Updated: Jul 7, 2019
What do these nebulous terms and concepts really describe? If you spend any time researching or reading about the occult, or mythology for that matter, you will inevitably come across terms such as fate, destiny, oracles, prophecy, divination, fortune, etc. They are often used to describe very particular concepts historically, but in more modern texts they seem to be thrown around and used interchangeably with little regard. Let's look at these words and what they mean, and as always you can watch the live discussion about this topic over on my YouTube channel here:
Fate & Destiny
These two words often conjure up images in my mind of the Greek legends and myths of 3 women sitting around spinning the threads of fate for every person on earth, and inevitably cutting them at just the right moment when their time is up.
Let's first look at their common definitions: Fate: noun
something that unavoidably befalls a person; fortune; lot:It is always his fate to be left behind.
the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed; the decreed cause of events; time:Fate decreed that they would never meet again.
that which is inevitably predetermined; destiny:Death is our ineluctable fate.
a prophetic declaration of what must be:The oracle pronounced their fate.death, destruction, or ruin.
verb (used with object), fat·ed, fat·ing.
to predetermine, as by the decree of fate; destine (used in the passive):a person who was fated to be the savior of the country.
Fate is often used to describe a sort of road map for ones life that is predetermined and the end is unchangeable, however the roads your travel are your choice and you have free will over how you get there - the end destination or purpose for your life is predetermined. The word fate itself is derived from the Latin word fari meaning to speak. Most famously the Greeks myth of the 3 fates: Clotho who spun the “thread” of human fate, Lachesis who dispensed it, and Atropos who cut the thread (thus determining the individual's moment of death). Destiny: noun, plural des·ti·nies.
something that is to happen or has happened to a particular person or thing; lot or fortune.
the predetermined, usually inevitable or irresistible, course of events.
the power or agency that determines the course of events.(initial capital letter) this power personified or represented as a goddess.
Destiny was a concept paramount in the middle ages when Christian practices and the societal stratification taught a doctrine that everything was predetermined by God and that every person was born into their place in the world, each person lived a life fated by God, and that each persons death was chosen by God. This fed the backbone of not only the church, but the socioeconomic system of serfdom, lords, and vassals we see across Europe and into the East. Unlike the free style road map of Fate, in which you can choose which paths to take to reach your fated destination, destiny prescribes not only the final destination but every step from their to the origin of the journey - everything is predetermined and out of your control.
Oracle & Prophecy
The word Oracle often conjures up the images of a cloaked figure in an ancient temple room filled with the smoke of incense dispensing wisdom to those who seek it.
(especially in ancient Greece) an utterance, often ambiguous or obscure, given by a priest or priestess at a shrine as the response of a god to an inquiry.
the agency or medium giving such responses.
a shrine or place at which such responses were given:the oracle of Apollo at Delphi.
a person who delivers authoritative, wise, or highly regarded and influential pronouncements.
a divine communication or revelation.any person or thing serving as an agency of divine communication.
Oracles have a long history across every culture on Earth. Though, not always called an Oracle, these individuals would enter trance like states through the use of mind altering substances in order to have the gods speak THROUGH them. This, in my opinion, is the key difference between Oracles and Prophets. Prophecy: noun, plural proph·e·cies.
the foretelling or prediction of what is to come.
something that is declared by a prophet, especially a divinely inspired prediction,instruction, or exhortation.
a divinely inspired utterance or revelation:oracular prophecies.
the action, function, or faculty of a prophet.
Prophecy and prophets have a very deep and meaningful place in society and religion. From non-religious prophets such as Nostradamus to religious figures such as Moses these figures bring the word of the divine to the masses. They communicate with the divine or god(s) in many ways. Some receive visions, others hear the voice of the divine directly, and a few even are witness to the the divine or god(s). Unlike Oracles who act more as a conduit for the divine, Prophets converse and interpret the messages they receive and relay them to others. Often times prophets and prophecies cover large scale topics such as the fate of the world, but can include specifics and a great example of the wide variety of prophesies can be found in the works of Nostradamus.
the practice of attempting to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge by occult or supernatural means.
augury; prophecy:The divination of the high priest was fulfilled.
perception by intuition; instinctive foresight.
The practice of divination can be found across the globe from the ancient Mayans in Central America to the divinatory practices in the east such as the I Ching. Nearly every culture and spiritual tradition on the planet has some form of divination. The singular thing that separates divination from all the other terms previously discussed is the use of some sort of tool. Historians are unclear about the certain origins of divination however one of my favorite origin stories comes from the Greeks as recorded by Homer in his Hymn to Hermes. This legend is also recounted by the amazing Rachel Pollack in her most recent book Tarot Wisdom and when I read the legend again it brought such a smile to my face because it really speaks to the practice and, in my opinion, its heritage as being manipulative.
In short the myth goes something like this. Hermes, god of magic, trade, thieves, travelers, sports, athletes, and border crossings, guide to the Underworld, was the second youngest Olympian god. The son of Zues and Maia, one of the seven Pleiades and daughter of the Titan Atlas. The day after his birth he escaped his crib to go on an adventure! (Yes, an infantile adventure.) On his outing he encountered a herd of cattle. He recognized this herd as one belonging to his older brother Apollo. Being slightly mischievous, and clearly hungry from his recent arrival into existence, he ran off with some of his brothers cows and had himself a proper good old fashioned barbecue and swiftly returned to his cradle for a proper nappy time with his blankey. Apollo discovering what had transpired was enraged. He brought his baby brother to their father Zeus demanding he be punished. Zeus, on the contrary, found the whole thing entirely amusing and ordered the two brothers to reconcile with one and other. To do this baby Hermes gave his brother the Lyre an instrument of his own creation from a turtle shell. Zeus then turns to Hermes and asks him what he would like to be in charge of. Being the cheeky little git Hermes was, full well knowing Apollo oversaw the Oracles and their prophetic powers he asked to be in charge of prophecy. Zeus refuses, and Apollo steps up to suggest an alternative: the power of Divination, a power that resides with the three sisters of fate who divine the fate and destiny of every person in the world from a piece of string. In this Hermes is then recognized as the god of divination, and firmly instills the idea of divination being a power of prophecy accessed only with a sacred tool, such as the Tarot.
Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinchs Mythology. Barnes & Noble, 2013.
Dell, Christopher. The Occult, Witchcraft and Magic. Thames and Hudson, 2016.
Hamilton, Edith, and Christopher Wormell. Mythology. Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2013.
Pollack, Rachel. Rachel Pollacks Tarot Wisdom: Spiritual Teachings and Deeper Meanings. Llewellyn Publications, 2009. Definitions: www.dictionary.com/. Images: https://commons.wikimedia.org https://www.wikipedia.org/