Some people struggle with the Emperor or Hierophant cards. My own struggle has always been with the Chariot. To me, this has been a card without its own strong identity. Instead, I’ve frequently seen images reminding me of other cards. As Rachel Pollack notes, if you conceive of the Major Arcana as a journey of the Fool, by the time the Fool gets to card seven, it’s evident he’s taken the lessons of the other cards into himself. In the Rider-Waite card, he carries a longer version of the Magician’s wand, and the moons on his shoulders evoke the High Priestess (note that one smiles and one frowns, “to represent he variety of life experiences”, though Waite himself thought of them as the Urim and Thummim or a divination device). His crown is reminiscent of the Empress’s zodiac tiara and the square gray chariot is a reminder of the Emperor. The black and white sphinxes remind one of both Boaz and Jachin as well as the Hierophant’s monks, and the lovers are represented by the lingam and yoni on the chariot’s shield. (For what it’s worth, I always thought of the “Golden Snitch” above this shield to nod to the myth of Icarus: a caution to not reach too high while unprepared.)
Turning to Waite’s Pictorial Key to the Tarot, we can see that he, at least, saw the Chariot as the King who earned his kingship by virtue of being “the victorious hero” who “is conquest on all planes–in the mind, in science, in progress, in certain trials of initiation. […] He is above all things triumph in the mind.” (Which is why the sphinxes pull his chariot: they are creatures who revel in logic and riddles.) This triumph was also the key to the card’s problem, for “the liberation which he effects may leave himself in the bondage of the logical understanding” which, in turn, would mean that if he came to the High Priestess, he would not be able to read the sacred mysteries on the Tora or answer her questions.
However, this doesn’t really grab me either. What I see here is a man trapped in a box and going nowhere. His sphinx-engines are laying down, after all. I don’t really see any ‘triumph’ here, either. The Chariot is, after all, sitting outside of a city, not within it as you might assume if he had seized the city. I suppose I can see a lot of “Will” here, what with the charioteer’s calm expression and his balance of symbols (as well as the polar sphinxes). But it still is a card that leaves me cold.
This is a card that reminds me just how much I like the Robin Wood deck. Her Chariot does away with the connotations of triumph and returns the Chariot to it’s basic meaning: an object of transportation. This is a Chariot in motion, as evidenced by the trotting unicorns, billowing canopy, and the clouds of dust behind all of it. It is still a card that means “Will”, for the charioteer ultimately controls where the Chariot goes, but this is a will that understands the importance of balanced harmony in successfully attaining that will.
Wood specifically switched out the sphinxes for unicorns because “they will only obey the pure of heart”, which shows that the charioteer is a “paragon of purity.” There are also no reigns upon these mythic steeds. Instead of brute force, he controls them through song (as evidenced by the harp and his open, singing mouth). This is a ‘riskier’ form of control. The unicorns have to choose to follow the charioteer’s command and to bring their opposing selves together in concord in order to continue to hear that song. These unicorns are fierce, so if the charioteer does lose control, the results will be disastrous…but if he can hold all in harmony, his chariot will fly! This is noted not only by the chariot’s apparent speed, but by the wings, showing freedom of spirit in balance, that flank a blue jewel (depth of soul) above a yin-yang (balance, harmony, and unity.) Together, that trio encapsulates the card’s sum meaning.
This is a carefully wrought balance that can lead to incredible direction and growth. It shows a careful, but productive balance between opposing forces and bringing all to a common direction. It is a tightrope act, to be sure, but not one begun without skill and pure intent.
KEYWORDS: Balance and Harmony, Victory, Will, Assertion, Hard Control.
Close your eyes and imagine a situation in which you would like movement or action to take place. Vividly bring to mind all of the characters and situations that have come together to form the situation. Once you have this in your mind’s eye, begin to breathe deeply. On each exhalation, imagine that you imbue the situation with a brilliant light. Fill each person involved with your motivating energy until all that you see before you is a brilliant light. Now allow the light to fade. As it does, envision the situation changing to reflect the preferred outcome.
Keep the Chariot card with you at all times today, or place it on your altar. As you act throughout your day, take mental note of what motivates you. Are you moved by fear? Anxiety? Greed? Anger? Hope? At the day’s end, journal about the experience and note what it was that motivated you the most. What do your motivating factors say about you? How would you like to change this?
The card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book The New Tarot Handbook, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Anthony Louis’s Tarot Plain and Simple. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website, learntarot.com.