As wyrd as it gets

Sometimes, I come across modern polytheists who reject the idea of Fate. While some may present philosophical or academic arguments against the notion – some heathens, for instance, do it on linguistic grounds – I often get the feeling that the rejection of a predetermined path in our lives has the same root as the idea of the independent pagan. You known, the guy who makes his own destiny, doesn’t grovel or pray to the Gods, but manages things by himself and looks at the Powers like a sort of beer buddies. It’s all very modern, actually: in an age of individual freedoms, one does not easily accept the idea that something else is in control of our lives. And yet, the more I think about it, the more I believe that there are essential things over which I have no control, but which nonetheless shape me in fundamental ways.

Who I am is to a large extent the result of variables I did not decide upon. Who are my parents and where was I born are the first two. They in turn determine where I grew up and hence which languages did I learn, who did I meet, what experiences I had, where did I go to school, who were my teachers and classmates, what freedoms and opportunities were available to me. All these things helped shaping my worldview and personality. Had I been born in Saudi Arabia, I most likely would not be here writing this post; had I been born into a rich, traditional Portuguese family – the ones with blood ties to the old nobility – chances are I would be a catholic boy with a deeply homophobic public speech while having a probably frustrating gay life in the closet. And these things would in turn generate new experiences that would again shape my life down a path different from the one I’m following today. I would be a different person and all because of variables I did not choose: I did not pick my parents, my birthplace or the people living in my home town or attending the same school I did.

That’s Fate! It’s not an arbitrary decision by a divine being or a group of them, but the summ of causes that generate effects that will themselves be causes for multiple effects and so forth. Where I was born and who are my parents is partly determined by who their parents were and where their lived, and the same is true for my grandparents and great-grandparents and so on. It’s a long chain of causality from the beginning of time in a complex web where everything is connected. Because that’s another thing about Fate: no one’s an island!

One way or another, we’re all linked. The people I met influenced me, just like I influenced them; remove me from the equation, and someone would probably have a different experience, therefore a different worldview and life. A conversation with someone you’ll never see again prompted you to make a important decision minutes later or maybe you met a person who will turn out to be a great friend and help in pivotal points of your life. This is true with animals or plants, too: you go for a walk in the woods and stump on vegetation, perhaps killing what would one day be a tree that would be hit by lightening and in turn hit someone; you pick up a strayed dog, give him a family and he never gets to come across that kid he would attack. We’re all connected, humans, animals, plants, wights and Gods. In some way, a person’s life is also the life of others; their lives are his/hers also. Think of it as what happens when you throw a stone into a lake and generate ripples on the surface. Now imagine several rocks being thrown from several parts. What you get is pretty much a good view of life where no one’s an island: multiple rings that cross, blend, crash and may or may not create new ones; causes generating effects which themselves become causes. And not one part of the lake’s surface is out of the equation. Remove one stone or part of the ripple and the pattern will be different.

Does this mean we have no free will? Well, we do, but it’s of a limited sort. It’s a bit like when you choose which degree to take: we don’t pick from every single option available in the world, if anything because none of us has the grades, financial means or linguistic skills to be able to do it. When we choose an academic course, we’re doing it from a limited set of options that was predetermined, once again, by where we were born, who are our parents and where we grew up, things which shape our preferences, known languages, financial capability, etc. So if we do have free will, it’s basically that of a choice from a preset range of options because, again, no one’s an island with complete freedom to move.

This is not to say that our lives are predetermined in every detail. Fate is flexible, but not completely so. One’s life is a string in a huge web where everything’s linked, so how flexible your destiny is depends a lot on the flexibility of the other strings. Plus, there are knots, things you cannot change and over which you have no control, trapping you in a given path or limited options. And this is true for humans, animals, plants, wights and Gods alike. We’re all linked: above, bellow and around us; past, present and future. No one’s an island!

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