is the Tarot?
traditional tarot deck consists of 78 cards divided into 22 major arcana
cards (greater secrets) and 56 minor arcana cards (lesser secrets). The
major arcana cards are thought to depict 22 spiritual lessons in allegorical
fashion. The 56 minor arcana cards are similar to a modern deck of 52
playing cards and consist of four suits, containing ten pip or numbered
cards plus four court cards in each suit.
Sign Cancer and the Chariot Card
with the Summer Solstice on June 22, the Sun spends a month in the zodiacal
sign Cancer, associated with the chariot,
one of the tarot’s major arcana. The chariot is an ancient symbol linked
to numerous myths that form the backbone of our culture.
Chariot in Plato’s Dialogues
Dialogue Phaedrus, Socrates likened the chariot to
the human soul. In the Fowler translation, Socrates says that the soul
is like “the composite nature of a pair of winged horses and a charioteer.”
In this analogy, the human soul steers a chariot drawn by two horses of
different natures, one light and of noble breed, and the other dark and
ignoble. This myth explains our inner conflicts and the troublesome course
we must follow in steering ourselves through life. The influential Rider-Waite
tarot drawn by Pamela Colman Smith illustrates this card with the figure
of a young warrior standing in a chariot drawn by two sphinxes, one white
and one black, depicting this split within the human personality.
Chariot in the Mystery Religions
chariot is also central to the myth of Demeter (Ceres) and Persephone
(Kore) that forms the basis of the Eleusinian mystery religions (which
also involve a hierophant and
a high priestess, two other major arcana cards). In this myth,
Hades (Pluto) uses his chariot to kidnap the beautiful Persephone and
transport her to the underworld. Persephone’s mother Demeter is distraught.
As the goddess of grain, she threatens the world with famine due to eternal
winter. With the human race facing extinction, the gods strike a deal
to keep the human race alive. Persephone is allowed to return to her mother
during the warm seasons of the year (which reach their peak when the Sun
is in Cancer), but she must return to Hades in the wintertime. Demeter,
in turn, must commission a charioteer to reseed the earth
so that new crops can grow. Demeter’s Roman name, Ceres, is the origin
of the word cereal.
Posed by the Chariot Card
chariot appears in a tarot reading, we ask how we are steering ourselves
through life. Are we in the driver’s seat? What inner conflicts are making
our road difficult? How is our loyalty divided between parental influences
and new relationships in our life? Are we adequately nourishing those
for whom we are responsible? Are we being controlled against our will?
How can we reseed our lives to end our spiritual famine and promote new
Tarot, and the Four Elements
tells us that the sign Cancer is ruled by, or linked to, the Moon. The
Moon of astrology is associated with the high priestess of the Tarot.
The high priestess was a key figure in the mystery religion of Eleusis,
based on the myth of the abducted Persephone who had to spend her winters
with Hades because she had eaten a single pomegranate seed in the underworld.
Not surprisingly, pomegranates appear on the veil behind the high priestess
in the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot card. Like Persephone, the high priestess
can legitimately and regularly travel between her customary existence
and the hidden depths of the world below.
Cancer, the Moon, the chariot card and the high priestess card all partake
of the element water, one of the four elements of Greek philosophy that
was first proposed around 450 BC by Empedocles in his poem On Nature.
Water is linked to human emotions, empathy, nurturing, maternal caring
and inner awareness. In the tarot, the minor arcana suit of cups, a water
suit, depicts typical scenes of human emotional life.
the planet Pluto, discovered in 1930, astrologers assigned Pluto to the
water sign Scorpio, associated with darker human emotions and the underworld.
Astronomers are uncertain whether Pluto is a planet or an asteroid. Mythologically,
one might ask, does Pluto really belong to our solar system, or does he
belong to a different realm from which he travels through our world on
see the connections between astrology and the tarot. The chariot card
is paired with the sign Cancer, the celestial crab with its hard shell
and soft interior. In the myth of Demeter, Pluto uses the chariot to abduct
Persephone (the high priestess?). The chariot is drawn by two horses or
sphinxes, one light like the Moon, and the other dark, symbolic of Pluto
and the underworld.
Meditations while the Sun is in Cancer
who want to learn more about the tarot, this is an excellent time to meditate
on the chariot and the high priestess cards as well as the suit of cups
in the minor arcana. Study their images, look for their interconnections,
and reflect on how they connect with your inner and outer life as the
Sun transits through the sign Cancer this summer.