Tarot Card Meanings: The Chariot

The Chariot (“Le Chariot”) – Card VII

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” – Aristotle

Aristotle bottled up a whole lot of The Chariot’s essence right there in that one little quote.

The Chariot is about the kind of clarity, focus, and willpower that can turn a herd of cats into a well-oiled machine. The Chariot is about what the Germans call gestalt: you can go ahead and add up a whole bunch of separate parts and get one possible maximum total…but then when you assemble those parts in just the right way, you can somehow squeeze a total out of them that’s even higher than what the math on the individual pieces said should have been possible…

Like this:

1 + 4 + 7 + 10 = 22

1 + 4 + 7 + 10 + Chariot-energy = …29?

That seems crazy, but during Chariot-heavy times in the life of a querent, yes, that math actually works pretty accurately.

Consider the nature of an actual chariot. Each of the Big Three decks (RWS, Thoth, TdM) features an actual chariot in its respective Chariot card. A chariot is a wagon meant to be trundled along by a small team of live beasts of whatever variety, their muscles supplying the power for the chariot’s locomotion. The chariot is constructed so as to serve as both moving platform (transport) and armored chamber (protection) for the charioteer, who stands on/within the chariot in relative comfort.

None of these elements could get especially far if working alone.

A charioteer alone is a citizen on foot, wearing armor. Without the wheeled apparatus and the much mightier beasts doing the legwork, it’s a fairly safe bet that the charioteer drops from heatstroke and exhaustion after 45 minutes or so in the midday sun.

But the chariot by itself is arguably even less helpful. By itself, the chariot is just an inert lump of metal and wood, with nothing to propel it into motion, and no one to guide it even if it did somehow manage to get moving. By itself, it might remain just part of the scenery.

And then there are the beasts… These can vary a lot from one deck to the next in terms of what kinds of creatures these might be in practice: well-known Chariot cards feature horses or a variety of sphinx-like creatures, all of which look like they’re lined up to put in some serious chariot-pulling. They’re often presented in opposite color-pairs, too, such as half of the beasts being black, and the other half being white.

And the beasts can easily be mapped onto the notion that they might symbolize differing forces…so then the card suddenly recalls the fact that differing forces with differing agendas sometimes don’t merge their energies all that well on those occasions when someone does somehow manage to bring them together for a minute or two.

Or to put it another way, you can yoke a creature to a chariot, and that’s one thing (and probably not even an especially easy thing to pull off in its own right)…but getting that creature to then pull the chariot at all, much less to do it in tandem with other, similarly press-ganged creatures, is a task on a whole other level. Without some very high-powered force of will keeping the beasts on point, they’re most likely to just run wild, cause a bunch of property damage, exhaust themselves, and then wander away offstage, never to return.

But when all of these moving parts do come together…

When the charioteer in a given moment does actually summon forth the kind of high-powered force of will that can truly, undeniably get this Chariot/gestalt work accomplished…then the chariot-collective (charioteer + chariot + beasts) is a spectacular and often unstoppable presence.

And then in addition to ideas around willpower and motion, The Chariot can also serve in a reading as a reminder that chariots are often used as devices by Deities when they decide to appear in the more human-scale realms. In multiple bodies of World Mythology – Greek, Norse, Egyptian – the Goddesses and Gods charged with the tasks of transporting the Sun, Moon, and Dawn-Star across the skies all use chariots of various designs to accomplish this work. In religious texts such as the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, Supreme Deities communicate with more earthly types like Ezekiel and Prince Arjuna through the interface of a chariot. The Chariot seems to almost function like a sort of spiritual airlock through which we humans can be exposed to Divinity in a modulated enough way that we’re not simply annihilated by it. All of which means that this card may have a more spiritual overlay than it’s usually given credit for…

So, to sum up… When the Chariot appears in a reading and is putting forth lower expressions of itself, then the card can represent concepts such as a lack of willpower, a failure to achieve unity or cohesion, or an absence of teamwork. It can also refer to such phenomena as indecision, loss of focus, stagnation, moving targets, immobility, hesitation, bullying, poor or no sense of direction, a lack of faith, and the blind urge toward conquest.

In its higher expressions, though, The Chariot isn’t limited to just that idea about using force of will to merge a scattering of different elements into a cohesive whole…although there is that. But it can also symbolize other fine notions such as nobility, protection, momentum, defense of the weak, quests, travel, progress, evolution, discovery, triumph, new territories, adventure, winning combinations of things, and possible contact with Divinity or some other “Higher” energy or consciousness.

The Chariot can be a bit of an irresistible force, so it always pays to be careful when it roars into view. See if you can figure out what’s motivating its charioteer, and try to get some idea as to what it might be barreling toward…and what might be standing in its way…

Previous entry: The Lovers
Next entry: A Note on Strength and Justice
Main Tarot Card Meanings Page