Wheels of Becoming

One of my favourite Tarot spreads from a metaphysical meditative point of view is Barbara G. Walker’s Wheels of Becoming. These are basically two loops forming a figure 8 or – on its side – the infinity sign. Using only the 21 cards of the Major Arcana they represent the infinite and cyclical nature of existence.

Barbara G Walker, author of “The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets”, placed the origins of the Tarot in India and more specifically the Tantric Tradition. As I understand it key concepts of Tantra spirituality include:

* cyclical time frame
* infinite life cycles
* rebirth / reincarnation
* half of an individual life cycle is spent in life and half in death before being born again
* balance through complementary female-male union (Shakti – Shiva)
* oneness of natural / physical and spirit world, i.e. the Goddess is immanent in all existence (animate and inanimate) and thus all existence contains a spiritual, divine essence or energy.

These are the underlying principles of the Wheels of Becoming.

Tarot - Wheels of Becoming

The starting point of the journey is of course card #0 – The Fool. It lies just after the crossover point of the two loops on the right-hand or clockwise circle.

The right-hand or clockwise loop follows the path of the sun and represents the outward energy of the manifested cycle. It is the cycle of birth into the natural world where energy is contained within a body. It represents outwardness, outbreath, expansion, birth and life. It is the Yang cycle of action and activity. From the point of view of a path to enlightenment this loop represents the outward focus along the journey, the learning of the tools required to achieve enlightenment.

The clockwise loop is lead by #1 – The Magician who is marked with an infinity sign above her head.

The card at the crossover point from right-hand to left-hand loop, a point of standstill, is card #10 – The Wheel of Fortune.

The left-hand or counter-clockwise loop is lead by #11 – Strength, a card that in modern decks has often been exchanged for #8 – Justice. Like the Magician the Strength card is also marked with an infinity sign.

The counter-clockwise loop follows the path of the moon and represents the release of energy from the manifested back to the unmanifested universal energy source, the Goddess. It is the cycle of death and the spirit world. It represents inwardness, inbreath, contraction, death and regeneration. It is the Yin cycle of rest and healing. From the point of view of a path to enlightenment this loop represents the inward focus of reflection along the journey, the rite of intitiation and the ultimate ego-death required to achieve enlightenment.

The crossover card that is laid over The Wheel of Fortune is #21 – The World, leading on to a new cycle with the innocent Fool.

The most interesting aspect of the Wheel of Becoming is that each card in each loop has a corresponding card in the other. The numbers of the two corresponding cards always add up to 20 with exception of the “last” card, #21 – The World. The additional 1 represents rebirth and the return to the clockwise cycle of life with the Goddess giving birth to Her children in the natural world and unmanifested energy becomes yet again contained within a physical body.

The corresponding cards are as follows:

Tarot - Major Arcana relationships

The two loops of the Wheels of Becoming, the principles behind them and the corresponding relationships between the cards on the two loops underlay my exploration of the Sacred Goddess-Inspired Tarot.

Introduction to Goddess-Inspired Tarot

Like astrology the Tarot cards play an important part in most of today’s Western mystery traditions. Simply looking at the 78 picture cards with their ancient symbolism touches a hidden memory deep inside. Some use the cards for self-development and healing while for others they are powerful tools for divination or fortune-telling.

The true history and origin of the Tarot cards is unknown, although we do know that they are the forerunner of today’s standard playing card decks.

There are two quite divided camps with regard to the Tarot’s origins. On the one hand, and I believe this group to be in the majority, there are those people who believe the cards to be around 500 years old. The earliest deck found was in Italy dating back to the 1500s. This was the time of the Italian Renaissance when astrology was still considered a true science and numerology was an exciting new development. Nonetheless the symbolism on the cards feels much older than 16th century christianised Europe. This is exactly the argument of the second group of people who believe that the origins of the Tarot is thousands of years old dating back far into pre-Christian times. Some have suggested that the origins are ancient Egyptian while others believe the secret of the cards was carried by gypsies in oral form all the way from India.

My personal guess is that both groups are partially correct. Having studied ancient Goddess symbolism I recognise these in modern Tarot cards. The wisdom contained in the cards is no doubt much older than 500 years and likely reaches back tens of thousands of years into humanity’s earliest days. It is interesting that the earliest deck found dates back to the witch-burning times. It’s quite possible – as has been suggested by others – that some Pagan and / or other Mystery groups (such as the Knights Templars, Gnostic sects, kabbalistic Jews etc) decided to hide their wisdom within the images that on first glance might even appear Christian in spirit.

Since these early decks, however, the cards and the arrangement of the so-called Major Arcana has changed. The most famous modern deck is the Rider / Waite deck which was commissioned by A.E. Waite in the early 20th century and drawn by Pamela Coleman Smith. Mr. Waite was a member of the London-based secret mystic group “The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn”. Now, the Order of the Golden Dawn is clearly linked to the Freemasons who have always and still do use ancient Goddess symbolism within their secret society. Incidentally, the same is true for Gardnerian Wicca, which due to Gerald Gardner having been a Mason also includes many of the aspects found within Freemasonry. Why Freemasons use Goddess symbolism within their all-male club is anyone’s guess (and much speculation has been made about that!), but that’s another story altogether.

The other major Tarot deck of the early 20th century is Aleister Crowley’s Thoth set, which due to his belief that the Tarot cards originated in ancient Egypt has an Egyptian theme. Like Gardner he also had connections to the Freemasons, which explains his fascination with ancient Egyptian rites. Also, it is interesting to note that the Egyptian god Thoth was the equivalent to the Greek Hermes.

With the Golden Dawn-Freemasonry-Goddess symbolism connection it is difficult to say how exactly the ancient symbols found their way into the cards. Were they placed there recently by those privy to ancient mysteries preserved within secret societies? Or did someone during the times of the witch trials attempt to preserve the ancient wisdom of the Goddess by hiding Her symbols and secrets within a deck of cards? Either way, there they are: after all those many years of being forbidden and even persecuted, the Goddess and Her sacred mysteries continue to exist even today hidden in plain sight in the images of the 78 cards of the Tarot.

Alongside and with assistance of the many amazing Goddess-inspired women-oriented Tarot decks already in existence, this blog will aim to add to the all-important un-covery of the sacred mysteries and womanlore of the Tarot. Over the course of the next few months we will look at each of the 21 cards of the Major Arcana and reveal their inherent Goddess symbolism and origins. Together we will join the innocent Fool on her journey of discovery and her ultimate return to the Goddess, the immanent Mother of all Existence.