7. The Chariot
The ceremony of a triumphal procession dates from ancient Rome. After an important victory, the army commander was publicly celebrated, riding through the streets of Rome, sitting or standing on a chariot. Card number 7 of the tarot, The Chariot, symbolizes a spiritual victory: the victory over matter and the animal drives.
The Visconti di Modrone Chariot
Even the very first tarot cards already had a spiritual meaning. The esoteric symbolism, however, is often subtle. They were different times and people had to be careful with statements that went against Christian dogmas.
Already in the 15th century The Chariot represented a spiritual triumph. On the Visconti di Modrone card we see a woman on a wagon pulled by two horses. She sits between two pillars and under a blue roof with stars on it. In her hands she holds a scepter and, barely visible, the personal coat of arms of Gian Galeazzo Visconti: a white dove with a banner and sunbeams.
The Visconti di Modrone Chariot
The personal coat of arms of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The French motto A Bon Droyt means: rightly so.
The scepter stands for mastery. Various elements on this map represent the conquered duality: the two pillars, the two horses, and the combination of a blue coat with a red hat from the man on the horses. Red and blue are the classic colors for, respectively, the masculine (fire, sun, heat) and feminine (water, moon, coolness). On the man’s clothing we also see a Y; a letter that in alchemy – as we saw with the Pope card – refers to the fusion of duality into a unity. The wheels of the car have eight spokes; this also stands for the fusion of the polarities (2 x 4 = 8). When discussing tarot card number 17, The Star, we will elaborate on the meaning of the number eight.
The animal instincts have also been conquered. The horses represent our animal drives. Their white color stands for purification. On the Visconti card, the purified animal energies are at the service of the woman: they pull the victory chariot.
The blue roof with stars represents the cosmic experience: everything is one. The coat of arms of Gian Galeazzo Visconti with white dove fits in seamlessly with this symbolism: the spiritual victory has been achieved through the workings of the Holy Spirit. Only with the help of God can man rise above matter.
The Visconti-Sforza Chariot
On a second card that has been preserved from the 15th century, the Visconti-Sforza Chariot, the two white horses have golden wings. Because of this you can no longer ignore a spiritual meaning. Wings represent the ability to ascend to the divine dimensions. The designer of this card was probably inspired by images of the god Apollo in his solar chariot (see below).
The Visconti-Sforza Chariot
Apollo on his chariot, by Pinturicchio, circa 1509.
The woman on the Visconti-Sforza card sits on a throne, between two twisted pillars. The spiral shape of the pillars is a reference to the two polar energy channels that flow on both sides of the spine and that keep us connected to duality. The platform on which the woman sits is hexagonal: the hexagram is the universal symbol for the fusion of polarities. Her dress also has a hexagonal pattern.
A globus cruciger
The woman is wearing a crown and she is holding a scepter and a globus cruciger (a globe with a cross on it). As we saw when discussing the The Emperor card, a globus cruciger stands for the victory of spirit (the cross) over matter (the globe). The wings of the horses are an additional element to express that the animal drives have been sublimated (transformed).
Remarkably, on both Visconti cards a woman is depicted, while in the centuries that follow we only see victorious men, which corresponds to a triumphal procession traditionally being for army commanders.
An explanation for this could be that the cards are a tribute to certain women from the Visconti family. Another reason could be that it is a reference to God’s (Holy) Spirit, or the kundalini energy, which is considered feminine in most spiritual traditions, and which is the active divine power in a spiritual awakening. Comparable to the tarot cards The High Priestess and The Empress .
The Tarot of Marseille
On The Chariot from the Tarot of Marseille we see a man in military clothing, with a scepter and a crown, standing in a wagon that has the shape of a cube. The roof above his head rests on four pillars. Both the cube shape and the four pillars refer to matter / the physical dimensions: in numerology four is the number of the earth (four elements, four cardinal directions, four seasons).
Tarot of Marseille,
by Jacques Viéville (1650)
Tarot of Marseille,
by Jean Noblet (1659)
Tarot of Marseille,
by Nicolas Conver (1760)
In symbolism, the moon, with its ever-changing shape, stands for duality and the impermanence of creation. This meaning is confirmed by the faces of the moons on the shoulders of the driver: one looks happy and the other one looks sad.
There are also differences between the various Marseille cards. The two horses on Jacques Viéville’s card have a man’s head with a crown. The meaning of this is that the human will is controlling the animal drives. The horses on the Jean Noblet card have different colors: blue and red – the colors of the feminine and masculine. The horses of Nicolas Conver are both blue in color; a reference to the “deification” of the animal drives.
On two cards (Viéville and Conver) the horses have no hind legs, but are attached to the chariot with their bodies. This symbolizes that the horses and the chariot cannot be viewed separately. The chariot represents the body of man (vehicle of the soul) and the horses represent the animal instincts, which we experience through the body – a consequence of our animal origin.
The man on the Viéville card has two suns on his chest; a reference to the divine energies that flow through him. The scepter on the card of Nicolas Conver is enriched with the symbols for the sun, the moon and (probably) the earth. The symbols are partly overlapping, to indicate a ‘fusion’: the cosmic experience, everything is one.
The scepter of Nicolas Conver
The philosophies of Plato have probably served as a source of inspiration for the Chariot of the Marseille decks. In his work Phaedrus Plato uses the metaphor of a wagon with two horses, for the forces at work in man. One of the two horses is white in color, noble, obedient and immortal; the other horse is black, deformed, stubborn and mortal. Plato describes the dichotomy in humans: we all have a higher, divine nature, and also a lower, animal nature. The white horse wants to ascend to heaven. The black horse pulls the other way, towards the earth. The mind of man (the charioteer) must get these contradictory forces in the right direction.
According to Plato, two forces (horses) are active in us.
The bodies of the horses on the Marseille Chariot are in opposite directions. However, their heads look the same way: the charioteer has managed to keep a course on the divine. Oswald Wirth and Arthur E. Waite incorporated this theme into their tarot, as we will now see.
Oswald Wirth’s Chariot stays close to the Tarot of Marseille. The two horses have become two sphinxes, in a dark and a light color, to emphasize the duality that they stand for. A sphinx – a lion’s body with a woman’s head – represents control over the animal drives. Just like the two moons on the man’s shoulders, the sphinxes also have different facial expressions.
On Wirth’s card the wheels have six spokes; a reference to the hexagram. He brings back the roof with the stars from the Visconti Tarot. The stars are all five-pointed: a pentagram stands in the tarot for the perfected human. At the top of the scepter we see a triangle on a circle; this symbolizes the victory of spirit (the triangle) over matter (the circle).
On the front of the car a winged sun disk is depicted; a symbol from Ancient Egypt that refers to deification. The figure under the winged sun disk is a self-made variant of the yoni-lingam symbol from the Tantra tradition, which stands for the fusion of male and female (energies). The yellow circular symbol on the front of the roof of the car refers to the coveted “philosopher’s stone” (the state of God-realization) of the alchemist.
Oswald Wirth (1889)
Artist Pamela Colman-Smith added a number of new elements to the Chariot. It is no longer the two sphinxes / horses that are part of the chariot, but the charioteer himself. The chariot, which also has the shape of a cube, seems to rest on the ground. The charioteer rises, as it were, from the cube. This is symbolism that traces back to Ancient Egypt (see below) and refers to victory over matter / the body (the cube).
The laurel wreath that the man wears stands for his achieved spiritual victory. The crown with the eight-pointed star has the same meaning as the eight spokes in the wheel of the Visconti-Chariot. On the belt, around his waist, are (probably) the signs of the zodiac. Below the belt, on his clothing, are geomantic symbols. These were used for magic rituals by members of the occult group The Golden Dawn, of which Arthur E. Waite and Pamela Colman-Smith were members.
The two sphinxes – not visibly attached to the cube – hold the tips of their tails between their front legs. This is a reference to the ouroboros, the serpent that bites its own tail: a symbol from alchemy that refers to the oneness of everything.
Amun priest Hor (Ancient Egypt)
From an alchemical manuscript:
“The Crowning of Nature”
Château des Avenières
The charioteer on the mosaic of Château des Avenières wears the atef crown of Osiris; the Egyptian god who stands for resurrection and renewal. A uraeus cobra is placed at the front of the crown; the Egyptian symbol of the kundalini energy. The two red feathers on the side of the crown symbolize, just like the wings of the caduceus, the completion of a kundalini process.
The shepherd’s staff (heka) in the hand of Osiris symbolizes the spine with the kundalini energy in it, and stands for “herding” the inner animal. The flail (nekhakha) refers to the suffering that accompanies a kundalini awakening. Dismantling and discarding the ego (the old man) is rarely painless. The three ribbons on the flail represent the three energy channels involved in a kundalini awakening.
Château des Avenières (1917), detail
The Egyptian god Ptah with was-scepter (Hermitage Museum)
On the roof of the car we see gold- and silver-colored pentagrams: the colors that are connected to the polar energies (sun and moon). The chariot rests on a globe: the charioteer has gained mastery over matter.
The corners of the chariot refer to the was-scepter with which rulers (gods, kings, priests) in Ancient Egypt were depicted. It is not exactly clear which animal it is on a was-scepter (and on the chariot), and this ambiguity is intended. This so-called “Seth-beast” represents the animal in man. The was-scepter stands for power over the animal drives. The bottom of the scepter is often forked (two-pointed); this referes to duality that, together with the animal drives, has been mastered.
The Chariot stands for victory: the spiritual aspirant has mastered the temptations of the world (money, status, power, fame, etc.) and the animal impulses of the body. The image of a chariot indicates that a battle had to be fought.
This is the subject of the Bhagavad Gita, the holy book of the yogis. The Gita is a dialogue between prince Arjuna and Krishna, who are sitting in a chariot together. Arjuna is about to fight against his own family (read: himself), with his army, to get his rightful place on the king’s throne (the Kingdom of God). The Gita is about the fight in man between his higher and lower nature. Arjuna is advised by Krishna (God), who also controls the horses of the chariot. In the ultimate battle with our demons and animal drives we are helped by God.
Arjuna and Krishna go to battle (Bhagavad Gita)
Though thousand times a thousand
in battle one may conquer,
yet should one conquer just oneself
one is the greatest conqueror.
– The Buddha (Dhammapada, verse 103) –
This article was published in Paravisie Magazine (August ’19). Copyright Anne-Marie Wegh 2019
Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ
Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres