Continuing our series on the meanings of the Tarot, this week features the Chariot. Representing will power, determination and triumph, the Chariot is a masculine image evoking the divine male principle of penetration and pursuit of goals. It can refer to competitive situations or personalities as well as success.
The card depicts a man riding a chariot drawn by two sphinxes. One sphinx is black, the other white, representing the union of opposites. Between the sphinxes, the two wings joined by a circle are a Hindu symbol of union between positive and negative as well. On the shield between the wings, notice the emblem of a disc penetrated by a cylinder, centralizing the theme of penetration. But the penetration referred to here is not sexual, rather it is the charioteer’s will power that is penetrating the dual nature of reality. Penetration is here used as a metaphor for exerting one’s will in real life. Thus, the Chariot is about successfully influencing reality through will power.
Above the rider, a canopy of stars hint at the celestial wisdom contained in this image. Notice the crescent moons on the man’s shoulders. Astrologically, the card is associated with Cancer, ruled by the Moon, so these crescents are fitting. But they’re also pointed outward, indicating that the charioteer is not self-reflecting, but reflecting on the outer world instead. Accomplishing goals through will power necessitates clear reflection on the situation.
On his head, the figure wears a green laurel and a golden star, indicating his spiritual enlightenment. The Chariot is about ascending to the highest realms of consciousness possible, not simply about accomplishing worldly goals. While the Chariot can simply represent situations involving competitive people or the determined pursuit of goals, it’s secret meaning is that devotion to spiritual advancement will eventually give the dedicated seeker power to exert one’s will over reality. By achieving enlightenment, one may grasp the reins of the two sphinxes—the two poles of reality—and take control. So to exert one’s will power on reality means both achieving mundane objectives in the real world as well as achieving the highest spiritual goal of enlightenment and transcendence above material reality.
The charioteer wears a square on his chest, symbolizing the metaphysical element Earth. Earth symbolizes manifestation and solidification, success and finalization, so it’s a fitting choice for the charioteer. The alchemical symbols on his apron further indicate that his ability to manifest solid results in mundane matters is a result of his secret spiritual wisdom. He also holds the Magician’s wand in his right hand, a phallic symbol for the divine masculine principles of actualization.
Finally, notice that the charioteer is riding away from the city, indicating his turning away from worldly matters to focus on the spiritual pursuit. The wisdom of this card is clear: abandon worldly pursuits and pursue spiritual union instead, the result will be an ability to manifest desires beyond the limitations of the world.
In readings, the Chariot represents a need to use determination and will power to doggedly pursue your goals. If you’re facing a dilemma about whether to act or wait, the Chariot is an indication that you must take vigorous and sustained action and that now is not a time to wait on the sidelines if you want to reach your goal. The Chariot tells you that success depends on your own will power. Patience is not in this card’s vocabulary.
As a challenge card, the Chariot could represent a competitive environment or person. If a particular person is actively competing against you for the same goal, they may appear in a reading as the Chariot card. For example, if you are going in for a job interview, you may receive the Chariot card as a reminder that many people are competing against you for this position and so you must focus all your will power to succeed. Or the Chariot could represent a person who is more actively competing against you because of jealousy, envy or obsession.
In reverse, the Chariot represents lacking self-control or direction. A reversed Chariot is overly aggressive, stubborn and too competitive where cooperation would be more beneficial. If the Chariot is normally about marshaling all of your resources to achieve a specific goal, then the reversed Chariot is about misusing your energy in ways that do not contribute to your success. Imagine if the two sphinxes drawing the chariot each decided to move in opposite directions. The energy would be wasted and the rider would get nowhere. Worse, he might even be thrown off and the chariot itself could be damaged. That’s what the reversed Chariot is all about: a misallocation of energy that results in failure.
If the Lovers card was about choosing which values to uphold and which to soften, the Chariot now urges us to take action in pursuit of our chosen values. The card encourages us to pursue spiritual growth first, because doing so will result in a mastery over the positive and negative forces that comprise reality. But whether our pursuits are spiritual or worldly, the Chariot teaches that success depends on our own will power and not necessarily on outer circumstances. By taking the reins of life and exerting your will in spiritual or physical matters, you become the Chariot.