Arcana in Balance: The Chariot (reprise)




According to, Richard Bach has said  “You teach best what you most need to learn”

This holds true in Tarot work, certainly. The major arcana has a special-ness and mystique around it. It is fairly common to have at least one card that feels special, a personal card, a ‘personal significator’ if that makes sense. It is fun to think about your personal card.

Which do you think is yours? Browsing through a deck to see which captures your eye and mind the most is a good way to find it, or browse a book of tarot card meanings to see which resonates with you. By the same token, there is often a card that is especially difficult and dissonant.

This personal card idea is akin to the idea of teaching what you most need to know, as well as the “Lens of Understanding” post HERE.  Writing about Tarot tends to reflect personal resonances and biases, no matter how much we try to be objective.

If the Pope is my nemesis, than the Chariot is an ally.

I write about the central ideas of the Chariot often. It is akin to my “one thing” lens. As I see it, the Chariot embraces many of the things I hold important. The chariot is part of my world-lens, and so it is a comfortable card to have in a reading.

The Chariot is the card of awareness, not blind convention. At the same time it has the flavor of no-hold-barred, yet natural effort. It holds elements of wu wei from Taoism…effortless effort, much done by doing nothing but allowing the natural flow, like a chariot rolling full tilt down a hill…under the charioteers control, but also requiring little energy save gravity to move it forward.

I like the image and feel of the Chariot. It is smart, and skilled and aware…things I aspire to be. It is the scholar warrior, all the compassion and wisdom and protection and action, and engaged-with-the-here-and-now awareness of surroundings you see in movie’s martial arts heroes. It is the competence, intellect and autonomy of a test pilot. The Chariot card is part Bruce Lee, part Chuck Yeager (both are figures I enjoy…I recommend watching Bruce Lee’s “be like water” interview and reading Chuck Yeager’s autobiography “Press On”).

So there you have my love letter to the Chariot card. I find it helpful to understand these characteristics of the card to better understand the balanceing point that the card asks us to examine. The balance point of the Chariot card is awareness vs obliviousness, attention vs habit. It is engaged and aware vs going through life on auto-pilot. It is mindful vs mindless.

All in all, a very Buddhist concept – which is why I linked this to the “lens of understanding” post. This is a point of view that works for me…it may not work for you….and that is just fine by me. I believe it is wrong to hold up one world view as being  the “one true way” or better than any other world view. I also believe it is unwise to dismiss a philosophy just because it is different from yours. You can find truth anywhere, learn it from anyone.

Philosophy aside, a jet fighter pilot is a more apt analogy for this card anyway…did I mention Chuck Yeager?

If you are breaking the sound barrier, or being hurled off the end of an aircraft carrier at an insanely fast speed, you have to pay attention to what is happening and what you are doing or else bad things happen.

It’s the same for formula 1 drivers and many others …. lose your focus at the wrong moment and you wake up dead one day.  The Chariot is a good card for adrenaline junkies.

Even if the most exciting part of your day is rush hour on the parkway, falling asleep at the wheel isn’t healthy, either literally or figuratively.

Daily routine can be numbing. It is tempting to go through it on auto pilot. It is easy to sleep. Like Frank Herbert wrote in Dune…the sleeper must awaken. When we awaken can improve our quality of life. If we awaken now, plug in to life even if it is mundane and routine, then the mundane and routine is livelier, brighter, fuller. If we wait too long, the party is over before we appreciate it, the rose withers before we’ve smelled it.

For those of us who came of age in the 80s…here is another good example…Buckaroo Bonzai. Remember he was a martial artist and the scene of  him meditating…and how he was calm, clear, competent, and aware no matter what? That’s what I’m talking about.  Now compare Buckaroo to the government bureaucrats in the same movie. That is the balance the Chariot card asks us to consider.

Are you awake or asleep? Are you engaged in life, or letting it slip by. If you can’t stand to be engaged in your life, why aren’t you changing either yourself or your circumstances so you can be awake and engaged? Are you CHOOSING or just letting things happen by default. Even if the default IS what you want and choose, isn’t it better to mindfully deliberately choose the status quo rather than allow it to happen with no thought at all? My copy of “Above the Clouds” is somewhere in the basement, but I remember a conversation between Jonathan and Richard about the choice to be meat-eating vs vegetarian. I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was something on the order that his father didn’t care so much whether he ate meat or not, but rather that he made the choice mindfully and deliberately.

Here is where I might annoy some of you, but I’m serious. Turn things upside down and inside out in your thinking…and sometimes you find something pretty cool….

If the chariot turns up, ask yourself what would (Bruce Lee / Chuck Yeager /Buckaroo Bonzai /person you admire) do? Where are you asleep at the wheel and where do you need to engage, be aware, and ACT …or NOT act, as the case may be. Where do you need to take the reins and drive the chariot of your life and where is it just dragging you along?

Wishing you both awareness and enjoyment of what you see.