Card spotlight: The Wheel of Fortune

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The next card featured in the spotlight is the tenth card in the major arcana, The Wheel of Fortune.

Deciding what should portray the Wheel of Fortune in my deck wasn’t immediately apparent, I knew it needed to have a circular motif and the idea of the nest seemed fairly obvious but tying it to the concept of a change in fate or fortune wasn’t immediate. It finally occurred to me that not all baby birds are fortunate, and a bird that takes advantage of this is the cuckoo.

The Wheel of Fortune in its upright position can mean:
A change in circumstances for the better, it can represent that fortunes are always changing and can change in a more positive. It can also be a reminder about good Karma, ‘what goes around comes around’. New opportunities might be around the corner, or luck might be on your side.

The card in its reversed position: When the Wheel of Fortune is read in the reversed position, it could be an indicator that your luck might be taking a turn for the worse or that a great mishap is going to happen. While this card usually indicates that changes are outside of your control, you can still prepare for the worst and learn from your situation.

Why a cuckoo? Cuckoos are famously a brood parasite, which means it lays its eggs in the nests of other birds. When the chick hatches it usually pushes out the other eggs and chicks in the nest and is raised by the surrogate parents. I thought this behaviour fits in fairly well with the idea of The Wheel of Fortune, there is both the aspect of ‘new opportunities’ and ‘good fortune’ for the cuckoo chick and the cuckoo and the aspect of ‘misfortune’ and ‘mishap’ for the chicks of the surrogate (in the case of my card, song thrushes). There are of course grey areas in-between, the surrogates have lost their biological offspring and are putting a lot of time and energy into raising a chick who isn’t their own but at the same time they are raising a still raising a child. The fortunes of all of those involved can be changed as well, sometimes birds recognise the cuckoo egg and push it out of the nest, the egg might not hatch etc. Apparently Cuckoos lay between 23-25 eggs a season which indicates a low success rate.
As well as the behaviour of cuckoos, their arrival in the UK is traditionally associated with the coming of summer, and is seen as a sign of good luck.

The Wheel of Fortune- Rider Waite

Symbolism in the card: In the original Rider Waite card, the card depicts a rotating wheel with the name of God written in Hebrew around the edge. In the centre of the card are the alchemical symbols for mercury, sulphur, water and salt. Around the edge of the wheel are Anubis, a sphinx and Typhon, in the corners are representatives of the zodiac: Aquarius, Scorpio, Taurus and Leo. There are a lot of symbols in this card that I struggled with incorporating into my own card. I originally thought about having 4 birds representing the zodiac but felt that the card would be thematically messy. That left me to unpick which symbols I felt where important to the card, I wanted to have the theme of a wheel prominent in the centre of the card, in this case I settled for a nest, in the context of the card both a cradle and a coffin. I also chose to include the surrogate parents, as a mirror to the cuckoo in the card, loosely mimicking the composition of the sphinx and Anubis. The branches holding up the nest are brittle and precarious but also protective. While direct symbolism from the Rider Waite design isn’t there, the themes portrayed in the card are.

Previous card spotlights:

Judgement
The Hermit
The Star

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