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The Wheel of Fortune

wheel of fortune
The What-if game is wonderful but we do it for real every day, making decisions large and small each of which could lead to an entirely different life. Make your own luck is the concept of 'putting a thumb on the wheel'  - to win the lottery, you need to buy a ticket, to get on in life it helps to network, the more shots at goal you take the more likely it is you will score... all the cards have a flipside and it isn't a simple matter of reversing the meaning - Here, for example, it could be that perhaps you are relying too much on chance and not working towards your goals as you could.

There is something fascinatingly Darwinian about the Marseilles image that has me musing on random elements, chance and evolution. The circular motif recalls the Sun. The device depicted in the Marseilles card is the wheel spun by Fortuna, a Roman goddess (from vortumna - she who revolves the world):
"I know how Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected … Are you trying to stay the force of her turning wheel? Ah! dull-witted mortal, if Fortune begin to stay still, she is no longer Fortune." Boethius, 'Consolation of Philosophy'.

The wheel became christianized along with the Roman empire and appears in many medieval intructional texts, in the decorative windows of cathedrals. It features in the 13th Century Carmina Burana - a huge collection of poems and songs:
Fate - monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.
. . . . . . . . .
The wheel of Fortune turns;
I go down, demeaned;
another is raised up;
far too high up
sits the king at the summit -
let him fear ruin!
for under the axis is written
Queen Hecuba
It is all too easy to be 'temporal-centric' and to forget the richness and sophistication of thought and the inquisitiveness of the societies of the time that saw the creation of the Tarot.

the wheel of fortune tarot card marseilles deck

"For everything you have missed, you have gained soething else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else. The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live and sometimes it's the smallest decisions that can change your life forever." The Wheel of Fortune doesn’t bring change – change is a constant in our lives – it brings a reversal, or sometimes gives you a chance to put a thumb on the wheel and influence the changes in your life that are otherwise wholly bound up in the changes wrought by, and affecting, everyone else.  Let’s say you have a pretty fixed routine.  You make one small change one day and meet someone you would not have met otherwise (or at least, not just then).  You have an odd £1 and go to play the lottery but a newspaper catches your eye.  You don’t normally buy it, but you do.  At the back of the paper you find an ad – personal, job, classified – whatever – it changes your life.  Your lottery numbers didn’t come up.  This scenario could be played the other way around… When seeking guidance, never overlook the influence of Chance, always consider how you can attract good fortune, and, also, how you can attract misfortune.

Fortune's Wheel often turns up in medieval art, from manuscripts to the great Rose Windows in many medieval cathedrals, which are based on the Wheel. Characteristically, it has four shelves, or stages of life, with four human figures, usually labeled on the left regnabo (I shall reign), on the top regno (I reign) and is usually crowned, descending on the right regnavi (I have reigned) and the lowly figure on the bottom is marked sum sine regno (I am without a kingdom). For a largely illiterate population, visual imagery like this was an effective teaching method.
wheel of fortune medieval illustration
from De Casibus Virorum Illustrium - Boccaccio












© Jeremy Rogers 2007 Document made with Nvu return to top