Fate was a major factor in the life of pagan cultures of any time period. This is well documented in the epic poem Beowulf, in which a pagan warrior wins because it is his destiny to win, not because of any free will. This is amply demonstrated throughout the text. For instance, in line20, the text states then Scyld departed at the destined hour. This is but one of many examples that demonstrate the role of fate in death in pagan societies. They believed that a man could not do anything to avoid it, but had to embrace it.
This may be one of the reasons that Beowulf goes to confront the dragon; he feels the ull of fate, and realizes that if it was his time to die, he would die. If, however, he was fated to live, that would allow him to triumph. Therefore, there was nothing he couldve done to alter his future. This is partially elaborated on by the text in lines 1580-1583: The eminent prince was doomed to reach the end of his days on earth, his life in this world.
So too was the dragon, though he had guarded the hoard for generations, and in lines 1717-1721: fate hovered over him, so soon to fall on that old man, to seek out his hidden spirit, to split life and body; flesh was to confine the soul of the old man only a ittle longer. This idea that fate is inflexible, that the future is already planned, is in part responsible for the massive amount of blatant foreshadowing in the story. In this way, the outcome of the entire battle is known even at the beginning of the story, giving it a bit of an omniscient point of view.
The mortals in the story do not know the outcome of their lives, but it is revealed to you almost constantly. Other examples of fate and foreshadowing intertwined are in lines 644-646: But after that night fate decreed that he should no longer feed off human flesh. lines 715-718: Grendels death, his departure from this world, was destined to be wretched, his migrating spirit was fated to travel far into the power of fiends. ; lines 955-956: But one of the feasters lying on his bed was doomed, and soon to die. and lines 1694-1697: Thus, the son of Ecgtheow had survived these feuds, these fearful battles, these acts of single combat, up to that day when he was destined to fight against the dragon.
The idea of fate in modern society is not nearly as prevalent, nor as rigid, as it was in 11th century Norse society. Many modern cultures, including ours, subscribe to the Christian idea of free will, the idea that we are in charge of our own destinies.
This is strange since it seems to be at odds with the idea of an omnipotent being that cant know the future because were still creating ours, yet is still omniscient. Yet other factions in modern society believe in neither absolute fate nor absolute free will, but a combination, in which free will can be excercised in details, but the big picture is already set. Either way, unconsciously, everyone believes in at least some amount of fate. This can be seen in oroscopes, fortune cookies, the idea of psychics, and even the idea that there is someone for everyone implies some amount of fate.
The idea of fate is universal, either on a conscious level like the Anglo-Saxon and Norse religions state, or a subconscious level, as in our own modern culture. Great writers from across the world have written on the topic of fate, but Seneca described the pagan idea of fate best when he said What must be, shall be; and that which is a necessity to him that struggles is little more than a choice to him that is willing. This is the idea of fate in Beowulf.