The Chariot (Card Seven in the Tarot’s Major Arcana) is typically viewed as a sign of triumph through strength of will, but it also presents a cautionary note about the price we may have to pay for victory. Beyond such worldly meanings, however, we also can find spiritual guidance in this card that can transform our mundane striving for material success into a vehicle for the realization of our soulful purpose.
The most common version of the Chariot card shows a charioteer riding out from a walled city. On his shoulders are epaulets shaped like crescent moons, each bearing a mask––one smiling and one frowning. His chariot has a canopy decorated with stars, indicative of the heavens above, and it is pulled by two sphinxes, one white and one black. The man holds no reins though, which may imply that these beasts are controlled by some other means, such as the sheer willpower of the charioteer. Another curious thing about this card is the way that the chariot appears to be a solid cube, out of which the charioteer seems to rise as though he is part of the chariot itself.
These features suggest various meanings for this card. First, the black and white sphinxes are symbolic of the fact that success often depends on our ability to understand and control opposing forces, such as our sense of responsibility to others versus our personal needs and desires. In order to achieve our goals, we must compel these conflicting forces to work together in order to pull us forward instead of apart, even if we are not yet able to reconcile them.
The Chariot card also talks about the risks of victory, especially when we only measure success in tangible and material terms. As we race toward victory on the physical plane, we should be wary of running roughshod over other people. While such a course may bring us material success, where does it take us spiritually? The image of the charioteer being embedded in his chariot also suggests that we should consider the role of our ambition. Does it serve us, or has it consumed us and made us a part of it?
The charioteer’s epaulets suggest that often we wear a mask in order to get ahead in life. Certainly, we all wear masks in our various roles in life, but the danger lies in confusing our essential being with the masks we present to others. Parent, co-worker, friend, and lover––these are among the roles we may play, but behind the masks we wear, each of us is a soul on a journey through life. We must remember that although our drive toward material success is not necessarily bad or wrong, it is subordinate to our spiritual journey.
And so a valuable message of this card is that we should evaluate our goals carefully and consider what, at a deep, soulful level, we are striving for. In his book, The Tarot, Paul Foster Case said, regarding the message of the Chariot card, “The more perfectly we understand that the office of human personality is to serve as a vehicle for cosmic forces, the more freely does the Primal Will behind all manifestation find expression through us.” Thus, we can see that the key to real success in our lives is to become receptive to and aligned with Divine Will, which then can direct and empower our personal will. Regardless of whether or not this brings us the material success we think we want, it will carry us forward along the more authentic path of our spiritual purpose.
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James Ricklef is a Tarot reader, lecturer, and writer. He has been a frequent workshop presenter at Tarot conferences and symposia from Los Angeles to New York. He is the author of several Tarot books, including Tarot Tells the Tale which was first runner up in the General Interest category for the 2004 Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR) Awards. (A revised version of that book is now available as Tarot Reading Explained.) He is also the creator of the acclaimed Tarot of the Masters deck.