The Wheels of Taranis and his Daughter

O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
ever waxing
ever waning;
hateful life
first oppresses
and then soothes
playing with mental clarity;
poverty
and power
it melts them like ice.

Fate – monstrous
and empty,
you whirling wheel,
you are malevolent,
well-being is vain
and always fades to nothing,
shadowed
and veiled
you plague me too;
now through the game
I bring my bare back
to your villainy.

Fate is against me
in health
and virtue,
driven on
and weighted down,
always enslaved.
So at this hour
without delay
pluck the vibrating strings;
since Fate
strikes down the strong,
everyone weep with me.

– Oh Fortuna

I came upon several lines from ‘O Fortuna’ a couple of months ago as epigraphs to the chapters in Margaret Weiss’s Star of the Guardians trilogy. Drawn by their tragic and epic ring I looked them up and found that ‘O Fortuna’, a complaint about fate in the Greek and Roman myths, is one of 254 poems and dramas in Carmina Burana. They were written between the 11th and 13th centuries by clergy who satirized the Catholic Church and found in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern.

‘O Fortuna’ was set to music by Carl Orff in his cantata Carmina Burana. Playing the movement, I recognised the gripping and hair-raisingly powerful music accompanied by Latin lyrics as the score for dramatic film scenes (it has been re-used and parodied so often it has sadly become cliched) and dancing to an electro version in goth clubs. For several days I could not get the tune out of my head.

At the same time I kept getting the Two of Arrows – Injustice card in the Wildwood Tarot. It pictures the figure of Justice enthroned and blindfolded with two arrows crossed across her heart and her foot on a bow. Above her is a set of scales with a feather on one and a pile of coins on the other.

The meaning in the guide is as follows: ‘The scales of natural justice have been skewed by false judgements, ignorance or arrogance. Sitting in judgement with unbalanced scales to an untrue premise, however ardently or sincerely, will not prevail. The bow is broken through prejudice and misuse.’

I couldn’t fathom the card. As far as I knew I wasn’t consciously sitting in judgement of anything. However, I was infuriated by the fact that fracking was due to begin at Preston New Road and wondered whether the card meant I was being blind to injustice by not re-joining the protests, although I knew in my heart I am not cut out to be an activist and would only have made myself ill.

In a further tarot reading Injustice appeared alongside 10 The Wheel. I didn’t understand this until on a spirit-journey I was flying through the sky and heard the thundering roll of chariot wheels. A sky-god with a beard of nimbus clouds rolled up with a stern, stormy woman I knew was his daughter.

Encircling me appeared formidable and judgemental figures who I presumed were a judge and jury. My initial thought was “oh shit – it’s judgement time!” Then I saw there were hundreds of spiralling people beneath and all of them, including the ‘judges’, were being swept away by a hurricane.

When they’d gone I realised I was facing Taranis, but did not recognise his daughter. She told me she was known as Fortune by the Romans and people came to identify her with Justice but were mistaken as justice does not exist. Then Taranis said ‘all souls must pass through the Eye of the Storm’.

Afterwards I discovered Fortuna was a Roman goddess who was depicted with a Wheel of Fortune, she could be represented as veiled or blind, and she was the daughter of Jupiter. It seems Taranis, a wheel god, and his daughter have similar roles in the Gallo-Brythonic ‘pantheon’. This made perfect sense of Injustice appearing alongside 10 The Wheel and my obsession with ‘O Fortuna’.

I also found out Fortuna was a much earlier deity than Justice, who was introduced by the Emperor Augustus as a personification of a human virtue, and was not actually a goddess in her own right.

“There is no justice,” the words of the daughter of Taranis rang in my ears.

A part of me had intuited that the scales could tip either way. What I didn’t realise was there aren’t any scales at all. Fortuna was never depicted with the Scales of Justice and neither was the daughter of Taranis.


5 thoughts on “The Wheels of Taranis and his Daughter

  1. Greg says:

    Interestingly, Fortuna is often associated with Rosmerta, including in one relief in Gloucester where they are represented together, each holding what appears to be a torch facing in different directions.

    Certainly she seems to embody fate rather than justice.

    • lornasmithers says:

      That’s interesting. Both because Rosmerta and Taranis are Gallo-Brythonic deities and because Rosmerta is paired with Lugus. I’ve been thinking a bit about the oak being sacred to both Lleu/Lugus and Taranis. Also about Jupiter Dolichenus being depicted standing on a bull, which is kind of like Lleu on a goat. And divination for Fortuna being performed by a boy with oak rods at her oracle. There are some interesting links here between Taranis as thunder god, Lugus ?as lightning god?, Rosmerta (Blodeuedd?) and the daughter of Taranis who is akin to Fortune. I know the Welsh for fortune is ffortiwn and I guess derives from Latin. I haven’t come across an earlier Brythonic word for fortune and am not sure how the Britons conceived the concept. I am aware of tynged as destiny and the tyngeds placed on Lleu and Culhwch…

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