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Lady Luck & Dame Fortune

September 16, 2017

by Tony Willis    

The divinatory meanings for Trump 10 in the tarot, the Wheel of Fortune, are standard and compact. The words ‘Change’, ‘Luck’, ‘Fortune’ and ‘Destiny’ occur time and time again over the centuries. When the card is upright, a benign change, a stroke of good luck, or a blessing from Dame Fortune are generally what is betokened. In reverse, bad luck, ill-fortune, or a change not to the inquirer’s liking are portended. Older books on cartomantic divination agree on this. S.L. Mathers (Fortune Telling Cards: The Tarot, its occult signification, use in fortune telling, and method of play, etc. published by George Redway, 1888) has Trump 10 signify “Good Fortune, Success, Unexpected Luck; Reversed: Ill-Fortune, Failure, Unexpected Ill-Luck”, while The Book of the Occult and Fortune Telling (c. 1925) describes the card’s effects thus: “in a good position, it is very favourable indeed; but if badly aspected by other cards or reversed, unfortunate influences will delay the achievement of one’s aims.

Sometimes the Wheel of Fortune is associated with gambling on account of its connection with Lady Luck. Well placed in a reading, Trump 10 may indicate that the inquirer is, for a brief moment, Lady Luck’s favorite person. But Lady Luck is fickle; her favor will not last forever, and the inquirer will only benefit from her attentions if he acts at once. To prevaricate is fatal; once the opportune moment has passed, the winning lottery ticket will have been bought by somebody else, someone ahead of you in the queue.

The divinatory meaning of the card is comparatively simple. From the earliest surviving tarots, circa 1420, to the end of the twentieth century, Trump 10 has borne the name The Wheel of Fortune, from which the cartomantic significance has been drawn. For it is understood to represent Dame Fortune’s wheel, a well-known metaphor in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The oldest examples we have of the card (now housed in museums around the world) show an upright wheel with four human figures around its rim. At the top usually sits a king (though he may wear ass’s ears in place of a crown!). The falling figure is a man toppled from a position of rank, wealth and plenty. At the nadir is a beggar, destitute and clothed in rags. The fourth figure ascends, a man in full vigor, about to displace the king presently set above them all. At times a woman stands beside the wheel, rotating it by means of a handle, generally identified as Dame Fortune herself. In the card below, she is at the center of the wheel, though still supposedly controlling its movement.

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How this image became altered into the scene that confronts us on the Tarot de Marseilles card is a mystery. Gone are the human figures. Now three shapes cling to the wheel: one with the appearance of a sphinx armed with a sword; another, rising, is so badly drawn one can hardly tell whether it is meant to be a dog or a horse. A monkey descends. A smartened up version of the Tarot de Marseilles card can be seen in the third illustration above.

Occultists of the nineteenth century were so dissatisfied with the TdM representation that they quickly ‘reformed’ it. In a deck referenced by Papus (see below), the sphinx remains at the top of the wheel but a crocodile descends, and a human figure with dog’s head and brandishing a caduceus ascends. This last is Hermanubis (a fusion of the Greek Hermes and the Egyptian Anubis), while the crocodile stands for the threat of danger, since that is the way the tarot masters of the nineteenth century interpreted the image of a crocodile, as we shall be reminded when we come to look at their attempts to rectify the Fool card.

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Oswald Wirth (middle illustration above) made a telling adjustment to the image presented by Papus. He turned the descending figure into a more intimidating creature. It is horned, like the devil, and holds a trident or pitchfork, also an emblem of the devil. The figure has a dark face and wears a dark loincloth; instead of feet, he has two fishtails. He could hardly be any more foreboding.

These same ideas, in slightly altered form, are in evidence on the Waite-Smith Wheel of Fortune card. In addition to the central wheel and the three figures turning upon it, all or which we have become accustomed to, the Waite-Smith card has the symbols of the Four Evangelists at the corners of the card.

Noting that there were three figures on the Tarot de Marseilles’ Wheel of Fortune, the nineteenth century tarot masters identified them with the three great Alchemical qualities, Mercury, Sulpher and Salt. The symbols traditionally used to denote these qualities can be discerned on the inner portion of the wheel on the Waite-Smith card (see the third illustration above). Alchemical Mercury is at the top, under the letter ‘T’, Sulpher is on the right and Salt on the left. The bottom symbol is not that of Aquarius but represents the alchemical process of dissolution, in which all three qualities become mixed together.

The novice in matters esoteric may expect Alchemical Mercury to correspond to Hermanubis on the wheel, seeing as his name is partly derived from that of Hermes, the Greek name for Mercury. That is not the case, however.Alchemical Mercury is placed higher in the occult hierarchy than the planet of the same name. It corresponds to the sphinx in the illustration and represents balance, just as the sphinx on the card is the point of balance between the active quality, Alchemical Sulpher, and the torpid, downward-tending quality of Alchemical Salt.

The Waite-Smith version of the card is a glyph explaining the mysteries of Trump 10 in symbol form.

Some occult texts on the tarot associate the Wheel of Fortune with the Kingdom of God, Order, and Fortune. The beginner struggling to get to grips with the tarot might find these designations confusing. How, for instance, can the concept of Order be accommodated under the same heading as Fortune, which appears to operate so haphazardly? To bring light to bear on the subject, one must remember that occultists look beyond the physical universe to invisible worlds situated around and above it. On the spiritual level, occultists take Trump 10 to denote that active principle that vivifies all being, not living things alone but encompassing things such as soil and minerals too. This vivifying principle is identified with an aspect of the Supreme Being, an aspect Christianity names God the Father, and which further relates to what the Gospels call The Kingdom of Heaven, in this case rendered as the Kingdom of God.

On the Waite-Smith card, the four evangelists at the corners, associated with the Four Elements on the one hand and the Four letters of God’s Holy Name in Hebrew on the other, represent the state of Order within which Dame Fortune’s Wheel incessantly turns.

At the intellectual level, Trump 10 is associated with the authority governing the ordered running of the universe in both its visible and invisible aspects. The Greeks termed this authority Zeus; the Romans named it Jove or Jupiter, and that is why the planet Jupiter is so frequently given as the astrological correspondence of the Wheel of Fortune card. In angelic terms, this authority is Tzadkiel, whose name derives from the Hebrew word for righteousness. Now, what is right and what is fitting or appropriate are notions directly relating to the idea of Order, for in an ordered universe there is a place for everything and everything will be in its appointed place. When a human being apprehends, however fleetingly, that such a state of affairs exists, in his heart he will echo the sentiment of the poet Browning: “God’s in his heaven – all’s right with the world.” To connect this idea to the image of Dame Fortune’s ever-turning wheel, we must extend the proposition in the following manner.

“In an ordered universe there is a place for everything and everything is in its appointed place at any given moment in time.”

As anyone can see, the material world is in constant motion. The moon tonight will have a different shape to that which she displayed last night. As I write, Summer is declining into Autumn, and Autumn will ineluctably give way to Winter and then to Spring. There is constant change, but also order, since the sequence of the seasons is ever the same; day follows night, and the moon waxes and wanes in regular sequence. It is change conducted in an orderly fashion and a ruling force is assumed to be in charge of this process.

On the material level, Fortune is the keyword allotted to Trump 10, but what is meant is both good and evil fortune. These wax and wane, also, like the moon. Look back on your life and you will see that there were periods when Dame Fortune smiled on you and other times when she frowned. Various activities in your life will have responded to this ebb and flow. You may have been lucky in love at a time when you were not particularly fortunate where money was concerned. Or you may have been fortunate in your career at the same time as suffering a series of minor ailments. These periods of good and bad luck follow an ordered course which the occultist knows how to chart.

The health cycle is approximately eight years in length. If somebody suffered an illness that laid them low back in 2010 then it is highly probable that another illness of some kind will afflict them in 2018. The ‘love cycle’ is approximately four years in length. Therefore, should your love affair have not reached the conclusion you most desire – for some this will be marriage, for others simply setting up house together – within four years of the two of you first embarking on a romance, it is unlikely that it will ever do so. In the field of career or profession, ambitions that show no tangible signs of materializing within eight years are unlikely ever to do so.

These various cycles work together within the greater cycle of a person’s individual karma. This intermeshing of cycles is referred to as the turning of wheels within wheels. The individual karma is of overriding importance in the understanding of the effects of the cycles. I, for instance, was born with a horoscope replete with aspects denoting physical vigor. Until I turned 65, when age began to take its toll, the only visits I had made to a doctor concerned a split forehead, when I feel against the sharp edge of a table leg, a broken arm, from falling off a wall, and an eye defect, for which I was prescribed glasses at the age of seven. None of these are illnesses as such, and so I was never in the position of being able to count eight years from one bout of sickness so as to work out when my next period of ill-health would occur. But then I didn’t need to; I wasn’t prone to illness. Some people are but I wasn’t. The predisposition to good physical health evident in my horoscope overrode the eight-year health cycle. I was, however, subject to all the other cycles and can trace their effects on my emotional and financial life and the progress of my career.

You can take the information I have laid out above as a rough guide to your fluctuating fortunes in love and ambitions by following a simple rule: If you want to know your future, look to your past. In the case of health, count forward eight years from your last significant bout of illness – and it must be an illness, not an accident. The year you arrive at is the year in which, most likely, you will experience another period of ill-health. Those who find themselves in that nightmare situation where every department of life derails at the same time – quarrels occur, money is tight, bad health strikes, there are separations from those we love, and one is treading water where one’s career is concerned – can take heart from the following occult law relating to stupendous bad luck. Such a period tends to run for three years and in the fourth year there are signs of a definite up-turn in the person’s fortunes. For the wheel must turn eventually – the trick is to know when it is going to turn.

I can only supply a rule-of-thumb method of judging when changes in life might occur. There are many factors to be taken into account when working out in detail the lengths of the various periods of health, love, money and business. But in most cases, the rule-of-thumb method will be a sufficient indicator of how the tides of life are flowing and exact dates will not be necessary. The approximate year of the change should be enough.

There are cycles in the life of a nation as well as in the life of a human being. The rise and fall of countries, empires, continents even, are governed by these cyclical laws. As Paul Foster Case explains in The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages (Macoy Publishing Company, USA), “The rotation of circumstance appears to be accidental, but it is not really so.” The person who understands the mechanism behind the apparent haphazard turns of the Wheel of Fortune is in a better position to weather the storms those turns bring about and to capitalize on those sunnier years of growth and expansion it also ushers in.

And in that description of the Wheel of Fortune in action the mystery of how eternal change is locked into a regular and orderly process is explained.

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