Editor’s Note: If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article explains how to use the spread. You can visit Sarah’s website here. –efc
By Sarah Taylor
Last week, I invited your comments on The Chariot, and received valuable contributions that felt like small but perfectly formed conversations between intellect and intuition — entirely appropriate given the card we’re addressing.
This week, I’m going to take a closer look at this, the seventh card in the major arcana, incorporating aspects of those comments with what stands out for me in the card, as well as some ideas introduced by the writers of two of the accompanying texts to the cards: The Tarot Codex by clinical psychologist Michael Owen, and Tarot of The Spirit by deck co-creator Pamela Eakins, Ph.D.
What I’ve noticed about The Chariot in my own readings with clients is that its appearances are relatively rare; it is definitely not one of the old familiars that visit with some frequency. What’s also interesting is that I really haven’t given it due attention, until recently. I don’t believe for a moment that these two statements are unconnected.
I think that those times when The Chariot comes up are exceptional because it speaks of something exceptional that is seeking expression. It reflects the idea that much is being asked of us, and we are being encouraged to take a deep and courageous look at who we are, our beliefs, and where we are going. Maybe The Chariot only appears when we develop the inner sight to acknowledge and understand it.
All three versions of The Chariot (The Warrior in the Xultun Tarot deck) have elements of the cosmos as a key part of their imagery. The charioteer’s crown in the Rider-Waite Smith (RWS) version, for example, has a crown that is evocative of the one worn by The Empress four cards before it in the major arcana; The Warrior in the Xultun deck sits under a starred cloth; the figure in the Tarot of The Spirit (ToTS) has a beam of stars linked to its crown chakra. There are astrological glyphs on the charioteer’s clothing in the RWS version, Moons and Sun in the RWS and ToTS cards.
These sit side-by-side with the fleshiness of the riders themselves. Even the faceless figure in the ToTS is dominated by its pink, muscular forearms, and my eye homes in on the blood-red frame in the lower half of the picture. Blood flows through the body; it sustains life by holding and releasing oxygen — the breath (spirit). Here, the red fades out to pink and then to nothing as it merges with spirit.
And this is the key: The Chariot speaks of the meeting point of opposites — not only a moving towards balance between the dualities found in the world of matter, but also between matter and spirit itself. The dualities are found in the depiction of the earth vs. the skies, black vs. white, natural vs. man-made, male vs. female. The added dimension of a further balance between all of these dualities and of spirit is embodied in the symbol of the lingam/yoni, which is topped by a pair of wings. We have masculine and feminine. We also have the presence of Hermes, the Greek winged god who was the messenger between gods and humans, and a “phallic god of boundaries.” [Wikipedia - Hermes] Opposite balanced with opposite; matter balanced with spirit.
It was noted last week that in all three versions of the card the chariot itself is standing still. What’s more, any form of traditional draft-animal is absent, and those creatures that are there look suspiciously unfit for purpose. This is because the motion comes from elsewhere. In essence, it comes from the tension of opposites — an energy that is created when all is held in delicate balance. The image I have here is of the opposing poles of a magnet which, if brought together in a controlled way, create movement.
But what exactly are these forces that are working together? Yes, they are represented here by visual opposites, and the opposing ideas of matter and spirit. But how do they actually manifest in our lives?
In other words, how does The Chariot apply to our experience?
Look at the The Warrior from the Xultun Tarot deck. The creatures chained to the litter that the warrior sits on are jaguars — one white, one black. Jaguars were potent medicine animals in the Mayan culture, with the ability to bridge matter and spirit. Here, the white jaguar symbolises day; the black jaguar symbolises night. The jaguars are the embodiment of the conscious and the unconscious.
Add the chariot itself and, again, we have the interplay of three ideas, but now on a psychological level:
- White jaguar — conscious — desire
- Black jaguar — unconscious — will
- Chariot — superconscious/collective — spirit
The figure in the Xultun card is a shaman, and this is the archetype we embody when we bring all three elements into our awareness and work with them consciously. We become The Magician in the second card of the major arcana.
Sometimes, when we strive hard for something but are simply not able to achieve it, it is because our will and desire are in conflict. We might think we want or need something — or we might resist going in a particular direction because we don’t find it desirable — but something deeper in us disagrees. When that happens, our will is in play. It has an uncanny ability to trump desire every time. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones speaks to the heart of this.
When our desire and will are in alignment, however — and when both are enlivened by our connection to spirit — then we are making magic. Something is coming through and seeking expression in us.
The Warrior is an archetypal figure that shows a model of ego functioning that listens to the Self and restores a healthy balance to the psyche. … The hero in myths and fairytales reminds us of the one right way of behaving in accordance with the totality of the personality and offers us an encouraging and heartening reminder of life’s possibilities and that adversity can be overcome. [Michael Owen]
Owen also points out that the jaguars are still separate, because this is the journey towards integration, rather than integration itself. But when we draw The Chariot, we have reached a point of potential. This idea is expressed in the letters “V.T” in the Tarot of The Spirit version — or “Tav”, the final letter in the Hebrew alphabet — which represent The World. Here, the final card in the major arcana is in utero, encased in an oval and held on the belly of the figure.
And what of the movement that we are creating with The Chariot? We are holding a delicate balance of awareness; we are empowered. Where are we moving to? That is a mystery, and for good reason: we are entering uncharted territory. The Chariot is no less than the harnessing of all that we have brought with us through the preceding six cards to break us out of furrows created by repetitive, unthinking, conscious-less motion. It suggests our power to shift into an entirely different perspective and a new experience because we are working with, and not against, ourselves.
As Pamela Eakins writes:
Part of your magic is that you are learning the effective use and power of words, deeds and symbols. These … are life fences that enclose fields of consciousness. They paradoxically free our imagination even as they limit it.
Having increased understanding means that you must let your old forms or ways of thinking dissolve so that new ones can take their place. This means letting go of that which has served you well, but is no longer of great value. It is as if the fences you have built now limit your view. You must use your will power to tear down the fences.
Letting go can come with its own fights and fears, where we can be tempted to retreat into ignorance (which we soon find is impossible, often infuriatingly so; it simply equals denial), or to try and push a result through by attempting to force our will. When that happens, that delicate balance is lost, and we ourselves lose balance, either grinding to a halt or careening off course. It is mindfulness that maintains the balance, and mindfulness that brings us back to it: we might misplace or forget to use the tools we’ve acquired, but the good news is that they are always there, waiting for us to pick them up.
With thanks: Charles, Green-Star-gazer, indranibe, wandering_yeti
Tarot Deck Information:
- The Rider-Waite Smith Tarot deck, created by Pamela Colman Smith with A E Waite
- The Xultun Tarot deck, created by New Zealand artist Peter Balin
- Tarot of the Spirit, co-created by Pamela and Joyce Eakins