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Editorial: The Foremothers Speak
by Sage Starwalker and a Featured Foremother
Lammas 2002, Vol 1-4
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Wheel, Copyright © 2002 Sage Starwalker. All rights reserved.

The Wheel

Feminist spirituality has its roots in spiritual traditions as ancient as the Paleolithic Great Mother cultures and as contemporary as Gerald Gardner's 20th century creation -- Wicca. Our spirituality asks us to study and honor our roots and to bring them into our current spiritual practices, and at the same time to create new ceremonies, art and traditions that have meaning for today's women and those we love.

Carolyn Boyd's story, Womens' First Prayer to Goddess, is a delightful expression of what feminist spirituality is all about. She looks to the past for inspiration and creates from her wonderful imagination a new myth that gives new meaning to a familiar object and symbol -- the wheel.

Barbara G. Walker, our featured foremother, writes about the wheel in her book, The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols & Sacred Objects:

"Wheel symbolism was ubiquitous in ancient religions. The whole universe was envisioned as a vast wheel whose rolling could be seen in the cycles of heavenly bodies and in the progress of seasons. Small wheels, as models of the cosmos, accompanied the dead into their graves. Wheels were used as magical protective emblems on helmets, shields, weapons, and houses. Celtic gods exhibited wheels in their hands or by their sides. Altars and tombstones were decorated with wheels.1 One of the Celtic names for the Goddess, Arianrhod, designated her the Goddess of the Silver Wheel (the stars), whose hub was the Revolving Castle, Caer Sidi, hidden in the underground spirit-land of Annwn. Similarly in India, Mother Kali continually ruled the Wheel of Time (Kalacakra), where all the life-breath of the world was fixed "even as the spokes of a wheel are held fast in the hub."2 A comparable hub was the omphalos of Greek myth, ruled by the Goddess Omphale, to whom Heracles-the-Sun was subject. His mythical twelve labors represented the slow progress of the sun through the twelve zodiacal houses. Priests of Heracles traditionally dressed as women, which led to the development of the late Hellenic myth about the sun hero disguised in female clothing, working among the ladies on Omphale's spinning wheel.

The Etruscans called the Wheel-goddess Vortumna, She Who Turns the Year, and the Romans altered this name to Fortuna, the Goddess whose constantly turning heavenly wheel marked all the seasons and the fates of men. Sometimes she was envisioned as a trinity, the Fortunae, or Fates, whom the Greeks also called Nemesis or the Moerae.3 She ruled the kyklos geneseon, the wheel of rebirth and of transformations throughout time. The ancients' belief in reincarnation produced many cyclic images of existence rather than the linear patriarchal insistence that an individual could have only one life, ending in a permanent choice between heaven and hell.

Nevertheless, wheel symbolism carried on into patriarchal Judeo-Christian culture because it was so deeply embedded in symbolic language everywhere. Hebrew scriptures called the angels of the galaxy gel or "wheels," whose revolutions meant revelations: a concept not unrelated to the Hindu idea of the universe as a gigantic chariot carrying all gods and creatures on its wheels through an eternal round. The Book of Secrets of Enoch stated that the sun travels on wheels.4

The mighty wheel of the Goddess Fortuna gradually degenerated into the medieval Wheel of Fortune and its Goddess into Lady Luck, who ruled the roulette ("little wheel") in Carnival games, which so often preserved pagan traditions in a new, trivialized forms. Fortune's wheel, which remains popular to this day, sometimes had six spokes, sometimes eight, the latter apparently modeled on the Hindu dharma wheel.5 In Germany the same eight-spoked wheel was the Achtwan, a magic rune charm. In the time of Dante, the Wheel of Fortune was depicted with eight spokes of opposite conditions of human life, cyclically alternating: poverty-riches, peace-war, humility-glory, and patience-passion.6 The Wheel of Fortune joined the Tarot trumps, often with climbing and falling figures as the wheel was described to Boethius.7 The Tarot's Wheel of Fortune card still shows these figures."

1. Green, Miranda, The Gods of the Celts. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Nobles, 1986, pp. 42-61.
2. Campbell, Joseph, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. New York: Viking, 1970, pp. 418- 419.
3. Graves, Robert, The Greek Myths, 2 vols. New York: Penguin Books, 1955, p. 126.
4. Barnstone, Willis, ed., The Other Bible. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984, p. 497.
5. Lehner, Ernst, Symbols, Signs and Signets. New York: Dover, 1969, p. 96.
6. Moakley, Gertrude, The Tarot Cards Painted by Bembo. New York: New York Public Library, 1996, p. 87.
7. Hall, James, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. New York: Harper & Row, 1974, pp. 127-128.

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