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The Chariot of Hermes

April 19, 2017

by Tony Willis    

Unlike the situation with Trump 6, the Lovers, when we come to Trump 7, we find that the image on the card appears, with the extremely rare exception, to have been that of a single figure riding in a chariot; and the title appears universally to have been The Chariot, and not as one might have expected, the Charioteer. Some depictions have the chariot travelling right to left across the card, others have it travelling from left to right; less frequently in the earliest cards it is shown head-on, as if it were coming straight at the observer. The gender of the person riding in the chariot is sometimes indeterminate, the contours of the body masked by clothing, and long hair being as applicable to a young male as to a female in a Renaissance setting. A selection of depictions of Trump 7, from the fifteenth century up to and including the Waite-Smith version (twentieth century), are shown below. I include one example of a design with five figures riding in the chariot, but as I have already remarked, it is atypical for there to be more than one person in the chariot in any decks dated between the early fifteenth and the early twentieth centuries.

early chariotearly21issychariot

caryyalechariot07 II7ChariotRiderWaites

Just as the image and title of Trump 7 have a simple history when compared with that of most other Trumps, so are its divinatory meanings relatively simple, too. They are all tuned to the same note, so to speak. Most commentators assume that the charioteer is riding in a victory parade, a form of celebration common in ancient and classical Rome. A Roman general, having won a series of battles, or having made one highly significant conquest, was allowed to ride the streets of the capital wearing all the panoply of triumph, with a slave standing at his shoulder murmuring in his ear, “Remember you are but a man.” The slave is absent from the tarot card and so, therefore, is that part of the symbolism. The rest remains in tact, and in textbook delineations for The Chariot one finds the words “victory”, “triumph”, and “conquest” repeated over and over again.

S.L. Mathers, for instance, puts forward the meanings: Triumph, Victory, Overcoming obstacles. Frank Lind re-words the core idea as: Conquest, Progress, Driving ahead, Achievement in a big way. Mathers echoes Papus and Paul Christian, both of whom assign Victory and Triumph to the card. Lind, inspired by the image of a chariot apparently moving forward adopts the terms Progress and Driving ahead, and substitutes Achievement for Triumph.

At the time Mathers was writing (1888), an “occult” title had been attached to the card: The Chariot of Hermes. The Greek god Hermes, whose Roman equivalent is Mercury, was accepted as a symbol of human intelligence, and as a result Trump 7 became associated in some schools of esoteric thought with the idea that what the card emblemized was the human mind obtaining a victory over some portion of the material world. Reflecting this concept, Sepharial assigns the card the meaning: “Victory gained by the intelligence, the subjugation of the elements by the work of man”, and he is not alone in doing so. When writing under the pseudonym Grand Orient, A.E. Waite reveals what he actually thinks about the individual Trumps. Grand Orient’s reading of the Chariot is, “Triumph of reason; success in natural things; . . . conquest, and all external correspondences of these.”

These notions go back to Paul Christian, and possibly to his teacher Eliphas Levi. They rest on the symbolical representation of the number 7 employed by the Mysteryimage4 Schools. Occultly speaking, Seven is embodied, in its positive aspect, as a triangle (3) above a square (4). The triangle is Spirit, as we find it represented in the Christian Trinity and in Divine Triads the world over, such as the Hindu Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. The square symbolizes Matter with its Four Elements, Four “Corners”, Four Cardinal Directions – North, South, East, and West. A triangle standing on a square indicates Spirit directing or guiding Matter. For this reason, Paul Christian describes Trump 7 as signifying “The dominance of spirit over natural force”; and, at a lower level, as denoting “The submission of matter to the intelligence and will-power of man.”

One gypsy meaning I have come across offers, simply, a one word meaning: Victory. Another gypsy meaning, drawn from a different source, is that the card “Announces great honor for the client.”

Levi also introduced to the meanings of this card the idea of providential protection. This was taken up by Paul Christian and later by Papus. In The Tarot of the Bohemians, Papus gives the card the meaning Providential Protection, while in The Tarot of Divination, he says it denotes “Protection through divine providence”. This is not a meaning with much currency among today’s tarot readers, not in the English-speaking world at any rate.

As is often the case, the reversed meanings of Trump 7 are the plain opposite of its upright meanings.

Sepharial has it signifying defeat or quarrelling. Mathers gives: Overthrown, Conquered by Obstacles at the last moment. “Quarrelling” may be assigned to the reversed card image5because it signals division in contradistinction to the upright card which symbolizes Spirit and Matter working together, the former directing or acting as mentor to the latter. The geometric image associated with the Trump reversed is a square standing over a triangle with its apex pointing downward. In this figure material requirements dominate spiritual impulses, the result, it is to be presumed, being an antagonistic relationship between the two in contrast to the image of a triangle resting on a square, where all is assumed to be as it should be, Spirit and Matter cooperating in harmony and equilibration. This interpretation of the geometric figure is reflected in a gypsy reading of the card reversed, namely that “the client will be unhappy at home”, no doubt due to a lack of concord on the domestic front.

One school of thought has the reversed card signifying rescue from pressing difficulties at the eleventh hour, the total opposite of Mathers’ reading of the card. This interpretation is linked to the upright significance assigned the card by Levi that I just mentioned: Providential protection. Here Providence is assumed to be willing to allow the inquirer’s woes to pile up, the situation becoming steadily more precarious until, at the very last moment, she steps in to save the day. Again this is a meaning one doesn’t encounter very frequently in tarot circles in the English-speaking world.

From time to time, but not often, one finds the two views yoked together, as in the following delineation put together by Richard Huson, father of Paul Huson (himself the author of two books on tarot, The Devil’s Picture Book and Mystical Origins of the Tarot).

This card symbolizes victory, triumph over snares and obstacles, and the help and protection of Providence. Reversed, it indicates discouragement, quarrels, defeat.

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