Lady Luck and her Wheel of Fortune

Lady luck is is a phrase we use without much thought. She is often used with gambling, and decides the fate of those who are willing to risk their money for a fortune. It is incredible to think that so many of the gods from the ancients have disappeared  but for some reason lady luck has prevailed.

To understand its place in modern society we must cast our net of understanding back to the ancient Greeks. Moira is the personification of fate and she is made up of three sisters, collectively known as moirai. Clotho, were we get the word cloth from, spins the thread of life. The thread symbolises the fragile nature of our existence and what small part we play in the universe. As Clotho spins the thread Lachesis measures the length, decides before hand what our destiny is and how long our life is. Atropos would cut the thread, she would decided on the manner of a person death and what time it would come at. Her Roman equivalent is Morta, meaning Death.

The sickle that is used in portrayals of death during the middle ages is used to depict the harvesting of souls, and to cut their ‘thread’ of life.

Another Greek goddess that governed human affairs is Tyche. Her name essentially means ‘luck’, but her role is not always that of good she is equally bad as well. Nothing is left to chance everything is left to luck, and in this case Tyche. The Greeks and the Romans at the time were not particularly in favour of things occurring without side of someone’s or some-things control. The idea of chaos was a worrying thought, especially in stoic philosophy. We must remember that the world of the ancients was conceptually an entirely different place, they found it difficult to imagine a universe not governed by the gods, while for us in the 21st century the idea is commonplace. So the personification of fate seems to have had a very strong beginning, with numerous cults of Tyches springing up in the 4th Century. She retained a position that more of the traditional gods had declined in popularity.

The Moirai sisters became the three fates in Roman mythology, and Tyche became Fortuna.

Interestingly the coin flip we so often  use to make a distinction more than likely originates from the Romans, as their coins had Fortuna on the ‘Tails’ side and an emperors ‘Head’ on the other. The origin of the phrase heads or tails most likely refers to the top and bottom of an animal. In reference to coins the head is at the front, the desirable side and the tail of an animal or of someone’s coat is at the less desirable side. So we have a duality good and bad, and the coin flip is a perfect way for fortuna to decide for you.

Fortuna is often depicted with a wheel. As she spins the wheel ones fate changes, as we are symbolically tied to the wheel.

The four main stages of the wheel have different names. On the left the figure is regnabo (I shall reign), and on top of the wheel is regno (I reign).  On the right regnavi (I have reigned) and the at the bottom, the most unfortunate of all, sum sine regno (I am without a kingdom). The wheel is a popular symbol within world mythology, we have the wheel of Karma, which also turns deciding our fortune, and the solar wheel of Norse mythology which gives us the turning changes of the seasons and our fortunes.

During the Middle ages Rota Fortuna, the wheel of fortune was a very popular concept. One of my favourite depictions of it is in Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy. He depicts Fortuna and personifies Philosophy, all in all its a great read. It was a standard text in Medieval Universities and incorporated a lot of ideas from Plato and Aristotle. A famous poem from the 13th century depicts the cruel fate which Fortuna has decided form him in ‘O Fortuna’. Carl Orff used the poem in a piece of classical music, which has become so popular and so deeply ingrained into pop culture that it has become instantly recognisable.

Interestingly enough a Catherine wheel was used during the middle ages as a form of torture.The wheel of fortune being the last place were they seal their fate, or for that matter select it.

I am reminded of the role and importance that the wheel has played in technology. Not only does it symbolise one of the greatest and earliest of inventions, its use has played a crucial role in technology. The most notable example in history is the Spinning Jenny, invented in 1764 and kick started the industrial revolution in Britain. As a result the luddites rebelled again the success and replacement of manual labour with machines. The Spinning Jenny was quiet literally a wheel of fortune, it gave profits to the company’s owners and bad luck to the workers who were laid off. The wheel – technology – brings fortune to some and bad luck to others. There is a price to pay with this kind of progress. The Omega man (1971), a film adaptation of Robert Matheson’s ‘I am Legend’. It is set in a post apocalyptic city, in which a prophet rightly named Matthius, blames technology for the worlds disasters, calling the protagonist, a scientist played by Charlton Heston, ‘a user of the wheel’.The film deals with the misuse of technology and how it can be used to do good and bad.

Lady luck has in recent years has been featured in films, novels and in comic strips.She has remained popular and has managed to transform herself throughout time to adapt herself to our own culture. I imagine on of the reasons why she remains so popular is due the fact that everybody questions fate, when good or bad fortune strikes us. Lady luck personifies perhaps one of the greatest and oldest questions in philosophy: Do we have fate or do we have free will? Is everything a result of chance or of order. I’ll let you flip a coin on that one.

Christian Hand signs

We often find in iconography and in stained glass windows in churches, of saints and Jesus using certain hand gestures. There is two in particular that are used a lot.

Both of these have a particular meaning within Christianity, The hand gesture on the right is used for benediction, which translates from Latin to mean ‘speak well’. This is used at the end of church service as a prayer and blessing. I am sure you will have this this hand gesture used to make the symbol of the cross in church services. Pointing up – ‘In the name of the father’ – now pointing down – ‘The son’ – the hand now sweeps from left to right – ‘and the holy spirit, amen’. This hand gesture is known as the hand of Benediction. Unfortunately this is also a disability, in which the index finger and the middle finger are unable to move due to damage of the median nerve.

I would like to draw your attention to the the use of the fingers in the hand of Benediction.In Palmistry the hand is mapped out with each finger assigned a particular planet. In order to understand the symbolic references of the fingers used we need to take into account what the fingers mean.

As we can see in this diagram, the thumb is known as Venus, the index finger – Jupiter, The middle finger – Saturn, the ring finger – Apollo, the little finger – mercury. We can use our understanding of the Roman Gods to understand why Christians use this particular hand gesture. I suppose the irony here is that we are using paganism to explain Christianity, this interpretation is correct if this hand map is older than when Christianity started using the sign of Benediction. Notice the fingers used for this hand gesture, and notice the hand that is being used. The right hand, it is always the right hand. Why? I hear you ask. The ancient Greeks were particularly superstitious of the left hand and generally anything that on the left side. This spread throughout the Roman empire, as the Romans borrowed heavily from the Greeks for their culture. The left hand bias came with this. that is why we ‘w-right’, from left to right, when we are correct we are ‘right’. Our sense of liner time is from the left to the right. The right is in the future, it is part of our cultural heritage as a sign of progress. The left is the past, it is backwards and underdeveloped. This is why The right hand is used and why when giving Benediction it is from left to right with the right hand.

If we look at the hand of benediction we find that three digits are pointing up. They are pointing towards heaven, to God and symbolise the divine trinity. The tallest of the three fingers is the middle one – Saturn. If we understand the Roman Mythology is based on Greek mythology, we know that Chronos (Saturn) is the creator of the Titian’s, the old Greek Gods, who is the father of the second generation of Greek gods. Chronos and Gaia gave birth to Zeus (Jupiter), who is the son of Saturn. Aphrodite, (Venus) symbolises the divine feminine, as she is represented by the thumb. Which is lower down on the hand, and is unlike the other four fingers of the hand. By placing all the clues together we understand the hand of benediction like this; The father Saturn (Middle finger) represent the father, his son Jupiter (Index finger) represents the son. and the holy spirit is Venus, which is the divine female. As two becomes three. And the Child the index finger is in between the Father, the tallest/highest finger, and the mother, the lowest finger of the hand. The Father being father sky and the mother (Venus) being mother earth. And in between them both is their son. Jesus, in this case of the hand of benediction.

This hand represents the name of Jesus Christ. In Greek it is spelt ΙΗΣΟΥΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, written using the English alphabet we get “ΙΗϹΟΥϹ ΧΡΙϹΤΟϹ”. The first letter and the last letter of each word, from left to right is written as ICXC. This known as a christogram, and is the abbreviated form of Jesus Christ. In the picture above we get each letter symbolised by the each finger. Jupiter (index finger) is pointing up, representing I. The middle finger curved to represent C, Apollo and Venus, (the thumb and ring finger) join together to form an X. This could represent the joining of heaven and earth, the meeting of father sky and mother earth. The little finger, mercury, represents another C. In iconography and in numerous paintings, sculptures and windows, Jesus will use this hand gesture, and basically it means his name, Jesus Christ.

X Marks the Spot

It is often reported that ‘e’ is the most commonly used letter in the English alphabet. This is true when used for writing, but it is far from being popular as a symbol. ‘X’ or the ‘X mark’ is by far the most used letter in our language, and with it comes several different meanings. To refresh your mind let us consider when it is used. As a child your work would have been ‘marked’ by a teacher sometimes with an x when you got an answer wrong. Large clothes have the sign XL, XXL for the larger person. Pornography uses the letters X in their titles to symbolise that their films are ‘X rated’. In times gone by when illiteracy was common, people who couldn’t write would sign X on a document. According to popular lore, pirates would mark their treasure with an X, hence X marks the spot. In recent time, pop culture has delivered us such terms as Xmas, eX, with eXits. We have the X-men, with X-rays. x means multiplication, a rotated cross, a kiss in a text message. Death or danger is marked with an X. WE have been marked by generation -x. In the past alcohol was marked by its strength by X’s, XXX being the most strongest of beverages. In algebra it means unknown quantity. In Roman numerals it means ten. X has also meant something unknown, a missing person for example. We have eXtraterrestrials,  XX chromosomes for females, XY for males. We have eXopolitics, eXorcisms and exodus.

I think I have made my point, we live in an Xtra-ordinary world. Let us look at some of the numerical uses of the mark X. In Hebrew it is the alphabet, having a numerical value of 1. It is lily the Romans used this to signify 10. Our pronunciation of X -‘ex’. Is linked with the Greek ‘hex’ or ‘hexa’. this means six, in Greek the letters had a numerical value, X (chi) is 600.  X was also written as ‘xi’. Which in Roman numerals means six.

In Latin ‘ex’ is used to mean in or of something. In English the prefix – ex, means the former, out of or from. In my previous blogs I have linked the number six with the word sex, through the use of triangles. If we look at two chevrons, incomplete triangles, one V with an inverted V on the bottom, with both their points touching each other we get a whole new meaning to X. X can mean the female (V) meeting the male (inverted V). The meeting of two humans, face to face. They meet at the X-spot. This is even more symbolic if have a circle with an X inside. X or the cross has been used to denote matter, (masculinity) while the circle means spirit (femininity). X can also be used to interpret the four elements, which are often depicted as triangles. They have combined together, and in the centre we have the spot. The exact point which has the most power. This point would be a place where the fifth element would be located, in-between the four other elements. The quinta essentia, is the element that hermetic philosophers and alchemists would search for, and was often hinted at in symbols throughout alchemical texts. 

In the tarot the tenth card (X) is the wheel of fortune, rota  fortuna. Deals with the changing rhythm of fortune. Often depicted as lady luck, it can also symbolise the wheel of karma, or the solar cross of Norse mythology.

Perhaps this is the best way to described at present what X means, 10 can be read to symbolise 1 (matter, phallus) and 0 (absence/spirit, vulva). The duality of the two combined to create a divine number. The meeting of the male and the female.

The interpretations I have offer here are only scratching the surface of the meaning of X. Its use in culture has increased in recent times, one of the few methods we have to understand its prevalence is to look at its origins and its transformative use throughout time.