Quick. As fast as you can, in like 60 seconds, come up with as many pop culture phrases and words and clichès that have to do with wheels and fortune.
Here are a few of my own:
“Around and around she goes, and where she stops, no one knows.”
“Fortune favors the bold.”
“Don’t reinvent the wheel.”
The Wheel of Fortune in the tarot is evocative on many levels, both verbal and visual. The circle itself is a primal symbol. But wait. Is it a sign? Do you know the difference or have you ever pondered the difference in these words from a semiotic perspective?
This card always starts my mind spinning (pun intended) because it is in constant motion. And like all of the cards in our deck, we can’t, or rather we shouldn’t, simply dismiss it out of hand as “luck,” either good or bad, simply because of the meanings that we attach to the word fortune. We can go deeper than that in our analysis, even if that’s the initial scratching of the overall surface.
If you allow your mind to stretch for a moment, try to imagine as many types of wheels as you can.
What meanings do you attach to the wheel(s) that you pictured? What messages do they send you?
The first image that came to my mind was the roulette. See? As hard as I tried, I personally ended up right back at luck but in a different visual interpretation. A wheel in the context of the casino, where luck is the hoped-for outcome of chance when put to the test. So what is the primary motivating force behind the impulse to gamble, or “try your luck”? Are we excited to tempt the fates, do we just want to take a chance and roll the dice without any attachment to the actual result, or are we convinced that the house is against us so we’ll never win? Is it a mental game, or an unseen force that propels the outcome? Where is the departure point between choice and chance? Where do they touch and where do they diverge? And who controls it all: you, “the house,” or a mixture of the two?
The point is, in games of chance (read: life), there’s a certain element of controlled and conscious choice, and there’s a certain element of non-control and lack of being able to foretell, forestall, or accurately foreshadow the eventual outcome. No one really knows for sure. Then again, maybe they do. Does it depend on who is holding the power?
In a way this card reminds me of shades of The Hanged Man for the simple fact that at a certain point in the game, in order to play, you have to release control to a certain extent and basically put your hands up and then “let the chips fall where they may.” Imagine the coins falling out of the overturned Hanged Man’s pants. And then on the other hand, it also feels a bit like The Devil, with these overtones of power and control versus entrapment and real or imagined helplessness, domination and submission. Again, it all depends on which way you see things and where you stand in the situation. Are you on the top of the wheel heading down, or on the bottom on your way up? Does it depend on whether the motion is going clockwise or counterclockwise?
You see how I have a very hard time pinning this card down, stopping it, holding it firmly and trying to observe it and then define it. It’s constantly spinning, just like we are as we walk about in our daily lives. We make choices throughout the day: what to order for lunch, what clothes to wear in the morning, what time to set for a meeting. And yet at the same time, our hands are often tied against our will in such a way that we have to submit to the unseen forces of nature and circumstance: they’re out of our favorite dish at the restaurant, our dog just peed on that shirt we wanted to wear, no one is available for the meeting at the same time we are, and there’s just not a damn thing we can do about it. The Wheel of Fortune isn’t an either/or card, it’s a “go with the flow” card. It’s a card that tells us about the flow and cyclical nature of life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. When the chips are down, you can try to jump off, fight like a bat out of hell and throw a wrench in the works, or let the Universe push you or pull you where it wants. There’s choice. But whether other circumstances, both visible and invisible, actually permit you to do so: that’s chance. And they can and do co-exist.
So while the key elements of this card are omnipresent in our lives at all times, they might also lurk and take on a deeper meaning below the surface of our consciousness. For example, why is it often so difficult for us, upon seeing a card like this, to reconcile the fact that sometimes we might be spinning the wheel and other times we might be trapped on it, like on an out-of-control merry-go-round about to fly off its base? It’s natural to want constancy, predictability, security, the “sure thing.” No one wants to feel like a loser or experience a losing streak. It provokes situations and feelings that aren’t valued by society as worthy: we often either consciously or subconsciously associate a winner with good and a loser with bad. That’s what calculating odds is all about. It’s as if we love this concept of chance, but at the same time, we want to somehow control chance as well so that we can always come out on top. Is that an oxymoron? Possibly.
When you see this card in a reading then, perhaps the first thing to question is the idea of ambivalence and the possibility of holding opposing forces simultaneously. Is it possible to spin the wheel and also calculate if the odds are in your favor? How comfortable are you (or the querent) with the idea and reality of having control and simultaneously having no control whatsoever? Is that pleasant, is it exciting, is it nauseating? Does it create a victim mentality or a God complex? Are you a winner or a loser, or can you be both at the same time?
For me this card poses far more questions than it does answers. Perhaps the only thing that never changes is that constant turning motion, the infinite mutability of the rotating wheel, always going forward, maybe going backward, and our capacity to grow, develop, and expand within its confines and constructs.
My only advice? Hold on tight.