We’ll conclude our exploration of the first row of the Major Arcana with the Chariot, card 7, which represents our send-off point from Row One, representing consciousness, to Row Two, where we begin our journey into the realms of the subconscious. And remember, if you’re just joining us you can start at the beginning with this post.
Are you a control freak?
The Chariot is an emblem of control. We see the charioteer in command of what appear to be two powerfully strong, and one might imagine, willful beasts, but he directs them without the need of reins, but rather through the force of his will. In practical terms, we can see the Chariot in everyday life by thinking of someone (perhaps this person is you?) who seems to have it all under control: successful career, a long list of accomplishments, rarely gives in and eats that last bite of chocolate cake. Sound familiar?
These are the people who others often look up to and wish to emulate, and in many ways, the Chariot is a strong, accomplished archetype that can bring rich rewards when channeled. The key, as we’ve found with all of the cards we’ve looked at so far, is to remember that there is more to life than the success represented by the Chariot. Yes, landing a great job or buying the house of your dreams can be wonderful things, and they can provide the stability that allows us to pursue personal growth that we might otherwise ignore if we’re too busy struggling to make ends meet.
Where the Chariot can trip us up, however, is when we fall prey to the belief that this level of success is all there is, and we stop evolving. Not surprisingly, many films and books explore the idea of the outwardly successful person who feels empty and lost, and who embarks on a journey to find a deeper level of satisfaction. Again, I want to emphasize that there is nothing wrong with the outward gains, per se; I am not in the camp of spiritual seekers who believes you must eschew all material pleasures by any means. But it is all too common to believe that by reaching this level of success one will find true happiness, only to be disappointed.
How my controlling behavior trashed my health
Another danger associated with the Chariot is a common side effect of control, and that is rigidity. I have a personal story that will illustrate this well. For the past fifteen years, I have been a very strict vegetarian (and vegan for the last two of those years). I was struggling with a lot of health issues, such as hormonal imbalances and poor digestion, both of which have a cascade effect on every area of the body, and I was incredibly frustrated. I felt as if I was doing everything “right”–eating lots of “healthy” whole grains and tons of vegetables, always cooking my own meals, going to yoga five days a week–only to struggle with poor health.
The harsh reality was that I had low energy, lots of stomach upset and heartburn, insomnia, headaches, terrible menstrual issues, and skin problems. Months of research led me to face up to some of my rigid beliefs around what I should and shouldn’t be eating, and the more research I did, the more it started to seem like animal products were the key to getting the macro- and micronutrients I needed for optimal health.
And wow, did my ego every resist this idea.
I cried. I fumed. I denied. In short, I did everything I could to ignore the fact that my body was giving me clear signs that it was missing certain key components of optimal health and that my plant-based diet was not able to provide those components to me in sufficient amounts. (Please know that I am not in any way knocking a plant-based diet. What we eat is an incredibly personal decision, and I don’t proclaim to have found what’s best for everyone, so if a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle works for your body, rock on with your plant-eating self!)
I won’t bore you with all of the details leading up to my choice to reintroduce meat into my diet (although I likely will in another post, as some of you might find it useful), but what is most relevant here is that I realized identifying as a vegan had become such a core part of who I thought I was that the mere idea of letting it go was downright terrifying, even while that terror was manifesting as everything but fear: indignation, denial, sadness, you name it.
Is fear secretly the one holding the reins?
As I started to explore these feelings, I began to peel away layers of defenses that I had built over the years. One of my defenses was created around the false belief that not eating meat made me superior to people who did. Now, keep in mind this was not something I was consciously aware of at the time, and it wasn’t until I entertained the idea of not being vegan that the fear of no longer being superior or “special” reared its ugly head.
This process also helped me start unraveling all of the ways in which I attempt to calm myself by exercising control over my food choices. It was as if by eating “perfectly” I could finally master my physical body and my entire life–quite a tall order, wouldn’t you say? Once these layers started falling apart, waves of rawness and vulnerability would wash over me like emotional tidal waves. I felt unmoored as if I no longer knew who I was, and all because I was going to start eating bacon again!
The point, here, is that when we exercise our control through sheer force of will, ignoring signals from the body or our emotions, for example, we can become stuck and rigid in our ways until, before we know it, the mere thought of loosening our iron grip can feel akin to death.
So, while the Chariot’s energy can be an incredibly powerful tool to help us direct our life in a meaningful direction and achieve outward success that can serve as the bedrock for further growth and development, the act of keeping the Chariot under control can give us tunnel vision: we become locked in our ways, unable to see the landscape on either side of the road.
As we’ve learned through all of the Major Arcana cards so far, treating any one archetype as the end all be all keeps us stuck. It’s when we can channel the archetypal energy of each card when it’s needed without getting caught in identifying solely as that archetype that we can unleash the power illustrated in the tarot.
Questions inspired by the Chariot
- How do you feel about your level of outward success, however you define that? Are you happy in your work, your home, your key relationships?
- Are there any areas of your life in which you could use the drive and guidance of the Chariot?
- Think of a few key traits or aspects of your personality that you feel are central to who you are. Now think about doing a complete 180 and changing one of those aspects–how does that make you feel?
- Are there any areas of your life in which you feel rigid, whether it’s in your physical habits or your beliefs?
- What might this rigidity be protecting you from?
When we look at how we exert control in our lives, whether that’s through small, daily habits or grand, sweeping decisions, we learn so much about ourselves. And when we explore what it might be like to give up control in those areas (regardless of whether we actually do relinquish control), we often unearth a hotbed of fears, desires, and habitual thoughts that may or may not be serving us.
Ultimately, bringing awareness to these underlying factors that are driving each of our Chariots, we can begin to choose to accept or reject these things. This allows us to return to our true place of power that lies within ourselves and that does not rely on strict rules and unbreakable shoulds. We can feel the power humming inside of us, and we find deep comfort and peace in knowing that we can steer our lives in the direction we desire without a death grip on the reins.