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The Wheel of Fortune: A Reminder of Life’s Fixed and Mutable Elements

Wheel of Fortune from the Rider-Waite Deck by Pamela Colman. Public Domain.

The Wheel of Fortune tarot card serves as a poignant pointer to the sobering fact that we do not, and cannot, control the deep substrate behind our lived existence, even though we do instinctively and intuitively experience the presence of this substrate. This reality can, and does, manifest itself pictorially within dreams that bear archetypal motifs and patterns. We commonly have very little capacity to modify this deep substrate realm, and as such, it exists within us as an immutable fact.


Within the realm of everyday life we can, and do, have difficulties governing our quotidian feelings and thoughts. Often only by degrees can we transmute or steer the everyday highs and lows, the fortunes and setbacks that come our way due to the mandates of chance or personal and collective karma. An unexpected gift can easily morph into an unexpected disappointment. Much in life is unpredictable, transient, and indeed ephemeral, but through attention, application, practice, and courage, we can build resilience and acquire a raft of skills to advance our lives constructively.


The Wheel of Fortune sometimes does bring misfortune and here the Fates present us with opportunities to strengthen and recast ourselves—because that’s their central mission. It’s why this particular tarot card can serve to remind us, although tacitly, that there need be no absolute failure of despair. When our paths are the most gritty and challenging, it’s here where the greatest potential for our soul’s refinement and renewal exists. In this moment the psyche inhabits a zone of freedom, if it can find the still center.

Joseph Campbell explained it to Bill Moyers in The Power of Myth this way: “In the Middle Ages, a favorite image that occurs in many, many contexts is the wheel of fortune. There’s the hub of the wheel, and there is the revolving rim of the wheel. For example, if you are attached to the rim of the wheel of fortune, you will be either above going down or at the bottom coming up. But if you are at the hub, you are in the same place all the time” (p. 119).


Our psyche-soul is immensely large and richly multidimensional and is an undiscovered territory for our everyday consciousness and its interests. And precisely because so much of it is undiscovered, unrealised, and hence unexplored, when we do begin to enter the psyche’s depths we may encounter realms that are frightfully unfamiliar and seemingly chaotic. But on the positive side, these new realms of unknowing and attendant confusion are in fact a subterranean storeroom, the storeroom of the unconscious. Within this vast storeroom are suppressed energies, or actual soul identities, which have long been alienated. These are awaiting the sight of our compassionate recognition, yearning for our awareness and caring attention.


If shunned, neglected, or resisted, the pent-up energies within this subterranean storeroom will impel their presence and demand our attention. Without acknowledging them, they’ll place hindering obstacles along our path. In doing so, they awaken us to a more comprehensive understanding of ourselves, while simultaneously hoping for our aid to release them from the netherworld’s bondage. In this sense, the storeroom is also a treasure room too. Among the treasures are gifts that, when opened, prompt us toward a more rounded self-awareness. And these gifts will help us lean into our nascent and actualized divinity, which wishes to be further born and expressed within us.


As particular fairy tales often remind us, we alchemically spin the raw substances of our soul’s underworld into threads of fine gold. This gold is woven into the fabric of our soul’s upperworld when we enlist the darkness to be in service to the sacred Self, guiding our unconscious and instinctive selves toward an ever more refined expression.


Along this line of thought, the anonymous author in Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism states that “the practical task which follows from this is that of inner alchemy: the transmutation of fallen instincts into their non-fallen prototypes” (p. 281). However, these are no mere words. There is a Hermetic science within this metamorphic process.


The Wheel of Fortune (and Misfortune) rotates around and within our personal lives, ever turning to prompt the movement of individual and collective destinies. We may find ourselves plunged into currents of flux and swirl as we encounter life’s gifts, opportunities, and challenges, but as the card indicates, the Wheel of Fortune has a relative constant (other than the hub, which Campbell mentions). That constant is reflected in the twelve zodiacal signs. The zodiacal realm is an abode of permanence and a zone of reference. In a condensed way, the zodiac is represented by the four fixed signs seen pictorially here by the four creatures, one on each corner of the card. Hence, the reality in which we are embedded and that which embraces us is necessarily composed of contrary dispositions: the steadfast and the mutable, the fixed and the shifting. When the significance of these contrary states is discerned, we can perceive how each is the mentor for the other.


In summary, the four creatures can be pictured as follows: Eagle (cognition), Lion (feelings), Bull (digestion and volition), and Man (the original protoarchetypal man as integrator). This integration process is assisted by the Sphinx, which works toward wholeness in the macroexpression (cosmos) and wholeness in its microexpression (the human being).


And so it is with our own lives too. Soul-wise we draw on each of these four creatures as the four integral elements of the psyche. Also necessary within this Hermetic science is the powerful exchange between the creatures that sit in direct polarity to each other, i.e. Man and Lion, Bull and Eagle. Within this exchange there exists an unceasing consummation of opposites, a perpetual process-event that provides the vigorous dynamic for the psyche as a living organism.


There’s so much to contemplate here—it’s a never-ending project, of course—but it’s hoped that our meditations upon the Wheel of Fortune card (and the Tarot overall) will further inform our experience of life’s both fixed and mutable elements.



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