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FATE . Derived from the Latin fatum (something spoken, a prophetic declaration, an oracle, a divine determination), the term fate denotes the idea that everything in human lives, in society, and in the world itself takes place according to a set, immutable pattern. Fatalism is the term for the submission by human beings to fate in resignation. Fate and fatalism should not be confused with the idea of determinism propagated by nineteenth-century philosophical positivism, which was convinced that science was on its way to uncovering that law of all cause and effect relationships in the world. The assumption of determinism was that a complete set of scientific laws was within reach of the human mind, and that all these would reside in the public domain and be transparent to inquiring reason. By contrast, the notion of fate, in whatever variation, language, or shade of meaning it occurs, always retains a basic element of mystery. Fate may be in the hands of some powerful, superhuman being; it may be superior to the gods; it may be accessible to some select individuals. But, in contrast with philosophical determinism, not only is a certain knowledge possible vis-à-vis fate, but so is a certain "negotiation" with, or even a staving off of, fate's decrees.

There are no religious traditions in which a notion of fate is supreme, exclusive, and all-powerful. Furthermore, the effort to define fate in a universally valid way cannot go much further than the formal lines drawn above. Only in psychological terms can generalizations be added. The more problematic, and at the same time more fascinating, issues arise when one confronts the variety of notions about fate in cultures and historical eras.

Psychological Observations

In the intellectual mood of the modern age, it is natural to think of the notion of fate first of all in psychological terms. Some remarks can certainly be made here, although they do not help a great deal in understanding fate in the ways in which it is presented in specific religious contexts.

The idea that fear is a root cause of all religions was already proposed in antiquity, and through the ages thinkers have tried to revive the idea, though with little success. With respect to fate and fatalism, however, the function of a psychological ambivalence in many human situations seems hard to deny. Especially in the case of fatalismthat is, the full surrender to fatean attitude of defeat is in evidence in the belief that the future is as inevitable and fixed as the past. One's acts become acts of a higher power, and Sigmund Freud's observation concerning a death wish as the ultimate motivation may be fully applicable in many instances. Such ambivalence consists of the renunciation of one's own reason (hence also of one's own responsibility) and the hypothesis of a rational coherence of events in another order.

Examples of a grisly sort of fatalism became familiar in the twentieth century. During World War II the suicidal Japanese torpedo attacks and the suicides in SS (Schutzstaffel) quarters during Adolf Hitler's regime occurred in response to a notion of destiny (Schicksal) supposedly far beyond the value of individual human lives. Well known are the endeavors to inculcate soldiers in the Nazi years in Germany with fatalismin the dubious certainty that this was an ancient Germanic warrior stance. In the 1980s, religiously inspired suicidal attacks on targets conceived as threats to Islam, especially in the cause of Shīʿah, became an almost regular feature in the Middle East, and many more suicidal missions have been undertaken in various areas of the Middle East, not only among traditionally different factions within Islam, but particularly against the State of Israel. It is important to look at these phenomena as instances of fatalism. Indeed, there are many phenomena in the present world that have far more than a superficial resemblance to "fatalism." Wars have devastated the lives of soldiers and civilians in Korea, Vietnam, many African nations, and Iraq, where fatalism came to reign supreme, leaving soldiers and citizens with inner, indeed fatal, devastation, even when they survived. One should not dismiss such matters from an inquiry into "fate," for one needs the reminder that cults of fate can revive much more easily than one may imagine. An example, if not of fatalism per se, then of tendencies in this direction in the modern West, began after World War II with the wave of astrology in general literature, as a rubric in most newspapers, and, perhaps more basically, as a way of filling up the empty space of an underlying uncertainty.

The cluster of fear, escape from fear, and dismissal of one's responsibility as a fundamental cause in the formation of certain conceptions of religion and fate is suggested both in the recent past and in ancient civilizations. The fear of rulers, wild animals, foes, disease, and many things under the rubric nature has had its influence on the formulation of religious ideas, even in the earliest times. Samuel Noah Kramer translated a few expressive lines from a Sumerian poet who obviously had meditated on some golden age as a time that contrasted with a fateful present. Characteristically, he thought of that age as one without fear:

Once upon a time, there was no snake, There was no scorpion, There was no hyena, there was no lion, There was no wild dog, no wolf, There was no fear, no terror, Man had no rival. (Kramer, 1963, p. 262)

It would be wrong to conclude that the idea of fate could be fully explained as a projection of basic human fears or uncertainties. The most striking fact militating against this explanation is that certain periods and cultures that knew many fears and reasons for fear have little to tell us of fatalism.

Earliest Expression in Agricultural Cultures

There is no evidence of any religiously central preoccupation with fate in cultures preceding the earliest civilizations based on the cultivation of cereals, nor is there any special religiously significant place provided for notions of fate in hunting cultures. One looks in vain for a significant role or clear expression of "fate" in truly archaic or preliterate societies in general. Everything points to the relative comfort of a grain- or rice-producing culture as a minimum condition for a religious articulation concerning fate. At the same time, it seems obvious that the chance of crop failures by itself does not create a notion or cult of fate.

Diffusion of Astrology

One complex of a fatalistic type, though certainly not among the earliest ones, has clearly passed beyond the borders of its land of origin and through many different language areas as well, and that is astrology. Two reasons may be given for its spread

First, it is possible to look upon endeavors to relate celestial observations to the course of human destinies as a special modification, under certain historical conditions, of the macrocosmic-microcosmic correspondence that seems to occur with the structure of human religious symbolization everywhere. In a sense, astrology is not an altogether new phenomenon but rather a transplantation within a common matrix when it appears and is diffused in late antiquity, grafted onto existing cosmogonic and cosmological traditions.

Although astronomical calculation had risen to great heights in ancient Babylon, full-blown astrological systems were first produced in the Greek language of the Hellenistic period. Nevertheless, it is important to realize that astronomy in early antiquity was not what would today be called an exact science, distinct from religion and the humanities. Details such as the linkage of the five classical planets plus the sun and the moon to different celestial spheres were accepted in all parts of the world that had any contact with the ancient Middle East. In all probability, this diffusion of ideas began well before the Hellenistic Age. Cosmological ideas among Siberian tribes, as well as architectonic expressions as far east as the Borobudur temple on Java, show the powerful influence of discoveries from the ancient Middle East. This leads to the second reason that astrology passed so easily from one cultural area to others that were on a lower level of civilization than Mesopotamia.

From the outsetfrom the earliest appearance of astronomical and mathematical tables in Babylonformulas tracing and predicting the course of the heavenly bodies had never taken the form of a scientific enterprise in isolation. In the ancient Middle East this science was presented together with the invocations of deitiesthe clay tablets and other writings with astronomical and calendar data frequently show religious symbols at the same time. In Siberian and Mongolian shamanism, the shaman, the person with expert knowledge and experience of the traffic between this world and the other world, travels in his or her ecstatic journey from earth to heaven passing through the heavenly spheres in between, each as a rule represented by notches in the very real pole the shaman ascends; all the while the shaman is narrating to the community's people, who witness the events, what is happening from heaven to heaven. In India, the Vedic texts make frequent use of calendrical numbers, of months or days in the year, and equate them with ingredients necessary for traditional sacrifices and other rituals.

Thus each religious system did what was natural to it; rather than adding "scientific" information to its body of traditional lore, each appropriated the new discoveries as further revelations of religious reality and inserted them in the religious tradition as was fitting. That human life was intrinsically and harmoniously related to the cosmos was beyond doubt. The ground was well prepared for the waves of astrological influences that followed. As a result, the line separating astronomy from astrology is not easy to draw in the ancient and classical worlds. Astrology was accepted as a way to gain knowledge of details in the general macro-micro-cosmic harmony. It became possible to ascertain the relation of a person to the course of the heavenly bodies on the basis of the time of that person's birth and the celestial sign under which the birth had taken place. In principle, it became possible also to alter destiny. It is not difficult to see that astrology functions by and large in the same way in very different religious traditions and cultural areas. In Hinduism, the astrologer's counsel is taken very seriouslyfor example to determine the appropriate day for a wedding ceremony. In the world of Judaism and Christianity, astrology cannot boast of such integration in the religious tradition. The Greek philosophers were generally critical of astrology, and that tradition continued and was reinforced under the influence of the biblical tradition. Setting store by astrology's expertise was obviously not in harmony with God's supreme judgment and his power over human destiny. Nevertheless, wherever astrology functions, it remains based on the same principles of ancient science, and in that respect we may speak of a certain sameness, a homogeneity in the astrological complex throughout history.

Ancient and Classical Concerns

Wherever there are clear references to fate in religious documents, the expressions demonstrate immediately that one cannot speak of fate as a single concept. The assumptions and inquiries commonly used in logic, psychology, or sociology do not suffice. Within the history of religions, statements should depend on a clear recognition of the intentions shown by the traditions being investigated. It is beyond the scope of this entry to survey all religions, yet a number of different tendencies within their symbolic contexts can be indicated. The following points present some strands and specific meanings of fate. Without exaggerating their importance, they do point to "moments," in the sense of elements that are constituents of well-delineated notions of fate.

Fate that is relatively independent within a religious tradition

Not only moderns who consider themselves secularized, and in some manner "objective" in their views of religious traditions, but also the ancients, among them the Greeks and Romans, have had difficulty defining fate. The religious documents themselves show ambivalence. The documents show, however, that such ambivalence is not mere intellectual uncertainty but often an intentional compromise of distinct views, each of which is unassailable. In the case of fate, such necessary ambiguity is much easier to fathom than it is in most other symbolic complexes (e.g., sacrifices or forms of worship).

In the Theogony, Hesiod (eighth century bce) collected and tried to classify ancient and even some pre-Homeric traditions. The Moirai, the goddesses of fate, together with some others, are called by Hesiod daughters of Night (Theogony 211225), although he immediately adds that they punish transgressions by both men and the gods (217222). When Zeus, king of the gods, has firmly established his rule, the role of the Moirai (together with the Horae, that is, the three goddesses Eunomia, Dikē, and Eirene) is that of dispensers of good and evil. In the new context they function as goddesses of fate, and they are also called the honored daughters of Zeus. The ambivalence, therefore, of their descent from Night and also from the supreme god, whose veneration is certainly the major theme of Hesiod's work, cannot be satisfactorily explained as a conflict of different traditions. It is, of course, possible that such supposed separate traditions existed, but then the major problem still remains: how did such very different pedigrees for the representations of fate come about? The ambivalence is no doubt likely to be related to the nature of fate: on the one hand, there exists an origin of darkness, if not of uncanny supreme independence; on the other, the central god cannot be depicted as subordinate to fate but must be seen as, in fact, generating it.

In the famous epics of the classical traditions, we find this view confirmed in detail. Homer (eighth century bce) presents a series of dramatic scenes in Iliad 16 that establish the case of a purposeful ambivalence. Under the guidance of Patroclus, the Danaans win a mighty victory over the Trojans. Patroclus kills several heroes in succession. Then the Trojan warrior Sarpedon attempts to turn the battle and attacks Patroclus, only to meet with death by his opponent's spear. However, before this fight ensues, Zeus looks down on the battlefield. He has good reason to be concerned, for Sarpedon is his son. Zeus asks his wife Hera whether he should remove Sarpedon from the scene of battle and thus preserve his life, or allow him to be killed. Hera answers with a moving argument: Mortals are doomed by fate. At the same time, however, Zeus can do as he pleases, though once he takes action to save his son, every one of the gods might do the same for a son in battle, for each one loves his son. The best thing, she concludes, is to let Sarpedon be killed by Patroclus, then let him be sent back to his homeland in Lycia, where his family and friends can conduct a proper funeral. In this argument, a highpoint in the religion of the Olympians, Zeus remains supreme; yet in perfect harmony with his supremacy, fate is accepted.

The Roman poet Vergil (7019 bce) brings fate even closer to the supreme god in the story of Dido and Aeneas in the fourth chapter of the Aeneid. Aeneas, who according to Jupiter's plans must go to Italy to lay the foundations of the Roman state, is delayed in his journey by the charms of the love-stricken Dido. Juno, Jupiter's consort, contrives to have the two marry to make the relationship legal. But Venus counsels Juno to inquire into Jupiter's plans. Jupiter, thus alerted, sends Mercury to Aeneas to remind him of his real goal: to establish rule over Italy. Thematically less subtle than Homer, Vergil leaves no doubt concerning the supremacy over destiny of the king of the gods. Even Venus, known for her truly fateful power, here victimizing Aeneas as much as Dido, is no match for Jupiter's determination of fate.

This purposeful ambivalence has early roots in the classical world. The classicist William Chase Greene, who studied the subject of fate extensively, attributes much to human dependence on nature, expressed in Greece in the figure of Mother Earth, Gaia. Was she, on whom everything depended, identified with fate? Greene touches the heart of the matter in summaries of earlier classicists (notably Jane E. Harrison) and in his own study of texts by explaining that Gaia's way is the way of Dikē. Dikē (justice, but also judgment or punishment) is a term akin to fate, although the documents do not allow an unambiguous identification. Often the texts also speak of Themis as a goddess; she is "the right tradition" and also "the right dispensation." It is true that she is sometimes identified with Gaia (earth [the Titan goddess Gaia-Themis is the mother of Prometheus]). However, in the myths this goddess is not a supreme deity but rather the guardian of ancient sacred customs when their solidity is shaken.

Comparable to Themis, or right tradition, dharma in Hinduism occurs as a divinity, the god Dharma. Typically, however, this god is not identified with any supreme deity; rather, he occurs in legends and myths as the embodied reminder of what should be done. In the epic Mahābhārata, the hero Yudhihira is also known as Dharmarāja. He is the son of the god Dharma, and his name implies his justness as a ruler. This heroic character has been divinized and enjoys a cult in a number of minor popular traditions in South India. However, the complexity of these cults also involves other divine and divinized characters who play significant roles in myth and ritual. Although dharma (the maintenance of right tradition) and a hero/god are drawn together, this popular tradition also refrains from identifying any notion of fate with a divine power.

Much earlier, in the period of the Vedas and in Brahmanism (from c. 1200 to 600 bce, but also in later texts), we find the term ta. It may be rendered as "truth," and in that sense it is commonly used in later times. Nevertheless, its earliest meaning, never completely lost later on, is closer to "cosmic balance." ta is the power or function that preserves the world in its proper order. Its kinship to the generic term fate is evident, but this case is also preserved in its own mystery. Two deities, Mitra and Varua, are called the guardians of ta in the Vedic texts, but not its owners. No deity appropriates it, owns it, or is identical with it.

In Greece, the Moirai (fate) personified in three goddesses, are sometimes called by individual names: Clotho, who spins the thread of life; Lachesis, who measures it; and Atropos, who cuts it off. The symbolism of weaving is eloquent: a tapestry of life is created and by itself does not imply the design of a superior deity. Homer, as we have seen, does not identify Zeus with fate, but he speaks in several places of one single Moira, whose decisions are irrevocable and to whom even the gods are subjected. Moira's inscrutable nature is not evil; indeed, a wholly evil deity does not occur in Homer, unless it be the goddess Atē (the Romans called her Discordia), but her role is not significant within the structure of classical Greek religion.

The act of weaving (not only cloth but also baskets) has been a source of symbolism concerning fate in many times and places. Urðr (Urd) in Old Norse literature is a personification of fate: a female figure, seated at a source under the world tree, determining destiny. Her name is related to the verb verða, akin to Latin vertere ("to turn," including the turning and twisting of the thread of destiny). Norse mythology has much to say about fate, including the inevitable destruction of the world (Ragnarǫk). Conceivably, the sources for this mythology, which for the most part are very late, show a certain obsession with destiny under the impact of changes brought about by Christianity.

In Germanic heroic poetry the role of goddesses of fate is largely played by the valkyries, nine in number. They are servants of Óðinn (Odin), and their name indicates their activity in war. In ancient Norse there are the three valkyrja, who are associated respectively with the past, the present, and the future, and whose name refers explicitly to their task of determining who will be slain in battle. According to the sagas, Óðinn will employ the valkyries in the final battle before Ragnarǫk. Thus, in the Germanic world, one detects a certain, no doubt purposeful, ambiguity regarding fate: those who determine fate are somehow independent and even beyond the gods, and nevertheless their activity jibes with the supreme god's will.

In Sanskrit literature, the most common word for fate is daiva, an adjectival form of deva (god). It is "the divine" in a most general sense, for it refers to what is beyond human beings and human ken. A term that took on far greater significance in the sphere of fate in Indian religious history is karman, which owes its principal force to the context in which it first occurs in Vedic sacrificial texts. Vedic sacrificial proceedings, the heart of early Indian religious life as we know it from the texts, are acts that by definition could not be in vain; a ritual was an act (karman ) par excellence. While it is difficult to define the purpose of those acts, this is a modern reader's problem. The texts agree that all power (and in fact everything that one might want to cover with the word religion ) was concentrated in the act performed, whether by gods or people, the act that could not miss the mark.

In later Vedic texts (the Upaniads), in the Indian epics, and in Yoga literature, the term karman absorbs the meaning of the manner in which life is determined by previous acts, or acts in a previous existence. In Buddhism, karman becomes the term used for the law of causality determining the cycle of sasāra, that is, the continuous flow of all finite existences. This meaning of karman has become dominant in virtually all Indian religious tradition. this notion, in spite of its philosophical contexts and subtleties, can obviously be understood as an expression of fate and fatalism. The religious center, however, from which its meaning derives, is not immutable destiny itself, but the access in human existence toward moka or nirvāa; that is, freedom from bondage to the law of karman. Notably, certain Indian religious traditions with archaic Indian roots, such as the bhakti cults of the south, are relatively unaffected by ideas concerning the law of karman. The loving devotion (bhakti ) to a gracious god or goddess is so central and so strongly supported by ancient local temple traditions as to make theories concerning laws of causality recede in significance.

Fate beyond the gods

In the Mediterranean world in late antiquity, notions of fate did not disappear, yet new views began to prevail, at least in certain circles, and ancient notions began to be understood in a modified way. The new mood is the same as that which provided a ready acceptance of astrological data and Gnosticism. Tyche in Greece and Fortuna in Rome are goddesses who enjoyed worship, though their names do not seem to indicate much more than "chance," "fortune," and "good luck." Fortuna was invoked under several names, for example, Annonaria (referring to her function of providing food), Muliebris (womanhood), Primigenia (she who is first born, the original one), and Virilis (she who is strong and masculine). Her greatest sanctuary was in Praeneste, the oldest part of which was built in approximately 200 bce. Fortuna came to be identified with Tyche (fate, or chance) and was a tutelary deity of the state in Hellenistic times. Her cult became very popular.

It is true that earlier times had deities of fate whose names did not seem personal in the strict sense of the word. Moira and daiva are examples. The Greek term anankē may also be mentioned here. Anankē does not denote a deity but is a general world for "necessity," yet necessity of a more than physical nature; it is seen as the antithesis to freedom (and forms an important subject for Plato in, for example, his Timaeus ). The term anankē preserved its mysterious, dreadful meaning throughout Greek history. Rather different, Moira was fate personified from the earliest times, in spite of the clear, abstract etymology of the word. The name Moira is related to a verb of which the participial form heimarmenē meant, and continued to mean in later times, "fate" proper. The term heimarmenē is a feminine past participle form of a verb meaning "to attribute" or "allot," and hence the meaning "what has been allotted" seems clearif it were not for the unexpected feminine form. The relationship to Moira is not transparent. By contrast, the personification in the Hellenistic period of other feminine deities such as Fortuna is quite distinct. Fortuna's veneration is symptomatic of a certain obsession with chance and fate. Typically, the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius (c. 9655 bce) begins his work De rerum natura (The way things are) with an invocation of Venus, the classical goddess of love, who in that capacity is closely associated with chance and fate. It is she who embodies control over all things, but Lucretius's poem makes a strong case for chance (and in doing so does not conceal the author's critique of all established religion).

Specific epithets for several goddesses who enjoyed worship at the time, including Venus, all refer to the same fundamental concern with chance or fate. The epithets for Fortuna all amount to a transparent naming of the mysterious power that determines the course of nature and history. The great classical gods seem to recede to the background. In roughly the same period, and well into the Middle Ages, during the time in which Indian influences extended into Southeast Asia, the god Kāma ("love," in the sense of erotic love) came to be much celebrated.

Autonomous fate and divinities holding fate in their power

The eventual victory of Christianity over the Hellenistic religions signifies a change in the religious occupation with fate. The idea of "fate" or "chance" as an independent or supreme force in the universe became a major enemy for many Christians. One might even argue that a prevailing mood shifted from one extreme to another. Later Western philosophers, such as Barukh Spinoza (16321677) and David Hume (17111776), still found it necessary to go to great lengths to refute Lucretius's rational reflections on chance. Generally, the Abrahamic religionsJudaism, Christianity, and Islamlooked askance at every semblance of a fate that could be ascertained apart from God.

Martin Luther (14831546) dismissed all the serious claims of astrology, since it had "neither principle nor proofs" (Tischreden 3.2834b, Weimar ed., 1914). The predestination of John Calvin (15091564) is often mistaken for a form of determinism or fatalism, but it is in fact something very different, and Calvin took great pains, with all the philosophical means at his disposal, to explain ultimate human destiny as God's decision, made within the mystery of God's eternity, inaccessible to the inquiring mind of human beings (Institutes 3.2123, 1559 ed.). In contrast to the biblically rooted religions, it is striking that in Hinduism, which was not affected by these historical religious developments, astrology continued to flourish unabated, integrated into the Hindu religious structures themselves.

Before the emergence of the religion of Israel, there occured in Mesopotamia eloquent depictions of fate held in a god's hands. The Akkadian creation epic known as Enuma elish, written down about 1000 bce but much older in origin, tells of the "tablets of fate" given to Marduk, the leading warrior and king of the gods. The presentation of these tablets is the seal of his sovereignty. He may be said to determine fate. At the same time, religious practice in the Middle East was multifarious, and a dogmatic definition of god and fate is not given. Among the terms for fate are the early Sumerian me or mu and the Akkadian shimtu (pl., shimatu ). Shimatu (destinies) can somehow be manipulated; this is literally true according to the documents. The tablet of destinies (tup-shimati ) is a cuneiform tablet; it controls the world, and the myths tell us that it could change hands. A lesser god, Anzu, once stole the tablet, thus endangering the order of the universe. Although the Enuma elish has destiny firmly planted in Marduk's power, another text (the Exaltation of Inanna ) tells of the goddess Inanna hanging the mes (destinies) on her head like jewels. On one occasion, Inanna tricked Enki (the Sumerian name of Ea, Marduk's father, who had formerly held fate in his power) into handing over the destinies.

One cannot do justice to the Babylonian notions concerning fate by explaining them, because of the highly developed art of divination, as a central item in a world of magic; divination was not a mere superstition but rather an attempt to understand and control reality (Buccellati, 1982). Furthermore, Mesopotamia never developed a cult of fate. The Mesopotamian notion of fate can perhaps best be seen as parallel to the notion of necessity (anankē ) in Plato, and there is no reason to oppose the art of gaining knowledge of the laws controlling the universe to Greek philosophy as if the former were more "primitive" than the latter. In any event, a divine autonomy over destiny is a prevailing theme in ancient Mesopotamia, and this certainly differs from Plato's tendency to oppose anankē to God's nous (mind) that created the world and human beings.

Historical continuations may be difficult to demonstrate in detail, yet in the Middle East the world of Islam seems to have preserved a number of very ancient ideas concerning destiny. These ideas found their way into the text of the Qurʾān. Specific terms are set in human life: sex, happiness, misery, the amount of one's sustenance, and the time of death (a point especially emphasized for soldiers). Qurʾān 9:51 states that nothing will happen to a man but what God has written down for him. Fate in God's hands here seems to come close to determinism, although it is just as likely, as in Calvin's predestination, that it was more of a stimulus to truly trust God. Certainly, as in the ancient Middle East of many centuries earlier, rational lucidity is not the issue. In Islamic teachings, beginning with the Qurʾān, rewards and punishments in this world as well as in the hereafter are far more significant, and their logic is not always immediately evident. In the history of Islam, theologians and lawyers have struggled with problems that have arisen from the text. Unjustly, many outsiders looking at Islam have considered all Muslims fatalists. God, the almighty, is at the same time the compassionate one. The religious "inconsistency" here in the handling of fate is no more conducive to a monolithic conceptualization than representations of fate elsewhere.

In the Hebrew Bible, the tendency is to associate fate with the will of God. Joseph and Daniel are the outstanding examples of dream readers, but their stories make it clear that they can look into the future through their art only under the inspiration of God. A complementary story of a man interested in necromancy who is not presented as a man of God is that of Saul consulting a woman of Endor, who conjures up the ghost of the dead Samuel (1 Sm. 28:825).

The problem of fate beyond God or gods

The theme of a destiny that is in harmony with a supreme divinity or ultimately dependent on that divinity's will is widespread and has many variations, yet some periods have also seen inroads on this general rule. The clearest examples come from situations of great intellectual concern and from an overflow of mystical craving. The conception of a god can "dry up," as it were; it can become a pale, rational reflection in the history of a tradition. In the expression of great mystics, such a development can be translated into a frightening reality, a horror that is too great to be endured. It would be overly simple to suggest that the conceptualization of the idea of God causes mysticism, but as a historical factor there is little doubt that it plays a role. In both Jewish and Christian mysticism certain stark phrases and terms, though they certainly do not sum up the whole of the mystic's vision, may be understood in part as reactions to a world of abstract propositions. Among these are the deus absconditus; certain metaphorical, not to say euphemistic, names in early Spanish Qabbalah, especially Ein Sof; "the dark night of the soul" of John of the Cross (15421591); and "the abyss of the deity" of Johannes Tauler (13001361). In the history of Buddhism, the tenacious process of negation in the meditations of Nāgārjuna (second century ce) may also serve as an example. In all these cases traditional concepts are forced to yield to a higher reality, a vision the tradition supposedly intended but had not disclosed hitherto. In the history of Islamic mysticism such use and interpretation of and reaction to traditional concepts have often led to open conflict and to the seer's condemnation and execution, as in the famous case of al-allāj (d. 922).

There is a compelling reason to relate these trends in heterogeneous forms of mysticism to the subject of fate: in all instances something higher and more powerful than what tradition allowed or was capable of understanding is posited as absolute. The term fate falls short of this highest element, which is often called ineffable. And yet, in intellectual circles that are not (or not necessarily) inclined toward mysticism, the desire to point to and name the power beyond what the tradition tolerates does occur. The Christian theologian Paul Tillich spoke of a "God who is Being itself," who as such would transcend "God who is a being." Tillich intended this idea as a bulwark against any fatefulness of the sort that he thought threatened Greek religion in the form of a fate above Zeus, and he made his case with the help of the mystic vocabulary concerning God as ground and abyss of every being. In late antiquity, Gnostic doctrines of salvation show patterns that bear striking resemblances to a fate beyond God. The traditional image of God is rejected as in fact inferior to the real God, who is truly supreme, and who is the source of salvation. The person's self is instructed to consider itself ultimately as alien to the world as is the real, truly transcendent God. Thus, here also, something is posited beyond that which the tradition had declared supreme, and this something higher is that which really determines the world.

Other Themes of Fate

What follows are points pertaining to some pronounced "moments" in expressions of fate.

Greece and Rome

Practical, down-to-earth ways of handling fate occur nowhere so markedly as in ancient Roman religion. "Signs" are read to interpret the uncertainties of life, signs that are very common, such as sneezes or twitches of the eyelids, or signs that are completely beyond human reach, such as celestial phenomena or the flights of birds. Messages (omina ) can be deduced from all such signs. As a rule, one has already set out on an enterprise, and then the signs are observed, and precisely this custom preserves a practical human freedom. There seems to have existed a great certainty that the interpretations were of use to the actions undertaken. The Roman situation differs considerably from that of the Greeks, who exhibit a much more encompassing interest in the drama of the future. The Greek oracles, such as the renowned oracle at Delphi, did not provide "yes" or "no" answers to an inquiry; rather, each oracular event was itself a mystery in need of interpretation. All major trends in Greece show a good deal of respect for the nature of fate, and nothing that might resemble a trivialization. Quite strikingly, Plato, in his last work, Laws, conceives a heavy penalty for those who are of the opinion that the gods can be caused to change their minds (10.909a). From the perspective not only of the Greeks, but of most traditions with explicit concerns for fate, the Roman customs may perhaps seem trivial.


The practicality in conceptions of fate in China differs markedly from ancient Roman customs. On a wider scale of comparison, the religions of China seem generally much less concerned with theory and very much down-to-earth. This difference is visible in expressions touching on fate and fatalism. Typically, the philosopher Wang Chong (probably first century ce) compared the significance of a person to that of a flea or louse in the folds of the garment of the universe. In neo-Daoist literature, expressions with a fatalistic ring occasionally occur. The Liezi, written in the third century ce, contains a dialogue between Effort and Fate. At a moment when Fate seems all-powerful, Fate's reply to the question of whether the way things are is indeed under its control is surprising: "Since I am called Fate, how can I have control?All things come naturally and of themselves. How should I know anything about them?" (6.1a). Dao, the Way, shows its force in preventing Fate itself from reaching sovereignty. In Confucian tradition, strict fatalism is difficult to detect. In ordinary life, however, Confucian scholars have, as a rule, declined to instruct anyone who did not give them the respect they deserved, thereby leaving unwise decision-makers to their own "fate." This practical "fatalism" is clearly only a by-product; it does not tell us much about the essentials of Confucius and Confucianism.


The singular place of ancient Iran in the general history of religions is also reflected in ideas concerning fate. Zoroastrianism conceived of a set period of duration for the world. In the end, the forces of good would triumph over those of evil. Human life has its significance on the stage of this world drama. Both good and evil ultimately follow the course of destiny. In later Zoroastrian orthodoxy, fate was often identified with time; a system approaching determinism developed. In effect, all power of Ahriman or Angra Mainyu (the evil spirit), as well as of Ōhrmazd, or Ahura Mazdā (the wise lord), was thus dissipated. This later period is commonly referred to as Zurvanism, after Zurwān, in whom Infinite Time is personalized and mythologized. (Zurvanites were the predominant sect in Iran in the third century bce.) The identification of fate and time has no prototype in other or earlier Iranian religion. One later text, known as the Epistle of Tonsar (probably from the end of the sixth century bce) condemns both people who trust exclusively in their own efforts and people who entrust themselves exclusively to fate. Manichaeism was strongly affected by Zoroastrian thought in its ideas about time, fate, good, and evil. In its turn, Manichaeism influenced the teachings of Gnostic and Christian traditions, in particular from the third to the seventh centuries.

Zurwān (time) is a late development from the ancient Iranian tradition of the Avesta. The great original opponents, Ōhrmazd and Ahriman, were the two antipodes of heaven, Ōhrmazd being the absolute good one, and Ahriman the absolute evil one. In Avesta mythology, all gods and people will eventually participate in a final battle between the two parties, but the good will triumph. When in the course of time the religion of the Avesta became the established religion, new transformations occurred. One such transformation amounts to the "heresy" of Zurwān (Puhvel, 1987). What is most striking is that Zurwān is transformed into the father of both Ahura Mazdā and Ahriman, which would seem to justify the designation of "heresy."

The travel of destinies

A subject that does not always get the attention it deserves is the movement of ideas over wide areas, often as a result of conquest. The death of Alexander in 323 bce is normally seen as the beginning of the Hellenistic Age. Not only did Greek become the major language of communication from Egypt to Rome, in a manner of speaking "Greek" also became the language of the worldin the sense that a world of ideas, of communication, opened up and endured for a long time. Eventually both the Islamic East and the Christian West came to lean on Greek ideas. And without the rediscovery of the Greek thinkersa rediscovery made by the Islamic worldhistory might have taken a very different course. The Renaissance, for example, would have been unthinkable.

The end of the Hellenistic Age is generally set at 31 bce, with the end of the Roman Republic and the ascension of Emperor Augustus (27 bce). History, especially political history, sets its signposts explicitly, but the flow of ideas is a different matter.

Fate, as we have seen, is a notion that can emerge anywhere. However, it is always the context that gives it its special touch. Traveling ideas can have a great impact. It is striking that during the first several centuries of the common era, ideas touching on fate seem to have traveled frequently and over considerable distances. It was a period in which Greek philosophical ideasfrom Aristotle and Plato, the Stoics, Epicureans, Skeptics, Cynicsmoved from country to country. The influence of Plotinus (third century ce), the greatest of the Neoplatonists, crossed bordersas he himself did. Plotinus eventually settled in Rome, where he taught and was eminent in intellectual life. This was the time of the early Christians, who also had ideas about fate, most of them rejecting it, for it would belittle the almightiness of God. Nevertheless, there was much ongoing discussion of the subject.

When the religion of the Avesta became the established religion (under the Sassanian rulers from the third to the seventh centuries ce), new manifestations occurred. One of these was the "heresy" in which Zurwān becomes the father of Ōhrmazd and Ahriman. This is precisely the "solution" that came to appeal to many further west; for example, in Greece and Rome. Particularly striking in this regard are the references to Zoroaster, especially in Gnostic texts. The tendency to understand time as the all-devourer became an obsession in various circles. In art, time becomes a monster, gruesome to behold.

The world of ideas is endlessly fascinating. Neoplatonism did not merely survive, but flourished. But even though the thought of Plato and Plotinus survived, much of the argument of this period is lost to us. The religious turmoil of that time is no longer easy to fathom. Nevertheless, that turmoil was considerable. Quite rightly, Gregory Shaw begins his book Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus (1995) with a moving description of the agitation of Greek peasants when the temples that guaranteed their lives and their crops were being ruined.

Fates of nations and empires

National fate should not be left unmentioned, since it cannot be separated from the subject of religion. China's "mandate of heaven" was interwoven with the religious mandate of kingship. And it was thought to determine China's, and indeed the entire world's, lot. We have seen above that Jupiter decided the founding of Rome. In modern history, manifest destiny, the American doctrine that gained great popularity in the nineteenth-century age of nationalism, held that it was the duty and fate of the Anglo-Saxon nations, particularly the United States, to dominate the Western hemisphere. Closely related to manifest destiny is the appeal of the British poet Rudyard Kipling in his poem "The White Man's Burden" (1899), which calls on the "white man" to persevere through hardships in his heroic efforts to protect, instruct, and lead to a truly civilized existence his "new-caught, sullen peoples/Half devil and half child." Equally fraught with pseudo-religious pathos is the Schicksal verbiage indulged in by the leaders of Nazi Germany.

Tenacity of Notions of Fate

The complexity of notions of fate and their varying frames of reference should not prevent us from observing the force of certain underlying ideas over very long periods of time. Faithful to his theistic inheritance, the mathematician Isaac Newton (16421727) interpreted his astronomical observations and calculations in terms of God's design. A Japanese religious movement, Tenrikyō (which came about late in the nineteenth century), is in most ways eclectic and has freely borrowed from theistic systems, but its ideas concerning fate are in perfect harmony with prevailing and popular Buddhist ideas of karman.

In moments of crisis that hit the individual, the charm of astrology tends to disappear, and earlier ideas of fate reemerge. This is not altogether surprising, as astrology was never accepted in the dominant Western religious traditions. Everything points to the remarkable religious tenacity of deep-seated convictions touching on fate, destiny, chance, and related problems. Even when certain conservative religious phenomena submerge or change, as for instance when funeral ceremonies are replaced by other means of disposing of the dead, basic assumptions about fate and images of fate seem hard to repress in social and private life. When occupying German authorities forced Jewish professors to step down, students in Amsterdam published in November 1940 a farewell message concluding: "In this heavy trial brought on you, we implore the Almighty to support you, Him in Whose hands your and our destiny lies, and whose decisions rule the course of existence for all of us." As in the case with other symbolisms, individuals do not make up their own novel ideas about fate. Instead, old ideas dominant in cultures come to the surface from time to time. They may appear new and striking, yet on closer scrutiny they are like irrepressible sounds made when old strings vibrate anew.

See Also

Astrology; Chance; Fortuna; Free Will and Determinism; Free Will and Predestination; Oracles; Webs and Nets.


Armstrong, A. H., trans. Plotinus, with an English Translation. 7 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 19781988.

Bayet, Jean. Histoire politique et psychologique de la religion romaine. 2d ed. Paris, 1969. This volume is of special importance for placing dealings with fate in their ordinary life surroundings.

Bianchi, Ugo. Dios Aisa: Destino, uomini, e divinità nell'epos, nelle teogonie e nel culto dei Greci. Rome, 1953. Discusses fate in the Greek tradition.

Bianchi, Ugo. Zaman i Ohrmazd: Lo Zoroastrismo nelle sue origini e nella sua essenza. Torino, Italy, 1958. A classic critique of Zaehner and the Uppsala school.

Bianchi, Ugo. The History of Religions. Leiden, 1975. One of the most "matter of fact" introductions to the study of religious phenomena.

Bottéro, Jean. The Birth of God: The Bible and the Historian. Translated by Kees W. Bolle. University Park, Pa., 2000.

Boyce, Mary. A History of Zoroastrianism. 3 vols. (Vol. 3 by Boyce and Frantz Grenet). London, 1975. This work is of special use for an inquiry into fate because of its treatment of Zurvanism.

Buccellati, Giorgio. A Primer of Ancient Mesopotamian Religion. Malibu, Calif., 1982. Pays special attention to a nonreductionistic interpretation of fate and to magic relating to fate.

David, Madeleine. Les dieux et le destin en Babylonie. Paris, 1949. A philologically based study, written with great philosophical sensitivity.

de Bary, William Theodore, and Irene Bloom, with Wing-tsit Chan et al. Sources of Chinese Tradition. 2d ed. New York, 1999. Contains important documents, especially in part 3, showing notions of fate in specific settings.

Dietrich, Bernard Clive. Death, Fate, and the Gods: The Development of a Religious Idea in Greek Popular Belief and in Homer. London, 1965.

Doniger O'Flaherty, Wendy, ed. Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Berkeley, 1980. The work contains excellent studies by specialists on the subject in India that is most relevant to the concept of karman.

Eliade, Mircea. Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Rev. and enl. ed., translated by Willard R. Trask. New York, 1964. Fundamental to an understanding of the transformation and diffusion of ancient Middle Eastern ideas to nonliterate cultures.

Gonda, Jan. Die Religionen Indiens. 2 vols. Stuttgart, Germany, 19601963. Includes information concerning astronomical and astrological ideas in India.

Grant, Robert M. Gnosticism: A Source Book of Heretical Writings from the Early Christian Period. New York, 1961. This is the most convenient collection of Gnostic texts, with helpful indexes.

Greene, William C. Moira: Fate, Good, and Evil in Greek Thought. Cambridge, Mass., 1944. An exhaustive study of fate in Greece.

Hadas, Moses, trans. The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters. New York, 1958.

Humphries, Rolfe, trans. The Way Things Are: The "De rerum natura" of Titus Lucretius Carus. Bloomington, Ind., 1968. The best translation of the most famous text on chance and related topics.

Jonas, Robert Hans. The Gnostic Religion: The Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity. 2d ed. Boston, 1963. Interprets the world of late antiquity in which ideas and cults of fate flourished.

Kramer, Samuel Noah. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. Chicago, 1963. Presents a sober yet vivid account of the earliest civilization, including its views of fate.

Lanzi, Silvia. Theos Anaitios: Storia della teodicea da Omero ad Agostino. Rome, 2000.

Long, A. A. Hellenistic Philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics. 2d ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1986.

Long, A. A., and D. N. Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. 1, Translations of the Principal Sources, with Philosophical Commentary; vol. 2, Greek and Latin Texts with Notes and Bibliography. Cambridge, U.K., 1987.

Magris, Aldo. L'idea di destino nel pensiero antico. 2 vols. Udine, Italy, 19841985. The most encompassing study of destiny in ancient Greece.

Needham, Joseph. Science and Civilization in China, vol. 2, History of Scientific Thought. Cambridge, U.K., 1956. Deals with scientific thought on a large scale and presents astronomical and astrological ideas in China.

Neugebauer, Otto. The Exact Sciences in Antiquity. 2d ed. Providence, R.I., 1957. The basic work on early science and astronomy, from which astrological systems derived.

Nilsson, Martin P. Geschichte der griechischen Religion. 2 vols., 3d ed. Munich, 19611967.

Pingree, David, trans. and ed. The Yavanajātaka of Sphujidhvaja. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1978. One of several Indian texts on astronomy translated by Pingree.

Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. Baltimore, 1987.

Ringgren, Helmer. Fatalism in Persian Epics. Uppsala, Sweden, 1952. Discusses fate and fortune in Iran from Zoroastrianism to Islam.

Ringgren, Helmer, ed. Fatalistic Beliefs in Religion, Folklore, and Literature. Stockholm, 1967. Contains essays by specialists on religion, folklore, and literature.

Rist, J. M. Plotinus: The Road to Reality. Cambridge, UK, 1967.

Rist, J. M. Stoic Philosophy. Cambridge, UK, 1969.

Rist, J. M. Human Value: A Study in Ancient Philosophical Ethics. Leiden, 1982.

Runia, David T., ed. Plotinus amid Gnostics and Christians. Amsterdam, 1984. Lectures by A. P. Bos, A. H. Armstrong, R. Ferwerda, and Th. G. Sinnige.

Shaw, Gregory. Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. University Park, Pa., 1995. Perhaps one of the most enlightening books on the Christianization of the world.

Wallis, Richard T., and Jay Bregman, eds. Neoplatonism and Gnosticism. Albany, N.Y., 1992. This volume contains, among other things: "Dualism: Platonic, Gnostic, and Christian" by A. H. Armstrong; "Synesius, the Hermetica and Gnosis" by Jay Bregman; "Plotinus's Anti-Gnostic Polemic" and "Porphyry's Against the Christians " by Christos Evangeliou; and "Theurgic Tendencies against Gnosticism and Iamblichus's Conception of Theurgy" by Birger A. Pearson.

Yang, C. K. Religion in Chinese Society: A Study of Contemporary Social Functions of Religion and Some of Their Historical Factors. Berkeley, 1961. Devotes special attention to Chinese attitudes toward fate in social life.

Zaehner, Robert Charles. Zurvan: A Zoroastrian Dilemma. Oxford, 1955. A seminal work.

Kees W. Bolle (1987 and 2005)

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Fatalism is the thesis that whatever happens must happen. This is not to be confused with the completely innocuous idea that whatever happens, happens. Nor is fatalism to be conflated with the proposition that, necessarily, whatever happens happens, where this assertion simply expresses the tautologous nature of the prior innocuous idea. Fatalism is a substantive thesis that claims that the occurrence of every event or state of affairs is necessary.

Elucidation of this thesis requires the articulation of the fatalist's necessity; we must know what the "must" amounts to when the fatalist tells us that whatever happens must occur. Since fatalism is to some measure a term of art, there are not tight a priori restrictions about how the necessity used by the fatalist is to be understood. There is, however, one criterion for any acceptable definition. Fatalism has occupied thinkers for more than two millennia primarily because its truth appears to have the consequence that we lack the power (capability, capacity) to perform any actions other than those that we actually do perform. If we perform an act, which is a type of event, and this event is necessitated, then no other act could have occurred. And, if no other act could have occurred, then we have no power to bring about any act other than the one that we, in fact, produced. If fatalism is true, there are no alternative courses of action open to us and so the conception of ourselves as meaningful, free-willed agents who have the power to affect the constitution of the future is thoroughly compromised. Any account of fatalistic necessity worth the name needs to respect the prima facie tension between fatalism and autonomous behavior.

Virtually all philosophers construe fatalistic necessity as logical or conceptual. Steven Cahn is representative when he states that fatalism

is the thesis that the laws of logic alone [his italics] suffice to prove that no man has free will, suffice to prove that the only actions which a man can perform are the actions which he does, in fact, perform, and suffice to prove that a man can bring about only those events which do, in fact, occur and can prevent only those events which do not, in fact, occur. (p. 8)

Although logical construals of fatalistic necessity meet the minimal requirement of maintaining the prima facie antagonism between fatalism and the actions of autonomous persons, they unfairly caricature the nature of some arguments that all parties deem as fatalistic. If all fatalistic arguments are conceived as containing only statements of logical laws (i.e., tautologies) as premises, it is difficult to see both how any substantive thesis could evolve and how any disagreement about the truth of fatalism could be more than merely a verbal squabble. In fact, the sophisticated fatalistic arguments of Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.), Diodorus Cronus (d. c. 284 b.c.e.), and others demonstrate that there are implicit substantive, albeit controversial, assumptions concerning the nature of truth and time. Before examining these arguments, it is important that we distinguish between fatalism and determinism, two theses that are frequently conflated.

Fatalism and Determinism

Regardless of the exact articulation of fatalistic necessity that one accepts, virtually all agree that it should be distinguished from the necessity of determinism. This distinction is especially important since determinism can be legitimately characterized in precisely the same way as fatalism: whatever happens must happen. The necessity of determinism is causal or natural necessity; all events or states of affairs are causally determined by antecedent states of affairs and the laws of nature. Alternatively, determinism claims that it is logically necessary that given an antecedent state of the world and the laws of nature, a particular subsequent state of the world will occur. On the traditional conception of fatalism as a logical thesis, there is no reference to natural laws or causality. Presumably, logical fatalism can be true in the absence of any causality in the world.

Aristotle's Sea Battle

Aristotle's discussion in De interpretatione, book 9, gives rise to the following:

  1. There will be a sea battle on 1 January 3000 or there will not be a sea battle on 1 January 3000.
  2. If there will be a sea battle on 1 January 3000 then it was always true (it was always a fact that) there will be a sea battle on 1 January 3000; if there will not be a sea battle on 1 January 3000 then it was always true (it was always a fact that) that there will not be a sea battle on 1 January 3000.
  3. If it was always true that there will be a sea battle on 1 January 3000, then there was never a time at which anyone could prevent the sea battle; if it was always true that there will not be a sea battle on 1 January 3000, then there was never a time at which anyone could bring about the sea battle.
  4. Thus either no one, at any time, could prevent the sea battle or no one, at any time, could bring about the sea battle.
  5. Thus, either the occurrence of the sea battle is necessary or the nonoccurrence of the sea battle is necessary.
  6. The sea battle is merely an arbitrarily selected event.
  7. Therefore, all events are necessitated.
  8. Therefore, fatalism is true.

The necessity that this argument attaches to events is necessity of the past. That is, we are to think of our powerlessness to affect the constitution of the future as we conceive of our inability to affect the constitution of the past. Just as the past is now closed to us, so too is our future. Aristotle's radical solution was to deny that future contingent statements had truth values, and so, "there will be a sea battle" and "there will not be a sea battle" were both neither true nor false. Contemporary times have produced other reactions to the argument. Some have questioned the meaningfulness of tensing truth, of the significance of speaking of truths holding at certain times. Others have suggested that we are not powerless to affect the truth-value of some claims about the past because some of these claims represent "soft facts" and are, in part, claims about the future. The question then becomes whether a statement to the effect that it was always true that a sea battle will occur on 1 January 3000 represents a soft fact. It should be clear that a robust discussion of Aristotle's argument requires investigating foundational claims about the nature of truth and time.

Theological Fatalism

Traditional Judeo-Christian theology considers God to have omniscient infallible foreknowledge and ubiquitous providence. If God knows all that will happen in a manner that cannot be mistaken, it is difficult to understand how any event can occur differently than it actually does. And, if no event can occur differently, it appears that there are no alternative courses of action that are open to us. We seem to be impotent concerning the constitution of the future. Additionally if everything that occurs is under the control of God's will, then it appears as if every event is divinely determined and so, once again, it appears as though we do not have the power to act otherwise than we actually do.

There have been three major types of response. The Boethian solution is to conceive of God as an atemporal being, one whose beliefs and will do not occur in time. The second approach is Ockhamism, which suggests that facts about God's past beliefs (and will) are soft facts and so should not be endowed with a type of necessity of the past that precludes autonomous action. The Molinist, or "middle knowledge" solution, attempts to find space for autonomy by suggesting that God knows the contingent future by knowing "counterfactuals of freedom," statements that describe what actions persons would freely perform in every possible situation. Using this knowledge, God then creates (wills) the future.

See also Autonomy ; Determinism ; Free Will, Determinism, and Predestination ; Responsibility .


Bernstein, Mark H. Fatalism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992.

. "Fatalism." In The Oxford Handbook of Free Will. Edited by Robert Kane, pp. 6584. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Cahn, Steven M. Fate, Logic, and Time. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1967.

White, Michael. Agency and Integrality: Philosophical Themes in the Ancient Discussions of Determinism and Responsibility. Dordrecht, Holland: Reidel, 1985.

Zagzebski, Linda. The Dilemma of Freedom and Foreknowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Mark H. Bernstein

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fatalism A system of beliefs which holds that everything has its appointed outcome, that this cannot be avoided by effort or foreknowledge, and must merely be accepted as an unavoidable fact of life. The phenomenon has been somewhat neglected by sociologists, although fatalism is often identified as a characteristic of poverty, chronic illness, and unemployment. Thus, for example, Oscar Lewis maintains that it is a central characteristic of the ‘culture of poverty’ (see The Children of Sanchez, 1961
). Similarly, in her discussion of ‘the passive worker thesis’ (the idea that women are generally more stable, passive, and fundamentally exploitable workers than men), Kate Purcell argues that women's behaviour at work is informed by ‘a fatalistic approach to life’, fostered by gender socialization and women's biology, and reinforced particularly by women manual workers' work and class circumstances (‘Female Manual Workers, Fatalism and the Reinforcement of Inequalities’, in David Robbins ( ed.) , Rethinking Social Inequality, 1982)

In his study of Suicide (1897), Émile Durkheim defines fatalistic suicide (as in the case of suicides committed by slaves) in terms of excessive regulation of the wants of individuals, a situation in which the future is ‘pitilessly blocked and passions violently choked by oppressive discipline’. Hope is diminished to the extent that even life itself becomes a matter of indifference. In an extension of the Durkheimian discussion, David Lockwood (Solidarity and Schism, 1992) suggests that fatalism is a matter of degree, and can result from either ‘physical or moral despotism’; that is, from force of circumstances such as the condition of slavery, or the constraints imposed by a system of explicitly fatalistic beliefs such as those embraced by the Hindu doctrine of karma–samsara–moksha. Fatalism grounded in a specifically fatalistic ideology (such as Hindu soteriology) engenders an ethical commitment. By comparison the existential fatalism induced by slavery is grounded primarily in ritual rather than beliefs, and the subordinate strata do not approve of their condition but judge it merely to be unalterable. In both cases, however, ‘what is especially conducive to a fatalistic attitude is not so much the degree of oppressive discipline involved, but rather the fact that social constraint is experienced as an external, inevitable and impersonal condition’.

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FATE (Magazine)

Preeminent American journal devoted to articles and true stories of the strange and unknown. It was originally launched by Raymond A. Palmer and Curtis Fuller in the spring of 1948. Previously both had worked for Ziff-Davis, a Chicago-based publishing company that was in the process of moving to New York. Palmer and Fuller decided to stay in the Midwest. Palmer had concluded from his prior publishing experience that there was a market for a magazine offering true stories of mysterious occurrences. The first issue featured the story of Kenneth Arnold's UFO sightings and FATE regularly thereafter carried UFO stories.

In 1955, after Palmer had moved to Amherst, Wisconsin, and started a second magazine, Mystic, Fuller bought his share of the publication and became sole owner. He published and edited the magazine until 1966, when Mary Margaret Fuller became the editor. She was succeeded by Jerome Clark in 1988. FATE emerged as a unique publication. On the one hand it promoted, through its very existence, all areas of inquiry on matters psychic, occult, and Fortean. It also became known for its large advertisement section covering a wide range of occult and other curious publications and services representative of the contemporary scene. At the same time, FATE took the lead in exposing hoaxes and printing articles presenting evidence of mundane explanations of supposed mysterious phenomena.

In 1989 Fuller relinquished FATE to its present owner, Carl L. Weschcke. Address: P.O. Box 64383, St. Paul, MN 55164-0383. FATE Magazine is also online at http://www.llewellyn.com/fate/ where back issues are also available.


Clark, Jerome. The Emergence of a Phenomenon: UFOs from the Beginning through 1959. Vol. 2. of The UFO Encyclopedia. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992.

. Encyclopedia of Strange and Unexplained Phenomena. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.

FATE Magazine. http://www.llewellyn.com/fate/. March 8, 2000.

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253. Fate (See also Chance.)

  1. Adrastea goddess of inevitable fate. [Gk. Myth.: Jobes, 35]
  2. Atropos, Clotho, and Lachesis the three Fates; worked the thread of life. [Gk. and Rom. Myth.: Bulfinch]
  3. Bridge of San Luis Rey, The catastrophe as act of divine providence. [Am. Lit.: The Bridge of San Luis Rey ]
  4. dance of death, the recurring motif in medieval art. [Eur. Culture: Bishop, 363367]
  5. Destiny goddess of destiny of mankind. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 78]
  6. Fates three goddesses who spin, measure out, and cut the thread of each humans life. Also called Lat. Parcae, Gk. Moirai. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 757]
  7. Jennie Gerhardt novel of young girl trapped by lifes circumstances (1911). [Am. Lit.: Jennie Gerhardt, Magill III, 526528]
  8. karma ones every action brings inevitable results. [Buddhist and Hindu Trad.: EB (1963), 13: 283; Pop. Culture: Misc.]
  9. kismet alludes to the part of life assigned one by his destiny. [Moslem Trad.: EB (1963), 13: 418; Pop. Culture: Misc.]
  10. Leonora cursed by father; stabbed by brother. [Ital. Opera: Verdi, La Forza del Destino, Westerman, 316317]
  11. Meleager death would come when firebrand burned up. [Gk. Myth.: Walsh Classical, 186]
  12. Moirai see Fates.
  13. Necessitas goddess of the destiny of mankind. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 78, 162]
  14. Nemesis goddess of vengeance and retribution; nemesis has come to mean that which one cannot achieve. [Gr. Myth.: WB, 14: 116; Pop. Culture: Misc.]
  15. Norns wove the fabric of human destiny. [Norse Myth.: Benét, 720]
  16. Parcae see Fates.
  17. wool and narcissi, garland of emblem of the three Fates. [Gk. Myth.: Jobes, 374]
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fate / fāt/ • n. 1. the development of events beyond a person's control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power: his injury is a cruel twist of fate. ∎  the course of someone's life, or the outcome of a particular situation for someone or something, seen as beyond their control: he suffered the same fate as his companion. ∎  the inescapable death of a person: the guards led her to her fate. 2. (the Fates) Greek & Roman Mythol. the three goddesses who preside over the birth and life of humans. • v. (be fated) be destined to happen, turn out, or act in a particular way. PHRASES: seal someone's fate make it inevitable that something unpleasant will happen to someone. ORIGIN: late Middle English: from Italian fato or Old French fator (later) from their source, Latin fatum ‘that which has been spoken,’ from fari ‘speak.’

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fa·tal·ism / ˈfātlˌizəm/ • n. the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. ∎  a submissive attitude to events, resulting from such a belief. DERIVATIVES: fa·tal·ist n. fa·tal·is·tic / ˌfātlˈistik/ adj. fa·tal·is·ti·cal·ly adv.

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fateabate, ablate, aerate, ait, await, backdate, bait, bate, berate, castrate, collate, conflate, crate, create, cremate, date, deflate, dictate, dilate, distraite, donate, downstate, eight, elate, equate, estate, fate, fellate, fête, fixate, freight, frustrate, gait, gate, gestate, gradate, grate, great, gyrate, hate, hydrate, inflate, innate, interrelate, interstate, irate, Kate, Kuwait, lactate, late, locate, lustrate, mandate, mate, migrate, misdate, misstate, mistranslate, mutate, narrate, negate, notate, orate, ornate, Pate, placate, plate, prate, prorate, prostrate, pulsate, pupate, quadrate, rate, rotate, sate, sedate, serrate, short weight, skate, slate, spate, spectate, spruit, stagnate, state, straight, strait, Tate, tête-à-tête, Thwaite, translate, translocate, transmigrate, truncate, underrate, understate, underweight, update, uprate, upstate, up-to-date, vacate, vibrate, wait, weight

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fate predetermination of events; predestined lot XIV; destiny (spec. fatal end), goddess of destiny XV. Not common before XVI. Orig. — It. fato, later — its source L. fātum, sb. use of n. pp. of fārī speak (cf. FAME).
Hence fateful XVIII.

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fate a fate worse than death rape; the term is recorded from the early 19th century, although earlier in the mid 17th century Dorothy Osborne in a letter refers to ‘the Roman courage, when they killed themselves to avoid misfortunes that were infinitely worse than death’.
seal someone's fate make it inevitable that something unpleasant will happen to someone.