The Wheel of Fortune or the Wheel of the Year?

(I’m late with my new moon article on divination again; I apologize. The piece I was writing for that decided to grow into something bigger, so in its place I have slightly expanded on this snippet from a lesson I was working on.)

If you haven’t yet seen the Gaian Tarot, check it out. It is an extremely engaging deck that I plan to write more about in the future. One of the most interesting changes it makes in the Major Arcana is replacing The Wheel of Fortune with simply The Wheel:

From the website’s description of the card:

The Wheel of the Year turns and spins, as one season transforms into the next. In this card, the fiery core of the Earth is at the still point of the turning world. Trees of each season are rooted in Her body. Around the trees we see the eight phases of the moon, which correspond to the eight holy days of the solar year. The zodiac is aligned with the seasons and the lunar phases. For example, the Dark/New Moon corresponds to Winter Solstice, the shortest night of the year when the sun begins to wax again. Winter Solstice occurs when the sun moves into the sign of Capricorn. So these three — Dark/New Moon, Winter Tree and sign of Capricorn — all line up on the card, and so on around the Wheel.

The cycles of nature teach us that all of life moves in a wheel. Wherever we stand on this wheel, we are certain to move to the next point and the one after that, until we are brought full circle to the place where we started, and as T.S. Eliot wrote, we “know the place for the first time.

Outside the wheel of the solar year, the lunar month and the wheel of the zodiac, we see a circle of prayer beads. This rosary, or mala, is divided into six sets of nine (the magical number of three times three). As we say or sing repetitive prayers, counting beads as we go, we enter an altered state where anything is possible, magic happens, and butterflies — symbol of the soul — break free of the turning of the wheel.

When I meditated on this card, it actually took me some time to see that Joanna Powell-Colbert, the creator of this deck, had not just reinterpreted the Wheel of Fortune but totally replaced it with a different wheel – the Wheel of the Year. That leads to a very different potential set of meanings. The biggest contrast is that unlike the traditional Wheel of Fortune, the Wheel of the Year is utterly dependable. Weather will change, even climate may change, but the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, and days in summer will be longer than the nights. When the situation reverses in the winter, on the whole, the weather will be colder than it was in the summer. I know these things down in my bones, and so does the planet.

Contrast this with the Wheel of Fortune from the Medieval Cats deck:

Here, people (cats) from different stations of life are situated around the Wheel, with a blindfolded figure (referencing Justice?) at the center. One implication is that the wheel turns, of course, and people may rise and fall. But that is too simplistic an approach in context: random events are not going to turn a pauper into a prince, especially not in Medieval Europe, and while we all long to see karma paid back, except to ourselves, it seldom arrives in neat packages of retribution or beneficence. In particular, during the historical period symbolized on this card, the Wheel of Fortune, with its promise of changing life circumstances, was even more of an unattainable dream than it is now for most people.

So what happens when we replace one utterly unreliable Wheel with a different one, a Wheel turned by gravity and as dependable, at its core, as the fabric of space and time?

Personally, I have an entirely different reaction to the Wheel in the Gaian Tarot. The reminder of the seasons is a welcome one, even if the changing seasons sometimes bring devastating storms, as the East Coast of the US recently learned again. To me, the Wheel of the Year in this card reminds me both that change is inevitable – and brings the unpredictable – but that it’s also, in some ways, dependable, and that the changes themselves, like the seasons, are impermanent.

I have to say that I personally don’t like the quasi-Buddhist “escape from the wheel” interpretation, because I find it is disturbingly easy for that idea of “escape” to turn into disregard for the “earthly” and preference for the “spiritual.” To me, Paganism involves valuing the “earthly,” and certainly not trying to escape from it. That the creator included that in the card while putting so much beauty into portraying the Wheel of the Year speaks to me of what might be a deep cognitive dissonance within some Buddhist-influenced approaches to Paganism…but that’s another topic.

For now, what do you think of replacing the Wheel of Fortune with the Wheel of the Year? How do you read, or ride, the Wheel?

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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6 Responses to The Wheel of Fortune or the Wheel of the Year?

  1. I DO NOT LIKE the idea of replacing the “Wheel of Fortune” with the Wheel of the Year. Not all Pagans follow a path that encorporates 8 regularly spaced festivals. I also feel that the regularity of the seasons does not accurately incorporate the meaning of change — change that sometimes only the Gods themselves or the Fates/Norns can predict. But, maybe, that is because I am a Hellenic Reconstructionist and use the Athenian Festival calendar rather than the Wheel. *grins*

    • Literata says:

      I do understand – the Wheel of the Year isn’t universal by any means. I think the card does a better job of expressing the “cycle of nature” idea, and it’s my Wiccan bent that’s reading that as the Wheel of the Year. So make of it what you will!

  2. Jack Heron says:

    The blindfolded figure isn’t Justice, it’s Fortuna, the personification/goddess (depending on who’s doing the talking – the mediaevals were for the former, the Romans for the latter) of fortune and luck. She’s the one Orff’s famous(ly overused) ‘O Fortuna’ is addressed to. She’s blindfolded for the same reason as Justice, though – in the long run, she favours nobody and those who rose once fall again.

  3. Literata says:

    Actually, in this deck, it’s also echoing Justice, who is dressed almost identically, so it’s not just the blindfold.

  4. Ambrosius says:

    That’s pretty neat: replacing the Wheel of Fortune with that of the Year (well according to your Wiccan leanings which I don’t really mind). I think it still meets the ‘requirements’ (that of destiny, wyrd, fortune, etc.) of the Wheel of Fortune but in a totally different light. While both wheels depict not only the *fall* but also the *rise* (and so on, etc.) the Wheel of the Year seems to have lost that aura of malediction that I think surrounds the card in older decks. I think one should also note that the seasons come and go without any regard for us (we don’t control them) and sometimes we find ourselves enjoying them while at other times we find ourselves struggling through them (e.g. having one’s heating system die on a dashingly cold winter night!). As for the symbol itself I don’t think the Wheel depicted necessarily has to imply the four Fire Festivals and four Solar festivals; instead, it can imply one’s own particular holidays and festivals. My two cents. Blessings.

    • Literata says:

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees this as less malicious or capricious, although I also know the seasons don’t take our tender sensibilities into account.

      You’re absolutely right about it not being tied to the eight Sabbats version of the Wheel of the Year – the allusions to the zodiac and the seasons are much more widely applicable. Yay Pagan variety!

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