The figure to Fortuna's right is a blond boy with short ass's ears; he is dressed neatly in green and white, emblazoned with the alchemical symbol for mercury. The figure sitting on top is a mature man with tawny hair and long ass's ears; he is dressed regally in blue and gold emblazoned with the alchemical symbol for sulphur. The figure to her left is an upside-down older sunburned man with dark brown hair and an ass's tail; he is dressed in tattered brown and dark red clothes with the alchemical symbol for salt. The figure underneath the wheel is an ancient, white-bearded, swarthy man (similar to trump XI.Old Man) crawling to Fortuna's right on all fours, and dressed in black and brown rags marked with the alchemical symbol of the caput mortuum (two dots over one dot, all in a circle).
Each of the figures is labeled with a scroll: the one to Fortuna's right has "In altum tollor" (I am raised on high), the top has "Nimis exaltatus" (Exalted too much), the left has "Descendo minoratus" (I descend diminished); the bottom has "Funditus mortificatus" (Utterly destroyed).
Fortuna holds the Cornucopia in her left arm and a ship's rudder in her right hand; she wears a robe of varying hue and the mural crown, from which a veil hangs over her ears and the back of her neck, leaving her face in shadows. The Wheel has eight spokes, alternating thick and thin.
At Fortuna's right a young and nimble youth ascends with the wheel; his rising station and power sow the seeds of his inevitable decline, but his sprouting ass's ears show us that he cannot see beyond his immanent triumph. His power reaches its maturity and he is the king of all he surveys, yet this very power leads to rigidity, which will topple him with the wheel's revolution. Still the ass, he cannot give up his rigidity although his power falls precipitously. Only when his fortune bottoms out, does he begin to loosen up, and regain the flexibility that will allow another, hopefully wiser, ascent. So it is with kings and corporations, societies and schools, fortunes and philosophies.
The alchemist knows Fortuna's law, and can use it beneficially, harnessing the descent as a means of disintegration to achieve a higher integration. Then the rotation of the elements becomes an ascending spiral. He also knows that, although the wheel's rim always moves, hidden behind Fortuna's captivating form is the stationary axis, the unmoving hub, the fixed point immune to changing fortune. This is where he stations himself when he has had enough of riding Fortune's Wheel.
It is significant that Fortune is trump 10, for the Pythagoreans say that the decad is a higher-order unity, since the decad circles back on itself and encompasses all the elementary numbers. This is symbolized by Greek and Roman numerals, since the Greek numeral for 10 is I, which is also the Roman numeral for 1. The Pythagoreans also call the decad "Fate" and the "All-fulfiller," since it brings all things to their natural ends. It represents the wheel, for it comprises the monad (1) and the ennead (9), which are the hub and the rim. Indeed, it is the outermost rim of the heavens, which turns all the inner spheres. X.Fortune heralds a new epoch of integration. (Cooper s.v. numbers; Jung, Aion 134; Nichols 199; Schimmel 182 ; TA 79, 81-3, 86; see also my commentary on the 10s in the Minor Arcana)
On the other hand, the numerical value of TUCH H QEA (Tukhe He Thea, The Goddess Tyche, Fortune) is 1331, which reduces to 11+1-3+3-1 = 11, the final number of the Hendecad. Thus, the Wheel has both the perfection of the decad (Greek I), but the excess of the hendecad, which marks the first step (Roman I) beyond that perfection to another level, for the Wheel separates the personal triumphs (I-IX) from the universal triumphs (XI-XX). According to Rene Guinon the hendecad represents the Hieros Gamos (Sacred Marriage), which both joins the bodies (2+3) and unites the souls (243) of the female (2) and male (3). (Schimmel 189, 191)
For convenience I have translated Dominus & Domina Casus as Lord and Lady of Chance. However, the literal meaning of casus is "anything that befalls" (from cado, to fall): an accident, an opportunity, an event, an occurrence, an occasion, etc.; thus a "chance" should be thought of as an opportunity rather than a uncaused event. Therefore, instead of calling them the Lord and Lady of Chance, it would be better if the Dominus Casus, Hermes the Magician, were called the Lord of Opportunity, and if the Domina Casus, Fortuna, were called the Lady of Destiny.
Indeed, from at least the fourth century BCE the Greeks distinguished tuche (fortune) from automaton (chance) (OCD s.v. Tyche; Plutarch "On Fate"). Tuche especially represents the success and good fortune that is a consequence of skill as well as luck (OCD s.v. Tyche). We are reminded of Pasteur, who said, "le hasard ne favorise que les esprits prepares" - "luck favors only the prepared mind" (Oxf. Dict. Quot.).
This is the reason that, although Fortuna is sometimes shown blindfolded (as in the Visconti-Sforza tarot deck), she is not in our image, for she consciously guides the turning of the wheel, which she holds in some images. It is also shown by her right hand on the rudder, which is a symbol of guidance, control, safety and fate. She is noble, wise, gracious and all powerful; Menander called her "a divine breath or understanding that guides and preserves all things." (Biedermann s.v. blindness; Cooper s.v. rudder;OCD s.v. Tyche; Oswalt 292)
In addition to the goddess, the Greeks and Romans thought that each individual had their own Tuche or Fortuna, a daimon steering their destiny. The individual Fortuna is the "hidden Self," which unconsciously chooses the turnings of fate; this is the central core, the hub of the wheel, which is hidden. (Each city also had a Fortuna, which is why she wears the mural crown.) (Larousse 164, 213; OCD s.v. Tyche; Sharman-Burke & Greene 56)
The variability of Fortune is described well in the Carmina Burana (e.g., carmina 1 and 2 in Orff's arrangement); this is the last verse of carmen 2:
The Wheel has a rich meaning, much of which centers on (or revolves around!) the contrast between the rotating rim and the stationary axis. In a broad sense the axis is Being and the rim is Becoming: the archetypal, eternal and ideal as contrasted with the specific, ephemeral and real. However, the rim manifests the specifically cyclic Becoming that is governed by Fortuna, the simultaneous coming-to-be and passing-away, and, more generally, the unity underlying all opposites (familiar from Heraclitus). (Crowley 90; Nichols 186-7; SB&G 56)
Of course a wheel may rotate on a fixed axis and go nowhere, but we also know that a wheel may progress as it turns and thereby move the very axis of its rotation. Thus we are not condemned to the eternal reliving of our history, but can harness the inevitable rotation to our benefit. The substance in the alchemist's kerotakis (see XI.Old Man) also circulates, rising as vapor or spirit, and falling again as fluid, but the alchemist has ensured that with each circulation it is further purified and ennobled. So too, if we remember the history of the wheel's previous rotations, we will not be condemned to repetition, but may progress with the axis, a spiral process of evolution (literally, "rolling out"). (Nichols 186, 190-1)
The hub of the wheel represents the unchanging source of the phenomena confronting us. In psychological terms, it is the Self - the totality of the psyche, both conscious and unconscious - which is usually hidden, as the hub is behind Fortuna; we are so captivated by Lady Luck that we forget to look past her. The hub makes the moving rim possible, and demonstrates that, although we seem to be met by continually changing fortunes, this is a projection, and it is, in fact, our conscious ego, revolving around our Self, that turns to meet our fortune. However, that does not mean we can control the wheel, for free will resides in the conscious ego, which must ride on the rim, which is turned by hidden Fate (Fortuna). We cannot stop the wheel and still live, but if we can find the central axis, then the rotation can become a spiral and we can progress. With the help of Fortuna, who holds the wheel, we can then fulfill our destiny. (Nichols 179, 187; SB&G 55-6; cf. Case 120)
As I've said above, the classical conception of Fortuna is not blind; the rudder shows she steers with Foresight (her father, according to Alcman). Those who respect her and the other gods are rewarded from her Cornucopia, the fruits of striving toward the central axis. For those who disregard her laws, especially for those who have the hubris to try to escape the wheel and rise above Fate (by which even the gods are bound), for these the wheel becomes an instrument of torture. Like Ixion, who had the hubris to try to seduce Hera, they are bound to the wheel and are broken by it. (Nichols 183-5; OCD s.v. Tyche; SB&G 54-6)
In its broad sense, a pentacle is any circular object inscribed with magical symbols (OED, 1st ed., s.v.), so in the Tarot we can take a pentacle to be any mandala-like device, which symbolizes completeness. (Recall also that the suit of pentacles is sometimes called disks.) Thus the Wheel of Fortune is certainly a Pentacle, which is the suit associated with X.Fortune. In general terms a wheel symbolizes time, fate and the Wheel of Life, the eternal cycle of degeneration and regeneration (Cooper s.v. wheel; Nichols 192).
In Gregor Reisch's Margarita Philosophica (1503) the Wheel is labeled: "Ad alta vehor" (I am lifted on high), "Glorior elatus" (Lifted up, I am proud), "Descendo mortificatus" (Mortified, I descend), "Axi rotor" (I am turned by the wheel) (Cardan 180). The Visconti-Sforza tarot deck and a thirteenth century manuscript of the Carmina Burana in Munich both show the wheel labeled: "Regnabo" (I shall reign), "Regno" (I reign), "Regnavi" (I have reigned), "Sum sine regno" (I am without reign) (Dummett 120; Harrington frontis.; Sebesta 136). This is also given in a Medieval epigram (Moakley 87):
The four figures represent the four principles and four stations of all processes of cyclic rise and fall; as paradigms we may take spring-summer-autumn-winter and youth-maturity-old age-death (21 years each). (The real and fanciful beasts around the Wheel in some tarot decks are a result of cardmakers misunderstanding the symbolism of the ass's ears; see Dummett 120.)
The figure on Fortuna's right represents Humiditas (Moisture), the power or principle of fluidity, corresponding to alchemical Mercury and the vernal equinox. This is the quality of flexibility and nimbleness, which facilitates growth and the expansion of energy and power; it is the moist, sappy growth of spring and the waxing vigor of supple youth. Thus the figure on Fortuna's right ascends from the cold at the bottom of the wheel to the hot at the top.
The figure at the top of the wheel represents Calidus (Heat), the principle of energy or power, corresponding to alchemical Sulphur and the summer solstice. Thus the top of the wheel represents the hot, flourishing strength of summer and full maturity. As the figure crosses the top of the wheel, this expansive, forceful power has a drying effect, shifting the balance from moist to dry, that is, from flexibility on Fortuna's right to rigidity on Fortuna's left.
The figure at Fortuna's left represents Siccus (Dryness), the power or principle of rigidity and inflexibility, corresponding to alchemical Salt and the autumnal equinox. The side of the wheel on Fortuna's left represents the drying decline of autumn and the waning strength of old age. Dryness and rigidity inhibit life, and so the figure on Fortuna's left descends from the hot, burgeoning life at the top of the wheel, to the cold death at the bottom.
The figure at the bottom of the wheel symbolizes Frigidus (Cold), which represents the lack of power or energy and the winter solstice. The bottom of the wheel corresponds to the cold inactivity and death of winter, and the darkness of senility and death. Since rigidity cannot be maintained without energy or power, the figure below the wheel crawls to Fortuna's right, from rigidity to flexibility. In psychological terms, the descent to the low point is humiliating and mortifying, which dissolves the rigid structures, permitting them to become more fluid and flexible. ("Humility" derives from Latin humus, ground, earth; it comes from the same Indo-European root as "human" - AHD s.v. humble.)
There is no alchemical principle or spirit corresponding to the bottom of the wheel, for it is characterized by the absence of all spirit and quality. Thus I have associated it with the Caput Mortuum (Dead Head), as will be explained shortly. The three upper figures, corresponding to the alchemical principles Mercury, Sulphur and Salt, constitute a traditional three-headed representation of Time (also familiar as the Maiden, Mother and Crone) (Nichols 183; Panofsky, Mean. Vis. Arts ch. 4, Stud. Icon. 79).
The four quadrants of the wheel represent alchemical processes, which we will consider in the usual order (Fortuna's lower left, lower right, upper right, upper left), though in fact they form a cycle.
The quadrant of the wheel at Fortuna's lower left represents the alchemical Nigredo (Blackening), in which the rigid structures are broken down, dissolved and allowed to putrefy. The resulting Prima Materia has no properties (it is neither moist nor dry, i.e., neither flexible or rigid) and has no inherent energy (heat). In alchemy it is called the Caput Mortuum (Dead Head), the Caput Osiridis (head of Osiris), and the Moor's or Ethiopian's Head, for it is the Head of Black Osiris. It is also called Sol Niger (Black Sun), Corvis (Crow or Raven) and Caput Corvi (Crow or Raven's Head) (Jung MC 510-3, P&A 401n). Its symbol is a simplified face - three dots in a circle, sometimes with a nose squiggle, as we see, for example, in the Last Will and Testament of Basil Valentine (1671) (Albertus 64; Thompson 15, #38; Read 90).
The outcome of the Nigredo, the Blackening, is black because it is devoid of all qualities; there is no heat or light, no illumination, and the resulting darkness utterly obscures all features. Thus it represents a suitably neutral starting point for the alchemical process, the original Prima Materia. The Blackening corresponds to the quadrant of the wheel at Fortuna's lower left, which is Dry and Cold, that is, Earthy. Since the element Earth is symbolized by the color brown (Cooper s.v. elements), the figure at the bottom of the wheel is dressed in brown as well as black.
The figure at the bottom of the wheel has a white beard (like XI.Old Man) because he represents the beginning of the next alchemical stage, the Albedo (Whitening), which transmutes the Prima Materia into Silver. The Albedo is accomplished by means of alchemical Mercury, the Spirit of Fluidity. When the process is complete we have reached the figure to Fortuna's right, which represents an increase in energy from the depths of the bottom of the wheel, and the maximum of fluidity. Since this station represents the maximum of flexibility, it is considered white, for it can be tinctured with any color. Fortuna's lower right quadrant is Moist and Cold, which is the element Water, associated with green (Cooper loc. cit.). Therefore, the youth governing the Albedo is dressed in green and white, which are also appropriate colors for spring, when the snow yields to new growth.
The boy at Fortuna's right has a blond beard because he represents the beginning of the next alchemical stage, the Citrinitas (Yellowing), which transmutes the Silver into Gold. The Citrinitas is accomplished by means of alchemical Sulphur, the Spirit of Heat. When the process is complete we have reached the figure at the top of the wheel, characterized by the maximum of energy, represented by the golden yellow color, but a loss of flexibility and growing rigidity (represented by a loss of whiteness). Fortuna's upper right quadrant is Moist and Hot, which is the element Air, associated with blue (Cooper loc. cit.). Therefore, the king governing the Citrinitas is dressed in blue and gold, which are also appropriate colors for summer, characterized by a bright sun blazing in blue skies.
The king's beard is tawny or reddish brown because he represents the next alchemical stage, for some alchemists came to believe that Gold - long thought to be the most noble metal - could be improved by a process called the Rubedo (Reddening), the result of which would be the Iosis (the Violet), the Peacock's Tail, the Rainbow, a kind of supercharged Gold that could tincture other materials, because it had more of the Spirit of Gold than its material could hold (Hopkins 97-9).
To me, the Lesson of the Wheel is that the Rubedo is just the sort of hubris - striving too far - that Fortuna is inclined to punish. When the King who is already at the top tries to go further, the only way to go is down. Therefore, I have called the fourth quadrant of the wheel Adustio, which means a burning, for adustus means charred, scorched and burnt, especially sunburnt, and was commonly applied to the complexion. Thus, rather than the glorious iridescence of the peacock's tail, the outcome of alchemical hubris is the swarthy, dark brown of skin dried and burned by too much sun, a harbinger, as we now know, of black cancerous skin.
Fortuna's upper left quadrant is Dry and Hot, which is the element Fire, associated with red and orange (Cooper loc. cit.). Therefore, the man suffering the Adustio is dressed in reds and browns, which are also appropriate colors for autumn (N.B: "the fall"), characterized by gloriously colored leaves, which are nevertheless too dry and are destined to fall. The Adustio is caused by the alchemical Salt, the Spirit of Dryness (or Solidity), which draws out the moisture. His beard is black because he represents the beginning of next alchemical stage in the cycle, the Nigredo, with which we began.
It will be apparent that the wheel also represents the rotation of the elements: Earth to Water to Air to Fire and back again. The entire rotation is governed by two "laws": (1) the rate of increase of power varies directly with flexibility; (2) the rate of increase of rigidity varies directly with power. (Of course, rigidity is the opposite of flexibility.)
In the Visconti-Sforza card, the ascending figure on Fortuna's right is dressed in green with white trim; the figure on top is dressed in blue and gold with the emblem of the sun; the figure descending on Fortuna's left is dressed in red with yellow trim; the figure at the bottom is in white rags (Dummett 121; Kaplan 69). (It is interesting that I came up with the green-white, blue-gold, brown-red, black-white color scheme before checking the colors on the Visconti-Sforza deck.)
Crowley (89-91) and Case (119-23) similarly associate the three upper stations of the Wheel with the three alchemical principles and with the three Gunas of Hindu philosophy. Crowley has a clockwise rotation, as I do, so Mercury is on our left (Fortuna's right), Sulphur on the top, and Salt on the right. Mercury is associated with the Guna called Sattva, which Case and Crowley explain as consciousness, intelligence and balance; it corresponds to Jung's Thinking function. Sulphur is associated with Rajas, representing passion, activity, restlessness and brilliance; it corresponds to Jung's Feeling function. Salt is associated with Tamas, representing stability, inertia and ignorance, which might be identified with Jung's Sensation.
Case's Wheel differs from ours in several respects: it rotates counterclockwise, with Sulphur on the ascending (right) side, Mercury on top, and Salt on the descending side. As in our Wheel, Case (122) has a fourth principle at the bottom, represented by the alchemical symbol for solutio (like the sign for Aquarius), which symbolizes dissolution; we may compare it to the Wheel resting in water of the Wirth deck (Pollack I.81-2). This corresponds to our Caput Mortuum and Intuition, the fourth of Jung's functions.
Crowley (90) observes that Mercury, Salt and Sulphur correspond to the Magician, Empress and Emperor, which are trumps I, II and III in our sequence. IV.High Priestess naturally corresponds to the fourth principle, since she is dark and dissolves everything in her waters (see IV.High Priestess). (V.High Priest could be considered a return to Mercury.) For the eight-spoke wheel representing the alchemical work and for the elemental colors red, yellow, green and blue, see Jung (P&A 163-9).
Fortuna's full name is Fors Fortuna, and in earliest times she was called simply Fors (Chance or Hazard). This may suggest unpredictable disaster, but ancient etymologists derived her name from "ferre," and said her name means "the Bringer," for she brings abundance and fertility, especially to women, and is often shown with many children around her feet. (OCD s.v. Fortuna; Oswalt 113)
The Cornucopia (Horn of Plenty) is a symbol of Fortuna's gift of fertility and abundance, for it is the horn of the goat Amaltheia, who nursed Zeus when he was reared secretly in Crete. The horn symbolizes the fertility of male united with female, for it is phallic in shape, yet it is hollow like the receptive female. (Biedermann s.v. cornucopia; Cooper s.v. cornucopia; Fontana 124; Larousse 213; Oswalt 292)
Fortuna's kindness was known to the Greeks, who called her "Savior Tuche, Daughter of Zeus the Deliverer," for some say that she is the firstborn daughter of Zeus (Fortuna Iouis filia primogenea). Others say she is the daughter of Forethought and the sister of Order and Persuasion, which shows she is not so capricious as usually assumed. (Larousse 164; OCD s.v. Tyche; Oswalt 291) She is described as follows in Sophocles' Antigone (1158-9):
Send comments about this page
Last updated: Fri Jun 23 11:03:54 EDT 2000