The Wheel of Fortune is one of the more mysterious tarot cards but its also one of my favorites because it is an aperture into some of the major cultural influences that went into creating the Tarot. Based on a popular medieval homily, the story of the Wheel of Fortune was often told by clergymen to shame wealthy nobles into giving more money and patronage to the Church-but it was oft repeated by those at a financial disadvantage in recognition that gold is not something that travels well on a hearse and at some point anyone’s luck will run out. The basic idea of the wheel of fortune is that fate or fortune is an ever turning wheel. One day you may be at the bottom-feeling crushed by the weight of inescapable necessity but the next day your fortune may start to ascend while someone else’s begin to fall.
The main image of the Wheel of Fortune is of course the Wheel istself. I often think of this as the Wheel of Ezekiel in part because mages have long associated the Wheel of Ezekiel with the astrological wheel and the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Speaking of the zodiac…who are those creatures in the four corners of the card? They are the four fixed signs of the zodiac: Aquarius, Taurus, Leo, and Scorpio-symbolizing the solid foundation upon which the wheel rotates. A jackal shaped character lurks around the wheel in the RWS card invoking the Egyptian God of the Dead Anubis-reminding us that the most fundamental cycle is that of life itself and that at some point death comes calling for all of us.
In Divination I have been taught four distinct ways to interpret this card:
1.) In its upright position the Wheel of Fortune can indicate luck coming into your life, abundance flowing more freely, stuck or blocked situations starting to get unstuck with an open road and favor (fortune) on your side.
2.) In a reversed position the card indicates a loss of luck or fortune, a difficult obstacle that will require more than luck to transcend.
3.) Reversed the Wheel of Fortune may also be read as a reminder to the querant to be less fatalistic and more proactive in their choices.
4.) Timing-when looking at ritual work and whether or not ritual work will assist a client in addressing their situation if I pull the Wheel of Fortune card it tells me that the situation cannot be rushed-that there are larger forces at work-and often that at this time ritual work will have a less potent impact on the entire situation.
The Wheel of Fortune also allows us to consider the role of fate as opposed to free will—something many professional oracles are interested in-mostly because we get clients who are afraid of getting a “bad” reading. These fears are totally understandable-but its important to realize that divination makes no sense if your fundamental philosophy is one of fate without any free will. My favorite quote on this comes from an unlikely, non-magical source, Alexis de Tocqueville who said in his classic work Democracy in America,“Providence has not created mankind entirely independent or entirely free. It is true that around every man a fatal circle is traced beyond which he cannot pass; but within the wide verge of that circle he is powerful and free;”
To me, this is a beautiful and simple way of describing the dance between free will and fate that takes place in all of our lives. The Wheel of Fortune is a card that invokes the role of fate/necessity/providence-luck and unalterable circumstances do play a part in our lives they are not the end all be all, and we have many opportunities to make better and worse choices for ourselves. Of course as an intuitive reader and ritualist I am all about assessing the most likely outcome and then working with the forces of prayer, nature, and spirit to make those likely outcomes work for my client’s benefit and welfare!
Get familiar with the Wheel of Fortune by taking action and considering the questions below. As always feel free to share your answer(s) in the comments section!
1.) Luck is…give yourself permission to riff here-do you believe in luck? Think its a sham? Think its for other people? A convenient excuse? What is luck to you? Do you think you are lucky or unlucky? Why?
2.) Now pan out—think about the great ancient civilizations: The Persian Empire, Greece, Rome, China and India—fortunes wax and wane for countries and empires just as they do in our own lives-how does this make you feel?
3.) Are you a fatalist? Do you assign fate or the vagaries of fortune a large or total influence over your life? Do you feel like you do what you do because you are “fated” to do it that way? Imagine Free Will or make it even more straightforward-imagine Personal Freedom. What does it look like? Taste like? Feel like? What would your life be like if you had a little more freedom and a little less fatedness? You might want to invite freedom into your close circle of friends, make it your dance partner, spend some time with it.
4.) BONUS for the fairytale addicts: one of my personal favorite images with this card is of course the story of Sleeping Beauty. Princess Aurora pricks her finger on the spinning wheel and the curse of the 13th fairy is activated—it was decreed on the little princess’ birthday and 16 years later fate goes into effect despite her parents’ best efforts of burning all the spinning wheels in the kingdom. But a loophole has been created in the curse-in the Disney film its created by the good fairies but in the older tellings of Sleeping Beauty the opportunity for the curse to be broken arises from Aurora’s own innate goodness and the way she has chosen to live her life. In this story we have a clear example of one person’s free will posing a direct challenge (and eventually overcoming their fate). So…what does the story of Sleeping Beauty say about the Wheel of Fortune card to you?