Tarot for the Modern Reader
The Wheel of Fortune,
The World and the Tetramporphs
The Wheel of Fortune, The World and the tetramorphs. What are tetramorphs? Well before we get too deep into this week's topic, let's start at the beginning. How often have you, as a reader, noticed the similarities between the Wheel of Fortune and The World cards?
The Obvious Similarities in The Wheel of Fortune and The World
The coloring of the original cards are closely similar, a nice light to medium blue background. They both feature a cyclical concept in their interpretation and even their design, the Wheel of Fortune featuring the wheel of course, and The World also featuring a closed circle. Lastly, they both feature fantastical beasts. But, upon closer inspection, we see that each of these cards feature some of the SAME fantastic beasts!
Now while the Wheel of Fortune and The World card both feature creatures, the Wheel of Fortune actually features a few additional ones, the Egyptian god Anubis who was a jackal-headed man, a sphinx and even a serpent. But those tales are for another day. The beasts we're talking about that appear on both cards, in exactly the same location on both, are the Tetramorphs.
What are Tetramorphs
Firstly, a definition. Tetra (four) morph (forms). When scholars discuss the Tetramorph, they are talking about one beast whose takes on the characteristics of each of these four, hence the "morph" part of its name. We'll get to that. Here we have four forms.
The information on the tetramorphs itself has "morphed" over the years. Like many other things, once Christianity was involved, it changed somewhat. Christians applied this to the 4 evangelists and their gospels. We'll cover that too.
I've read discussions where tarotists are trying to figure out which beast goes with which astrological sign. Here they are: Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius. The fixed signs of the zodiac. People are often confused which is which. Like the Cardinal Virtues and their respective cards, some are obvious, others, not so much.
The obvious ones, starting in the lower left, are the Ox, the sacred animal of Taurus (Taurus the Bull), followed counterclockwise on the bottom right by Leo the Lion. Making our way up to the top right, we have our next sign, Scorpio, followed lastly by Aquarius in the upper left. Confused by those last two?
Most people think of the Scorpion as the animal totem for Scorpio, or even a snake. That's because Scorpio is the only sign in the zodiac to have multiple creatures who evolve. The eagle, is one of the mightiest forms of Scorpio, second only to the Phoenix. Aquarius, the water-bearer, a menal air sign, is represented by the head of a man. So now you know what the signs are, but why?
Astrological Signs on The Wheel of Fortune and The World
So why do we feature the 4 fixed signs and in a chronological counter-clockwise order? Oh this is the part that delights me the most I must confess! If you have ever seen a horoscope wheel than you will understand what I explain, if you haven't, look at the one pictured below. In a perfect chart, it's divided into 12 equal "houses" like a pie. This is your astro 101 lesson for the day haha.
Taurus rules the second house in astrology (there are 12). It is positioned in roughly the bottom left corner of the horoscope wheel when you look at it. The first house sits dead left (9 o'clock on the dot) and they move around counterclockwise, until the 12th meets it and the circle is complete.
So Leo is the ruler of the 5th house, which is positioned in the bottom right of the horoscope wheel, and where we see Leo's emblem, The Lion situated on the cards. Then of course at this point you know what's next, with Scorpio in the eight and Aquarius in the 11th and we are nearly back to the beginning again. So they are perfectly arranged not only in astrological order around the card, but also perfectly lining up with their respective native territories in the chart.
Why The Wheel of Fortune and The World Feature the FIXED Signs
So here we get into the WHEN of astrology. Amongst the 12 signs and corresponding houses, everything is laid out rather symmetrically and mathematically. Each of the 12 signs has a ruling planet and a house it rules. For example, Taurus is the ruler of the second house and they are ruled by the planet Venus. You see how this works.
As you likely know, just like in Tarot, there are four energies, Fire, Earth, Air and Water. So these too, move around the 12 houses, there are 3 of each. For example the 3 water signs are Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces. Now to add that one last piece to the puzzle, not to make your head spin, we have the 3 modalities, Cardinal signs, Fixed signs and Mutable signs.
Our tetramorphs fall in the Fixed signs, which is every FOURTH sign starting with the second (Taurus the Bull). Because there are 3 modalities and 4 elements, we get each of the 4 fixed signs (and cardinal and mutable too) in each of the 4 elements.
So it's a 3x4 matrix with no two combinations repeating for a total; of 12 signs. Taurus is the sign for fixed earth. Leo is the sign for fixed fire, Scorpio is the sign for fixed water and Aquarius is the sign for fixed air. You may have heard these signs called stubborn! The secret to why the Tetramorphs are of the 4 fixed signs?
The Sabbats in The Wheel of Fortune and The World Cards
The Sabbats? Yup. Sure we know the Wheel of Fortune can often refer to the "turning of the wheel" or "turning of the year" in pagan or other similar religions or beliefs, but those occur in cardinal signs! Right? Yes. And no. They do NOW. But when we trace all the way back to the Taurian Age, when these beasts were first constructed, we find that the Sabbats actually occurred in the FIXED signs.
So now, we celebrate the Summer Solstice mid July as the Sun enters the cardinal sign of Cancer. But thanks to progressions over long periods of time, the Sun actually USED to reach the Summer Solstice in the fixed sign of Leo. Doesn't that actually make more sense? Leo is the sign it rules and shines brightest in! Cancer is actually home to the Moon. And of course the other three signs follow suit around the cards.
The Cyclical Energy of The Wheel of Fortune and The World Cards
So as we know, these cards are linked to cyclical energy. But they display different lengths of time and end results. Again, The Wheel of Fortune is specifically associated with the sabbats and the idea that the wheel is always turning. This is more of a short term energy. The wheel is indeed always turning, so what goes up must come down, and vice versa.
While this card is generally positive and optimistic (as it should be, it's ruled by lucky, expansive Jupiter) it doesn't always guarantee a positive outcome. It denotes a change in circumstances, a turn in luck from where you are currently. But no matter where you are, with The Wheel you will eventually come back around again, nothing is set in stone.
With The World card, the energy is far more stable. This process is more long term. This is the last card in the Major Arcana, denoting that when you reach this point, you "have arrived". You have achieved your goal and reached the summit. But what is left? Start again. Either with something new, or on a new cycle of growth within the same situation. So while it is indeed still cyclical, it is also quite stable.
I read that the Wheel of Fortune is like a ride on the Ferris Wheel. You go up. You go down. Sometimes you may even go backwards. But you are constantly transitioning from high to low and your view is also constantly changing. While The World card is more like a turn on the carousel. You are constantly moving in a circle, but you are not on the roller coaster of up and down anymore. You cruise around at a stable level and get a 360 degree view of all that is around you.
Reversed Implications of the Cyclical Energy of the Wheel of Fortune and The World
It's also worth mentioning that the Wheel, being ruled by Jupiter, is predominantly more positive than negative, though it could show a turn in favor either way. However if you read reversals and draw the Wheel reversed, it likely symbolizes a downturn in favor.
Similarly, a reversed World card, (ruled by taskmaster Saturn) indicates that while you are close, you have not yet completed all of your requirements to reach the peak or summit, or the completion of your task. You have not yet closed the circle.
Where the Tetramorphs Came From
So we are now clear on why we have these forms on our cards, and from an astrological perspective, what they mean, how they relate to the "sabbats" which is a bigger part of the interpretation of these cards that they are cyclical. But who created "tetramorphs" and for what purpose? Why do we have THOSE on our cards rather than just the astrological glyphs?
To be very clear, The World card has only the head of each beast, however they are still thought to be considered the tetramorphs as they are still featured in clouds as they are in The Wheel card, and with the same uncommon symbols such as the eagle and head of a man.
The true tetramorph is actually a configuration of all four of these beasts into one. They are the Cherubim, which protected the Mesopotamian/Babylonian Tree of Life, that which spawned other Trees such as the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. The Cherubim were ancient protectors, closely related to the sphinx (also seen on The Wheel of Fortune). There were four of these beasts, each with four faces, one of the bull, the lion, the eagle and the man.
The Christian Version of the Tetramorphs
These beasts were then "discovered" by the Hebrew prophet Ezekial who claimed this vision:
"As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle"
Later they are described in the Revelation of John:
"And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle."
These beasts were associated with the four evangelists who spread the word of God. We have the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Sound familiar? We then have the coordinating events, the Incarnation, the Resurrection, the Passion and the Ascension.
Matthew is the Winged Man and Incarnation. Mark is The Winged Lion and the Resurrection, Luke is the Winged Ox and the Passion, and John is the Winged Eagle and the Ascension. These tetramorphs are the christian symbols of the four evangelists.
Other Final Associations of the Tetramorphs of the Wheel of Fortune and The World
Lastly, there are a myriad of other ways the tetramorph is important, but they are far deeper than this post can go. While they are each associated with the four elements of the Tarot (fire, water, earth and air) they are also related to the Kabaalistic name for God, YHVH or that which is unutterable. They are also related to and used in ceremonial magick of the Golden Dawn as well as in freemasonry.
This quartet is quite magically significant and no surprise given what it symbolizes that it would show up on these two cards. Jupiter, the ruler of the Wheel of Fortune is quite a fortunate planet for magic that involves manifestation of any kind. Growing energy. Jupiter is all about luck and expansion, and is associated with Thursdays. The World however, ruled by Saturn, is quite the opposite, and the tetramorph is most notably used in the Lesser Banishing ritual. Banishing magic is best done on Saturday, Saturn's day. See the connections?
The Wrap Up of The Wheel of Fortune and The World
So that was a lot of details! I hope you feel like you know the Wheel and the World cards very intimately at this point, how they are similar yet also what makes them vastly different. In a nutshell, they are both cyclical energy. The Wheel is constantly turning, it is short term and a change of luck is often predicted. While The World card indicates the long term cycle is coming to a close and you have reached the summit of a situation. A new one will soon be starting.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic, it is very rich in details, and I'd love to answer any questions you may have about the cards or the tetramorphs on them. You can join the discussion over in our facebook group Tarot for the Modern Reader. See you there!
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I'm Liza, professional Tarot reader, writer and mentor, and this is Tarot Liza. Everyday we're working to bring our mission of delivering more value and Tarot education to the Modern Reader to life! Welcome! Read more...
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