Controlling the Power: Interpreting The Chariot Tarot Card

Lessons in control, balance, and charging full speed ahead

Image courtesy of PYHQ.  

On the surface, The Chariot’s meaning and message appear clear and concise, but this card demands a lot from the querent.  The subtleties of this card have perhaps diminished somewhat in society’s eyes because chariots are no longer used, except in quaint sayings such as “Your chariot awaits, madam,” or tourist traps for photo ops in New York City.  The concept of the “charioteer” is foreign to us in the modern age, so it is worth it to dig a little deeper into this card and develop the meaning in your heart.  

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What The Chariot means on a deeper level
  • The lesson of The Chariot and how to build them in your life
  • Practice reading The Chariot in a worked example, plus one for you to try

Put on your adult boots, and read this article before you pick up the reins.  

a composite image showing the artwork of different chariot tarot cards
Always take the time to examine the artwork of your tarot cards, and compare them to traditional deck imagery.  This will help you understand which symbols are key to understanding it in your deck.  Image courtesy of Tarot-Astrology.  

The Meaning of The Chariot

The simple answer to “what is the meaning of The Chariot?” is: success, ambition, control, charge!, willpower and conquering.  (We’ll address reversed meanings in a moment.)  But if you stop to think about it, each of those elements implies that you have struggled, fought, and focused on your goal.  You are not letting anything stop you-- you are motivated, you have sight of your goal, and you are using the tools you have mastered to get you there.  There were-- or are-- obstacles that you plowed through.  

Nothing has stopped you.  You have the reins and the power of the horses to pull you, and you have put together and enacted a plan that guarantees success.  There have been struggles-- building the chariot with the right balance, wheels that are perfectly shaped and attached securely, horses whose trust you had to gain and train-- but everything is coming together in one perfect, balanced, controlled forward push.  If one element goes awry-- if a wheel loosens or a horse spooks-- everything is thrown off.  Including you!  

So care is needed.  In ancient times, when the chariot was the height of war and transportation technology, society understood the level of skill and effort that went into building and using it.  In the modern era, the closest we might come to truly understand this is to compare it to learning how to drive a car or ride a bike of some sort.  In the next section, we have some advice for you on how to build a deeper understanding of The Chariot and all of its components.  

But what if The Chariot is reversed?  First, you must feel out for yourself if reading reversals is something you wish to do.  Plenty of readers don’t, and their readings are no less powerful.  A reversed card usually means that there is a blockage of some kind that is preventing the energy of the card to fully appear-- it may not necessarily mean the opposite of the card’s message.  If The Chariot appears reversed in your reading, it may indicate a loss of control, lack of direction, aggression instead of ambition, or the wrong sort of motivation.  Usually it means that there is a roadblock, and whether that is something you’ve done (self-sabotage is a thing-- do your shadow work) or from an external force beyond your control you will have to ask the cards to clarify.  

The Chariot urges you to be large and in charge-- don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk in your absolute best.  Take up space, be heard, and make them make way for you.  Image courtesy of Palos Verdes Pulse.

The Lessons of The Chariot

Understanding The Chariot means a lot more than just memorizing the meaning of it-- you also need to think about The Chariot’s story, artwork/symbolism, and history.  

The story of The Chariot follows The Fool, who has learnt who the Enemy is and is in a position to charge ahead to victory.  The Magician revealed the tools that The Fool needs long ago on at the beginning, and throughout the journey through the major arcana, The Fool has been growing and learning to use and appreciate them.  

Now The Fool is beset by enemies, falsehoods masquerading as truths, confusion, and self-doubt.  Forward momentum is needed, and it comes in the form of The Chariot, which requires using and fine-tuning the skills and lessons from the journey so far.  Armored for protection, The Fool becomes the charioteer, who must summon, control, and direct the energy of the steeds, unwavering in pursuit of victory.  Onwards, to the next adventure!  

If you examine the artwork on the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith Chariot card, you’ll see it is full of symbols.  The armor has moons, indicating that the charioteer is ready to face the unknown, and alchemical symbols, indicating that they have mastery over all elements.  Two sphinxes replace the steeds we’d expect to see-- one black, one white-- symbolizing mastery over the mind and challenge, as well balance and opposing forces.  The crown and blue canopy with stars show that the charioteer is blessed by the heavens and has wisdom.  

We mentioned before that chariots have a long history that is lost upon a modern audience.  Take the time to research them-- watch documentaries about how different civilizations on Earth discovered, manufactured, and used chariots for war and transportation.  Egypt and China have particularly spectacular military history with chariots.  PBS’s show Nova has run specials on both, and the military history section of libraries and used book stores contain some gems worth looking through.  

To explore the energy of The Chariot in your own life, journal about the following questions:

  • Where in your life have you charged ahead, full steam, with a plan and a prayer, and won?
  • When you couldn’t-- or “failed”-- what was the lesson?  
  • Where did you lose control, or what unforeseen thing became the upset to the plan?
  • How do you self-sabotage your success?  
  • How do you feel about success?  
  • How do you incorporate the lessons from “failures?”
  • Are you sure that you’ve learned the right lessons from your “failures” and “successes?”
  • Whose successes do you look up to?  How did they become successful?  How can you incorporate their lessons into your own life-- and is that appropriate for your goals?  
  • What does healthy control look like to you?  
  • What motivates you in healthy/unhealthy ways?  
  • What are your goals?  
  • What are your plans for achieving them?  
  • What roadblocks have you encountered/do you expect?  What is your plan for those?
  • When is it okay to quit?  
  • How do you recognize when something hasn’t worked?  How do you fix it?  

Take the time to build your relationship with The Chariot and its energy.  It will make understanding how it fits into the reading a lot easier.  

Where have you embodied Chariot energy in your life?  Image courtesy of Mystic Medusa.

Reading The Chariot in action

When you look at a tarot reading, be sure to ask yourself: “What is the story?”  Think about The Fool’s journey, the question, and the context of the question (if you have it).  All of this, plus the meaning of the card, will give you the answer.  

To demonstrate this, we’ll walk you through a sample reading, and then give you a practice one to work through on your own.  

Let’s say that you’re thinking about whether or not you’re ready to get back into the dating game after a breakup.  You shuffle and sling some cards: the 2 of Cups, The Tower, and The Chariot.  Here’s how we would break this down:

  • The 2 of Cups: decision, attraction, lust, magnetic pull towards someone/thing
  • The Tower: it all falls down so that you can rebuild better and stronger, sudden shake-ups, having the rug pulled out from under you
  • The Chariot: a controlled and directed, purposeful charge ahead

When we combine the meanings with the situation, the story becomes clearer: In the past, you felt attraction and were drawn into a relationship that you thought would last (2 of Cups).  Perhaps it was wonderful for a while-- you certainly learned a bit of what you want out of a relationship.  But something happened, and it all went wrong (The Tower)-- perhaps your trust was betrayed, or perhaps you were the toxic one in the relationship.  You took time to heal and sit with the lessons of the Tower Moment, and got back on your feet.  Now, though you’re not exactly sure, you want to incorporate those lessons into a new relationship that better suits you.  The Chariot ensures that if you decide to drive down that path, success awaits you, but only if you recall past lessons learnt and change the way you navigate relationships.  

It could also be a warning that acting too soon on attraction (2 of Cups) brings a painful realization that more is needed (The Tower), and The Chariot indicates that you should proceed only with caution and when you are fully prepared to recognize the work that needs to be done in a well-balanced relationship, and then follow through with effort.  In this interpretation, the relationship is the chariot, and you and your partner are both the steeds and the charioteer.  How will you both balance the relationship and control its fate?  

Now it’s your turn.  Let’s keep the same question, but change the cards:

  • The Fool
  • 9 of Swords
  • The Chariot Reversed

Think about the meanings of each card.  How do they apply to the situation, context, and question?  What story are they trying to tell?  Let us know in the comments below what your interpretation is.  

This is a softer artistic version of The Chariot.  We often think of The Chariot as “large and in charge,” but where are some smaller areas and softer victories you’ve had?  How can The Chariot’s energy be less intense but just as powerful?  Image courtesy of Erin Page.  

When The Chariot appears in a reading, there is a loaded energy that enters the fray.  There’s a lot of history behind chariots, as well as symbolism, to think about when interpreting how it fits into the reading.  But once you understand its nuances, the answer will be clear.  Blessed be!  

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Jean Linder

Jean Linder is a writer and photographer from Pittsburgh, PA.
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