So. Tarot Tuesday has arrived, my babies. And today’s card is the Wheel…Of…Fortune!!!
Not the one with Pat Sajak though. Something about that guy I find irritating. It’s completely without reason, and through absolutely no fault of his own, but you know how some people just make you want to walk far, far away from them and never, ever go near them again?
That’s my default response to Sajak. Nothing about him is in any way offensive, but his face and his voice just grate on me for some reason.
That was an unnecessary amount of sharing to an unnecessary degree. Pretty par for the course here at this blog.
But. The Wheel of Fortune (“cuibhle an fhortain,” in Scottish Gaelic, as far as I know, if Babel isn’t lying to me).
You know those moments when shit just all falls together? I know, they’re pretty rare. But that’s what makes them so great. Like, I have this thing to hang heavy shit. It’s called a French cleat. I mean, I can’t find the stud in my living room wall, so it doesn’t really help me, but that’s a separate variable. If I could find the stud into which I could place the screw securing the cleat, then I could hang this nine-pane French door (and holy shit, I just realized that I am going to hang a French door using a French cleat and here we are again and my Vyvanse is really wearing off) that I’ve used chalkboard paint and decorative deer head hooks to turn into a backpack/jacket rack/family calendar.
But the way that French cleat works? That’s how life sometimes feels. I remember, in my academic life, taking a wide variety of subjects during any given semester, because in America we like to milk our students for all they’re worth by requiring that they take classes about things they don’t actually need to perform the functions of the jobs they intend to one day get. I’m not necessarily opposed to that, though, for one specific reason: it never failed, from week to week, that I would find some connection between the content of my writing and my chemistry classes. Or my algebra and my contemporary fiction classes. Or my abnormal psych and my intro to basket-weaving classes.
Those moments of unexpected connection in seemingly oppositional things? They’re magic. They’re like the Matrix forgot to disguise itself for a moment and you get a glimpse of the skeletal scaffolding of reality itself. I love those moments. That’s kind of what happened when I went in search of some scholarly opinions of The Wheel. I’m a writer. I’m using the tarot to try and increase my mind’s flexibility, to override my default setting of strict intellectualization of things that I can’t intellectualize if I want to write about them.
And this card.
Lort, this card.
First of all, it’s at the center of the arcana, almost exactly halfway from the beginning to the end. And the end is where we started, last week, with The World.
But just take a look at the two together:
I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but these cards are so damn alike. The most striking similarity, for me, is the presence of the four sigils, in exactly the same order on both cards. Bull, lion, eagle, angel. Earth, fire, air, water. Stability, creativity, intellect, emotion. All still perfectly balanced. And yet, unlike The World, the four elements of ego are not bound outside of the central image.
And let’s just talk about the central image for a moment, shall we? Circular in both. But the circle in the center of The World isn’t really a circle at all. It’s an oval, if you want to get technical, which…helpful hint about me: I ALWAYS do. Two crescents fused together at their centers. They are a boundary. The wheel at the center of this card is not closed off, leaving it open to the unbidden influences of the various component parts of ego. The figure at the top of the wheel, the sphinx, couldn’t more clearly represent the freaking mystery of life.
Since most people come to the tarot seeking answers to a particular question, she’s often read pretty literally to represent the question at hand. Coming to the deck without a question but rather in an effort to simply apply a fixed lens to my view of life for the week, I choose to see her as whatever happens to be in front of me, demanding attention, at any given moment.
Overall, that remains the ability to write about my marriage – specifically, about June 3, 2014. Both describing the personal experience and divining, if you will, the universal meaning from it remain elusive end goals. On either side of the wheel, to the northwest and southeast, are two figures. One (clearly another Egyptian symbol), is Anubis, who weighed the hearts of men and women to determine their fitness for the Egyptian equivalent of paradise, the deity in charge of embalming, the guides of the dead, and the protector of graves. He was also responsible for mummification in Egyptian lore. That means he took everything messy, stinky, imperfect, organic, and perishable about humans – everything that made them work as humans – and removed it, or at least otherwise neutralized it, so that they could be preserved. Anubis can pretty easily be recognized as the higher-order cognition and reason that separates man from animal. Opposite Anubis, descending on the wheel, we see the serpent deity Typhon (Greek) or Set (Egyptian), both well-regarded as the progenitor of monsters, mayhem, and all manner of wicked destruction. In the Greek mythological canon, Typhon is an indestructible and monstrous entity himself, all fire and fury (forgive the allusion to another, more contemporary tragic story currently making its rounds, though Typhon’s resemblance to the villain of that story is not inaccurate) often understood to be only slightly lesser than the terrible and fearsome Titans, vanquished by Zeus to imprisonment in the endless depths of Tartarus (the underworld).
The Titans, if you’re not aware, are what Sammy L. might call “mushroom cloud layin’ muthafuckas, mutha fucka.”
If we choose, for the sake of continuity, to regard Typhon instead as Set, then we can recognize a pretty clear symbolic representation of opposites. Anubis, after all, is the reason that leopords have spots, since Anubis defeated and branded Set’s skin in defense of Osiris’ body, which Set had attempted to defile. That’s just one of many examples of Anubis fulfilling the role of protector-of-tombs.
So. We have animalistic behavior, destruction, and all bad things in Thyphon/Set and potection cut with metacognition and intellect in Anubis. Anubis rises as Set descends.
I mean, maybe I don’t need to go here for you, but if you like it stated clearly, for the record, descent clearly indicates a move toward the shadowy realm of the unconscious, while ascent implies a rising to awareness.
The wheel itself, it’s worth noting, appears to have both an outer spinner and an inner hub. The hub, we can assume, remains stationary even as the outer wheel spins.
Inner/Outer. Stationary/Moving. Intellect/Instinct. Destruction/Protection. Conscious/Unconscious.
…Eros and Thanatos, anyone?
I mean, this is a Freudian rather than a Jungian thing, but one of a handful of nails I think that crazy cracker hit directly on the head. The idea that we all have a driving motivation toward self-preservation and self-destruction, working simultaneously at all times, often against one another, and locked in constant conflict for that reason, is one I think most of us can identify within our own selves.
Imagine, for example, a random dude.
Let’s make him a random college dude. Because those are fun.
Our fine fellow must decide, of an evening, whether he will study for the next morning’s exams and commit to a full eight hours of uninterruped restful slumber, or go out with friends, to drink forties, and fuck bitches.
Any number of variables may influence that choice, depending on all manner of contexts. From his very first breath until that moment when he chooses to either study natural selection or drink Natty Ice, everythig he’s experienced, felt, learned, seen, and wanted will influence the outcome.
And everything that he experiences, feels, learns, sees, and wants in the future will have impacts on what he chooses then.
We humans are nothing if not dynamic, as are our circumstances. Our lives are always, always evolving. Always changing. Always responding to external influence, stimuli, and conditons. Always turning, like The Wheel. We are composed of Anubian and Typhonic elements. And which of those two aspects of our personality is currently (1) operating within our ability to perceive it and (2) on fuller display to others, at any given moment, depends simply on whether it’s in a position of ascention or descension.
Regarding the physical structure of the wheel itself, not to beat a dead horse but to illuminate another major problem in contemporary psychology – introversion vs. extraversion – it’s easy to see that the introvert tends to reside closer to the stable center of the wheel, whereas the extravert tends to prefer access to the outer, spinning wheel exposed to the greater world around him.
Too close to the center, the extreme intravert can miss out on much of what the world has to offer, even if one must develop a comfort with the topsy-turvy uncertainty and risk involved with experiencing it. Too close to the edge, though, the extreme extravert risks collecting a multitude of exciting and stimulating, but altogether shallow, experiences without ever making any meaning of them at all.
Or, we could consider the wheel to be a very smart introvert who needs to get a little closer to the fringes and make room for potential value in the things she can’t explain, define, control, or dictate. An academic who needs to check her cards once a week.
But that’s not the end of it. Human nature is to want to keep Anubis up top all the time and Typhon way down where no one can see it at work. But what we fail to realize when we attempt to stop the spinning of the wheel is that the spinning of the wheel is life itself.
The wheel spins. Shit happens. We can’t dictate the direction we’re taking, to a certain extent. But we can try to wedge ourselves somewhere between the hub and the spokes. We can try to position ourselves to gain the most possible from the ride.
Notice that the Sphinx never changes her position, though Anubis and Typhon spin along with the wheel itself. The Sphinx is life. She is fate. She is destiny. She’s whatever you want to call her. She’s shit. Shit happens. Shit never stops happening. Shit is in charge.
We are not.
We can see the bad in life as a crisis or we can see it as an opportunity for change.
Now. I know what you’re thinking. That is some happy bullshit that people who’ve never been through hell say because they have no idea how condescending they sound.
They only sound condescending because you’re jaded.
And that’s fine.
You’ve been through some shit, Lebowski. You’re entitled to that stank eye. But that’s not going to help anything. It may not hurt anything either. Honestly, I truly believe that a little splash of bitters is a beneficial addition to any personality.
But whether you put sugar in the lemonade or not, you’re going to have to drink it, homie.
The wheel is spinning, and you can either lean over the edge and puke and struggle to hold on, or you can wedge yourself into the spokes and enjoy the ride. And the only way to enjoy the ride is to accept that you have no idea where it’s going and you have even less ability to control it.
Now. That is NOT to say that I’ve figured out how to do that. I have not.
Hence my problem.
This is not a lesson that you learn intellectually. Obviously. Or I’d be all set. This is just me saying “hey, let’s think about this for the week and see where we end up.”
This is one of the truths of life with which I struggle the most. Because in my life I have learned that only through strictly following your own rules of order can you feel a sense of stability and security. I dislike very much the uncertainty and disorder that comes with deviations from routine.
Flights of academic and intellectual fantasy I tend, however, to love very much. I live for them. But uncertainty in my physical world, in my schedule, in my routine, in my life – unpredictability of experience rather than uncertainty of intellect – makes me as nervous as freely wrestling with irreconcilable philosophical questions turns me on.
The Wheel is about accepting that there is no more certainty in the experiences of life than there is in the great philosophical issues of humanity. I need to learn to bring my comfort for uncertainty – the single greatest factor allowing for the freedom of agnosticism to calm my existential nerves – in truth to the table when it comes to accepting uncertainty in experience.
One more thing, and then cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye, I promise to try and find a way to write a blog post in the future without mentioning Joan Didion. But I’m entering my Didion phase, as a writer, and I love her.
In the beginning of the Netflix documentary of her life, which I’ve seen way too many times but cannot seem to stop watching, there is a quote.
It comes from her essay “Staking out California,” from her collection of zeitgeist essays “Slouching Toward Bethlehem,” and it goes like this:
“If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary to come to terms with disorder.”
That feels so completely like the yellow wood in which I now stand, where two roads diverge and I’m being asked to choose, either to live forward or stay put. I want so, so much to go on.
But to go on requires acceptance of the atomization of my life. And I’m trying to devise a way to disintegrate positively, rather than fall apart. I’m trying to figure out how to be the phoenix, rather than the ash.
If Joan can do it, I feel confident that so can I.