Whether it’s depicted as the Wheel, the Wheel of Fortune, the Wheel of Time or the Fates, this card brings with it change and cycles and uncertainty.
Each Major Arcana card is associated with a suit, in this case the wheel of fortune is a fire card and knowing this can help us lean into the meaning. Without knowing anything else, we get a fast, sparking, energetic vibe, this is not a card about staying still.
I’m posting this from a hotel room and can’t remember the name of the tarot deck for the small card or the one on the bottom row to the right… I will update when I’m home with the boxes…
Top Row; Lumina
Bottom Row; Wild Unknown, Tarot of the Pagan Cats
Rider Waite Smith
“The Wheel of Fortune promises that change is the only thing you can rely on.”
– Michelle Tea
The Rider Waite Smith image involves a lot of symbolism. There are many layers to this card and we’ll get a sense of that as we start to unpick things. You can take the image at face value without knowing what the symbols mean, less so for the RWS but this is easy with some of the other decks.
With the RWS symbolism, from the little I know and have read, we have alchemical symbols which correspond to the suits of the tarot, zodiac signs depicted in the four corners and so on. In terms of the zodiac, there is a Scorpio eagle, Leo the lion, Taurus and apparently Aquarius – all of which are fixed signs if you know anything about astrology you might want to ponder this. The wheel itself seems to be resting on the back of what might be a devil and the wheel has a sphinx? On top and a snake to the left.
According to Michelle Tea, the snake is Typhon, a murderous monster in a downward spiral – he has had his time on top but no longer. What I think looks like a devil is apparently Anubis (half jackal and half human) who is protector of the dead, who guides souls and brings new life. The sphinx is indeed a sphinx who is enjoying her time up top. There are a lot of different ways we can relate to this card through the different depictions and we will all, at one point or another, be each of them.
Rachel Pollack instead says the snake is set, Egyptian god of evil and bringer of death into the universe. In some stories, Anubis is set’s son and so the decline of set gives space for Anubis to step into life, the cycle of death and rebirth is played out – “psychologically, only the death of the outer self can release the life energy within” (pollack). The sphinx represents Horus, god of resurrection and so symbolises the triumph of life over death.
Pollack also notes that the wheel originally symbolised both the mystery of nature and the human ability to take part in that mystery through a ritual sacrifice. This may sound sinister to our 21st century ears but sacrifice could just be about letting go of that thing which is no longer relevant, that belief which is no longer appropriate or that idea you have of how things should be. She goes on to point out that the important thing about change is the reaction you have to it.
Do you embrace change? Do you struggle against it? Do you drain all your energy trying to fight it?
The Tarot of the Pagan Cats
Where the RWS wheel is spinning by itself, albeit with the influence of gods and such, the wheel in pagan cats is being spun by a cat herself. We still have the four suits and the symbols which indicate the degree to which the cat cannot control the future. Combined, these elements show an approach to destiny and fate which is in partnership with the reader of the cards. The LWB says:
“The wheel of life is spinning and where it will land is uncertain, those who are centered will feel the effects less than those who cling to the edge. R. running away from fears or responsibilities.”
I find this interesting given the cat is clearly on the outside of the wheel, here she will feel a greater impact of change, and perhaps experience greater change because of that resistance to throwing herself at the centre.
Instead of just select astrological signs, the pagan cats wheel includes all the zodiac symbols and the planets. Having observed this, I’m now mulling over what I think it might signify but am not feeling anything obvious – I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts!
This particular wheel of fortune card is one that I’ve leant into in a deeper and deeper way the more I’ve learnt about tarot. The card shows a complicated web of rainbow treads, weaving in and out and getting tangled in branches and ultimately creating a circular wheel akin to a dreamcatcher. The top half is in darkness with a crescent moon and an owl and the bottom half is light. Things are a bit topsy turvy right now.
As with the previous cards, change is a key element here. We are asked to be the change or to feel into how change is showing up for us. How are we responding to those changes – are we clinging on for our lives desperately trying to be in control of the change or are we going with the flow?
The tangledness of the image reminds us of how intertwined life is. It is a visual representation of the interconnectedness of all of us and how everything is connected and united with everything else. However random events in your life may feel, they are connected somehow, just in a way that us mere mortals can’t see. Life is messy and it may not feel like things are going as they should but have faith that the universe is keeping you on your path, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Related to the idea of life as messy, we can use the card as a reminder that life, like a tangled ball of wool, only becomes untangled with time and patience and making a bit more mess first.
“Intentionally move the spinning wheel of You to the beat of your own heart’s guidance”
Where the phases of the moon were hinted at in the wild unknown, they are explicit with the lumina tarot. A feminine figure stands at the centre of 8 arms, each reaching for a different moon phase. Above sits the moon and she stands on the sun, echoing the wild unknown. Etched into the moon is the symbol for Jupiter which I’ll look at a bit later on.
The centring of the figure suggests she is at the centre of the wheel of fortune; she is moving with the flow not resisting change. Fighting it makes no difference to what happens, just how you react to it.
The moons in this card speak to me of cycles – the lunar cycle, the way tides flow in and out, the way a year moves through seasons and the cycle of life that we all experience. Everything changes and everything passes. We also cannot skip a stage of the cycle. You cannot go from new to full moon without passing through the crescent moon on the way. Works of Literata expands on these ideas around cycles and phases in a post about the wheel of fortune.
In the Simplified Tarot, the wheel of fortune shows a wild looking woman turning a crank to spin a wheel with 6 of the zodiac signs on it – Pollack suggests that this is saying in a direct way we make out own luck.
The Chrysalis Tarot has a somewhat different image to most of the other decks I’ve looked at. In this deck, the wheel of fortune appears as though it could be burning. I wonder if this is saying we can take control of our fate?
The Herbal Tarot illustrates this card with slippery elm, something which doesn’t take much leaning into to feel appropriate for the wheel of fortune.
Finally, in the goddess tarot, the wheel of fortune is represented by hindu goddess Lakshmi who is associated with fortune and prosperity, the generosity of the universe.
I find these different versions of the wheel of fortune reflective of the different types of change we all experience, the different ways we move through change and the different levels of control we have over changes.
“Like the wheel of life that never stops turning, the longer you cling on and try to stay where you are, the more out of flow with life you get, life is not linear, it is cyclic. A boundless journey of transformation. Of highs and lows. Of contractions and expansiveness. Of birth and death. Of wins and losses. Change is a sure thing. Our ability to surrender to its natural rhythms is our greatest tool”
– Rebecca Campbell
“I walk with life’s ups and downs. Sometimes I’m ahead, sometimes I’m behind. This too shall pass”
– Jessi Huntenburg
- What is changing? How am I responding?
- How can I stay centred?
- Have you checked out of your life in some way?
- Are you struggling to trust that the future will unfold as it’s meant to?
- Who is spinning the wheel?
- Where on the wheel am I?
Keywords for the wheel of fortune:
Destiny, change of course, life is messy but have faith that the universe is keeping you on your path, change, luck, karma, fate, turn of events, turning point, movement, action, brief glimpse of the world card, taking control of your destiny,
Fixed zodiac signs
As we saw with the RWS card, the fixed astrological signs come into play here. These are Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius and Café Astrology says:
The fixed signs are not as interested in manipulating their environment as their Cardinal brothers and sisters- they are happy to concentrate on personal matters and will resist outside attempts at trying to change their lives. They tend to hang on to the past, which is their biggest weakness, but they are strong in their stability.
In the context of the wheel of fortune, these signs feel like they should be more resistant to change and to the turning wheel so I’m finding it a little strange that they are highlighted. I’d be interested to hear other people’s ideas about why the fixed signs in particular are used on this card.
Previously I’ve not really explored the symbolism of the associated crystals but I love amethyst and as a pisces, it’s my birth stone and it’s been with me for over 2/3 my life in different ways so I felt compelled to find out more about it.
Firstly, it’s quartz so let’s start there. Quartz comes in many varieties and formations and is the most abundant mineral on the earth’s surface. There is, when you put it like that, nothing special about quartz. But it is special. I have a lump that I picked up as a child and whilst I don’t know where it is, I can picture it as clearly as I can my teddy bears. It was raw and full of character and as I write this, I’m upset that I can’t think where it is. I know I didn’t get rid of it but I’ve moved house so many times… Anyway, back to quartz. It’s clearish and if you look back in time, it was used to heal sickness and wounds and is generally thought of as a basic go to crystal if you are into crystal healing. If you don’t know where to turn, grab some quartz.
So, amethyst is a type of quartz. It’s purple colour is down to manganese and iron in the crystal, so really, not only is this quartz, a really common crystal, it’s also impure. And yet, it is so beautiful! I feel this really chimes with the message of the wheel of fortune – things don’t need to be neat and tidy to be valuable, messy and impure have their own rewards. If you start to look at how amethyst is used, you’ll find it’s a magnifier, it enhances the qualities of other crystals and like quartz is a bit of an all rounder. More specifically, it’s allegedly good for protection, balance and interestingly purification… It is supposed to calm eg nerves and environment, and echoing its use as enhancing other crystals, it’s supposed to enhance self esteem, spirituality and meditation.
A further note on the idea of enhancing or magnifying, on a trip to Mexico Danielle Dorsey found herself dealing with a number of challenges and repeatedly drawing the wheel of fortune. She writes:
“The Wheel of Fortune continued to appear, gently reminding me that while these misfortunes might seem temporarily magnified, it was up to me whether I would allow them to define my trip.”
When we are in the middle of change, we often experience it more intensely that it is. Spinning around, feeling out of control, amplifies all the other areas in life where we feel untethered.
In the lumina tarot, we saw the symbol for Jupiter. This was echoed in another deck which featured Fortuna on the wheel of fortune (Jupiter is said to be her father). We also find oak associated with this card and again, that brings us back to Jupiter and his counterpart Zeus.
Aside: Zeus is linked with oak and when I was looking at plant associations for the wheel, oak was one of them. If this feels intriguing or relevant you might want to explore this further.
As a planet in astrology, Jupiter is about expansion and growth and is excited about new things which could be seen as a very healthy attitude towards the wheel of fortune and change. Traditionally Jupiter has been seen as the planet of luck and good fortune so perhaps we should or could see future change as a positive opportunity instead of a negative, external imposition.
Top, left to right: Animal Allies, Animal Dreaming
Bottom, left to right: Medicine Cards, Wild Unknown Animal Spirit
The owl on the wild unknown card is showing herself to be wise enough to step back and observe and adapt, she is not trying to hold onto the wheel or hold back the changes. She looks from the darkness, the unconscious and flows with the cycles instead of struggling against them. She teaches us to adapt and to make the most out of what is coming as it will come regardless of whether you like it or not.