In medieval myths and tales the Wheel became an analogy for the ‘shadowy and veiled’ qualities Fate and Fortune, which can elevate buffoons, advance crooks, sadden the benevolent and cast down thebrave. Fickle Fortunae is the goddess who turns the Wheel. Following medieval convention, Fortunae is often drawn larger than life to demonstrate her greater significance and importance over human beings. Illustrations of Fortunae are often designed to emphasize duality and instability of Fate. The goddess could be drawn with two faces either side-by-side, or back-to-back – and usually with one black, one white, one smiling and one scowling. Similarly her clothing may be divided between dark and light, ragged and opulent.
 Richard Leighton Greene. s.v. "Fortune." Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Vol.3, Joseph R Strayer, ed. New York: Scribner's, 1983. pp. 145-147.
A position on top of The Wheel signified opportunities for emerging circumstances of personal abundance and mastery, and for wellbeing, happiness and leisure. A position on a down-turning Wheel represented increasing difficulties. With the descent to the bottom, the hapless individual encountered pain and misfortune.
In medieval illustrations of Fortunae’s Wheel, the rim typically depicted four human figures which identified the four "stages" of the self. The figure rising on the left is usually depicts the concept ‘I shall reign’, the figure sitting at the top is often crowned and infers ‘I reign’. The figure on the right of the rim is descending signifying ‘I have reigned’; and the struggling figure at the lowest point of the Wheel means ‘I have no kingdom’. As goddess Fortuna turned the Wheel the unhappy figure clutching at the bottom of The Wheel may once again ascend their position and circumstance in life, and all would be well . Sometimes, however, the unfortunate soul in this lowest position of the Wheel appeared to have been thrown outward or crushed under Wheel’s size and weight.
As a Tarot trump card, The Wheel of Fortune X appeared in Italy around 1440. It is believed to symbolise ‘Rota Fortunae’ (Latin for wheel of fate) representing the turbulent and cyclical nature of fate; and the prosperity and adversity that can befall any person, at the turn of Fortunae's Wheel of Fortune.
Martha Adams © 2021-8-4
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