you are beautiful
humming at your wheel
the silver threads of destiny
shimmering between your fingers
your silver thimble dancing
as you sew our garments
your magpies plucking
the threads and cutting them off
with a snap of their beaks.
On your loom we are broken
and rewoven more tightly
into your singing web.
You are spider-like
in your song many-eyed
watching over us.
You are undecipherable.
We count your magpies
but cannot guess your will.
You raise us up and whirl us
through the skies in your chariot
of thundering silver wheels
then you hurl us down.
Still I come to court you
with magpie-feathered hair
on bent trembling knees
in gratitude and acceptance.
Everyone weeps with me.
*This poem was written as a response to ‘O Fortuna‘, a complaint about the goddess of Fortune in the Classical myths. A few months ago I had an encounter with the Gallo-Brythonic god Taranis and his daughter, who told me she was known as Fortune by the Romans. I afterwards intuited that in the eyes of the Britons she would have been known as Ffortiwna. This poems attempts to present a more balanced view of this goddess based on my personal gnosis.
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.