T + R
The Tarot can be likened to a wheel: each card leads to the next, from the Fool to the Ten of Coins and back to the Fool again, and so on, until you eventually lose track of where it began and where it ends. Mr. Crowley especially felt this way about the Tarot, and he designed the CHT with the recommendation that it be studied with the wheel metaphor in mind. He’s not the only one to consider the Tarot in terms of wheels; the Wheel of the Year underlies the WWT, and if you look at the Wheel of Fortune card in the RWS, you will notice the word “TAROT” spelled out in a circle, with no distinction made between the first and the last “T”.
The wheel is a symbol for the infinite cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Variations of this symbol show up throughout the deck: the number 0 of the Fool, the Ouroboros serpent around the waist and the infinity sign or lemniscate above the head of the Magician in the RWS (there’s an implied lemniscate over the head of most Magicians, and it shows up again above the head of the maiden in some Strength cards, and again as part of the design of the 2 of Coins/Pentacles/Disks), the wreath in the World card, and of course the Wheel of Fortune card. The list could probably continue, but I think the point has been made. The Tarot is circular by nature.
I like this way of thinking about the Tarot. It implies motion, and it implies continuity. Unlike other books of wisdom, the Tarot is fluid, constantly changing and evolving to meet the needs of the situation at hand, and yet no matter how thoroughly they are shuffled, the cards maintain their connections to each other. Different cards may come to the top at different times, like the spokes of a wheel, but they ultimately are all connected at the hub.
A circle also has no corners, or points, and I think this is important, because it illustrates that there is no part of the Tarot which is more important or better than any other part (like the seats of the Round Table). The same can be said of the variety of methods of working with the Tarot.
Indeed, there are many methods of studying and using the Tarot. Some are based on intuition and mood, while others adhere to a strict system of defined meanings and correspondences. Each method has its benefits, but there are none that I believe to be singularly the best.
The following quote from the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols epitomizes my philosophy on the study of the Tarot:
“Whatever validity these different points of view may possess, we should never forget that the Tarot never submits to any one attempt to systematize it, and it always retains something which escapes our grasp.” (p. 975)
I always keep this in mind when I wonder how best to interpret a spread of cards, or when I’m studying them in the deck and just pondering what they might mean. Thinking of the Tarot in terms of wheels is not a method, but a metaphor, and one that serves to remind of the infinite possible directions the Tarot can lead us.