In the first part of this blog I looked at the symbolism of the Wheel of Fortune card in the Tarot. The card – which falls mid-way in the sequence of the major arcana – has strong links with the final card in the sequence – the World card. In this latter card, once again we see the ‘four living creatures’ presiding over the illustrative symbols, much as they did in the Wheel card, being depicted in the four corners of the image (see above). The four creatures (ox, lion, eagle and man/angel) appear on several occasions in the Bible, usually accompanying the dramatic arrival of God on His throne. But, as discussed, the imagery of these creatures may pre-date the Bible’s composition, having links with middle-Eastern astrology, in which they are associated with the four fixed signs of the zodiac (Aquarius, Taurus, Leo and Scorpio) and also the four elements (ox/earth/salt, lion/fire/sulphur, eagle/water/mercury, angel/air/water). Thus they are elemental forces, and their positioning in the four corners of both the Wheel and the World cards of the tarot reflects this – they dominate literally the four corners of the world and usher in to it their all-powerful impulses and sustaining energies.
However, though this may refer on one level to the physical globe spinning on its axis in a vast universe – it can also relate metaphorically to ‘the world within’, the world (or worlds) which we make and re-make constantly in our own psyches as we progress through earthly existence. As mentioned in the last blog, the Wheel card (usually signifying a major change of fortune, often positive, but sometimes not, depending on the individual in question and his or her situation, as well as on surrounding cards) is followed in the sequence of the major arcana by Justice. It is the lady of Justice who, in a sense, determines what comes of changes in fortune ushered in by the Wheel, or who passes judgement on what the individual chooses to make of them. The World card, on the other hand, is preceded by the Judgement card. In this card (see below) the image clearly recalls the Biblical day of Judgement when the dead rise in order to greet their resurrection in the spirit. Judgement is very much a card of revelation, of facing the consequences of past actions at the end of a cycle. And so we return to the World card.
The naked figure in the World card appears to be female, though some dispute this, pointing out that the purple sash with which the body is draped hides the genitals, leaving open the possibility that this figure is, in fact, hermaphrodite. Whatever the case, the purple colour of the sash is significant, since it combines the spirituality and wisdom of blue/violet with the vitality and passion of red. The figure also holds a wand (or rod) in each hand: the duality of power and evolution working in symbiotic balance. The woman is dancing within an oval-shaped wreath of laurel – symbolic of victory – which is tied at top and bottom with red ribbons in the shape of a figure of eight, signifying infinity and endless movement. She dances with one foot planted firmly on the earth, the other lifted up in a movement of spiritual release. Poised within her oval wreath, she resembles the familiar image of the Hindu god Shiva, engaged in his ceaseless cosmic dance (Shiva is often depicted within a ouroboros – the snake or dragon eating its own tail, symbol of never-ending universal energy and its regenerative power). The oval wreath also calls to mind the figure zero. Zero is the number of the Fool card in the major arcana sequence, a card which may be placed either at the beginning of the sequence or at its end. The Fool represents the untrammelled soul, at the outset of its journey. Here, the appearance of the zero-like laurel wreath points to the completion of that journey, or cycle of experience – always with the implication that a new one will inevitably begin. Thus, the World card speaks of the wonders of endless regeneration, the never-ending journey of the soul, through life and beyond.
In ‘The Glass Citadel’, a novel which achieves its structure through the use of the Tarot’s symbolism, the World card makes an appearance as the four protagonists, having survived the trauma of the Tower (cataclysmic destruction) and the resultant Judgement, prepare to leave their outmoded youth behind and to embark on the adventure of adult life. Paige examines the cryptic bell on the old cottage (a setting used in the previous book, ‘On the Edge of Wild Water’, and discussed in the first part of this blog) and attempts to explain its meaning to Luke. It occurs to me that the bell combines and reflects several elements of the major arcana, melding the revelation (or the Word of God) inherent in the Judgement card – also its sense of release – with the culminant power of the World card.
A final thought on my bell. As discussed previously, the bell’s central position between two lamps, topped by inward-facing eagles in flight, is interesting. Of course, it makes a visually pleasing arrangement over and about the door. It also, perhaps, echoes a piece of Greek mythology. It is said that Zeus, wishing to locate the centre of the world, released two eagles in opposite directions from the top of Mount Olympus. Where they met would define this global nucleus (the World card?). The place was Delphi (or Pytho), established seat of the Oracle, and also the focus of Apollo-worship. The God was reputed to speak through the Oracle, who issued her fantastic prophecies (the voice of the bell?) on critical matters of the utmost gravity. But that’s another story…