- The river in the background may represent another of the Four Rivers
from Eden (Empress, Emperor, Chariot, Death).
- The primary source for this card is the Chariot card drawn by Eliphas
Dogme et rituale de la haute magie) which can be seen in Waite’s
“Transcendental Magic” on page 389. But there are also fine details that
be taken from Wirth’s card, e.g., the positions of the Charioteer’s hands
crowns on the sphinxes. Notice that the square front of the chariot plus
formed by the Charioteers head and hands represents a septernary - possibly
that the Chariot card completes the first septernary of the trumps.
- The source for the stars on the canopy is probably Freemasonry. Many
Lodges have the ceiling of the meeting room painted to represent the sky. The
significance is suggested by Webb 1818. The Freemason’s Monitor (Kessinger Reprint) p. 36:
“Here...we receive instruction relative to the form, supports, covering ...of a lodge...From
east to west Freemasonry extends...its dimensions are unlimited and its ‘covering’ no
less that the canopy of heaven. To this object the mason’s mind is continually
directed and thither he hopes at last to arrive...”
- Levi describes the Charioteer as having “3 superimposed squares” on his
breastplate. The square that Levi refers to is probably not the four-sided
figure, but the
Masonic Square - a right angle with 2 equal arms. The Masonic degree of Master
uses 3 squares as part of its symbolism. Levi’s image of the Chariot is not
at all clear, but
it is possible that the three overlapping squares are represented with the
point of the right
angle pointed up and fastened to the breastplate by a number of rivets.
The “3 superimposed squares” do not appear to be represented on the
But there is an outside possibility that they are represented by the white
square on the Charioteer’s chest. The square is interpreted as a
and the superimposition by the fact tht the three additive primary colors
- The square may also be a reference to the Tattwa for earth (Francis King -
Magic, The Western Tradition, Fig 54 and p 26, and Israel Regardie - The
Golden Dawn, pp 456-8). The possibility is made stronger by similar Tattwa-like
forms on the chest of Justice and Temperance. The possibility is made weaker by the fact that
the earth Tattwa should be yellow in color.
- In the GD system, the Chariot is assigned to the Hebrew letter Cheth
which means a fence or enclosure; this may be the source for the enclosed or walled city
in the background. However, see The Fool,
footnote 6 for a caveat about assuming that the Hebrew letters can be found
in the Waite-Smith designs.
- In the GD system, Chariot is assigned to Cancer ruled by the Moon. The
symbols for Cancer and the Moon appear on the sword belt around the Charioteer’s waist.
This may also account for the moons on the shoulders
- The symbol in the shield on front of the chariot is a Hindu symbol
which, like the
Chinese yin-yang, represents duality and unity: the erect male penis (lingam)
penetrating the female genitals (yoni). Perhaps it refers to the sexual
maturity of the
Charioteer, having completed the first third of the journey.
Above the shield is a winged orb. Waite shows a similar symbol on page 157
and 183 of
“The Secret Tradition in Freemasonry.” In the first instance he calls it
an Egyptian symbol,
and in the second instance he calls it the “Winged Wheel of the Spirit.”
He offers no
further comments, but given the presence of two examples in this book,
associated the symbol with Freemasonry.
- Much of the symbolism in Levi’s card probably comes from Plato:
"As to the soul's...nature...Let it be likened to...a team of winged steeds
and their...charioteer...Now of the steeds...one is good and the other is
not...He that is on the more honorable side (that is, the right side) is upright and
clean-limbed, carrying his neck high, with something of a crooked nose; in color, he is WHITE with black
eyes; a lover of glory, but with temperance and modesty; one that consorts with genuine
renown, and needs no whip, being driven by the word of command alone. The other is
crooked of frame, a massive jumble of a creature, with thick short neck, snub nose,
BLACK skin, and gray eyes; hot-blooded, consorting with wantonness and vainglory; shaggy of
ear, deaf, and hard to control with whip and goad. Now when the driver beholds the
person of the beloved...the obedient steed, constrained now as always by modesty,
refrains from leaping upon the beloved. But his fellow, heeding no more the driver's goad or
whip, leaps and dashes on, sorely troubling his companion and his driver...."
"For a while they
struggle...the driver's memory goes back to that form of beauty, and he sees her one again
enthroned by the side of temperance upon her holy seat; then in awe and reverence he
falls back upon his back, and therewith is compelled to pull the reins so violently that he
brings both steeds down on their haunches, the good one willing and unresistant, but the
wanton sore against his will..." Phaedrus, 246-254 (E. Hamilton and H. Cairns,
eds., The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Princeton University Press, 1961).
- It's not clear that Waite understood this source for Levi's image.
Waite/Smith reversed the position of the black/white sphinxes and lost the good/evil expressions on
their faces to something more like happy/sad. Nevertheless, the following is from Waite's
translation of Levi's Transcendental Magic; Its doctrine and ritual,
George Redway, 1896. I am quoting from the pirated version published by Occult Publishing House, Chicago,
1910, Kessinger Reprint, p 77:
- "...represented in the Tarot by a crowned warrior...posed upon a
cube, to which two sphinxes are harnessed, straining in opposite directions, while their heads
are turned the same way." (That is, they are looking at the same object of desire but
pulling the chariot in contradictory directions.)
- p 380: "A double sphinx or two sphinxes joined at the lower parts are
harnessed to the chariot; they are pulling in opposite directions, but one is turning his
head so that they are looking in the same direction. The sphinx with head turned is black, the
other is white."
Based on original research by Robert V. O'Neill. To add to this collection of information, please email
Robert V. O'Neill.