Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: The Chariot

[Please see the Introduction to this series for a brief synopsis of my approach to working with the major trumps of the Tarot. I am hoping to post a new meditation each Saturday. I use meditation here in the philosophical sense of the word, meant to denote an open-ended, free-form exploration of an idea.]

With The Chariot we come to the first card not named for the figure represented in the image. This should tell us a lot about the meaning of the card. Yet the meaning is often confused by the personal associations brought to the image of the chariot. This is very clearly a situation in which one's developmental level will have a strong influence on how the card is interpreted.

At IOC, we are always seeking the integral view. So while many people will see in the chariot a vehicle of war (pre-egoic), as we might remember from the movies Ben Hur or Alexander, or the vehicle of Apollo (egoic) in his daily journey across the sky, some will see the Biblical Elijah's mystic chariot (post-egoic). Then there is also the Sun Chariot of Buddhism, which is the Great Vehicle of Mahayana.

The reality is that all of these are valid, but in the Tarot we are watching the development of the Fool as s/he evolves along the spectrum of consciousness. What all of the various forms of the chariot described above have in common is that they represent levels of development within the human psyche.

So at this point in the Fool's journey, the Chariot represents the emergence of a unique psyche that can carry the ego on its journey toward infinite expansion/dissolution. However, the psyche is not static -- it is in constant motion. So the Chariot more aptly represents the power of the psyche to carry the ego, to move everything forward.
"Swing low, sweet chariot, comin' for to carry me home . . . ."
Sallie Nichols (Jung and Tarot) riffs on this image in relation to the Tarot Chariot:

[I]n a psychological sense a chariot is designed to "carry us home." The outer journey is not only a symbol of the inner one, it is also the vehicle for our self-discovery. We learn about ourselves through our involvement with others and through meeting the challenges of our environment.
Our young Fool has emerged from the pre-conscious energies of the Magician, the High Priestess, and the Empress, has had to orient within the social realities of the Emperor and the Hierophant, and then has to choose home or heart in the Lovers. Having navigated the pre-conscious realm of childhood, the young Fool is ready to strike out into the world of egoic consciousness.

The Chariot is both a literal vehicle and a symbol of the maturing psyche that will carry this growing ego toward its destiny with nondual reality. As such, the Chariot also represents a kind of initiation, a "break in plane" between the pre-egoic and the egoic. As a passenger in the Chariot (notice that few versions of this card show the figure holding the reins), s/he is literally betwixt and between.

When we are in liminal space -- that break in plane that separates childhood from adulthood, virginity from sexuality, pre-egoic from egoic, and on and on -- our sense of identity dissolves for a time. We are neither here nor there. We are no longer what we were but we have not yet become what we are to be. We are unfit to hold the reins.

But what grows out of that liminality is a new form of awareness. This is the meaning given to the seventh trump by the Osho Zen deck. It describes Awareness as dropping the veil of illusion. This may be thought of as dropping childhood innocence (a painful thing to lose), but the Osho Zen deck is more inclined to see it as a loss of ignorance.

The awareness that is growing in you now is not the result of any conscious "doing", nor do you need to struggle to make something happen. Any sense you might have had that you've been groping in the dark is dissolving now, or will be dissolving soon. Let yourself settle, and remember that deep inside you are just a witness, eternally silent, aware and unchanged.

A channel is now opening from the circumference of activity to that center of witnessing. It will help you to become detached, and a new awareness will lift the veil from your eyes.

The Chariot's number seven is a number of completion and wholeness: seven separate acts of creation in Genesis, seven stages of the alchemical process involving seven metals under the influence of the seven (then known) planets, the seven chakras, seven days in a week, and the list could go on.

The Chariot marks the completion of the first stage in the Fool's journey through the Tarot. And it signals the beginning of a new stage of growth and transformation.

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