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Tarot and the Law of Cycles

How the Wheel of Fortune points you toward success

One of the most beguiling cards in the Tarot deck is the Wheel of Fortune. It shows animals, sometimes of a mythical nature, sometimes of a recognizable one, rising and falling on a rotating wheel. It is an archetypal image in the Western mind.

The Wheel of Fortune captures an important principle about the fundamentally cyclical nature of life. It harbors a cosmic truth that can come to your rescue.

In essence, all of life is subject to a Law of Cycles, which dictates that events within and without you flow like the seasons. The Hermeticists and the Transcendentalists understood that if you want to glean the laws under which we live — including those laws that govern your psyche as well as your day-to-day existence — study the revolutions of nature. As go the tides, the seasons, and the circuitous motions of celestial objects, so goes your life. “As above, so below,” taught the late-ancient Hermetic work the Emerald Tablet.

What can this teach you about daily living? The revolutions of the Wheel of Fortune in Tarot tell you to purposefully stand in your place. If you are earnestly and diligently working, training, drilling, rehearsing, preparing, and doing your labor, the Wheel of Fortune dictates that, eventually and inevitably, the cyclical law of rise and fall will reach you right where you are standing. In time, this law will lift your fortunes in their desired direction. “An assumption,” wrote mystic Neville Goddard, “though false, if persisted in, will eventually harden into fact.”

Reversals are also part of this law. Any gambler or statistician can tell you about “runs of luck.” Runs always reverse. So be careful. The flipping of a two-sided object must eventually even out, for good or ill, depending upon your perspective. Three good hits in a row presage a near-definite reversal.

But there is a way of “tricking” the Law of Cycles. People often complain that their schools or workplaces are not meritocracies; that life just isn’t fair. And they are right — to a point. I have personally, and sometimes frustratingly, witnessed feckless or mediocre people survive or even thrive in competitive situations. But this happens only if they manage to stick around long enough. The Law of Cycles, or the Wheel of Fortune, eventually works in their favor. On a related note, it is a peculiar feature of life, and particularly of career, art, and culture, that failures are often forgotten in the midst of successes. In terms of public perception, one success can mitigate a lot of failures. This is because people sense, without fully knowing why, that a success will strike again. They want to be there when it does. This gives you a hint of how to “outsmart” the Law of Cycles.

If a mediocre person, by just sticking around, can experience success in unexpected (though lawful) hours, imagine how much greater a success you can personally experience if you stick around as a figure of excellence. A truly prepared and driven person is vastly more primed to reap the fruits of an upturn in the Law of Cycles than a merely mediocre one.

And, as alluded, while downturns are equally inevitable, they are more often forgotten. Successes linger. This is why an artist, entrepreneur, campaign manager, or general can build his or her reputation on a single success, no matter how many reversals preceded or followed it. It happened to Winston Churchill, albeit on an epic scale. He made horrendous military blunders in World War I in Turkey, which took of the lives of literally tens of thousands of Allied soldiers. Considered inept in domestic politics, the wartime leader was voted out of office immediately following World War II. But Churchill’s success as the desperately needed hero of World War II lingers. On a more humdrum note, the same phenomena happens to apathetic Mike in the accounting department who dines out year after year on having once saved the company money (and who may also have an indulgent boss).

When you encounter the Wheel of Fortune in Tarot, based on whatever deck you use, you are being reminded of life’s lawful inevitabilities, and the imperative to prepare for them. The message is: remain on course; or, if things are going beautifully, prepare for winter. But one thing the card doesn’t reveal, at least explicitly, is that the purposeful and aware individual can “ride” these cycles, knowing that the apex will always again come into sight.

This is why Churchill told a group of boarding school students at his alma mater Harrow in 1941: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

This might sound like typical English bluster, but the leader recognized a greater truth to which he alluded in the same speech: “You cannot tell from appearances how things will go.” This is because appearances, like everything in nature and in life, are constantly and lawfully changing.

Understand that, and you will have gleaned a core part of the wisdom of the Wheel of Fortune.

(This article originally appeared in the quarterly journal of the Los Angeles Metaphysical Library, Summer 2019.)

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