July 8th is the first International Tarot day, which is a day to celebrate the beauty of the Tarot and to recognise the Tarot as a tool of spiritual development that goes way beyond its media portrayed fortune telling image!
It is a day for the Tarot community to showcase what a wonderful tool the Tarot can be to empower us in our everyday lives.
To celebrate such a wonderful day, full of events and activities, many of us Tarot lovers will be participating in a fun project by writing a blog on a specific card.
I was assigned a great card the Wheel of Fortune 🙂
I thought it would be interesting to compare the symbolism of the Wheel of Fortune in two different decks: the Radiant Rider Waite and the Druidcraft Tarot !
Radiant Rider Waite Tarot© US Games Systems Inc
This is another version of the original Rider Waite pack. The colours are brighter and the drawing is more defined.
When we look at this card, we can see:
A bright orange wheel adorned with four letters on each of the cardinal points, four Hebrew letters and four strange symbols, stands in the middle of a blue sky with clouds.
The Wheel is made of three circles and from the smallest circle in the centre eight lines are connected to the Roman and Hebrew letters. An orange coloured creature with a human body and the head of a jackal is supporting the wheel on his back. A snake is following the wheel down, whilst a blue sphinx sits on the top of the wheel holds a sword upright. Four winged golden creatures each holding books are depicted on each corner of the card.
Here we have the setting of the essence of the card: rapid changes and the beginning of a new cycle, transformation, fate, fortune and destiny.
The Wheel can be seen as the Sun and its influence on the changing of the seasons, which may explain why the wheel is in the sky. We cannot control the changes of the seasons: only embrace them and adjust to them. We have to do the same when the Wheel is turning, we should accept the changes as part of a natural cycle or perhaps as our destiny. Resisting changes will only make things more difficult for us and will lead us to the Death card where everything will be removed anyway before rebirth.
Also, the blue sky can be seen as Heaven and the higher spheres of spirituality. The fact that the wheel is a fiery orange may be connected to divine love. Interestingly, in the Tarot the clouds often represent God in its ethereal form (particularly with all the Aces of the minor Arcana and the Lovers).
Another subtle hint of the divine is the name of the card itself: Wheel of Fortune. The word Fortune derives from Fortuna, the name of the Roman Goddess of fate, chance and luck.
Radiant Rider Waite Tarot© US Games Systems Inc
Now when we look at the four Hebrew letters called the Tetragrammaton, we are presented with the name of God (Y-H-V-H).
The letters arranged clockwise form T A R O, the name Taro(t). The letters, when formed anticlockwise give the name Tora, the Jewish sacred book of Divine Law (also seen in the High Priestess).
Starting from the South cardinal point and clockwise, the name Rota also appears which means “wheel” in Latin. Another name can be made starting from the East cardinal point and anticlockwise: Ator (Hathor), Egyptian Goddess of the sky, often represented as a divine cow with a solar disc (the Wheel?) on her head.
The strange symbols found underneath each letter are alchemical.
Starting just below the letter T is the symbol of Mercury, God of communication, trade and thieves. This symbol is used today in Astrology to represent Mercury.
Beside the letter A stands the symbol for sulphur and beside the letter O is the symbol for salt. Mercury, Sulphur and Salt are the three components or principles of the philosopher’s stone. Mercury represents the spirit, whilst Salt is the body and Sulphur is the soul.
A fourth symbol can be seen above the letter R which represents water. This symbol has been in used by alchemists since the 17th Century. It is also used in Astrology to represent Aquarius (which incidentally is an air sign).
The Western and Hebrew letters together with the Alchemical symbols are connected by eight lines from the smallest circle to the middle circle. These two circles can be seen as the Mind and Body: the beginning of life, the transformation of the fertilised egg into a human being (which will explain the Alchemical symbols for transformation) and the realisation that the Mind and Body are linked together and they will undertake several transformations (from innocence to wisdom and babyhood to old age,) before death and rebirth (the third circle with the name of God).
The eight lines can be seen as two sets of four as they each connect four letters (Western or Hebrew). Number four represents the four elements, the four seasons and the four evangelists. Four is the number for solid foundation (Mind and Body). However number eight is made of two circles, one representing the material and the other, spiritual; unifying these two principles. Number eight is also considered as a symbol of spiritual rebirth, which will be attained when the spirit will be with God. The third circle with the Western and Hebrew letters can be seen as the spirit joining God before rebirth and transformation.
The blue Sphinx sitting on the top of the Wheel, above the letter T and the alchemical symbol for Mercury is thought to represent Horus, the Egyptian sky God whose name means “He Who is Above” (very appropriate here). Interestingly, he was worshipped together with his consort Hathor whose name appeared on the wheel itself. He can be seen as the mystery of life and the guardian of truth as he holds a sword. Blue is also the colour of heaven and healing, one can expect that changes brought by the Wheel will transform oneself. Additionally, the Sphinx can be seen as the mind.
The orange snake is thought to be Set or Seth, God of chaos, destruction and decay. Set could be linked to the body.
The orange creature with the head of a jackal is Anubis, the God of the dead, embalmment and cemeteries. He accompanied the souls of the dead (the same role was given to Mercury in Greek Mythology) to be judged by Maa’t, Goddess of truth (found in the Justice card). Anubis can be connected to spirit.
Alternatively, it always strikes me that Anubis with the Wheel on his back looks a bit like a snail (and it is not because I am French). Snails are a lunar symbol and stand for the cycle of death and rebirth, their spiral forming shell represents the eternal evolution of life and possibly fertility (the snail is found in the IX of Pentacles), rebirth after death. Another hint to the eternal movement of the Wheel of destiny.
The three Gods (mind, body and spirit) form an upward triangle which in turn represents fire. Fire in this case can be seen as one’s conscious, one’s will and the mental attitude one applies faced with situations (Horus on the top of the Wheel). If the card is reversed, the triangle will be inverted representing water and one’s unconscious.
These three Gods battle all the time to control the wheel. When Set for example has the upper hand, one experiences setbacks, loss or sudden “bad” luck or stagnation as the wheel has become “stuck”.
When Anubis has the upper hand big changes are on their way and one will have to adapt to the changes. The same applies with Horus on the top of the Wheel, transformation will happen because of rapid changes and one will have to apply his/her will to make the most of the changes.
Radiant Rider Waite Tarot© US Games Systems Inc
The four winged golden creatures are thought to be the four beasts of the book of revelation 4:7 “And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle”
Christians attributed the four creatures to the Evangelists: Matthew with the Angel, John with the eagle, Mark with the Lion and Luke with the bull. Perhaps the books the creatures are holding are the Gospels?
Another alternative is to see the four golden beasts as the four elements. The Angel being air and the sign of Aquarius, the Eagle represents water and the sign of Scorpio, the Lion is fire and the sign of Leo and finally, the Bull is earth and the sign of Taurus; all of them being fixed signs in Astrology.
We need the four elements to survive on earth and we experience the seasons which bring us back to the Wheel: the never ending cycle of life which brings transformation in all levels (mind, body and spirit) after death and resurrection.
So we cannot deny that fate is at work with this card, and we will have to embrace our “destiny” with whatever change coming onto our path and play an active role in doing so.
The Druidcraft Tarot© Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm
This is a beautiful pack inspired by Druids and Wicca. When we look at this card, we see a young woman by a cave, wearing a blue dress and a purple shawl. She draws a circle in the sand using a wand and holds a pendant in her left hand. The sea can be seen in the background and the whole scenery is peaceful.
As with the Radiant Rider Waite, here we have the setting of the essence of the card: the beginning of a new cycle (the circle drawn in the sand), transformation (the cave), fate, fortune and destiny (the woman).
The woman represents the Welsh Goddess Arianrhod meaning “Silver Wheel that descends to the sea”. She was the symbol of cosmic time and ruled over the tides. She was also a Moon Goddess and was seen as the Mother aspect of the Moon, connecting the womb (which is also represented by the cave) to death and rebirth (the essence of the Wheel of Fortune). Another aspect of this Goddess is that she was connected to reincarnation and Karma as she carried the dead to Emania (the land of death) which was under her rulership. She was responsible for the souls to be reborn from the otherworld to Earth. Arianhrod was sometimes also seen as the Celestial Weaver, spinning the wheel of life and destiny of humankind.
The colours of Arianrhod’s dress and shawl seems to reflect her divine origins as blue is the colour of heaven and purple is the colour of secrecy and the mystery of reincarnation or transformation. In the Radiant Rider Waite, the colour orange encompasses the divine.
With this pack, Anubis, Horus and Seth, the three Gods found in the Radiant Rider Waite, have been replaced by a single deity who symbolises the principles of the carrier of souls (Anubis) and the mystery of life (Horus). The destructive aspect of Set may be found with her flail and to a certain extent the sea.
The Druidcraft Tarot© Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm
The flail is an ambiguous symbol here as it can be seen as a tool for punishment and flagellation; as seen in some extreme forms of religion where people “punish” themselves with a flail, self-inflicting wounds to their body to expiate their sins. If so, perhaps the flail plays the same role as Seth in the Radiant Rider Waite, bringing destruction and pain to people?
On the other hand, the flail and the crook were the symbol of Osiris in Ancient Egypt. He was the God of the Afterlife as well as rebirth. He was the father of Horus (the sphinx on the wheel in the Radiant Rider Waite) and was Isis’ husband, (interestingly enough Isis is thought to be part of the High Priestess card as she is represented by the veil behind the young maiden in the card. The High Priestess has a scroll on her lap with the name Tora. The name Tora is also found in the wheel of the Radiant Rider Waite). Most importantly, Osiris was Seth’s brother (our link to the Radiant Rider Waite) and was butchered by Seth and resuscitated by Isis (rebirth). So the flail may be an indirect link to Egyptian mythology which is part of the Radiant Rider Waite as well.
Osiris was often represented with a flail and a crook in each hand together with his arms crossed on his chest, forming the letter X. This letter is also the roman numerical symbol for 10. Now, ten is the number attributed to the Wheel of Fortune which in the Tarot represents the end of a cycle before a new beginning can take place or a zenith or nadir experience (good or bad). It seems that even the number has a resonance with the principle of the Wheel, changes, fate and fortune, new beginnings etc.
The principle of life, death and rebirth is represented by the Goddess herself but also by the cave. Caves have a double meaning in term of symbolism. A cave represents protection, the womb and the mystery of life. It is the passage way which connect Earth to Heaven. From immemorial time, caves have been the centre of initiation, the sacred and a protective place. However, caves are also the symbol of death and represent the tomb and the gate to the underworld, where the soul will dwell for a while before rebirth. The cave in this card has the same role as the alchemical symbol found in the Radiant Rider Waite, they both stand for transformation.
The sand on the beach is a subtle hint of eternity and the passing of time. Sand is also used in hourglass to measure time. Sand therefore can be seen as a symbol of infinite and multitude. Sand moves all the time, because of the tides, wind, creatures etc, so in a way the sand is in perpetual movement like the wheel itself in the Radiant Rider Waite.
The sea in the background is another symbol of the dynamism of life. The tides represent transition, when the sand is half immerse and half exposed, so it can be seen as the transition between life, death and rebirth. Conversely, in Welsh tradition, Arianrhod had two sons; one of them was called Dylan “the Son of the Wave” because according to the myth, as soon as he was born he went to the sea and swam like a fish and disappeared into the waves. When he was killed by his uncle, the myth goes on that all the waves of the British Isles wept for him. Dylan is sometimes referred as the Sea God.
The sea plays the same role as the Wheel with the Hebrew and Western letters in the Radiant Rider Waite; the divine, the changes and fortune, as the sea can easily kill (here the sea is linked to Set the Egyptian God of decay and chaos in the Radiant Rider Waite) and crossing a ocean can be perilous with an uncertain outcome, like the Wheel.
The pendant in Arianrhod’s hand represents the Wiccan wheel of the year. Wiccan people are close to Mother Nature and observe the rhythm of the seasons. They have eight festivals corresponding to the various progressions of the Moon and the Sun (seen as the Goddess and the God), and the seasons for the year. The pendant has the same role as the eight spokes seen in the Radiant Rider Waite’s wheel, the change of seasons, the eternal movement of time (life and death and rebirth) and the divine.
Arianrhod is casting a circle (no beginning and no end) on the sand. In Wicca tradition, a circle is a potent symbol of protection and security. During some magical rituals, usually a person can call upon the four Archangels or the four elements, (which we have encountered in the Radiant Rider Waite in the form of the four creatures at the corners of the card) to assist and help the magician standing in the middle of the circle.
Another hint of the magical purpose of the circle is the fact that Arianhrod held a wand in her right hand. This is another important tool in the Wiccan tradition. Wands are usually made of wood, and trees in ancient Celtic wisdom were seen as the messengers of the Gods, because of their deep roots buried in the earth and the top of the trees reaching high up into the sky, the connection between heaven and earth. Interestingly enough, the Magician (who is thought to represent Mercury/Hermes) in the Radiant Waite Tarot holds a wand towards the sky and points with his finger down to earth, meaning that he knows how to transform the divine spark into something concrete or material. Arianrhod is effectively transferring her divine powers into the physical realm and she is in fact spinning the wheel of life.
In conclusion, although both cards look dramatically different on an aesthetic point of view, on a closer look it seems that some of the symbolism are interwoven and are common in both ancient Egypt and Celtic culture. The principles of birth, reincarnation, rebirth, fate, luck and changes are universal themes in cultures around the world.
We as human beings have to ride our “fate” with faith and understand that changes are a necessity in life to avoid stagnation and bring new beginnings. A very hard lesson sometimes!
Now that you are a little more acquainted with the Wheel of Fortune, perhaps you would like to know more about the Hermit (card number 9) and Justice (card number 11) and many of the other cards? Here you can find the master list of the blogs regarding the Major and Minor Arcana.
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