The Chariot


The Chariot – Tarot Card 7

By James Donahue

Structurally, the Chariot Card follows The Lovers. Thus it is on impulse that our Fool leaves the garden. He is back on the path, setting out to complete the life he began to create when his journey began.

But lo, enemies stand in his way. These enemies come in the form of other humans who compete or out of jealousy, personal dislike, or other emotional reasons would block his path. Other enemies come in the form of bad circumstances and even confusion in his own mind.

Our Fool comes upon a charioteer, standing in his gold and silver chariot, two steeds, one black the other white, at rest. The charioteer is crowned with an eight pointed star, is wearing armor, and holding a wand in his right hand. In ancient days the chariot pulled by steeds was used in battle, so this figure clearly represents a person prepared for conquest.

Knowing that his enemies lie before him, the Fool approaches the charioteer and asks for advice on how to defeat them. The charioteer uses a parable of a person caught in the ocean surf, fighting against the tide to reach shore and keep from drowning. He says the only way to win is to swim parallel to shore and come in slowly.

So, too, when fighting in a chariot. You win by coming up alongside that which you wish to defeat. Your steeds keep the wheels turning, but it is your control and direction that brings victory. Dark and light, they must be made to draw in harmony under your guidance.”

The charioteer is basically saying that the battle must be won not with personal will, but utilizing the perfect will of the universe. Will is a living, motivating power behind the entire universe. The charioteer’s call is one where the one going into battle must enter with a clear goal and a plan of action. He must show self-reliance, righteousness, conviction and be willing to stick to the task in order to win.

The steeds, which on some Tarot decks are horses or various other beasts representing power but on the Ryder-Waite deck show two sphinxes at rest, represent powerful forces, both internal and external, that can be controlled to help reach the goal.

There are deeper symbolic meanings to this complex card, however. One concept is that we can envision the self to be seated in the chariot, the body to be the chariot, the intellect the charioteer and the reins represent the mind.

The Hebrew letter printed on this card is Cheth, which means field or fence. This implies some kind of place or enclosure. The field might mean the personality and the cultivator the I AM.

Close examination of this card shows a town in the background with red-roofed towers, all masculine phallic symbols representing the uplifting reproductive forces of the physical body. Between the chariot and the town can be seen a stone fence and a windbreak of trees, and in front of this a stream, all of it symbolizing a wall or separation. The water in the stream always represents the continued flow of  subconsciousness.

The chariot rides on two wheels that have a link to Card 10, The Wheel, which will be addressed later. The chariot itself is a square box with four pillars supporting a canopy of blue decorated with stars. The pillars are said to represent the four elements, fire, water, air and earth, while the starry canopy speaks of celestial forces surrounding us.

The shield on the face of the chariot signifies a union of positive and negative forces. Notice that above it appears the familiar winged globe of ancient Eqypt.

The Chariot card is related through the sum of the digits to Key 16, The Tower, which, we will find out later, can be a somewhat negative force. While the Chariot leads us into constructing things for our future, the Tower might show us forces that will remove all that we have built.

Yet even the Chariot can warn of defeat or failure, depending upon the way it lays out on a spread. It is fueled by contradictory impulses as shown in the black and white sphinxes, the forces that pull the chariot.

The chariot is among the more complex cards in the tarot deck. On its most basic level it implies war, struggle, suggests a difficult conflict to achieve what is wanted. On a more complex level, the charioteer wears emblems of the sun, yet the sign behind this card is Cancer, the moon. Thus the card is all about motion, but is often shown as stationary. It is a union of opposites, all pulling in different directions.

As one analyst wrote: “The Chariot is a fascinating card, but also frustrating. Like the crab, it is armored, but also cut off. A charioteer fights alone. It moves from one place to the next (water to land and back again) – conscious and unconscious. Earthly and spiritual. It succeeds by attacking from the side, rather than straight on.”


The Mind of James Donahue