I’m in a Major Arcana kind of mood, so let’s talk about The Wheel, also known as The Wheel of Fortune. First, let’s review some terms.
There are 22 Major Arcana cards in a Tarot deck, with numbers from 0 to 21; the Majors usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues, archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives. An archetype (pronounced “ark eh type”) is a generic, idealized model of a person, an object, or a concept which can be copied, patterned, or imitated. The term archetype often refers to one of two concepts: a “stereotype,” a personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of a personality type; stereotypes can be positive or negative, or an “epitome,” which is the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type; epitomes can also be positive or negative.
So archetypes present personality traits that are common enough to be known by us all, through images (rather than words) that contain symbolism that connects with our subconscious in a universal manner. Each of us can understand the symbolism of archetypes and connect with that symbolism because each of us has (or will) personally experienced these archetypes.
Each Major Arcana card also corresponds to a number, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth. There is quite a bit of symbolism to consider, so let’s get to work!
In the Tarot Major Arcana, The Wheel represents the archetypes of Fate and Destiny. Fate is defined as “the development of events beyond a person’s control; to be destined to happen, turn out, or act in a particular way.” Destiny is defined as “the events that will happen to a particular person or thing in the future; the hidden and irresistible power believed to control what will happen in the future.” There are three mythological Goddesses who are said to control Fate or Destiny, Clotho (who spins the thread of life on her distaff), Lachesis (who measures the thread of life allotted to each person), and Atropos (who snips the thread of life and chose the manner of each person’s death). There is a common concept here: we are not in control of the circumstances that present themselves to us in our lives.
The traditional image on The Wheel of Fortune is a wheel of chance, usually being turned by a blindfolded figure, or a hand reaching from within a cloud. Often there are figures on the wheel, traditionally there is one balanced at the top, one hanging on and moving up, one falling downward, and one laying below the wheel (representing the cycles of growth, peak, degeneration and rebirth). Behind the wheel are a beautiful blue sky and some white, fluffy clouds. Some cards show angels (spiritual evolution, a focus on the Higher Self) in the clouds and demons (spiritual blindness, a focus on the material world) riding the wheel, and others show griffins (union of fire and air, action with intellect) or lions (passion and an outward or direct thrust of energy) or sphinxes (ancient wisdom). Many cards show serpents laced through the spokes of the wheel. Snakes symbolize renewal and development (through the shedding of their skins), adaptation (because they are cold-blooded), and flexibility, all useful talents for dealing with Fate and Destiny.
The Wheel of Fortune is the number 10 of the Major Arcana; this number represents the end of one cycle and beginning of another, closure, a plateau or rest before moving on, or a transition point from one cycle to another. The number 10 often represents perfection, the highest integrity, the full path of life, and a return to a new level of experience.
The Wheel of Fortune corresponds with the element of Fire, and thus the suit of Clubs, the color red and the cardinal direction of South, and passions and expansion of all kinds. This element represents spontaneous, impulsive and energetic change; it is hot and dry, and tends to separate and shape. Fire corresponds with creativity, ideas, ambition, growth, passion and action aligned with divine will, and sexuality. The element of Fire encourages us to move forward and to take action based on divine will rather than our ego-based self.
In astrology, The Wheel of Fortune corresponds with the planet Jupiter. In Roman mythology, Jupiter is the ruler, guardian and protector of the gods. Similarly, the planet Jupiter is in many ways the ruler of our solar system. Some astronomers believe that Jupiter, with its massive gravity, actually protects the rest of our solar system by attracting or deflecting comets and asteroids that might otherwise threaten our Earth. Like passions and emotions, Jupiter is brightly colored and covered with large and intense storms; the planet is symbolized by a lightning bolt. Astrologically, Jupiter is associated with growth, expansion, prosperity, freedom, exploration, and good fortune. Jupiter is connected to long distance and foreign travel, higher education, religion, all humanitarian pursuits, and the law.
In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is connected to the creative forces in the universe. They express themselves on three levels: one level is archetypical and runs from the first to the ninth letter; the second level is one of manifestation and runs from the tenth to the eighteenth letter, and the third is a cosmic level and runs from the nineteenth to the twenty-second letter. The Wheel of Fortune Priestess corresponds with the Hebrew letter Kaph, the eleventh letter in the Hebrew alphabet (a letter of manifestation); this letter corresponds with a grasping hand and is said to represent bending or curving, taming or subduing.
On the Tree of Life, The Wheel of Fortune represents Path 21, running between Netzach (the stimulating factors of emotion and inspiration) and Chesed (the place where forms and structure are stabilized and nurtured). Path 21 manifests in our lives as a series of ups and downs, and offers us the opportunity to choose a response. Path 21 offers us assistance in making the choice: doors open and opportunities appear, sometimes out of the blue. We learn through working with this Path that things happen within the time, manner and means that are best for us if we let things unfold on their own.
The Wheel of Fortune is often seen as a card of good luck. It is also a card of bad luck, the card of luck getting better, and the card of luck getting worse. Aleister Crowley stated that change is stability, and with stability comes order; The Wheel tells of that change that brings stability. In the Legacy of the Divine Tarot, The Wheel tells of Fate and the effects of good and bad luck, but there is an equal emphasis on the choices made by the Seeker, for those choices might have some influence over the outcome, and thus offer a degree of control over Destiny. The Llewellyn Welsh Tarot Wheel of Fortune tells of surprise and improvement and windfalls that appear with randomness, reminding us that Fate sometimes rewards the unworthy while denying those that deserve a little good luck. The Wheel of the Shadowscapes Tarot tells of cycles and patterns, turning points, movement, and change, all taking place within an interconnected world.
In the Tarot, The Wheel of Fortune tells of sudden movement, but not movement caused by us or controlled by us. We are reminded that nothing is permanent and everything is always in motion, motion that we can’t control, but that we can certainly benefit from. We need to choose our response carefully, for attempting to reverse the movement of The Wheel will result in disaster. Better that we hang on and allow The Wheel to turn, and take advantage of our position on The Wheel.
The Wheel of Fortune often presents the possibility of attractive advantages, luck, or fortuitous discoveries. We do, however, need to remember that these seemingly positive moments are unstable at best. In order to take advantage, we need to grasp the opportunity at just the right time and in just the right way. The Wheel of Fortune also tells of karma, “ripe karma” that is ready to manifest. We could call it The Wheel of Becoming rather than The Wheel of Fortune!