I really enjoy Robert Place’s amazing Alchemical Tarot. You’ve seen me post a number of Card of the Week editions with it. Sadly, the Alchemical Tarot is out of print. Mr. Place has since published a very nice-looking deck called the Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery. Lisa Frideborg Lloyd published an excellent comparison of the two decks which is definitely worth reading.

Though the Sevenfold Mystery certainly has some improvements over the Alchemical Tarot, I can’t help but miss the rich alchemical symbolism when looking at some of the images of the newer deck’s cards. I plan to add the Sevenfold Mystery to my collection soon, but I doubt it will replace the other for me.

Card of the Week: Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of FortuneRecently, I was reading for a client who had a lot of questions about the Wheel of Fortune. This is one of the more intimidating and complicated cards in the Major Arcana. We talked at great length about this card and its symbolism. When I drew this card for the Card of the Week, ideas quickly popped into my head. There’s a lot going on in this card, from the symbolism of the wheel to the strange figures on the clouds. Hang on, reader. This post is going to be a long one.

Round and Round

There are two sets of letters on the wheel. First, we have the Latin alphabet, TARO. If you read clockwise, this ends up spelling “TAROT”, but it also spells “ROTA,” the Latin word for “wheel.” If you read counterclockwise, you get “TORA,” which could be a reference to the Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses, and is referenced on the scroll of the High Priestess.1 The Tarot-Rota connection is one that’s always fascinated me. It’s not in older decks, so it must have been introduced by Eliphas Levi or A.E. Waite.

There’s more symbolism on the wheel. The Hebrew letters are the Tetragrammaton, or ineffable name of deity. Within, are alchemical symbols for the tria prima: salt, sulfur, and mercury. The fourth symbol in the bottom is the symbol for Aquarius.2 It doesn’t match the theme very well. The tria prima show an alchemical progression that can lead one to greater spiritual understanding.

Let’s move on to the figures around the edges of the wheel.

Ride the Wave

The figures riding the wheel are taken from Egyptian mythology, about which Waite says, “It is legitimate […] to use Egyptian symbolism when this serves our purpose, provided that no theory of origin is implied therein.”3 We have, clockwise from the top, the Sphinx, Anubis, and a serpent representing Typhon.

The Sphinx represents the riddles of life. Typhon is associated with the Egyptian god Set,4 the usurper who rules over violence and destruction.  Finally, Anubis is a god of the afterlife. This is a vicious cycle for sure, but it represents figuring out important mysteries after passing through difficult times, and finally being allowed to rest.

The Egyptian symbols aren’t the only creatures bringing us hidden meanings and complex messages, however.

A Vision of Four Living Creatures

The four angelic creatures in the corners of the card have layers and layers of symbolism attached to them. Immediately, they bring to mind Ezekiel’s vision, wherein he saw “four living creatures,” each with four faces: man, lion, ox, and eagle.5 The four animals show up in other Biblical references, also.

One such reference that Waite would have been familiar with is the use of these animals in the Holy Royal Arch, a deeply symbolic and Kabbalistic degree of Freemasonry. In this degree, they can be said to represent the four worlds and levels of the soul, and are definitely taken from Ezekiel’s vision.6

From an astrological standpoint, the four animals represent the four fixed signs of the Zodiac. The man is Aquarius, the eagle is Scorpio, the lion is Leo, and the ox is Taurus. In this sense, they represent the cyclical nature of the passage of time. But we’re not done. They also represent the four elements and the four suits of the Minor Arcana. It is useful to cross-reference the elemental appearances in this card with those in the World.

Pulling it All Together

Like many of the Major Arcana, the Wheel of Fortune can be a difficult Tarot card to read. The most basic reading is that life goes through cycles. If you’re in a bad place, look for good things to come. However, if you’re in a good place, you can’t just coast through life. You must be prepared for highs and lows. As Sean at Cups & Coins wrote recently, “Everything in life, everything in our day-to-day operation, is merely the turning of the wheel. Things may rise and fall and this is to be expected.”

However, as you can see from the amount of symbolism I touched on in this article, there is a great deal to explore and contemplate in this card. This is one that bears deep contemplation and is an excellent subject for meditation.

If you’d like to learn more about this card, I would recommend the Wheel of Fortune at Biddy Tarot and the Tarotpedia page for this card. I’d love to hear your thoughts on my analysis, as well.

 

 

 


  1. I’ll write about this one eventually. 

  2. Case, Paul Foster. The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages. New York: Macoy Pub., 1947. 122. Case says that it’s also the sign for alchemical dissolution, but I haven’t found any other sources that back up his claim. 

  3. Waite, Arthur Edward. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1959. 108. 

  4. Herodotus. Histories, Book II. 156. 

  5. Ezekiel 1:5-14.  

  6. MacNulty, W. Kirk. “Kabbalah and Freemasonry.” Heredom: The Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society 7 (1998): 179-86. 

Peter asks:

When were some of the first known tarot cards created and do they originate from a specific cultural tradition?

This is a great question, and I’ve been reading and researching a little to see if I could come up with a good answer. I’m not an expert on the history of Tarot cards, so don’t take this as the last word on anything. However, Sherryl E. Smith of Tarot Heritage is such an expert. She’s got a great article on early Tarot decks that’s definitely worth a read. The short answer appears to be that the earliest Tarot decks came out of 15th century Italy. It’s more likely that Tarot evolved from playing cards than the other way around, in fact.

hist1115th century Italy also brought the birth of the Florentine Renaissance, which certainly could have influenced the adoption of Tarot as a fortune telling device. The specific cultural tradition that the cards grew out of is the bizarre melting pot of the Renaissance.

Jean_Dodal_Tarot_trump_04An interesting thing to pay attention to is the age of certain symbols and ideas represented in old Tarot decks. For instance, in Smith’s article, she shares this image of what might be a Moon card from Ferrara. The figures on the card are measuring celestial bodies with compasses. But wait, there’s more. Now take a look at the image of L’Empereur, from the Marseille Tarot. You’ll see that he carries the ancient symbol of the globus cruciger, which has been used to represent secular and spiritual power since the 4th or 5th century. The symbolism of the Tarot is old stuff, implanted in the collective memory and unconscious of our culture for millennia. I’m certain this is what makes the Tarot such a useful tool for self-reflection and understanding.

Get a Free Email Reading

Peter gets a free email reading for having his question selected. You could, too! Post a question about the Tarot in the comments section, and if yours is selected for a Client Query post, you’ll get a free reading!

I have many great events coming up over the next few months. I am continuing my Sunday brunch readings at Crush Bar, and I’m returning to Pairings Portland for more Wine and Tarot Pairing!

Stay tuned for even more! I’m working on plans with Weird Shift and will be helping out with a new record label, too. Expect me in unexpected places.

If you are interested in booking me for an event, let’s talk!

Sep 2014

Tarot for Brunch will take place at Crush Bar on Sep 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Tarot for Brunch will take place at Crush Bar on Sep 21, 2014 at 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Wine, Tarot, and Creepy Jazz
Wine & Tarot with Pairings Portland will take place at Pairings Portland on Sep 26, 2014 at 2:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Tarot for Brunch will take place at Crush Bar on Sep 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Oct 2014

Introducing Touchy Feely Records!
Touchy Feely Launch Party will take place at The World Famous Kenton Club on Oct 3, 2014 at 6:00 pm - 11:00 pm

Tarot for Brunch will take place at Crush Bar on Oct 12, 2014 at 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Hallowe'en Sale: $15 Email Tarot Readings will take place at on Oct 19, 2014 - Nov 2, 2014 at All Day

Tarot for Brunch will take place at Crush Bar on Oct 19, 2014 at 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Wine, Tarot, and Creepy Jazz
Tarot, Wine, & Olympic Provisions with Pairings Portland will take place at Pairings Portland on Oct 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Nov 2014

All Hallows' Cheese will take place at Pairings Portland on Nov 1, 2014 at 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm

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Wands are the suit of passions and inspirations. They are the cards of elemental fire. Queens often signify the power to make choices, but can also represent a choice itself. A couple of symbols in this card leap out at me. Some are more subtle.

Act With Inspiration

The Queen looks out over the countryside with a look of benevolent wisdom. She holds a sprouting staff and a sunflower. The sunflower motif repeats on her throne. Solar symbolism indicates inspired wisdom, and the ability to make a decision from a solid place.

In addition, the lion tails behind her make the shape reminiscent of a violin’s f-holes, which makes me think of the harmonious music of the spheres.

Playing With Fire

The Wands are great cards, but they’re not always safe cards. This card is rife with danger signs: The lions adorning the throne, the blasted landscape, and the black cat. Even solar symbolism, though primarily positive, is something to be wary of. Do not forget the lesson of Icarus!

Some decisions, even wise and necessary ones, involve playing with fire. It’s not a time to let your guard down. Watch out for those claws.

Pee-Wee's Big AdventureI got a huge kick out of this article by Kyle B. Stiff: The Occult Framework of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. While it may seem goofy to link the rich symbolism of Tarot to a classic piece of absurdist American humor, there is a good message to learn. The concept of the transformative journey is pervasive in our culture, which is why the Tarot spells it out over and over again, both in the Major Arcana and in the numbered cards of the Minor Arcana.1

Correspondences can be found between Tarot cards and many stories, myths, and symbol sets. This is why there is such a broad variety of Tarot decks available, and why so many religious and esoteric systems have been tied to Tarot cards.

Remember to come and see me tomorrow at Crush Bar for brunch from Noon to 4pm!


  1. I’ll write more about this in the future, I promise.  

The ChariotFriends, Arnemancy is running a Labor Day sale on Tarot readings by Email. Until Wednesday, September 3rd, you can order a 3-card reading FOR JUST $10!!!

These readings normally cost twice that. I’m aiming for a 48-hour turnaround time, but demand might be high.

Sorry, the sale is over!

Luckily, you can sign up for the Arnemancy Newsletter and find out when the next one is happening.