The Wheel of Fortune

Good luck, bad luck and everything else

Rider-Waite Wheel

The Wheel of Fortune is THE symbol of the tarot, It encapsulates every other card, every human condition and every spiritual path within its complex symbolism. It is way too simplistic to pronounce, “Oh this card means good luck will come to you.” It is a difficult card to read and the better you understand its layered depths, the better your readings will be.

Over the centuries, the card has evolved from the idea of random fortune, through the highways and byways of Greek and Roman mythology, biblical references, medieval superstition and 19th century ‘magical’ societies, such as Freemasonry and the Golden Dawn. Today the tarot Wheel of Fortune is a mish-mash of symbolism taken from many of those sources. It is also the subject of much scholarly debate and can inspire thought-provoking insights into the human psyche. Indeed, as a student of tarot, the Wheel of Fortune is a card you will definitely want to know more about.

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Image credit: The Wheel of Fortune, Rider-Waite. Source: Courtesy of Holly Voley: copyright free, Pamela A version, 1909.

Tarot Wheel Description

Against a background of a blue sky and big, puffy cumulus clouds are superimposed the winged images of an angel, an eagle, a lion and a bull. These figures occupy the four corners of the card and each is holding and reading a book. In the centre of the card there is an orange wheel, which is subdivided into eight sections. However, if you read AE Waite’s description of the card, he says it is, in fact, divided into seven radii. The inner circle contains the alchemical symbols for sulphur, water, air and salt. On the left side of the wheel, a snake with a head at each end appears to descend downwards. On the bottom and right, a red human figure with the head of a dog is ascending. We are to assume that the wheel turns widdershins or anti-clockwise. At the top of the wheel sits a blue sphinx holding a sword.


I have reproduced the most widely accepted meanings of the symbols in the table below. Bear in mind though, that these are open to question and debate.

Higher level of the number 1
Cycle of human life
Torah, Jewish manuscript of instruction.
Old name for tarot
Hebrew: Yod He Vav He
The unpronouncable name of God
Mercury, sulfur, water, salt
The 4 elements = Air, Fire, Water, Earth
Greek: destruction and ill-luck; Egyptian: guardian of mysteries Here as a symbol of equilibrium
Two-headed snake
Amphisbaena: Greek: to go/see both forward and back – OR – Typhus: evil descending
Jackal-headed figure
Anubis: goodness ascending
Dreams, higher powers
Angel (man), eagle, lion & bull
Aquarius, Scorpio, Leo & Taurus – OR – The 4 divisions of animate creation. The book is the Torah

The Fool Encounters the Wheel

The Fool’s Journey is a metaphor for the human experience of the world. The Fool travels through the deck, meeting the archetypes of the Major Arcana and, hopefully, learning and growing from his encounters.

After the stillness and mindfulness of the Hermit’s teachings, the Fool begins to encounter challenges to upset and confound him. His new-found sense of peace is disturbed and he must find ways of putting what he has learned into practice. He thought he had begun to lay his ego aside, but he feels he should be able to deal with these challenges, and thus his ego begins take charge once more. Of course, the ego is unable to recognize that it cannot control all things and ties itself in knots, causing great distress to the poor Fool

The Fool eventually realizes that he can use the teachings of the Hermit to understand. Once again he stills the ego and becomes present and still at the centre of the Wheel. He allows events to unfold as they will. He begins to learn that the answers he needs will come if he simply stops chasing the answers he wants to hear. He re-members we are all one, and that the Universe is that one great entity, forever changing, eternally the same.

Understanding the Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel presents some conundrums to us. It represents cycles, the underlying structure of the world, the universe and our interconnection with everything. It also advises that some cycles are harmful – such as the ones where we continue to attract the same situations constantly. The people and places may change but the circumstances are, in essence, exactly the same. It tells us that we are subject to the whims of fate but at the same time, it shows us that we do have some control – even if that control is limited to our own thoughts. It tells us that we must develop an awareness of our patterns of behaviour – where those patterns serve us well or where they chain us into endless repetitive thoughts and actions. For example, we often try to justify our actions/thoughts/beliefs with the same old excuses. Or we resist change out of fear of trying something new. We get into a rut, and it is worthwhile remembering that we pass our ‘ruts’ on to our children, unless they are able to objectively scrutinize and ultimately reject our limiting beliefs.

In the image below, I have attempted to show some of the main spiritual components of the tarot Wheel, hopefully illustrating how it is always possible to choose another way. Obviously, all these choices are interlinked and never separate. The centre branches of the Wheel are where peace, serenity and stillness lie (essentially the teachings of the Hermit), from there we can choose our actions/reactions; going out on a limb for better or worse, and continually returning to the hub to replenish our spirit.

Tarot Wheel Mindmap

Making Sense of the Wheel of Fortune in a Reading

As usual, a card is read in conjunction with the other cards in the spread and threaded into the individual’s circumstances. The Wheel of Fortune appears when there is the likelihood of big changes in the querent’s life. These changes could be positive or negative – essentially the Wheel is a neutral card.

Emphasize to your client that being adaptable and open to change – even what seems to be negative may well open doors to positive, life-enhancing opportunities. These opportunities could help them completely change their outlook on life. Tell them to celebrate their uniqueness, embrace their eccentricities and, whatever happens, they should laugh at life’s jokes.

In a health reading, the appearance of the Wheel could indicate mood swings or other mental problems. It could also indicate a series of minor accidents (do make much of the ‘minor’).

In a reading about money, look out for cards that would indicate changes in financial fortunes. Good cards would be Ten of Pentacles, Ace of Pentacles, Nine of Pentacles, Nine of Cups. Not-so-good might be Two of Pentacles, Five of Pentacles, Five of Swords, Seven of Swords, Ten of Swords. Take into account their juxtaposition and meaning as dictated by the spread.

The reversed Wheel may well show resistance, self-limiting beliefs, constantly trying to control, obstructions, karma (what goes around, comes around), instability, repetition, scattered thoughts and missed opportunities. Remember: All challenges are an opportunity to grow and progress spiritually.

12 thoughts on “The Wheel of Fortune

  1. Catt Geller

    Bev, thank you so much for your question on FB re: my paintings/drawings in altered composition books. I am currently on a year long study on the Tree of Life and am looking forward to hearing more on the taro as it relates to Kabbalah, Tree of Life …. thank you again …

    1. theraggededge Post author

      Nice to meet you Catt. I have an aversion to FB 😀 but I’ll get back on there later. Thanks for finding my blog.

    1. theraggededge Post author

      Hi Pamita,

      Interesting, and the evangelists themselves are also represented by the astrological signs, so it’s a sort of circle of correspondences.

      Thanks so much for your comment. Your shop looks really cool!

  2. Queen of Cups

    Thanks for this site! It’s very very good! I wish I came here first instead of buying the Tarot: A universal language as this site has much more info.

    I didn’t even know that the snake had another head at the tail. Do you know why that is?

    Also does anyone know why they wheel is orange?

    Thanks in advance!

    1. theraggededge Post author

      Thanks for your kind words… and for asking a great question. I found this:

      “Orange combines the energy of red and the happiness of yellow. It is associated with joy, sunshine, and the tropics. Orange represents enthusiasm, fascination, happiness, creativity, determination, attraction, success, encouragement, and stimulation.”

      Does that fit in with the energy of this card? I do. I think that we can choose to perceive change through all the above qualities. Make it work for us, whether it is seen as ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

      The two-headed snake may be linked to the symbol of infinity, but instead of representing life going round in an endless repeating cycle, it means that it can also change and progress. It would be great if anyone can post their thoughts too.

  3. Queen of Cups

    Wow thanks very much for your prompt reply!

    Would I be correct in thinking the four Yellow symbols of the Angel, Eagle, Lion and Bull are meant to be in gold, is that right? I can’t remember where I found that info from.

    I guess they didn’t have gold foil printing back in the 1900’s as it would of been very costly for this mass production.

    I also love the way you made your flow chart with this card. Makes it so much easier to understand.

    Wondering is there a main link for the other Tarot cards as I had just stubbled on this site and believe I will be soon spending most of my time here. Funny as I been doing Tarot readings for many years intuitively but only now know that I am very much a neophyte.

    1. theraggededge Post author

      They wouldn’t have been originally intended to be gold in the Rider-Waite, though they were in the first known Italian decks.

      I haven’t ‘done’ all the cards here on my blog but I have almost finished all of them on LunarCafe. I just have the tens and the Courts to do. I hope to expand on the ones I’ve done here in due course.

      Keep going – the tarot journey is a fascinating one!


  4. Queen of Cups

    Thanks very much!

    I have the Visconti Sforza deck but have never used them for readings. I am just glad to have at least one Italian deck in my collection and its full of gold.

    I notice that if I am working/ studying on a Tarot card it really is sums up my current events in my life. Other people that I know have said the same thing .

    I am also touching in the Kabbalah but I will keep that on the back burner for now until I get through all the Major Arcana.

    I believe that your Tarot blog would be worth putting into a Kindle at least as it has more info than the basic Tarot books out there and even though there are many Tarot study groups and forums, It is all scattered. I am just glad I had a good blast of info from one card alone without any fluff or fillers.
    I am grateful for that, Thank you!

    1. theraggededge Post author

      Aw, thank you. I would like to study the Kabbalah in relation to tarot.

      That’s a great suggestion about Kindle. I think the site would need to be a bit better organised first. Argh! So many things!

    1. theraggededge Post author

      Hi Daniela,

      It depends on the context. Were you asking a particular question? Was it a general reading? Was it on different days?

      Generally speaking, it would point towards great changes, important opportunities and one or more major turning points in your life. Very exciting, I’d say.

      How did you interpret it, given that you are the expert on your life?

      Troi x


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