This tarot card depicts a regal, imposing man in a chariot. The vehicle is typically pulled by two horses, but the charioteer holds no reins.
The card tends to turn up in a reading when you have a goal. It suggests that you will achieve it.
But the victory is not guaranteed—if you want to succeed, you have to behave in a certain way.
Take the driver’s seat—take action. Actually, you need to take a series of actions. The chariot’s journey is a gradual victory. The horses are steered persistently toward the aim.
The Problem with Horses
The chariot is drawn by two horses. The left one and the right one.
The problem with horses is, they tend to pull to their side. The left horse to the left, the right one to the right. So unless the horses are tame and well trained, the chariot will not stay on the path and you will not reach your destination.
So how do you tame the horses?
You pull them both toward the middle and keep them there. You train them to stay in the center, on the path.
In the spiritual sense, both the chariot and the horses are part of you. The chariot symbolizes your inner potential—the ability to accomplish your goal.
The horses symbolize opposing tendencies inside of you. Your inner conflicts.
This is often shown by the contrasting colors of the horses: one is black, the other white. In some tarot decks, it is black and white sphinxes that draw the chariot. The sphinx is a mythological being—part human, part lion—which highlights the opposition.
Steering Without Reins
If we try to take action in the outside world while inner conflicts are raging inside of us, we’ll lose control of the chariot.
Best case scenario: we’ll veer off the road. Worst case scenario: the chariot will overturn.
In the picture the charioteer holds no reins. He doesn’t need them because he has mastered his inner conflicts. His two horses run like one, in the middle of the road.
The Chariot speaks of the inner work we need to do to reach our goals.
So next time you set a goal, integrate the opposites that stand in your way first.
Tame your horses.
The Myth of Daedalus and Icarus
According to this Greek myth, to break free from the labyrinth, where he and his son Icarus are kept imprisoned, the ingenious Daedalus makes two pairs of wings. He fashions them out of feathers and wax.
The father and the son are on an island, so in order to escape, they need to fly over water.
Daedalus warns his son not to fly too high.
But after a while, the boy becomes so overwhelmed by the excitement of flying, that he forgets the warning. He soars higher and higher.
The sun melts the wax off his wings …
And Icarus falls to his death.
… Or Too Low
Seth Godin speaks of this myth in his The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly?
He argues that the older versions of this story contain a second point: Daedalus warns his son not to fly too low either, as the sea spray would ruin the lift in the boy’s wings.
To paraphrase Godin freely, by omitting this second ‘half’ of the myth, those in power have tried to protect themselves and control others: if flying too high is dangerous, then people will follow the rules blindly.
But Godin believes that playing safe doesn’t work anymore. To get ahead in today’s world, you have to embrace what is special about you—stand out and take risks.
In other words, you gotta fly high.
Both Are Dangerous
Godin is right in the sense that Icarus’ fate has been used as a metaphor for the dangers of forgetting one’s limitations, one’s “place”.
But if it’s wrong to ignore one part of the warning—‘don’t fly too low’, surely it is equally wrong to ignore the other—‘‘don’t fly too high’.
So what is the myth telling us, if we consider it as a whole?
Don’t fly too high.
Or too low.
Both are dangerous.
The Golden Mean
The Chariot warns us not to stray too far to the left or to the right if we want to reach our destination.
The Icarus myth tells us the same thing, only in a different dimension: don’t go too high or too low.
Both are allegories for avoiding extremes, for staying on the middle course. Aristotle calls this the golden mean, Buddha the middle path.
Ovid expresses this plainly in his, most widely accepted, version of the Icarus myth:
‘Let me warn you, Icarus, to take the middle way, in case the moisture weighs down your wings, if you fly too low, or if you go too high, the sun scorches them. Travel between the extremes.’
But the Icarus myth also gives us profound insights into the nature of the extremes.
The Hypnotic Sun
As we've seen, one half of Daedalus’ warning to his son—‘Don’t fly too high’—has been emphasized throughout history. This makes perfect sense: Icarus doesn’t die because he flies too low, but because he flies too high.
He is drawn to the sun. He can’t help it.
No wonder. The sun is mesmerizing. Hot and bright, it is the perfect symbol of a positive pole. The perfect Yang.
Icarus is never tempted to fly too low. The dark, cold sea below him is the pure Yin, the negative pole.
Infatuated by the sun, Icarus forgets his father’s warning to stay on the middle course.
That he ‘forgets’ simply means that he unconsciously starts gravitating toward the positive pole. The youth represents spiritual immaturity—lack of true awareness of opposites and their traps.
He gets carried away.
That happens to all of us when we are blinded by the desire to have the positive pole, whatever that means to us at that moment—a certain person, object, or outcome.
And all the warnings and wise advice of our family, friends, and well-meaning passers-by are unable to save us.
Icarus is attracted to the positive pole, repulsed by the negative, just like we all are in so many combinations and so many lifetimes in this universe of ours.
Regarding the Chariot, I’ve mentioned that the vehicle itself can be seen as our inner potential. We have a beautiful chariot each, but can we steer it?
If we learn how to, we’ll achieve our goal, the card is telling us.
The wings Daedalus created also represent our inner potential. We all have wings, but can we fly?
However, in the Icarus allegory much more is at stake than just achieving a specific goal.
Every healthy human being can learn to steer a chariot. But how many of us can fly with man-made wings?
None, no matter how cleverly designed the wings are.
Yet when all our opposites are integrated, the impossible becomes possible.
We escape the prison of the material universe, just like Daedalus escaped his labyrinth prison by staying on the middle course.
The reward is the Consciousness of One -- the Absolute Freedom.