“May the force be with you.”
─General Dodonna, Star Wars
The Charioteer is no lily-livered coachman. Historically, chariot races were similar to gladiatorial events—even the act of handling a two-horse run placed its driver at great risk, if he could not maintain control over them. Chariots driving at high speeds were fair game for sabotage during the races, always running the risk of being torn apart.
From these inevitable dangers and the necessary hard-earned valor to steer through them evolved a deep psychological need for appreciation, validation, and celebration. Therefore the chariot also became a symbol of celebrated victory in Rome, where heroes returned from war and rode through the city streets in an honorary procession among paparazzi. These parades and ceremonies became part of our time-honored culture, even today—another way of showing public appreciation and honoring our charioteers.
Symbolically therefore The Chariot came to mean incredible acts of will, control, and authority—the kind of discipline that ultimately needs no reins, but maintains all things with sheer force of mind. This level of control required eyes on the prize with no distraction—the ultimate focus.
The Chariot also came to symbolize a type of competitiveness that wins or achieves success. Most scholars agree that The Chariot probably has its roots in Plato’s Phaedrus, where he writes that the mind is a chariot drawn by two horses—one black, and one white. In his analogy, the ego (the black horse) in the earth plane remains ever present and functional in its own right, to be controlled and reined no more or no less than the white horse (higher consciousness).
In the Rider-Waite art, the horses were replaced by Sphinxes, beasts with several times more power, and no more reconciled to each other than the original horses. This is usually seen as the heads or bodies of creatures turning away from each other. The Charioteer was required to exercise hard control over these two forces of the psyche that, while not literally knocking heads, were well set on steering his carriage in opposite directions. This at the very least represents the dualities, complications, and contradictions of life.
Most tarot decks are quick to present a freeze frame of The Chariot. We do not really see the charioteer as if in motion, but stolid and stone-like, as if holding all things together by sheer force of consciousness. He wears the two lunar faces of the High Priest, Urin and Thummim, on his epaulets. In fact, many of the symbols he wears or carries seem to be a consolidation of all the previous cards. We might say that the charioteer, in order to be who he is, must contain all the characteristics of the previous symbols rolled into one.
It’s interesting to note that the charioteer does not ride into battle without an amulet. Above his shield is a winged orb. This winged disc was originally found on stelae, above temple gates in Egypt, dating from the Ptolemaic period. Its official name was Behdety, being associated with the god Behdety, which merged with the deity Horus to become Horus of Behdet. This was recorded in the ancient Book of the Dead after Horus defeated Set and was venerated as champion. The Behdety was also called the Great Flyer, symbolizing Divine protection of the king. Some say the winged orb represents the Divine, the true light in which humans form a brotherhood of government under the sun.
Winged sun discs also appeared in other ancient cultures: Sumerian, Assyrian and Hittite. While many other artifactual symbols exist in human culture, this particular symbol is one of the most ancient and frequently used in recorded human history.
Originally coined in Kung Fu and adopted by the US Marines, “Pain is fear leaving the body” is a motto that a charioteer might live by. The Chariot knows and creates achievement; but effort is expected, and a certain amount of struggle is required to triumph against the odds. It corresponds with the printed Hebrew letter Chet, the general meaning of the letter name being “fence.”
Perhaps the primary danger when setting out to achieve any lengthy, difficult endeavor is the inevitable building fence around one’s vulnerability, and in that sense cloaking one’s humanity. The potential victory of the Chariot does call for the checks and balances of accepting the potential of our human error. Through its discipline, pain, and perseverance, however, there is a promise of payoff. Forge ahead. Don’t give up.
“This, you see, is the hope that all mankind is to rest upon: this life force that stoops to serve the individual need, yet compresses itself further down to meet the very seedbed of all nature, and hence rises above all that matter would attempt to contain. It cannot be contained in any way, shape, or form, not within your body, nor mine, nor any of that which creeps and crawls the earth.”
Uncommon Tarot Meanings:
♠ Travel may be indicated
♣ Nostalgia about your hometown or making a home away from home
♥ Unexpected news by word of mouth
♦ A strong personality