The chariot is pulled by two horses, red roan on its right, blue roan on its left, each pulling toward its own side. Lush green vegetation grows in the foreground in front of the chariot.
The chariot has two reddish-bronze wheels of eight spokes (four thick and four thin), and we can see the ends of the axle connecting them. Four posts, colored red, blue, green and yellow (chariot's front-right, front-left, back-left, back-right, respectively), support a midnight-blue canopy decorated with the seven stars of the Wain (Big Dipper) in silver; the Pointers (Merak and Dubhe) are directed to the front of the chariot. The front of the red chariot box is richly decorated with golden oak leaves, laurel leaves, figs, horses, wolves and woodpeckers. In the center a serpent curls around the rim of a round, bronze shield with the astrological sign for Aries in the center.
The characteristics of the Hero - courage, competitiveness, aggressiveness, strength, will - are potent instruments of good and ill, and he may bring salvation or destruction. But, however great his deeds, he will not be welcomed home with a Triumph nor be celebrated as a Hero unless his victory is more than personal, unless it is a victory for the people. In this he is guided by the seven stars above him, his destiny, which is the Wain (i.e., the Wagon), the way to the center around which the heavens revolve.
It is especially important that the Hero master and control the raw animal energy of his horses - physical and spiritual - which pull in different directions. For this he needs a strong, steady hand on the twin reins of will and intelligence, without which he will not have a steady vehicle from which to wield his spear and slay whatever dragons he encounters.
The wolf reminds us that the Hero may be ruthless, as does the Bronze Age shield. Made from a bronze plate over seven layers of tough oxhide, the shield also warns us that the Hero may shield himself from human compassion, hiding his face behind layers of protection. Though this shield covers the entire person, it is too great a burden, and it is eventually abandoned for the smaller, round shield, balanced in all directions, which must be maneuvered skillfully to parry blows.
On the other hand, the lush vegetation reminds us that the Hero's vitality is the force of life itself, striving to preserve and propagate itself and its kind, for Mars also fortifies and protects domesticated plants and animals. We may call Mars the God of Marches, for each new campaign must begin with a march and each spring season begins in March.
The archaic ancile (figure-of-8 shield) is a symbol of grandeur and security. According to legend, the first ancile fell from heaven on March 1 (Mars' birthday) in the reign of King Numa (715-673 BCE). It was taken to be a sign from Mars of the future glory of Rome, and was considered essential to the safety of the state. Therefore, eleven copies were made and the twelve ancilia were kept together in the sacrarium Martis (sacristy of Mars). At the beginning and end of the war season (Mar.-Oct.) the twelve Salii (Dancers), the priests responsible for these relics, took out the ancilia and sacred spears of Mars, and clashed them together (spear in right hand, shield on left arm) in a sacred procession and dance of victory. (OCD s.vv. Mars, Salii; Larousse 202-3; Oswalt 180-1)
For description of the figure-8 shield and its later abandonment, see Taylor (137-8), Guhl & Koner (237-8), and Nilsson (142-50); it is estimated to have weighed 40 pounds (Autenrieth s.v. aspis). Homer calls the smaller, round shield "well-balanced on every side" (pantos' eise, Il. III.347) and "well-rounded" (eukuklos, Il. V.453, 797). The snake on this well-rounded, balanced shield is the Nous (Mind) Serpent; it leads the chariot wherever it goes (Jung, MC 205).
The apple is a symbol for the cosmos, and when held by an emperor it represents his sovereignty over the world. In classical times the imperial apple was often surmounted by a Victory, thus representing victory over the world; in Christian times the pagan goddess was replaced by a cross, thus yielding the familiar orb and cross. (Biedermann 17) In alchemy the cross-over-circle is often taken to mean Earth, but Burckhardt (78-81) argues that it was the original symbol for Mars, in which case the signs for Mars and Venus are inversions of each other (which is appropriate for this couple; see below).
In our image, the overly defensive Bronze Age shield bears the sign of Mars, with its violent connotations, whereas the "well-rounded" shield on the chariot bears the sign of the more pastoral Aries (concerning which, see below).
The green vegetation reminds us the Mars was originally a god of vegetation, fertility and new vitality (Nichols 143). He is especially associated with the efflorescence of spring, and is responsible for the well-being and protection of domestic plants and animals. Mars was originally equivalent to Silvanus, the spirit of the wilderness, and Rhea Silvia was his wife, who bore him Romulus and Remus. (Larousse 202) A common epithet of Mars was gradivus, which refers to his fostering of growth (grandiri, to grow). In later times gradivus was taken to refer to marching (gradi, to march), and so he is gradivus in two ways: an agricultural deity and a martial deity. (Larousse 202) I've tried to translate this pun by calling Mars "the God of Marches" and "the March God," simultaneously referring to the month and the action.
The charioteer holds the spear in his right hand, indicating that is the instrument of his conscious action; the reins are in his left hand because he has internalized (made unconscious) his ability to govern his drives and actions. The two reins represent intelligence and will (Cooper s.v. chariot), and the corresponding horses represent physical energy (red roan) and spiritual energy (blue roan) (Nichols 141). The white hairs in the roans' coats remind us that intelligence and will should be tempered by pure intentions, for without the intermixed white the horses' coats would be brown and black. (We see the red and blue horses in the Marseilles tarot, and many esoteric tarots have the chariot pulled by creatures of contrasting color.)
The charioteer is the ego-transcending guiding force that must govern the spirit (the horses) that move the chariot (the body) (Cooper s.v. chariot; Nichols 140, 143-4). To succeed in this he must balance the forces, which he accomplishes with the aid of Harmonia, his daughter (Biedermann s.v. chariot; Nichols 150). The metaphor is familiar, of course, from Plato's Phaedrus (246ff, 253ff) and other ancient texts.
To achieve a true victory, the charioteer must ensure that mind and body work together; he must harmonize (harmozein, join) the spiritual and physical. This is symbolized by the wheels of the chariot, which are heaven and earth, and the axle between them, which is the cosmic axis (Cooper s.v. chariot). The wheels have eight spokes because "the double quaternity or ogdoad stands for a totality, for something that is at once heavenly and earthly, spiritual or corporeal..." (Jung, MC 11). The same image appears in shamanism, where the World Tree, which connects heaven and earth, has eight branches, associated with eight great gods (Jung, Phil. Tree 305). The left-hand wheel is heaven, the spiritual plane; its four large spokes are the quarters of heaven, and the four small spokes are the quarters of earth as reflected in the heavens. Conversely, the right-hand wheel is earth, the physical plane; its four large spokes are the quarters of earth, and its four small spokes are the quarters of heaven as reflected on earth. The rotations of one wheel mirror the rotations of the other, so the wheels and axle embody the Hermetic maxim, "as above, so below; as below, so above." (Neo-Pagans will be reminded of the eightfold wheel of the year.)
Eight, of course, is also the number of the Chariot in our sequence and in the Ferrara sequence. Its Pythagorean interpretation is balance, completeness, heaven and earth, the four elements of the body governed by the fourfold soul, cosmic law and natural rhythm. On the other hand, the numerical value of ARHS OBRIMOS (Ares Obrimos, Mighty Ares) is 801, which reduces to 1-0+8 = 9 in the Hendecad. Therefore, the Chariot has the character of the Ennead, which the Pythagoreans say is perfect and unsurpassable, but incomplete. (See our interpretation of the Eights and Nines in the Minor Arcana)
The danger facing the Hero is hubris, usually translated "overweening pride." If his ego inflates and becomes invested with the trappings of victory, then his negative qualities will come forward, and the seeds of defeat will have been sowed (cf. Nichols 144-6). Then he will be like Ares, "hated by gods and mortals," the embodiment of unrefined brute strength and blind violence, obstinate and eager for strife, yet not nearly so successful as the more prudent Athena (his dual; see next) (Larousse 124-5; Sharman-Burke & Greene 39-41). However, true victory is possible if Mars is accompanied, as he often is, by Honos (Honor) and Virtus (Virtue) (Larousse 202).
The common modern tarot sequence makes the Chariot trump 7, which number is traditionally associated with victory, fate, destiny and transformation (Cooper 94; Nichols 143). This generally agrees with the Pythagorean interpretation, which also supports the trump 8 = Justice of the modern sequence (see my interpretation of the Sevens and Eights of the Minor Arcana). Furthermore, Chariot (Ares) and Justice (Athena) form a natural pair (blind violence versus cool, intelligent courage): (1) they were both war gods and often in conflict with each other, and (2) Ares was born by Hera without benefit of a father because she was angry at Zeus for bearing Athena without benefit of a mother (Larousse 125; Oswalt 181). (Note that "Hera" is a feminine form of Greek "Heros" - OCD s.v. Hera, Hero-cult)
The four posts of the chariot represent the four elements (Case 95); their colors are archetypal (Jung, P&A 164-70); in the manuscripts of Ramon Lull: yellow (or brown) = earth, green = water, blue = air, red = fire (Llull v. I, pll. XII, XIII; see also Cooper 60). Alternately, the elements can be symbolized by the colors of the alchemical opus: earth = black (nigredo), water = white (albedo), air = red (rubedo), fire = yellow (citrinitas) (Jung, MC 287). The Hero, standing in the middle of the four elemental posts, is a symbol of the Quintessence, the arcane substance which governs the others, the Anima Mundi (World Soul) (Nichols 140; Jung, MC 207).
The four pillars also correspond to the four temperaments in a standard way: brown/yellow (resp. nigredo) = melancholic, green (resp. albedo) = phlegmatic, blue (resp. rubedo) = sanguine, red (resp. citrinitas) = choleric. The red and blue pillars are in front (like the red and blue horses), since they are characteristic of the Hero and lead him, for the choleric temperament is irritable and inclined to fight, and the sanguine temperament is active, outward focused and successful. Trailing behind are the (lazy or peace-loving) phlegmatic nature and the (unsuccessful or thoughtful) melancholic nature. (Biedermann 114; Cooper 60; Jung, MC 287; Yates, OPEA 51)
By way of the elements, the posts also represent the four functions of the psyche (intuition, sensation, thought, feeling) (Nichols 141; Jung, MC 205). Though the exact correspondence is uncertain, Hamaker-Zondag (20) has intuition = fire, thinking = air, feeling = water, sensation = earth. The serpent is a traditional symbol of wisdom, and so we often find a Nous (Mind) serpent either pulling the chariot or riding in it (Jung, MC 205, 207), that is, guiding the four functions of the psyche and the four elements of the body. The charioteer guiding the chariot becomes a symbol for the spirit guiding the body (Jung, MC 208-9).
The Chariot is a symbol of the outward journey toward "individuation," that is, toward the fully integrated self (Nichols 139, 149). In this journey he is guided by the starry canopy above, in particular, by the Great Bear, which is also known as the Wain, that is, the Wagon, which is equivalent to the Chariot. The Wain points to the Pole, which represents the fixed self around which all psychic processes revolve. (Jung, MC 205) The Wain was also known as the Septem Triones (Seven Plough-Oxen), which connects it to trump 7, the Chariot in most modern tarots (Simon 26). The number 7 symbolizes fate and destiny (Nichols 143).
VI.Love (Aphrodite) precedes the Chariot (Ares) in the contemporary sequence, which reflects the well-known liaison of these gods, who correspond to the primary forces of Empedocles, Love (Philotes) and Strife (Neikos). Aphrodite and Ares are sometimes shown as a wedded couple sharing a chariot (OCD s.v. Ares); their offspring was Harmonia, who reconciles her parents (cf. VII.Temperance, between VI.Love and VIII.Strife in the Ferrara sequence).
Similarly, in the sequence of alchemical procedures, the Regimen Martis (R. of Mars) follows the Regimen Veneris (R. of Venus), and so the purple of Venus (see VI.Love) is followed by varied colors, but especially blue. (Jung, MC 289).
Of course, Nike crowning the charioteer at the moment of victory was a common motif in ancient times; she presides over victories of all sorts: in war, athletics, beauty, the crafts, and even over death. She is an imposing goddess, for she forms a quaternity with her sister Bia (Force) and her brothers Zelos (Zeal or Rivalry) and Kratos (Strength or Power). (OCD s.v. Nike) Her robes are purple to symbolize the pomp of the triumph, pride, the just victory and imperial power (Cooper s.v. colours). Of course, Victoria is closely associated with Mars (OCD s.v. Victoria).
The color red dominates our image for manifold reasons. In general terms it is the color of physical energy, blood, vitality and fire. It is the color of war gods, and specifically of Mars, the red planet. It is also the color of the sign Aries. (Cooper s.v. colours)
Common attributes of Ares include bronze armor, including a tall-crested helmet, and a spear. Animals connected with him include the woodpecker, wolf, dog and horse; plants include the bean, oak, dogwood and laurel. The ancile (figure-8 shield) has been discussed already. (Larousse 124-5, 202) Ares is often shown driving a chariot drawn by four horses, named Aithon (Red Fire), Phlogos (Flame), Conabos (Tumult) and Phobos (Terror); they may be taken to correspond to the four elements (Cooper s.v. chariot; Larousse 125; Oswalt 38) There are two horses in our image, since that is more appropriate to the interpretation and the elements are represented by the chariot posts.
In Petrarch's "Africa" and Albricus' "Allegoriae Poeticae" Mars comes, furious, full-bearded, in his blood-stained, three-horse chariot; he is in full armor, a shining helmet upon his head, a three-roped flail in his left hand. On his left, the cock crows on a block, and a wolf runs beside him, carrying the child in its mouth. The screaming Furies follow close behind.
On the Mars card in the Mantegna Tarocchi, Mars faces us, seated in a chariot with two pillars; a dog rests in front of his right foot. No horses are visible. Mars wears full armor and a winged helmet, and holds a sword upright in his right hand, his left resting at his waist. (Kaplan 40)
On Etruscan mirrors Maris (Mars) sits naked, on a cloak (or with it draped over his left shoulder), beardless or not, with short hair with a garland, or longish and curled; he holds a long (2.2 m.) staff or lance in his right (or left) hand, and leans on stick in his left hand. He may wear high boots and a Phrygian helmet. (van der Meer 116)
Both the Bergamo Visconti-Sforza and the Cary-Yale Visconti tarot decks are unusual in showing a woman in the chariot, which is drawn across the card by two white horses (winged, in the Visconti-Sforza case).
Many modern authors associate the Chariot with the sign Cancer, but I don't see a compelling reason for this. Kaplan (4-5) displays seven different tables of astrological correspondences for the Major Arcana; in particular, the Chariot has been associated with Gemini, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Libra and Cancer. I believe that the Chariot, like Mars, corresponds to Aries. First, Mars is the planet that rules Aries, and Mars displays the characteristics attributed to Aries. Second, Mars is intimately connected with the vernal equinox and the efflorescence of nature; he gave his name to March, which was the first month of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. His birthday was celebrated on the first of March, and he had important festivals throughout the month. March initiated the war season, and the traditional iconography of March is filled with symbols of Mars. (de Mailly Nesle 130-1; OCD s.v. Mars; Oswalt 180; Salzman 106-11)
Livy (Ad urbe cond. XXX.30) said: "Melior tutiorque est certa pax quam sperata victoria; haec in tua, illa in deorum manu est" (Better and safer is an assured peace than a victory hoped for; the one is in your own power, the other is in the hands of the gods).
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Last updated: Fri Jun 23 11:00:36 EDT 2000