send out a beacon of energy that calls those kinds of experiences into my life.

    Having a sacred purpose works (for me anyway) with what you are describing, and then for me how I see it is that my biggest choice is to engage with and accept my purpose, seek it out and pursue it, or closet it. In either case, how I’m feeling about my path impacts my energy, but more practically, my actions, and my actions influence how the world reacts to me, shifting and changing what the specific path looks like, but ultimately still holding the same threads.

    • River Roberts February 10, 2016

      Thanks for your insights, Epiphany! I’m really looking forward to diving deeper into this work, as well. The concept of “contracts made before birth” was something we often worked with at the Grove in Mystery School — and it always rang true to me. I can certainly identify specific relationships where that concept seemed to be at play. Whether it’s true or not, I really dig the idea. Thanks again!


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