The Wheel of Fortune

Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What has been is what will be.
And what has been done is what will be done;
And there is nothing new under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes i, 2.9)
On the wheel the dog rises to descend again; The monkey falls to rise again. The crowned sphinx is seated above the motion of the wheel. Without the sphinx this Arcanum would seem to be an absurd game.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary,
and became man…..
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
(from the Creed)
The Wheel of FortuneJustice
from theTarot of Marseilles
There are two categories of ideas concerning the genesis of the four kingdoms of nature – the mineral realm, the plant realm, the animal realm and the human realm:
  1. The Fall, descent or degeneration from above to below, in which the man is the ancestor of the monkey, a degraded descendant. The monkey, whose face is reminiscent of a man, is being carried down by the wheel.
  2. Evolution, progress from above to below. The most primitive entity is the origin of all beings in the four kingdoms of nature – both biologically and from the point of view of consciousness. The dog as the animal most passionately drawn to humans, is the symbol most appropriate to union with the human. Most modern science is concerned only with this half of the wheel, in which the minimum is the ancestor of the maximum.
Arnold Lunn points out: “no evolutionist has produced a plausible guess, much less a theory supported by evidence, to suggest how a purely natural process could have evolved, from the sand, mud, mist and seas of a primitive planet, the brain that conceived Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.”

The theory of evolution is unintelligible in that it only takes account of one half of the wheel.
Arnold Lunn skier and writer
The tenth arcanum represents a circle comprising the involution, the fall from the sphinx, the prototype being, and the evolution, the salvation, the ascent to the sphinx.
There is a world of difference between the orientalist doctrine of involution/evolution as as a natural process, similar to respiration and the Hermetic, Biblical, Christian tradition, seen here as a cosmic drama full of the supreme dangers that the terms “perdition” and “salvation” imply.

The analogy of passive passengers on a ship and an active crew may be relevant here. Determinism and fatalism are part of the psychology of the “exoteric” passenger. For the “esoteric” crew the voyage is one of effort, struggle and risk.
Uroboros, the self-destroying serpent
It is the same with evolution. One sees it as a “natural process’ when one looks at it through the eyes of the passengers, and one sees it as a “tragedy and drama” when one looks at it through the eyes of the crew.

All determinism and fatalism places the responsibility somewhere beyond the moral being: in Nature, in God, in the stars.

Let me relate an eternal myth:
The father blessed the seventh day, because on this day, he rested from all the work he had created. It is the seventh part of the circle of the world, when the Father withdraws and become immobile and silent. Thus the circle of the earth’s movement remained open; so that the beings of the world had access to the Father

But the serpent said: “there is no freedom in the world, in so far as the circle of the world is not closed. Because freedom is to be in oneself, without interference from the Father”.

And the serpent took his tail in his mouth and formed a closed circle. He turned himself with great force, and created a great swirl which caught hold of Adam and Eve.

But the woman guarded the memory of the world opened towards the Father and the Holy Sabbath. The woman will crush the head of the serpent and the serpent will wound the heel of the woman. The Woman-Virgin, who is the soul of the counter-movement to the serpent, and of suffering since the beginning of the world of the serpent, received, conceived and gave birth to the Word of the Father:
Geertgen Tot Sint Jans Madonna of the rosary Crushing the serpent
And the Word became flesh,
And dwelt among men in the world of the serpent,
Full of grace and truth.
Three historical personalities have portrayed the idea of the cosmic wheel – in very different ways.
Guatama Buddha told of “the wheel of incarnations”, where birth, sickness, old age and death repeat themselves endlessly. The illumination that the Buddha had under the Bodhi-tree revealed three truths to him: that the world is a wheel of births and deaths, that its movement is fundamentally nothing other than suffering and that there is a way towards the centre of the wheel, which is at rest. King Solomon had experience of the wheel, as an inexorable fate, rendering all human hope and endeavour in vain.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north;
it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come,
thither they return again. The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be;
and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

I have seen all the works that are done under the sun;
and, behold, all is vanity and vexation of spirit.
That which is crooked cannot be made straight:
and that which is wanting cannot be numbered.
And I gave my heart to know wisdom,
and to know madness and folly:
I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.
For in much wisdom is much grief:
and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

Solomon portrays the world without Christ, as did the Buddha.

The Buddha rightly diagnosed the world of the serpent before Christ; Solomon wept over it: but Nietzsche – how monstrous! – sang of it.

Nietzsche saw and understood the wheel, the closed world with no outlet. He identified it with eternity, although it is the very opposite of eternity.

– Oh! how should I not burn for Eternity,
and for the marriage ring of rings –
the Ring of Recurrence?
Never yet I found the woman by whom I would have children,
save it be by this Woman that I love:
for I love thee, O Eternity!
for I love thee, O Eternity!
(Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathrustra)

The world in which there is nothing new under the sun, eternal existence as a closed circle, is a cosmic hell, a prison. The good news of religion is that the world has an entrance and an exit. This why the entrance of Christmas is a joyous festival, and why the exits of the festivals of Ascension and Easter, the resurrection, are celebrated. The world is not a closed circle.

Perdition is to be caught up in the eternal, closed circle of the world. Salvation is life under the open sky, where each day is new and unique.
Let us look at the totality of our experience of the world. What does it say to us?
Gottfried Leibniz
Leibniz, the prophet of optimism, said that the given world is the most perfect of possible worlds. From the point of view of pure thought the world shows a perfect arrangement of equilibrium. In its essential outlines, it is harmony itself.
Schopenhauer,, the philosopher of pessimism, said that in the given world the sum of suffering outweighs that of joy. In the last analysis the world is evil. From the point of view of pure will the experience of each individual confirms the diagnosis of the world given by Gautama Buddha.
Friedrich Schopenhauer
And from the point of view of the heart, which is that of Hermeticism and the Judeao-Christian tradition, what can one say about the world? The heart says to us: the cosmos, this marvel of wisdom, beauty and goodness, suffers.

This great organism, whose birth was in perfect health, which cannot have been born out of sickness, is ailing. Whilst the starry heavens represent a harmony of equilibrium – the music of the spheres – animals and insects devour one another and legions of infectious microbes bear sickness and death to man, animals and plants. The world can be lauded and wept for at the same time.
This is the origin of the problem of the Fall: that the world is worthy of being sung for and wept for at the same time.
The Fall gives the impression that the world is composed of two independent worlds – as if a cancerous outgrowth has taken place in the otherwise healthy organism of the world
The Sacred Heart
Science takes the two worlds together and considers them as inseparably united, and names this totality “Nature” – nature both loving mother and the cruel stepmother.

With due respect to science it makes a simple error. It commits the same error that a doctor would make if he were to consider cancer as normal or natural.

Hermeticism, in accordance with the Judeao-Christian tradition, regards the “Nature” of science not as the world created by God, but rather as the field, where the created world meets with the world of the serpent.

Science refuses to see Satan in nature, whereas radical dualists such as Zoroastrians and Manicheaens see nothing but evil in the world.

Are human beings the “children of the serpent”, the “children of darkness” – or are they “children of the light” (Luke xvi.8)?
Manichean priests writing at their desks
Man has the most developed brain. The brain is an organism which plays the role of a sieve with respect to consciousness. It is an instrument of knowledge and ignorance at the same time. The brain does what took place during millions of years of evolution: “creation-selection-rejection- forget”; repeated endlessly.
“The brain impresses on the body the movements and attitudes which act what the mind thinks. I have expressed this by saying that the brain is an organ of pantomime . . . Indeed, the cerebral phenomena are to the mental life just what the gestures of the conductor are to the symphony. (Henri Bergson Mind-Energy; trsl. H. W. Carr, London 1920)
Now relevant mimicry is precisely what the Book of Genesis understands by cunning when it says “the serpent was more cunning than any other creature the Lord God had made.” (Genesis iii.1). To be cunning is to mime wisdom, after having eliminated the essential – its light – and then to make use of it for its own ends. That is why it is said “the devil is the ape of God.” He apes God.
Henri Bergson
Egyptian Pharaohs wore the cobra on their crowns
Human beings, as cerebral beings, are “children of the serpent.”

This is why there exists a kind of brotherly piety with which the serpent is venerated in various places in the world: Egypt, India, Mexico and China, where the serpent is venerated in its flying form as a dragon.
In India Nagas were worshipped as the bringers of fertility
Aztec feathered serpent deity demanded human sacrifice

Even Moses erected a bronze serpent on a pole in the desert.

However is the serpent the only magical agent? Centuries of experience have shown that there is another agent and another magic.

Also there is another consciousness and experience than that due to the brain.
It was not the serpent that John the Baptist saw descend upon the head of the Master of sacred magic, but rather a dove.

Celestial Chinese Dragon
John bore witness:
I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven,
and it remained on him.
(John i. 32)
Several days later the miracle of the wedding of Cana was accomplished. The seven miracles – the wedding at Cana, the healing of the nobleman’s son, the healing of the sick man at the pool at Bethesda, the feeding of the five thousand, the walking on water, the healing of the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus – did not have the serpent as their agent, nor was the brain the instrument of their accomplishment. The agent here is the dove, i.e. the Spirit which is above the brain.

If you were to ask me dear, Unknown Friend, if one has to take the side of either the serpent or the dove, my reply would derive from the Master’s counsel:

Be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.
(Matthew x, 16)
Andrea del Verrocchio & Leonardo da Vinci
One should try to unite cerebral intellectuality with spiritual spontaneity. One should think in the light of the ideal.
As the animal species with most developed brain we are “children of the serpent.” As beings aspiring to the true, the beautiful and the good we are “children of the light.”
  1. Biological or Hereditary Evolution – Destiny.
  2. Psychic Continuity or Reincarnation – Will.
  3. Spiritual Continuity or the work of Salvation – Providence.
Fabre d'Olivet

As Fabre d’Olivet wrote: “Beneath man is destiny natura naturata (necessitated Nature), above him is providence natura naturans (free Nature). He is himself, as kingdom of man, the mediatory will, the effective force, placed between these two Natures to serve them as a link, a means of communication, and to unite two actions that would be incomplete without him.

They suggest “created” animality and “evolved” animality. The former had its origin before the Fall and the latter owes its existence to evolution since the Fall. The animality of divine origin is summarised in four prototypes. If one unites these four prototypes one obtains the sphinx.
Saint John from the Lindisfarne Gospel
The Eagle symbolises the elevation of the heart and the spirit. tradition represents it as the channel of divine inspiration of Saint John the Evangelist. At the same time the eagle is the bird of prey, representing aggression and lightning attack. Its rapaciousness figured on the standard of the Roman legions.

The Lion symbolises “moral courage”, associated with Mark the evangelist. But just as there is the Eagle and the eagle, so there is the Lion and the lion. Ferociousness is to moral courage, as the lion is to the Lion. The former is a degeneration of the latter.
Saint Mark from the Lindisfarne Gospel
Saint Luke from the Lindisfarne Gospel
The Bull is the symbol of productive concentration and deep meditation. It is the channel of divine inspiration of Luke. It gave rise to the cult of the sacred Cow (the female aspect of the Bull) in India; a popular counterpart to the Hindu propensity for meditation. Again there is the Bull and the degenerated bull. Its concentration of the will can be blind to everything else.

The Man or Angel is the inspiring companion to the evangelist Matthew. He represents the objectivity manifested, for example, in the truthfulness of an epic narrative. But there is objectivity and “objectivity”. One can be objective (impartial) in taking everything to heart.
Saint Matthew from the Lindisfarne Gospel
And one can be “objective” (“impartial”) in assuming an attitude of equal indifference toward everything. The former manifests as conscience. The latter is manifested in what many take to be “the scientific spirit”, which, truth to tell, is only the propensity toward cynicism.
Inner alchemy, the transmutation of eagle into Eagle, etc, is by way of metamorphosis, i.e. by alternating contraction and expansion. Just as the growth of a plant is a vertical tendency alternating with a horizontal tendency, so does psychic metamorphosis work. The law of metamorphosis, which Goethe studied in the plant realm, is also the transmutation of psychic forces in the human kingdom. For human beings and plants live under the law of the cross – the latter organically, the former spiritually. Schiller the “brother” of Goethe said:
Dost thou seek the highest, the greatest
The plant can show it thee.
What the plant is unconsciously,
Be thou intentionally – That’s it!
The Tarot has reincarnated in conformity with the modern depth psychology of Jung. He ascertained the upsurge of ancient mysteries and cults from the depths of the unconscious of people in the twentieth century. The Tarot is the “Sacred Book of Thoth” – not inherited – but reborn.

In support of this thesis, let us take a quotation from a Greek Hermetic Treatise of considerable antiquity. This is Isis teaching her son Horus the mysteries of heaven:
As long as the craftsman who made the universe willed not to be known, all was wrapped in ignorance.

But when he decided to be known, he breathed into certain godlike men a passionate desire to know him. But this would not have been possible, if there had not arisen one who was responsive to the holy powers of heaven. And such a one was Hermes.
Isis, goddess of motherhood and magic
Hermes spoke thus: “Ye holy books, which have been written by my perishable hands, but have been anointed with the drug of imperishability by Him who is master over all, remain ye undecaying through all ages, and be ye undiscovered by all men, until the time when heaven grown old shall beget organisms (those that the Creator has named souls) worthy of you.” Having spoken this prayer over the works of his hands, Hermes was received into the sanctuary of the everlasting zones. ( Kore Kosmu; trsl. Walter Scott)
They are therefore “inscribed” magically in a region between heaven and earth, close enough to earth to be reached by the souls of seekers on the earth and to awake in them the spirit of quest, and far enough removed not to be seized by cerebral intellectuality, i.e. to be analysed and exploited.
In the depths of the unconsciousness – which knocks at the door and wants to become conscious – the “Sacred Book of Thoth” remains deposited, from whence Hermetic works are born. The Tarot is such a work.
The operation of projecting, incarnating conserving ideas is called in Hermeticism “writing the book”. It is of such a “book” the Apocalypse speaks when it says:
And I saw on the right hand of Him
who was seated on the throne a book written within and without,
sealed with seven seals.
(Revelation v, 1)
Such also is the “Sacred Book of Thoth”. Hermeticism as the aspiration to the totality of things is neither a school, nor a sect, nor a community. It is the destiny of a certain group of souls, who are impelled by the river current of thought from one darkness needing to be illumined to another darkness needing to be penetrated.

Such is my destiny. And in addressing these letter to the Unknown Friend, I address myself to her or him, who shares this destiny with me.
Here the anonymous writer apologises to both professors and priests, of whom he asks absolution, but he can only echo Jacob’s words:
I will not let you go until you have blessed me.
(Genesis xxxii, 26)