Wheel of Fortune symbology


Hi AT,
I'm having a hard time trying to track down information regarding the symbology on the wheel of fortune card. Especially those within the RWS orange wheel depicted in the center of the card with various symbols and Hebrew letters? (I notice that the Roman Characters spell out TARO?).

I'm also confused as to what the dog faced man is supposed to be?

Thanks for your help as always!



I am also confused whether the dog faced man represents Tifon-set or/and Hermanubi.

Tifon-set's name is made up of 2 mythological incarnations of Evil.
It's a symbol of dark forces. Its movements downwards indicates the consciousness, which gravitating from the weight of egoism and rancor, goes down into the unconscious depths and lowest level of existence.
Hermanubi's name means Hermes ( god of Messenger, intelligence and rapidity) and Anubis ( god of death, inner knowledge surfacing from the depths in order to attain earthly realisation.)
I think there is fight between the 2 opposites( life and death) that appears from limited earthly perspective. The Wheel conceals the dilemna: is our earthly life based on free will or destiny?
And I think this is the Sphynx that pushes us to break away from a vision of destiny as an outside force and encouraging us to look at the consequences of our actions and accept responsability.

I hope It helps a little bit. I am also confused regarding the rich symbolism of the Wheel.

Be aware that I am not 100% sure of what I wrote above.


I think you mean Anubis. He's a jackal headed Egyptian god but I don't remember the details. We have a forum here specifically for the Rider Waite and its symbols. Find that forum on the list and you'll find every question answered an then some. :)


Thanks Laurence! He does look a lot like Hermanubis (Anubis). Love your insight there!

Grizabella - I tried looking across many threads but couldn't find anything in detail pertaining to the golden circle on the card. Then I did some digging up of old threads via google (from 2001!) and found the below:

Roman characters on the wheel are an anagram:
TARO = tarot
ROTA = wheel
ORAT = pray
TORA = law (torah) or dharma

The hebrew lettering are Yod Heh Vau Heh "Hebrew writing of the God of the Old Testament/Torah: Jehovah/Yahweh - often referred to as the tetragrammaton"

Now I just need to figure out what the rest of the other "Studious" animals mean along with the snake and I'm done I guess.

If anyone else wants to chime in please do :)

Also if a Mod wants to move this into the RWS study forum please go ahead :)


I was going to suggest that danieru_X do a search in the RWS study section. I used to have tons of links to blogs and other tarot sites that had sections about symbology, but many of them vanished, either by computer crashing or they just aren't there anymore. Google searches might give you some ideas.

It seems like there was a book, Tarot of the Heart (?) or the Heart of Tarot (?) that came out about 10 years ago that was all about the symbology on RWS decks, it's most unfortunate that Waite didn't explain the symbology on the cards.


Try the Book of Thoth by Aleister Crowley. Although dealing with a different deck, the two cards share a lot of similarities, and the Thoth chapter on Fortune is pretty exhaustive. It can be downloaded for free.


Sorry if I state the obvious, but the four winged creatures are obviously the winged man (angel), lion, bull and eagle that appear in the Hebrew Bible (vision of Ezekiel) and were adapted in the New Testament as symbol figures for the four Evangelists (that's why the symbol of Venice is the winged lion - it's the animal associated with St. Marcus who is Venice's patron).

These animals appear everywhere in Western art and culture, they symbolize the four directions, temperaments, seasons etc. Even the houses of Hogwarts show traces of the fourfold symbolism - fiery Gryffindor, watery Slytherin, airy Ravenclaw and earthy Hufflepuff with their symbol animals.

Combined with a book, these animals show universal wisdom.


On this wheel are three figures, the Sworded Sphinx, Hermanubis, and Typhon; they symbolize the three forms of energy which govern the movement of phenomena.


The Gunas are represented in European philosophy by the three qualities, sulphur, mercury and salt, already pictured in Atu I, III and IV. But in this card the attribution is somewhat different. The Sphinx is composed of the four Kerubs, shown in Atu V, the bull, the lion, the eagle and the man. These correspond, furthermore, to the four magical virtues, to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Keep Silence.

[These are the four elements, summed in a fifth, Spirit, to form the Pentagram; and the Magical Virtue corresponding is Ire, to go. “To go” is the token of Godhead, as explained in reference to the sandal-strap or Ankh, the Crux Ansata, which in its turn is identical with the astrological symbol of Venus, comprising the 10 Sephiroth. (See diagram)].

This Sphinx represents the element of sulphur, and is exalted, temporarily, upon the summit of the wheel. She is armed with a sword of the short Roman pattern, held upright between the paws of the lion.

Climbing up the left-hand side of the wheel is Hermanubis, who represents the alchemical Mercury. He is a composite god; but in him the simian element predominates.

On the right hand side, precipitating himself downward, is Typhon, who represents the element of salt. Yet in these figures there is also a certain degree of complexity, for Typhon was a monster of the primitive world, personifying the destructive power and fury of volcanos and typhoons. In the legend, he attempted to obtain supreme authority over both gods and men; but Zeus blasted him with a thunderbolt. He is said to be the father of stormy, hot and poisonous winds; also of the Harpies. But this card, like Atu XVI, may also be interpreted as a Unity of supreme attainment and delight. The lightnings which destroy, also beget; and the wheel may be regarded as the Eye of Shiva, whose opening annihilates the Universe, or as a wheel upon the Car of Jaganath, whose devotees attain perfection at the moment that it crushes them.

http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/crowley/libro_thoth04.htm#X. FORTUNE

Quite a complex card, who's meaning changes with application. Typhon represents the fallow element of salt, just as the Empress does, but this isn't implying the Empress is evil, but they do have some attributes in common. The sphinx represents active sulphur, like the Emperor while Hermanubis is mercury. Essentially this card illustrates chance brought on by the basic mechanics of the universe.


Thanks guys! All of this makes me want to learn the Thoth deck more.

Am I right in saying this card really stands out as it's one of the only Egyptian style cards in the RWS deck?


Thanks guys! All of this makes me want to learn the Thoth deck more.

Am I right in saying this card really stands out as it's one of the only Egyptian style cards in the RWS deck?

I don't know what you mean about Egyptian style, exactly. It is certainly one of the most alchemical and esoteric cards in the deck, one in which Waite was unusually forthright about, at least in the image. The RWS doesn't really concentrate on showing the esoteric side of the cards, except in a few like the Two of Cups. Still, small clues are hidden here and there, like the Empress's shield or the markings on the thrones of some of the Courts.