A card heavy in symbolism, the Wheel of Fortune depicts winged animals in each of the four corners namely a human, lion, bird and bull. The Wheel of Fortune rests on a devil figure and atop sits an egyptian half man, half lion figure. Within the Wheel itself are the letters ‘TARO’ at each of the compass points and the Hebrew letters Yod, He, Vau, He. A snake is shown to the side of the wheel. The background is composed of a blue sky and grey clouds.
The tenth card of the Tarot (and a timely lesson to us at the halfway point in the major arcana) is a card of fortune and fate. Fortuna was the Roman goddess of fortune and luck and was often depicted with a Wheel which could bring good or bad fortune. This is one of the few cards of the Tarot where the focal point is not a person.
The Wheel is a circle and they are common features in occult symbology, usually carrying the meaning of the circle of life, evolution, the universe, the progression as we go from birth to death and to birth again. The Wheel of Fortune can be viewed in this light, as a symbol of our fate and progression through life, seemingly random events thrown to us as fortune and fate. That the primary focus of this card is not a human helps us to understand that sometimes we are not the primary driver of events in our lives and we take on a more reactionary role to the world presented to us.
As a symbol of fortune, the wheel can be spun (not necessarily by us) and land at the top like the Egyptian Sphinx. The sphinx represents the lion’s strength and courage with the ‘Kings’ intelligence. Anubis is depicted to the bottom and right of the wheel, rising as it turns. Anubis in Egypt was associated with the afterlife and his position in the Wheel of Fortune further emphasises it’s evolutionary meaning. To the left of the wheel is a snake, Typhon, in Greek mythology an evil or strong god.
It is interesting that snakes were first seen as symbols of fertility before being cast as serpents and taking on an darker hue. Seeing the snake as a symbol of fertility gives the Wheel a more fuller account of life as we go through it – birth (the snake), life (the sphinx) and death (Anubis) or Past, Present and Future.
The letters TARO (or TORA if read anti-clockwise) were said by Waite to stand for “Rota Taro Orat Tora Ator” which he took to mean The Wheel of Taro speaks the Law of Ator (love). Perhaps there is a deeper meaning that our lives could be filled with love at every stage if we understood the wheel, the circle, evolution and the progression from beginning to end to beginning again. Also starting at ‘R’, the letters spell Rota, the Latin for ‘wheel’.
Intermingled with the letters are the Hebrew letters Yod, He, Vau, He which represent the magical formula of Tetragrammaton. Said to be the unpronounceable name of God (which could be taken to mean ‘never understandable!’), the letters mean the Father (Yod), the Mother (He), the Son (Vau) and Daughter (He) and thus we have the very beginning of creation and the link to the Wheel of Fortune. Incidentally, this meaning also means that we are all derived from the same source.
The four winged animals reading books in the corners of the card are (from top left) the man, eagle, lion and ox. These can be interpreted as Matthew(man), Mark (lion), Luke(ox) and John(eagle) from the Christian Bible. Combining these into one tetramorph figure as was sometimes done in Christian imagery would give us unity. These animals can also be understood to represent the fixed signs of the astrology (derived from Babylonian astrology) – the man is Aquarius, the lion is Leo, the ox is Taurus and the eagle is Scorpio. These can then be taken as the common elements used in occult circles (Air, Fire, Earth and Water). To summarise;
Man: Matthew, Aquarius, Air
Lion: Mark, Leo, Fire
Ox: Luke, Taurus, Earth
Eagle: John, Scorpio, Water
In readings, the Wheel of Fortune can indicate an element of change or chance in our lives. We may be at a turning point or considering a new path. It is likely to be one that we cannot for definite control the outcome of and so the result of our decision is in a way surrendered to the universe to decide. It would be wise to bear in mind that whatever the outcome, it is a learning experience as we travel the wheel. Letting go of our actions in this manner and trusting ourselves to the universe introduces the concept of fate or destiny into our lives. We should not be scared at this point. Remember, the Tarot began with the card of The Fool and maybe we have been fools all along to think we can control everything. The Wheel of Fortune may be a timely lesson in leading us to a greater understanding of ourselves and the universe.
Even if this time of change is difficult, bear in mind that the wheel is constantly turning. This event will pass too and we will move on with our journey. Any disruption, sadness or even happiness will pass in the fullness of time if we can allow ourselves to let go of the past.
Even though there is a strong element of universal fortune in the this card, it doesn’t mean that we have to stand still and accept where ever the Wheel lands. The Wheel is constantly evolving and so should we. If we find ourselves down on our luck, we need to travel a bit further along the wheel to find ourselves in the position of the Sphinx. If the Wheel is good enough to land us at the position of the Sphinx, we should bear in mind that complacency can lead us to the underside of the Wheel. Even though the Wheel can appear stationary, we should never become stagnant in life. Even in the worst of times, never waste the opportunity a crisis affords.
The Wheel of Fortune Reversed
The Wheel of Fortune reversed can on a simplistic level be taken to mean bad luck or a negative outcome. However, given that we are dealing with a circular wheel and there is a strong message of the circle, karma, a constant birth, life and death message within the Wheel, it is one of the few cards in the Tarot where I would view the inherent meaning of the card as the same whether upright or reversed!
In the Rider Waite Deck, the Wheel is engraved with the letters ‘Taro’ and the Hebrew