X. 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)

For us men and for our salvation he came
down from heaven: by the power of the Holy
Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin
Mary, and was made man… he ascended into
heaven and is seated at the right hand of the
(from the Creed)

“And I applied my mind to know wisdom
And to know madness and folly,
I perceived that this also is
but a striving after wind.
For in much wisdom is much vexation.
And he who increases knowledge increases
(Ecclesiastes i, 17-18)

“Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.”
(Matthew v, 4)

Involution/Evolution vs. The Drama of the Fall and Redemption

In his initial approach to this Arcanum, our anonymous author contrasts the evolutionary understanding of existence with that of the Fall and suggests that The Wheel illustrates the descent of man from the human to the animal (referring to the “monkey” on the left side of the card) and the aspiration of the animal world towards its lost humanity (referring to the “dog” on the right side of the card).  The sphynx, at the top of the card, is associated with the union of the human and animal kingdoms–the stage away from which the monkey is moving and toward which the dog is approaching.  The theory of evolution, he goes on to say, by abandoning formal and final causality, is left with only half of the circle– the ascent of man, so to speak –and, therefore, (as a theory) remains unintelligible to human thought:

“. . . the unintelligibility for human thought of the theory (not the facts!) of evolution advanced by science nevertheless remains a fact.  It is and always will be unintelligible in so far as it takes consideration of only half of the whole circle of evolution, and refuses to accept the other half of the circle, that of involution, or the Fall, which would make it intelligible” (235).

But moving beyond the occult platitude of “involution and evolution” construed as a purely natural, semi-automatic process, our anonymous author argues that

“the Hermetic, Biblical, and Christian tradition sees here a cosmic tragedy and drama…

Reminiscent of Letter 4 (82-83), he compares this drama to that of the prodigal son–and reminiscent of Letter 9 (225), he draws a contrast between the experience of the passengers on a boat and that of the captain, officers, and crew.  The attitude and experience of the passengers are exoteric, while that of the officers and crew are esoteric (237).  Mere passengers are unconscious of the effort, struggle, and risks involved in the journey.  Likewise, had there been 10 righteous men in Sodom– 10 “spiritually selected” men –the city would have survived, despite the wickedness of the remainder of the population who, like passengers on a ship, were ignorant of the drama that was unfolding around them.

A Myth of Creation and the Fall:  The Open Spiral vs. The Closed Circle 

The seventh day is not of the world and the movement of the world…

…it was the open part of the circle giving access to the Father (immobile/silent) to the beings of the world.

…the serpent represents this opening as outside interference that restricts our freedom…

…the serpent takes his tale in his mouth and with great force  generates a (swirling) closed circle…

Adam and Eve and the creatures that Adam had named were caught up in that closed circle…

But the woman guarded the memory of the world open to the Father and the holy sabbath…

She offered herself to give birth to children issuing from beyond the closed circle…

Thus originated sorrow and suffering in this world…   Suffering is the counter-movement to that of the serpent…

The sons of the woman walked with God and introduced innitiation and prophesy into the world….

The Buddhas taught the way of going out from the world and arriving at the repose of the sabbath…

The prophets proclaimed the transformation of the world from within by the coming of the Word through the Woman-Virgin…

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.


The open circle of the world of the Word is the world before the fall…  It is the antechamber to eternity and suggests unlimited growth and advancement… (240).  The closed circle of the world of the serpent is a prison that suggests eternal repetition…  Three historical figures have portrayed the idea of the cosmic wheel or closed circle:  The Buddha, Solomon, and Nietzsche.

The Buddha

[241] The revelation under the Bodhi-tree:

  1. The  world is a wheel of birth and death.
  2. The movement of the wheel is suffering.
  3. There is a way to the center which is at rest.

[242, 244]  The Buddha correctly diagnoses the problem and institutes an exit strategy.


Solomon experienced the wheel of the world as an inexorable fate rendering all human hope and endeavor vain (241).  He portrays the world without Christ–without regard to the fact that “above the wheel of vanity there is God” (242).


Nietzsche– “monstrously” –saw the closed circle and identifying it with eternity, sang of it…   One may look for scientific evidence for eternal recurrence in the idea that any finite combination of atoms must eventually recur and in the  idea of the conservation of energy (242-243)  If this were all there is to it– if there world were, indeed, a closed circle –it would be a cosmic hell.  But the good news of religion teaches otherwise…

From the stand point of pure thought (Leibniz), the world appears  to be “a perfect arrangement of equilibrium, a harmonious functioning of its essential parts–despite what may take place in its more obscure nooks and crannies…”  From the standpoint of pure will (Schopenhauer),  the diagnosis of the Buddha (that life is suffering) is confirmed.  From the standpoint of the heart, however– the standpoint of the Judaeo-Christian tradition –the world (the birth of which must have been due to perfect health) is sick.  The problem of the Fall arises because “the world is worthy of being sung for and wept for at the same time…” (245).

Science conflates these “two worlds”, designating them as the “two faces of nature” (benign and cruel at the same time; stubborn and cooperative; wise and blind; benevolent and malevolent).  But hermeticism regards the “nature” of science as the field where the world of the Word and the world of the serpent meet.  The world of the serpent is the world within the World which gave rise to the dualism of Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and certain gnostic schools.  To avoid their mistake, we must distinguish between virginal Nature and fallen Nature.  [246]

The most general characteristic of the world of the serpent is enfoldment (cf. the brain and intestines).  The most general characteristic of the created world, is unfoldment, blossoming, and radiation (246-247 – cf. the foliage, branches, and flowers of plants; the shining of the sun).

The traditional designation of these two tendencies are “light” and “darkness” — radiation and enfoldment, respectively (247).

“Now. the world of the serpent is that of enfoldment. The serpent biting his tail and thus forming a closed circle is its symbol. Completely successful enfoldment would be hell or the state of complete isolation.

“But complete enfoldment or accomplished isolation has in no way succeeded in the world. The history of so-called “natural” evolution traces for us a tableau of successive attempts— none of which have been successful —aiming at establishing through complete enfoldment a viable organism with an absolutely autonomous consciousness, without falling prey to madness. . . . the history of the evolution of living organisms is that of the triumph of the principle of association and cooperation over that of dissociation and isolation” (247).

Human beings, with our enfolded brain (cerebral intellectuality) are children of the serpent (248-249), but the serpent is not the only magical agent:

Now, centuries of experience show that there is not only another agent and another magic, but also that 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 Master of sacred magic, the greatest thaumaturgist of history, but rather a dove.

John bore witness: 1 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 at 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 of Bethasda, 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, nor was cerebral intellectuality the source of their initiative. The agent here is the dove, i.e. the Spirit which is above the brain, above the head, and which descends upon the head and remains there — the Spirit which transcends cerebral intellectuality. This Spirit is the source of initiative and, simultaneously, is the agent and instrument of divine or sacred magic” (250).

Thus, it seems that this great, new magical agent, the dove, is called to replace the ancient magical agent the serpent. While, at first, there was to be found in the serpent only the principle of cerebration, cerebral intellectuality, and the principle of enfoldment (the tendency too form closed circles), the work of the serpent has been spiritualized by the light which shines in darkness:

“For the reality and entirety of evolution consists on the one hand of the enfolding activity of the serpent, which has formed the brain and produced cerebral intellectuality, and on the other hand of the activity of the light from above, which opens the enfolded and illumines cerebral intellectuality. The serpent and the dove: these are, in the last analysis, the factors underlying the whole process of evolution. If you were to ask me, dear Unknown Friend, if one has to choose and take the side of either the serpent or the dove, my reply would be in the framework of the Master’s counsel:

Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew x, 16),

“i.e. that one should try to unite cerebral intellectuality with spiritual spontaneity. It is certainly necessary to think in articulated thoughts and in a discursive manner, but above this process of discursive thought there always soars the ideal! It is in the light of the ideal that one should think” (251).

“All renunciation of concrete things— such as wealth, power, health and even life —for an ideal, bears witness to the trans-evolutionary and trans-cerebral reality of the nucleus of the human being.

“. . . complete evolution is the intersection of biological evolution and spiritual evolution.  The fact of the intersection of these two quite different domains is the reality of the Fall.

“The other term of the cosmic drama with which we are occupied, and which is linked to that of the Fall, is redemption.

“We have said above that redemption is the “cosmic act of the Reintegration of the fallen world, first in creating an opening in its closed circle (religion, initiation, prophecy), then in instituting a path of exit (Buddhas) and entrance (Avatars) through this door, and lastly in transforming the fallen world from within by the radiation of the incarnated Word (Jesus Christ)”. [252]

“. . . one could summarise mankind’s spiritual history by describing its stages from the first opening of the closed circle of the serpent to the advent and blossoming of the “reign of God” within this circle. The stages in question are, therefore, the opening of the closed circle, the path of exit and entrance through this door, and the Incarnation of the Word. The first stage, that of the opening of the closed circle, makes way for the entrance of faith into incarnated mankind; the second brings it hope; the third kindles love within it, which is the active presence of divine life at the heart of the circle of the serpent.  All that mankind had been believing, had been hoping, has become reality in the present—this is the essence of the whole spiritual history of mankind in a single phrase” (253).

Our anonymous author proceeds, over the next few pages, to discuss the mechanism of evolution and the limitations of science in this regard.  He concludes on page 255 that there are three continuities in evolution:

  1. biological or hereditary (cf. destiny or fate)
  2. psychic or reincarnation (cf. will or freedom)
  3. spiritual or the work of salvation (cf. providence)

This line of thought is summed up as follows:

“Heredity, reincarnation and the work of salvation— reincarnation being the intermediary principle between the other two —therefore together constitute the cosmic drama of evolution” (256).

The Cosmic Drama

The cosmic drama unfolds as follows:

Created Animality => (d)evolved/degenerated animality => Elevated/Restored Animality

In the process, there is an alchemical transmutation of fallen/beastial instincts into their nonfallen protypes.  Our Anonymous Author distinguishes between the two by once again employing the convention of using the same word twice, juxtaposing the use of a word in all lower case letters to his use of the same word with the initial letter capitalized:

“eagle” vs. “Eagle” ~ “lion” vs. “Lion” ~  “bull” vs “Bull ~ “man” vs. “Man”

“The animality of divine origin is summarised by the four prototypes or kind of the holy Hayoth (Cherubim). These are: the Bull, the Lion, the Eagle and the Angel or Man [emphasis added].  And if one unites these four prototypes in one sole being, one obtains the ‘sphinx’. The sphinx is therefore the prototype-synthesis of holy animality, i.e. divine instinctivity, or the principle of spontaneous obedience to God. For ‘holy animality’ means nothing other than ‘spontaneous obedience to God’ or ‘divine instinct’. The other instincts are due to the evolution of the serpent” (257).

Thus it is said that:

  • The aggression, lightening attack, and rapaciousness of the “eagle” is transformed into an elevation of spirit and heart and the Divine inspiration of the “Eagle”.
  • The ferociousness/combativeness of the “lion” is transformed into the moral courage of the “Lion”.
  • The obsessive concentration/blinding rage of the “bull” is transformed into the productive concentration and deep meditation of the “Bull”.
  • The cold, heartless (“scientific”) “man” (with a propensity to cynicism/indifference) is transformed into the impartial, conscientious (angelic) observer, “Man”.

These transformations require the application of the law of the Cross to the inner animality of man’s psychic life.  The Eagle and the Bull are said to be vertical opposites (tendencies toward the heights and the depths), while the Angel and the Lion constitute the other pair of opposites on the cross of man’s instinctivity.  While it is unclear how, precisely, to illustrate this (especially with reference the fallen instincts described above), the following arrangement seems more or less consistent with the description on page 259:

…………..The Eagle + “to will” => The Eagle with constancy
………………………………………..……& perseverance of The Bull…
Angel      —-||—-      The Lion + “to dare”=> The Winged Lion (moral courage)
..………………|                                + “to know” => Spontaneous Certainty

…………..The Bull + “to be silent” => The Winged Bull (meditation/concentration)

At this point, we find that true will arises on another plane when our ordinary will is restricted by silence (“to be silent”).  Likewise, true knowledge and courage arises through the disciplining of impulsiveness by conscience (“to dare” and “to know”). [259]  Our anonymous author concludes this line of reasoning by observing once again that the sphinx represents the union of animality with humanity, even as he points out that the element which makes possible that union is missing from the card–the quentessential element which constitutes the term of our transcendence:

“Here is the principle of Hermetic asceticism over the millennia. It is based on the law of the Cross; its aim is the sphinx, which is animality united with humanity. It is clear that this is a very ancient teaching and that the tenth Arcanum goes back to ancient Hermeticism before our era; we are put into contact with the ideas of those who erected the sphinx and the pyramids. It is intrinsic evidence— not iconographic and historical evidence —which leads us to this conclusion. And what reinforces this, moreover, is what is missing from the tenth Card. It presents us the wheel of animality and the sphinx as the solution to the practical problem of animality. Now, a more profound and sustained analysis of the sphinx and of the whole context of the Card leads us inevitably to four animals and to all that this comprises: divine and fallen animality, the Fall and the Reintegration, the principle of practical asceticism, etc. All this can be amplified by the facts and knowledge that modern history, biology and psychology supply us with. But one essential thing is lacking from this Card — this is the ‘quinta essential’, the “fifth essence”—which would make the sphinx a reality for us, but which is not the sphinx itself. The active principle of the Cross —the “fifth essence”, without which the whole operation cannot be practised and would remain only knowledge and a hope—is not to be found indicated here. The sphinx figures here as the last solution or. rather, as the last enigma.

“The absence of a direct indication (for indirectly the whole Card relates to the enigma of the sphinx and, through this very fact, to the “fifth essence”) in the context of the Card of the principle of the New Adam, who is the “fifth essence”— as we know today equally in esotericism and exotericism — indicates the pre-Christian origin of the tenth Card. From the point of view of iconography it is clearly mediaeval (of the late Middle Ages), as all the other Cards are, but intrinsically it is older, notably pre-Christian” (260).

The Sanctuary of Everlasting Zones and the Reincarnation of the Tarot

The discussion of the origin of the tenth card and the distinction that is drawn between its medieval iconography and its intrinsic symbolism provides the occasion for discussing the origin of the Tarot which, he concludes, is not inherited (from ancient Egypt), but is the “Sacred Book of Thoth” reborn:

“. . . in the depths of the unconscious— which knocks at the door and wants to become conscious —there is present the ‘sanctuary of the everlasting zones’, where the ‘Sacred Book of Thoth’ remains deposited, from whence symbolic and Hermetic works are born, or reincarnate. The Tarot is such a work.

“The Tarot has its invisible prototype, and the function and mission of the Tarot is to elevate the soul to this original. This is why it is a system of spiritual exercises. It gives direction and an impulse to transcend cerebral intellectuality for the soul to penetrate into the “sanctuary of the everlasting zones” where the “holy symbols of the cosmic elements” remain” (263).

The idea of the Tarot, which (like all ideas) originally exists only immanently, in a given consciousness– not in a separate world of ideas –has, from time to time, been projected outwards (“engraved”), “incarnated in symbols and formula”.  Thus, it is present in potency in visibly written books (or cards) and in invisibly written books in “the sanctuary of everlasting zones” (spiritual monuments due to the operation of divine magic). [264]

Likewise, the whole world is said to be “a great book containing in potency the ideas of its creation and destiny expressed through the symbolism of facts” (264).  As such,  our anonymous author, along with other hermeticists, aspires to the totality of things–“the depth, the height and the breadth of comprehensive truth” (265).

“Come what may, I can only echo Jacob’s words:

I will not let you go until you have blessed me.”
(Genesis xxxii, 26)

MOTT Study Guides –> XI.  Force