The Wheel Turns

“Fortune, good night; smile once more, turn thy wheel.” –King Lear (2.2.169).

How is your fate determined? Are you destined to live a life decided by the vagaries of fate? Or are you, as William Ernest Henley declares in “Invictus,” the master of your fate? The Greeks wrestled mightily with the question in their ancient plays and poems. Do I bring my fate upon me by trying to avoid the fate the gods have ordained and the oracles have declared? Over and over again, humans in the ancient Greek tales, are playthings of the gods, unable to escape their fate, caught more inextricably within Fortune’s Wheel the more they try to escape.

The ancient Greek goddess Tyche (Fortuna to the Romans) was said to spin her Wheel capriciously, setting peasants and paupers in powerful positions, and kings and saints in the mud and the dust. The Wheel is the symbol of that which we cannot control: the accidents and diseases, the privilege we are born with or without, the world events that set the stage for the eras into which we are born.

And yet, this card reminds us, we are never without choices. We may not be able to control the Wheel’s turning, but we control our own responses. We make choices that affect the patterns of our lives within the larger framework of the fate that happens to us. Some people come to the tarot as they come to an oracle: Tell me what is going to happen to me so I can prepare myself for my fate. A healthier approach, and the one suggested by this card, is to use the cards to better understand ourselves so that we can respond in a wise and grounded manner when we seem to be wrenched out of our even keel by changes beyond our control.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cassius, trying to convince Brutus to help him assassinate Caesar, tells him, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.” And later, when the brutal deed is done, and Cassius begins to doubt that they can win the coming battle, Brutus acknowledges the role of fate in their destiny–“There is a tide in the affairs of men”–but urges Cassius again to action, to take that tide at the flood, which will lead them to their fortune, cautioning him that to refuse to take such a tide will lead them to ruin.

Sometimes, the Fool learns in the tarot journey, the wisest path is to be ready for the tide, like a surfer awaiting the perfect wave, to grab fortune as it approaches, and let it carry you to greater heights. And sometimes, it is helpful to sort out your story by remembering that not everything that happens to you is by choice, that you did the best you could with what you had. And mostly, it helps to know yourself well, so you can be equipped to make choices and to respond in healthy ways.

The Wheel of Fortune is one of the central motifs of Shakespeare’s great (greatest, in my opinion) play, The Tragedy of King Lear. As a teenager reading the play, I fell in love with the Fool, perhaps the play’s wisest character. Lear’s Fool seems to disappear out of the play, perhaps to surface in the tarot cards to gently advise us, as he did King Lear: “Let go thy hold when a great wheel runs down a hill,/lest it break thy neck with following it; but the great/one that goes upward, let him draw thee after” (2.4.71-73).


Gratitude List:
1. Cautiously good news on the cancer front for two of my best beloveds
2. The angels
3. The little screech owl who is calling in the dusk
4. These golden, perfect days
5. The ability to choose how to respond
May we walk in Grace and Beauty!


“Love the earth and sun and animals,
Despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks,
Stand up for the stupid and crazy,
Devote your income and labor to others…
Re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book;
Dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
—Walt Whitman


“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget.” ―Arundhati Roy


“Be like a headland: the waves beat against it continuously, but it stands fast and around it the boiling water dies down. “It’s my rotten luck that this has happened to me.” On the contrary, “It’s my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I still feel no distress, since I’m unbruised by the present and unconcerned about the future.” What happened could have happened to anyone, but not everyone could have carried on without letting it distress him. So why regard the incident as a piece of bad luck rather than seeing your avoidance of distress as a piece of good luck?” —Marcus Aurelius

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