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Alchemical Study Group - X The Wheel of Fortune

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Alchemical Study Group - X The Wheel of Fortune


(From the Book)

"That which is volatile may be fixed of them by the means of policies, but from hence that which is fixed may be made volatile, and again volatile fixed, and in this order the most precious secret is accomplished which exceeds all secrets of secrets of this world."
--Rosarium Philosophorum (pg. 90)

Like many themes in the cards, the medieval image of the Wheel of Fortune predates the Tarot. Because the church favored its moralistic message, it was a common symbol painted in manuscripts, and on church walls. On this card in one the oldest known Tarots, painted by Bonifacto Bembo, circa 1450, the winged goddess, Fortuna, can be seen in the center of her wheel surrounded by four male figures who appear to be rising and falling with the revolutions of the wheel. Each of the men has a scroll emerging from his mouth (or in the case of the man on top, from his orb) which contains his lines in this play. The ascending figure, with ass's ears, declares, "regnabo" (I will reign), the man on top, seated with ass's ears and a mace and orb, states, "regno" (I do reign), descending the wheel head first, a man with an ass's tail bemoans, "regnavi" (I have reigned), finally an old man crawling on the bottom attests, "sum sine regno" ( I am without reign). The early printed decks retained these four figures, sometimes transforming them into animals. By the time the Marseilles deck was created these figures had been reduced to three monkeys, still bearing accessories such as ass's ears, and a crown.

This medieval goddess of fortune would be familiar to the ancient Romans, who named her Fortuna, a title that Robert Graves says was derived from the Etruscan goddess Vortumna. Vortumna's name means "she who turns the wheel of the year." This reference to the Zodiac demonstrates that her wheel is meant to be more than a simple moral warning; it indicates that she is the triple goddess of time and fate, whose cycles of birth, life, death, and rebirth were emulated in all ancient mystery traditions.

The Greeks called the three Moirai, or Fates: Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos. Clotho is the goddess of birth, and with her distaff she spins the thread of life. Lachesis is the goddess of chance and luck, who measures the thread. Atropos is the inescapable goddess of destiny, and she cuts the thread. The Romans honored Fortuna with many names, but three of them: Fortuna Primigenia, Bona Fortuna, and Mala Fortuna, seem to relate to these three aspects.

The four male figures on her wheel represent the birth, death and rebirth of the sacred king, a myth that was at first associated with the waxing and waning of the moon, and later came to describe the adventures of a solar hero.

In the Tarot, the cards immediately surrounding the Wheel of Fortune express in detail its theme. The three females representing three cardinal virtues, instead of the more traditional four, can now be seen as the triple goddess of fate. Strength is the young virgin aspect, Temperance, the sustainer of life, and Justice, the goddess of death and rebirth. Likewise the four male characters: the Chariot, the Hermit, the Hanged Man, and Death, represent the rise and fall of the sacred king on Fortune's wheel.

The image on the card, inspired by Eleazar's Uraltes Chrymisches Werk, 1760, is a detailed representation of the double ouroboros seen earlier in the Hierophant's book. It represents the fixed (the scaly, masculine serpent on the bottom), and the volatile (the winged and crowned, feminine serpent on top), each transforming into one another as they swallow each other, tail first, in an unending cycle. Many alchemists believed that this process had to be accomplished over and over again, changing the contents of the retort from gas to solid, and back again, as the work patiently spiraled to completion.

The four elements in the corners alchemically refer to the elementary wheel of the sages. As was noted in the introductory chapter, Aristotle postulated that all matter comes from four elements that are extracted from the prima materia. Each element possesses two of the four elemental qualities: hot, cold, dry, and moist. The alchemists could change one element into another by manipulating the qualities shared between two elements; therefore the elements can turn into one another like a wheel.

The number of the Wheel of Fortune, ten, is associated with fate because it contains all whole numbers, therefore all possibilities. Ten also returns to the one, or Monad ( one plus zero equals one), and so ten also represents the universe, the many forming one total unit. Thus, the Wheel of Fortune is no single alchemical process, but an overview of the whole process, placed in the center of the trumps. Indeed, the numerical, geometric relationships in this card, based on the first four integers, are a suitable pattern for the entire opus, as can be seen in the following quote.

"Make a circle of the Man and Woman, and draw out of it a quadrangle, and out of the quadrangle a triangle, make a round circle, and thou shall have the Stone of the Philosophers."
Rosarium Philosophorum (pg. 42)

Tarot wisdom: What goes up must come down. The rise and fall of fate can seem like an unending trap, but as we move to the center of the wheel, our ups and downs become less extreme, and finally, at the hub, we can reach the stillness at the center of our being. From this vantage the fluctuations of the fixed and volatile can be seen as the essential rhythm of life. Like its eastern counterpart, the yin-yang symbol, this image itself can serve as subject of contemplation to help in attaining this state. Meanwhile, the fact that everything changes most often works in our favor, so this can be considered a card of good fortune.
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From Adam McLean's Website


EL01. Engraving 1 from Abraham Eleazar, Uraltes chymisches Werck.

(Image) http://www.alchemywebsite.com/images/amcl_el01.jpg

http://www.alchemywebsite.com/prints...s_eleazar.html
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I always see the Wheel of Fortune as the balance point of the whole major arcana, it's as if this is what everything else revolves around. So this paragraph from the book particularly resonates for me:

Quote:
In the Tarot, the cards immediately surrounding the Wheel of Fortune express in detail its theme. The three females representing three cardinal virtues, instead of the more traditional four, can now be seen as the triple goddess of fate. Strength is the young virgin aspect, Temperance, the sustainer of life, and Justice, the goddess of death and rebirth. Likewise the four male characters: the Chariot, the Hermit, the Hanged Man, and Death, represent the rise and fall of the sacred king on Fortune's wheel.
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