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 inner animal.

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 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 tarot card number 5 The Hierophant – refers to the fusion of duality into oneness.

The wheels of the car have eight spokes. This is a reference to an ancient kundalini symbol: the eight-pointed Morning Star, which has its own tarot card: number 17 De Star.

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 Visconti di Modrone Chariot, 15th century.

The personal coat of arms of Gian Galeazzo Visconti. The French motto A Bon Droyt means: rightly so.

The eightpointed MORNING STAR (click here). Also visible in the background of the Visconti card. 

The blue roof with stars (‘heaven’) represents the connection with the divine. 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 (right), 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 (below left).

There are also similarities with the way in which the Assumption of the prophet Eliah is depicted. The Bible says that Eliah was taken to heaven by a fiery chariot with fiery horses (2 Kings 2:11). This is a metaphor for the final stage of a kundalini process. Read more about this in my book ‘John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ’.

Below right an icon of the Assumption of Eliah. The eight-spoked chariot wheels here also refer to the kundalini symbol the eight-pointed MORNING STAR (click here). The flames around Eliah have the (pinecone) shape of the PINEAL GLAND (click here), which plays a major role in the kundalini process and the God-experience.

The Visconti-Sforza Chariot, 15th century.

Apollo on his chariot, by Pinturicchio, circa 1509.

Ancient icon of the ascension of the prophet Eliah in a ‘fiery chariot with fiery horses’.

The woman on the Visconti-Sforza card sits on a throne, between two spiral shaped pillars, that are a reference to the two polar energy channels that flow on both sides of the spine and that keep us connected to duality (the ida nadi and pingala nadi).

Spiraling pillars were also used in Christian art of the time to communicate (veiled) that Jesus had gone through a kundalini awakening. The paintings below are two examples. Read about the kundalini process of Jesus in my book ‘John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ’. 

Jesus discussing with the scribes. He points up to the SPIRAL PILLAR (click here) and with his other hand to his PELVIS, the abode of the kundalini. (Garofalo Benvenuto Tisi, 1520)

Jesus stands between two SPIRALING PILLARS (click here). With both his hands he makes the sign of the SACRED MARRIAGE (click here): two fingers together, 2=1. (Bernardino Passeri, 1593, Bowyer Bible)

The platform on which the Visconti-Sforza woman sits is hexagonal: the hexagram is the universal symbol for the fusion of polarities. Her dress also has hexagons on it.

A globus cruciger (circa 1879)

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, 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 .

Hermes/Mercury

That a kundalini awakening is the underlying theme of the tarot card The Chariot can also be deduced from two of the very first printed copies: the Rothshield deck and the Tarot of Bologna (on the right). Only uncoloured, uncut printed sheets of the Rothschild deck have been preserved.

Both decks have replaced the woman on the Chariot with a man with wings on his helmet; a reference to the Greek god Hermes (Mercury to the Romans), whose serpent staff the caduceus is the classical symbol for a kundalini awakening (below).

Rothschild deck (circa 1500)

Tarot of Bologna
(circa 1600)

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, etc.).

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 (above left) 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 (above center) card have different colors: blue and red – the colors of the feminine and masculine. The horses of Nicolas Conver (above right) 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 (kundalini) 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: the polar energies (sun and moon) are fused. The scepter partly coincides with one of the spiral shaped pillars: a reference to the kundalini energy.

The SCEPTER (click here) and the PILLAR (click here) are both a symbol for the awakened spine.

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.

Nicolas Conver, detail.

Sun symbol

According to Plato, two forces (horses) are active in us.

Plato describes the dichotomy in man: 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.

This DICHOTOMY in man can also be found in the Bible. Read more in my book ‘John the baptist who became Jezus the Christ’.

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 decks, as we will now see.

The Oswald Wirth Tarot

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 they represent. 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 di Modrone Tarot. The stars are all five-pointed: a pentagram stands in the tarot for the perfected human (see tarot card The Magician). 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 variant invented by Wirth on the yoni-lingam symbol from the Tantra tradition, which stands for the fusion of masculine and feminine (energies). The small yellow DOUBLE CIRCLE (click here) on the front of the car’s roof is a symbol from alchemy, which also symbolizes the merging of the polar energies. We also see this double circle along the roof of the chariot on Jean Noblet’s Tarot of Marseille card (above).

Oswald Wirth Tarot (1889)

Illustration by Oswald Wirth,
from ‘La Clef de La Magie Noir’, circa 1920.

Above right, the charioteer is depicted in a different way, but with the same symbolic meaning as the tarot card The Chariot. It is an illustration by Oscar Wirth from the occult book ‘La Clef de La Magie Noir’. The charioteer sits atop (mastery) a tilted square (the earth) consisting of a white triangle with the Hebrew letters YHWH (God), and a black triangle with an image of the devil. The two triangles represent respectively the higher and lower nature in man. They also represent the polar energies (duality) in general. They are the two triangles of the hexagram. These are fused into a square in this image. At the bottom lies the Fool from tarot card number 0. The Fool represents the person who does not know about God, or who rejects Him. The Fool too has been conquered by the charioteer: he has realized the divine.

The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot

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 up, as it were, from the cube. This is symbolism that traces back to Ancient Egypt (see below center) and refers to victory over matter (the cube).

Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (1909)

Amun priest Hor (Ancient Egypt)

From: The Magus, or Celestial Intelligencer (Francis Barrett, 1801)
Source: www.fromoldbooks.org

The laurel wreath that the man wears stands for his achieved spiritual victory. The eight-pointed star on his crown is the MORNING STAR (click here) and refers to a kundalini awakening (see also tarot card The Star). On the belt, around his waist, are (probably) the signs of the zodiac. Below the belt, on his clothing, are geomantic symbols (see illustration below right). 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 tip of their tail 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. The alchemical illustration below on the left, makes a connection between a square (cube) and the ouroboros. Similar symbolism can be seen in a rare depiction of Al-Buraq, the divine mount of the prophet Mohammed (below right). 

From the alchemical manuscript
“The Crowning of Nature”

Al-Buraq (in this illustration from circa 1775) is the ‘animal with the female head’ on which the prophet Mohammed made his famous Night Journey through the seven heavens (read: chakras), an event that we may take as a metaphor for a kundalini awakening.

With the hand with which he holds his scepter (symbol for his awakened spine), the RWS charioteer makes the sign of SACRED MARRIAGE (click here): two fingers together, 2=1.

Behind the chariot is a river: the charioteer has made a successful (spiritual) crossing. He has left the city, in the background, a symbol for ‘the world’. Leaving a city is also in the Bible a metaphor for a departure from a materialistic lifestyle. Read more about this in my book ‘John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ’.

Château des Avenières

The charioteer on the mosaic of Château des Avenières (below left) wears the atef crown of Osiris; the Egyptian god who stands for resurrection and renewal (below center). A uraeus cobra is placed at the front of the crown; the Egyptian symbol for 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.

Château des Avenières (1917)

The Egyptian god Osiris
with atef crown, heka and nekhakha.

The Egyptian god Ptah
with
was-scepter
(Hermitage Museum)

The shepherd’s staff (heka) in the hand of Osiris symbolizes the spine with the kundalini energy in it, and refers to “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. The charioteer has in his left hand both a heka and the nekhakha. They are placed on the serpentine belt that the man wears. We may see this as a confirmation of our interpretation that both represent the kundalini.

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 (left) refer to the was-scepter with which rulers (gods, kings, priests) in Ancient Egypt were depicted (see Ptah, above right). It is not 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.

Conclusion

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 Bhagavad 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.

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) –

Arjuna and Krishna go to battle (Bhagavad Gita)

Starchild Tarot
(Danielle Noel, 2014)
 www.starchildtarot.com

A unicorn represents sublimated (transformed) animal energies. Its white color stands for purification. His spiral horn, at the height of the third eye, symbolizes the awakened and ascended kundalini energy.

Olympus Tarot

(©Lo Scarabeo, 2002)

This card beautifully depicts the mystical experience: flying through the air, free from the earth, without clothes (free from the ego), and with the purity / wholeness of a child. The myth that the card refers to is also applicable: this is the Greek god Hermes – the god with the caduceus –  who personifies the kundalini energy. He is pulled by the (stolen) cows of the god Apollo.

Retro Tarot Deck

(Anthony Testani)

This hilarious version of The Fool is the exact opposite of The Chariot.

Dragons Tarot

(©Lo Scarabeo, 2004)

In Eastern iconography, gods and saints (in this case the Jade Emperor, the supreme god in Taoism) are often depicted sitting on, or riding, a dragon. This symbolizes that the inner dragon (the animal drives) has been conquered and is used as a means of transport to the divine dimensions.

Harmonious Tarot

(©Lo Scarabeo, 2005)

The (sacred) marriage has taken place: the male and female energies have merged. The chariot is heading for the Kingdom of God. Cupid is sitting on one of the horses: the primal forces of love are a catalyst in the process of spiritual awakening.

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

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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

2022-03-24T09:49:08+00:00
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