Saturday, May 27, 2006

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: Wheel of Fortune

[Please see the Introduction to this series for a brief synopsis of my approach to working with the major trumps of the Tarot. I am hoping to post a new meditation each Saturday. I use meditation here in the philosophical sense of the word, meant to denote an open-ended, free-form exploration of an idea.]

Last week the Fool had to turn inward to find the inner Hermit, the wise elder who serves as the archetypal representation of the higher self. Now the journey moves from inner contemplation to the grand principles of the Kosmos as we encounter the Wheel of Fortune.

We are faced with a rather strange card here. For the first time none of the figures are recognizably human or natural. We have two odd-looking creatures revolving helplessly on Fortune's enigmatic wheel, while a third creature presides over the whole scene. What are we to make of these strange creatures wearing human clothes?

According to Sallie Nichols (Jung And Tarot):

The golden creature rising on our right is usually connected with Anubis, the dog-faced god of Egypt who weighed the souls of the dead. He is thought of as a positive, integrative factor. The monkey-like animal on our left is usually associated with Typhon, the god of destruction and disintegration.

Commentators generally think it a good omen in this card that Anubis is rising on the wheel and that Typhon is on his way down. But it is a wheel, after all, and Typhon will be back in the ascension soon enough. Given this truth, what we are dealing with here is the cycle of opposites in the greater scheme of things.

Before we move into deeper interpretation, there is still the matter of the third creature sitting atop the wheel. The winged creature has the body and tail of a lion, while the face is monkey-like. It seems to be naked, though it does wear a gold crown and hold a sword. Strangely enough, this is a sphinx, depicted here in its devouring feminine form (think of Moreau's Oedipus and the Sphinx, at right).

Oedipus succeeded in answering the riddle of the sphinx, but the Gods punished him for his hubris by leaving him at the mercy of his fate as prophesied -- to kill his father and marry his mother. Even though he answered the questions, he failed to reclaim his animal nature, and therefore remained a captive of the feminine realm (owned by his mother, Queen Jocasta).

This is one of the mythical situations where the hero (our young Fool) may slay the monster or learn its lesson. In this case, our Fool must use the inner strength s/he acquired in the last card to liberate the inner animal energies that populate this card. But, as was true for Oedipus, intellect is not the correct approach here. The Fool cannot free the libido energies associated with creativity through mental agility.

The Fool must confront and integrate those animal energies within. If s/he succeeds, Anubis will be her/his fate. If s/he fails, Typhon will be the fate that awaits him/her. But the Fool must not fall prey to the sphinx's riddles if s/he hopes to pass this test. S/he must look within, as s/he learned in the last card, and find the animal nature at the core of all human beings.

If we step back from the detail of the card, we have a wheel, a mandala of the Kosmos. Jung saw the mandala as a symbol of the unconscious self. One is the macro, and the other is the micro. With this particular mandala, we have motion, the turning wheel of fortune. This suggests the cyclical nature of birth and death, becoming and dying, growth and decay, and as the two mythic creatures in our card suggest, integration and disintegration.

These forces are always working within our biology (the growth and decay of cells continues throughout our lifetimes -- the body we have now is completely new from the body we had seven years ago); meanwhile, the same forces are at work on the grand scale of stars and galaxies. The bottom line is that change is the single constant in our world.

The Osho Zen Deck calls this card Change, and that seems to be the core meaning of the Wheel of Fortune. Here is some of the interpretation from the Osho site:
Life repeats itself mindlessly - unless you become mindful, it will go on repeating like a wheel. That's why Buddhists call it the wheel of life and death, the wheel of time. It moves like a wheel: birth is followed by death, death is followed by birth; love is followed by hate, hate is followed by love; success is followed by failure, failure is followed by success.
This is the cycle of life on a large scale. If we cling to things as they are at any given time, we will be disappointed when they change -- and things will always change. So the practice that must arise with this card is nonattachment.

One other point needs to be made, although please keep in mind that these are generalizations. In the West, we value diversity of experience and seek unique influences. In the West, we identify with the outer ring of the wheel with its speed and constant exposure to new things. In the East, stillness is valued over activity, and deeper experience is valued over a wider range of experiences. In the East, the hub of the wheel is sought, much in the same way the center of a mandala is the focus of meditation.

We would do well to integrate these diverse preferences. In the pagan and wiccan traditions, much of the work of ritual is conducted within the circle. This places the individual psyche in the center, the axis mundi, and also creates an experiential boundary with the outer edge of the circle. While remaining centered, the ritualist invites into the circle the forces and experiences s/he seeks. In this way, we are not bombarded by that which we do not seek, but invite that which we seek to come to us.

As the Fool continues his/her journey, being able to accept change as a constant and being able to discern what is valuable to the process and what isn't will be crucial to her/his success. In the next card we'll see if s/he was able to integrate the animal energies of this card successfully.

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