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As Beatrice to Dante

BY Joanna Gardner June 11, 2023

Picture of Galaxy M74. A swirling sky full of stars.
Galaxy M74. ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team; ESA/Hubble & NASA, R. Chandar
Acknowledgement: J. Schmidt

One day, long ago, the ever-spinning Wheel of Fortune found me sitting at a desk in an open office workspace, my back to a room full of coworkers. Absorbed in a document on my computer, I had just reached an impasse and needed to go ask someone a question. But at that moment a colleague I hadn’t seen for years was striding toward me. He whooshed into the chair beside my desk at the same instant that I whirled around.

Whoosh-whirl—and our faces were way too close together, so close that his leather-and-sandalwood cologne must have mixed up with my jasmine perfume, and I found myself staring deep into unknown eyes without even seeing the rest of this person’s face. 

But I didn’t see his eyes, not really. I saw through them, past them, beyond them into a midnight-blue cosmos where stars explode and nebulae roil with galactic lightning. The whole idea of eyes fell away. I felt like I saw the million invisible dimensions of his soul, its shimmers and flickers spiraling into the indigo infinity. 

“Hello!” he said.

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I jerked back to a decorous distance, stammering, confused. This was a person. A literal, rational, breathing human. And we were at work. I couldn’t burst out with an “Oh my goodness, I saw your soul and it’s gorgeous!!” 

Instead, I stuck to convention. “Hello!”

We chatted and caught up, but a part of my awareness remained drunk with awe, high on the vapors of beauty and magnificence. That feeling of altered consciousness lingered for days as I went through the motions of meetings and emails, while the Wheel of Fortune kept turning.

That’s the Wheel’s job, after all. It turns, turns, turns, turns. In the tarot deck, the Wheel of Fortune depicts the ongoing roll of the universe. 

If we didn’t know better, we might think this card was a four of something. Four lines form a compass decorated with four Latin letters, four alchemical sigils, and four Hebrew letters that would spell the name of God if they were all together. Four golden animal powers hover on the muscle of their beating golden wings in four separate clouds while perusing their four books. 

But the card shows important threes, too: three concentric circles around which three cosmic powers ride like a merry-go-round of Egyptian myth. Apopis, the troublemaking serpent, wiggles down into the thick of things. Anubis, the guide of souls, cruises upward and glances at us as though to say, “Buckle up, kiddos, we’re going around again.” And a wise, regal Queen Sphinx rules over it all, unperturbed and unperturbable. 

Of all the beings on this card, there isn’t a single earthbound human. We see gods, forces, symbols, and ideas, but not one mortal. Instead, powers gather here to show the dynamic processes of the cosmos in a productive, creative tension that keeps the wheel turning. 

At any moment, the card says, big things could happen. 

But the card shows something else too, something tiny and yet key to the whole image. If we drew a line from the upper left corner to the lower right corner, and then another line from the upper right to the lower left, those lines would intersect in the center of the card. What do we find there? The center of the Wheel. The hub. The unmoving spot without which the wheel couldn’t turn. This is the stillness required for change, the stillness necessary for new life.

“The New Life,” Joseph Campbell observes in Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: On the Art of James Joyce, “is the life of the awakened spiritual, poetic … relationship to the world through the physical realm” (35). Campbell is referring to Dante’s Vita Nuova and James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, both of which blossom forth from an experience of what we might call the center of the Wheel, where new life emerges from a revelatory moment of awe. That’s where Dante stood when he saw Beatrice, where Stephen Daedalus stood when he saw the young woman at the beach, where I stood, so to speak, that day at the office when I saw the cosmos in a colleague’s eyes. Campbell calls this experience “a ray of the light of eternity” (19). Once in a while, we inhabit the hub and feel reborn. For Dante and Joyce, the experience inspired singular literature.

 “Time and space are gone in the enchantment of the heart,” Campbell continues, and I think he’s right. The Wheel of Fortune’s compass can guide us through the vicissitudes, but the card’s center is the aperture to magic. 

I never told my coworker what happened that day. But I kept an eye on him for a while, in case he turned inside out in a cloud of purple smoke and revealed to everyone the secret that, in the center, you fall in love with everything, anything, and most of all with love itself. 


Joanna Gardner, PhD is the Director of Marketing and Communications at the Joseph Campbell Foundation, where she also serves as Managing Editor of the Skeleton Key Study Guide series and the lead author of Goddesses: A Skeleton Key Study Guide. Joanna is an adjunct professor in Pacifica Graduate Institute's Mythological Studies program and a founder of the Fates and Graces Mythologium, an annual conference for mythologists and friends of myth. Joanna’s fiction, poetry, and nonfiction appear in a variety of venues, available at

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Time and space are gone in the enchantment of the heart.

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Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat–A Quest for Immortality.

“WHY THE AMDUAT IS SIGNIFICANT Every evening the sun becomes old and weak and finally sets behind the Western horizon. Yet, it rises again in the morning, rejuvenated. How is that possible? How could the sun for the Ancient Egyptians the Sungod become young and revitalized during the night, during his night journey? What happens during this time? The Amduat is a description of the journey of the Sungod through the nightworld, that is also the world of the deceased. The knowledge contained in the Amduat is meant for the dead Pharaoh. But the text also recommends this knowledge for living beings. Thus, the journey of the Sungod can also be seen as a symbolic representation of an inner psychic process of transformation and renewal.”

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Mythic Worlds, Modern Words

In 1927, as a twenty-three-year-old postgraduate scholar in Paris, Joseph Campbell first encountered James Joyce’s Ulysses. Known for being praised and for kicking up controversy (including an obscenity trial in the United States in 1920), the novel left Campbell both intrigued and confused, as it had many others. Because he was in Paris, he was able to visit the Shakespeare & Company bookstore—the outpost of the original publisher of Ulysses, Sylvia Beach. She gave him “clues” for reading Ulysses, and that, Campbell attested, changed his career. For the next sixty years, Campbell moved through the labyrinths of Joyce’s creations—writing and lecturing on Joyce using depth psychology, comparative religion, anthropology, and art history as tools of analysis.

Arranged by Joyce scholar Edmund L. Epstein, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words presents a wide range of Campbell’s writing and lectures on Joyce, which together form an illuminating running commentary on Joyce’s masterworks. Campbell’s visceral appreciation for all that was new in Joyce will delight the previously uninitiated, and perhaps intimidated, as well as longtime lovers of both Joyce and Campbell. Now available in a trade paperback edition, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words is a masters meet-up between the twentieth century’s quintessential mythologist and its most exemplary literary modernist. Forty years of Campbell’s lectures, articles and unpublished writings on the novels of James Joyce, drawn together by Joycean scholar Edmund L. Epstein, serve as a lens to examine both the nature of myth in art, and the myriad-minded work of the man whom many have called the greatest literary artist of the modern era.

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