The Chariot | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

The Chariot

Keywords for The Chariot 

VICTORYTHE EGO
SUCCESSIDENTITY
INDIVIDUALITYSELF-CONTROL
WILLPOWERCONFIDENCE
DETERMINATIONMASTERY

In the image on the card, we see a decorated hero triumphantly returning home from battle. He has ventured out into the world, and proven himself victorious in what he has set out to achieve. 

We see our hero standing proud inside his chariot that is seemingly made of a stone cube. Just as we saw in previous cards like the High Priestess and the Emperor, this symbolizes the material world of physical manifestation. 

On an esoteric level, this can refer to our identification with our physical bodies as our vehicles for expression in the world. It also potentially speaks to our identification with our ego (our structured sense of self) or our persona (the mask which we present to others, which like the ego, is another constructed sense of self). 

Interestingly, this chariot is pulled not by horses, but instead by two sphinxes of opposite colors. One black and one white, these sphinxes represent the two sides of our nature, the rational and the emotional. 

The rider of the chariot, or Higher Self, is the mediating force which controls both elements and gets them to work together for the shared purpose of moving the individual forward toward his goals. This reconciliation of disparate elements within the self is accomplished through the use of our will-power. 

Interpretation of the Chariot

When the Chariot comes up in a tarot reading, it can mean success or victory in what we intend to accomplish.

The Chariot can also represent competence and self-mastery. It often signals the development of discipline and control over our instincts and drives. We may also see the resulting competency extended to include dominion over our outer circumstances and physical environment. 

In a reading, the Chariot can also indicate a strong sense of confidence, independence, and self-assurance. It speaks to our capacity to know who we are, what we want, and how we intend to get there. 

Consequently, this card can also indicate self-interest and self-advocacy. This attitude can be expressed in both healthy and unhealthy ways. When done in ways that are in alignment with our integrity, it often means having strong boundaries and being able to stand up for ourselves when necessary.

Finally, the card represents the element of our psyche which we call the ego. The ego is not our true selves, but is instead what we think we are. It involves the stories that we have created about ourselves based on a combination of our experiences and our ideals. 

The word ego itself means “I am” in Latin. We can see that it is simply an expression through language (either in thought or as spoken words) of a constructed self-concept. 

Contrary to many schools of spiritual thought, the ego is not the enemy. The ego is not something to be transcended or eradicated. Rather, it is a useful tool that we use as we move through the world—it is the vehicle used by the Self as it sets out to accomplish its objective. 

The problem arises when we become too identified with this constructed ego self. The solution is not to eliminate the ego, but simply to be flexible in our ability to mediate and revise our self-concept as our circumstances require of us. 

As a result, this means that in a reading the Chariot can also suggest the negative consequences of a rigid, inflexible ego. When this card appears, we may want to ask ourselves if we are holding too tightly to false narratives around who we are and what our value is to others.

Finally, on an esoteric level, this card is associated with the power of speech, which includes thought as well as the written word. We can clearly see how this is likely rooted in the fact that language is an important tool for the successful achievement of our objectives, and essential to the elaboration of our egoic sense of self, which are the two core meanings of the Chariot tarot card in a reading.

The Lovers | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

The Lovers

Keywords for the Lovers

LOVEDESIRE
RELATIONSHIPATTRACTION
INTIMACYMAKING A CHOICE
CONNECTIONCOMMITMENT
SEXUALITYUNION

In The Lovers card of the Major Arcana, we come upon a scene that appears to be the Garden of Eden. 

To our right stands man, symbol of the conscious mind, in front of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This tree holds twelve leaves of fire (one for each astrological sign of the zodiac). The flaming leaves have charred the rest of the tree, likely indicating how reason and logic, when taken to their extreme, can burn us if we are not careful. This shows how the powers of the rational mind must be handled with discernment, lest they destroy what they are meant to protect.

To our left stands woman, symbol of the unconscious mind, in front of the Tree of Life. Four fruits are visible here, although in other decks the full five are visible, each one representing one of our five bodily senses through which we experience the physical world.

Above our pair of Lovers a brilliant sun shines, and from a cloud beneath our sun we see Archangel Raphael, angel of love and healing, who here also represents the divine, or Superconsciousness. 

“Amor est magis cognitivus quam cognitio.” –Thomas Aquinas (We know things better through love than through knowledge.)

Notice how man looks to the woman, while it is she who looks up, hand raised, to Archangel Raphael. Despite what we may have been culturally conditioned to believe, the experience of God is one which we are drawn to through our intuition, rather than through any conscious deliberation. We are often drawn to a higher awareness through what we consider our lower selves; we are tempted by the serpent, drawn by the hand of Eros toward a greater destiny we would hardly have the capacity to conceive through the rational mind.

This card tells us that following our hearts is the only way to truly meet our destiny. Following our inner calling is the only way to break free of the rigidity of the conscious, egoic mind, which has little imagination, little capacity to channel the dream that desires to be born through us. 

Interpretation of the Lovers

When this card comes in a tarot reading, it clearly speaks to the possibility for love and romance. When the Lovers appears, it indicates the real potential for genuine intimacy and emotional connection. 

It refers to the transformative power of our desires to generate new life, whether that be in the form of a child conceived or a project planned. It speaks to the power of our erotic intelligence, also known as the libido or life force energy, which is the driving force connecting us with our destiny. This erotic energy is not limited to sexual expression; when channelled appropriately, it can lead us toward a higher spiritual experience and connection with the divine. 

The Lovers in a reading can also refer to our capacity to make choices for ourselves as individuals, based on our own particular needs and wants, in contrast to what is asked of us by society or the culture at large. In this sense, it can refer to turning  away from the expectations of our family or society (as represented by the Hierophant[link here]). The Lovers in a reading can speak to a need to trust ourselves enough to honor our deepest desire, and follow our hearts when making important decisions for ourselves.

On a more esoteric level, the Lovers represent all three facets of our selves: the Conscious, or mind (the masculine), the Unconscious, or body (the feminine), and the Superconscious, or God/the universe/the cosmic archetypal  (archangel Raphael).

This card shows the relationship that should rightly exist between the three. Man and woman are meant to exist in harmony, in loving relationship. The same is true for our Conscious and Unconscious selves. It was never meant to be “mind over matter,” where mind rules and dominates against the desires of the body. It is meant to be mind with matter, where mind is a guide, a gentle steward that directs and protects the interests of the unconscious or “lower” self.

I also wanted to note that when I speak of the masculine and the feminine, it should not be taken to mean “man” and “woman.” As whole human beings, the masculine and feminine represented here should be taken as facets of our whole personality, both of which we have access to if we are in a condition of health. I want to make it clear that these figures represent elements of the psyche, and both men and women have access to them in equal measure.

The Hierophant | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

The Hierophant

Keywords for the Hierophant

SOCIETYLEARNING
CULTURETEACHING
RELIGIONEDUCATION
MORALITYCONFORMITY
GROUP AFFILIATIONSOBEDIENCE

In the image on this card, we see the Hierophant seated on his throne in the center of two pillars. He wears long, red flowing robes and an ornate gold crown. Like the Emperor, he sits on a stone throne, although the Hierophant’s is much more elaborately decorated and embellished. 

In some decks, this card is known as the Pope, a reference to the head of the Catholic Church. The Rider-Waite name of the Hierophant is a reference to the high priest of the Eleusinian Mysteries of the Ancient Greek world. 

At the Hierophant’s feet, we see two initiates seated on the floor, bowing to their leader’s higher authority. The initiate on the left wears a blue robe covered in white lilies, a reference to the qualities of reason, logic, and conscious mind, as we saw earlier in the garden of the Magician. On the left, the second adherent wears a white robe covered in red roses, which once again, refers to our desires, will, and subconsciousness. 

Both followers here wear a yellow yoke, symbolizing their adherence and submission to the higher authority of the Hierophant. In esoteric terms, the Hierophant represents our Higher Self, God, or the spirit of the Universe. The attire of the initiates indicates that we must submit our personal desires and attachment to what we consider to be true.

Interpretation of the Hierophant 

When the Hierophant comes up in a tarot reading, it often means submission to some kind of authority. This is often a higher authority than we see in the Emperor. Instead, the authority we are being asked to adhere to in the Hierophant is on a larger, societal level, often in the context of religion or higher education.

This relates to a second, related meaning of the Hierophant: it indicates receiving an education in a certain code of ethics, morality, or even theoretical practices and doctrines. It involves the development of the self within the context of larger societal norms and expectations. 

This has the purpose of giving us a context within which to situate our lived experience, and allows us to integrate the diverse contents of our day to day happenings within a larger framework of understanding.

As a result, when this card comes up, it can also refer to the qualities of conformity and obedience which may be present here. The Hierophant is not only an education in a particular worldview, but it also represents our adherence to its creed, and submission to the dictates of such a comprehensive perspective. 

Consequently, the Hierophant often speaks to the sacrifice of our own desires or needs in the service of the culture at large. This can clearly serve a positive purpose for both ourselves and the larger community of which we are a part. 

However, the Hierophant can at times also indicate the danger inherent in handing over our powers of critical thought to something outside of ourselves. At times, this card asks us to question how we have outsourced our own inner authority and knowing, and allowed forces outside of ourselves to dominate or control us. 

Sometimes, especially when reversed, the Hierophant asks us to look at our codes of ethics, to examine our system of moral reasoning, in order to make wiser decisions about how to proceed in our lives.

The Emperor | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

The Emperor

Keywords for the Emperor

ORDERAUTHORITY
REASONSTRUCTURE
RULESLOGIC
LAWSLIMITATIONS
THE FATHERRESTRICTIONS

We see the Emperor seated at his throne out in the most dry, arid desert. His throne, which is made entirely of a gray stone, bears the symbol of the Ram’s head, representing the astrological sign of Aries, on each of its four corners. This correspondence is strengthened further by the appearance of the astrological glyph for this first sign of the zodiac atop the Emperor’s crown. 

The Emperor’s right hand holds a scepter shaped like an ankh, the Egyptian symbol said to represent life. It is interesting to note that the vertical portion of the ankh represented here is unusually long, taking up much more space than the small golden circle resting at the top. This rounded portion of the ankh is typically thought to represent the spiritual dimension of life, leaving the remainder to stand for material manifestation.

In addition, we see that the Emperor wears a heavy suit of armor, indicating his status as a warrior. This armor stands as a testament not only to his power and strength, but also his  potential for rigidity, intolerance and lack of receptivity.

Interpretation of the Emperor

When the Emperor appears in a tarot reading, it often represents a person who acts as an authority figure, setting rules and limits, establishing laws, and making sure that these boundaries for appropriate action are honored and respected by those under his dominion. As a result, this card represents the archetypal Father figure of the Major Arcana.

The Emperor also represents the more abstract concepts of reason and order. In contrast to the Empress, this card represents the power of limitation and restriction. The Empress says “yes” to all, nurturing all in an act of unconditional love, the Emperor embodies the force of the word “NO.” 

When compared to the unrelenting mercy of the Empress, his severity may seem harsh, but we find that this limiting power is essential in the process of creation and differentiation into form. Without the order of the Emperor, we would face an unyielding chaos whose anarchy would likely make life as we know it impossible.

However, there are times when an excess of the Emperor’s energy can prohibit the very life it is meant to protect. If the force of the Emperor’s discipline exceeds its bounds, his rule can turn harsh and authoritarian, leading to an unnecessary rigidity that inhibits the natural flow of life and prevents new growth.

The Empress | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

The Empress

Keywords for the Empress

THE DIVINE MOTHERSENSUALITY
CREATIONATTRACTION
LOVEBEAUTY
NURTURINGPASSION
GROWTHCREATIVE IMAGINATION

In the image on the card, we see a beautiful woman seated on her throne, a stone bench covered in lush cushions and beautiful fabrics. The Empress wears a white dress covered in red pomegranates, indicating her association with the great goddesses of the ancient world, such as Isis, Astarte, Demeter and her daughter Persephone. 

In her right hand, she holds a short scepter, which appears very similar to a sistrum, the sacred instrument of Isis, Hathor, and other goddesses of Ancient Egypt. On her head, she wears a crown of twelve stars, each representing one of the twelve signs of the zodiac.

At the bottom of her stone bench, we see the shield of the Empress. This shield bears the shape of a heart, a reference to our emotional nature. On this heart is engraved the glyph for Venus, goddess of love, romance, beauty and passion. 

A river flows from behind the Empress down underneath the ground at her feet. This water of this river has its source in the flowing robes of the High Priestess, which tells us that the root matter of subconsciousness is the life energy animating all life, including the physical manifestation of the Empress. 

Directly in front of the Empress grows a field of wheat, which is yet another reference to the fertility goddesses of the ancient world (especially the Greek Demeter). Along with the pomegranates embroidered on her gown, the cypress trees behind the Empress speak to the element of Death that is by its very nature contained within Life. 

Interpretation of the Empress 

When the Empress comes up in a reading, she carries with her many of the meanings associated with the Divine Mother. She is thought to be loving, caring, nurturing and gentle. 

In addition to the archetype of the Mother, the Empress also signifies the archetypal “lover” or “mistress.” Associated with the goddesses Venus and Aphrodite, she also represents love, romance, and beauty, as well as sexuality and passion. 

In a reading, she stands for an approach to life that is rooted more in Eros than in the Logos or wisdom we saw previously with the High Priestess. She represents full embodiment, being in touch with our feelings, and the appreciation of sensuality and the pleasure to be found in the physical world. 

She is a woman who appreciates and creates beauty, abundance and pleasure for herself and those around her. The Empress is a potent reminder that pleasure and love are among the highest motivating forces in the universe. 

This card is highly associated with the idea of creation, of using our imagination in conjunction with our desires to create new life, whether that be through the birth of a child or a new project, plan or idea. 

When we allow our hearts to guide us, we often find it is easier to create and produce something of value in a way that is truly generative and sustainable.

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.

Rumi

The High Priestess | Tarot Card Meaning & Interpretation

The High Priestess

Keywords for the High Priestess

INTUITIONSUBCONSCIOUSNESS
RECEPTIVITYMEMORY
POTENTIALPSYCHIC EXPERIENCE
INNER TRUTHMYSTERY
STILLNESSTHE UNKNOWN

In the image on the card, we see the High Priestess seated on her throne, dressed in long, silvery blue robes that shimmer in the moonlight. Her throne is simply made, a cube of stone similar to others we see throughout the tarot, which always refers to the same thing: physical, material manifestation in three-dimensional space. 

This, combined with the wave-like nature of her dress, which flows into and becomes almost indistinguishable from water as it flows over the moon, shows us that despite all appearances, it is actually subconsciousness which creates and constitutes the nature of the universe.

The High Priestess wears a triple crown, which alludes not only to her typical association with the moon and lunar cycles, but is also a reference to the Mysteries of the Egyptian Goddess Isis. The veil behind her is decorated with red pomegranates, another allusion to ancient mysteries, only this time pointing us to the Eleusinian Mysteries and the cult of life-death-rebirth of Demeter and Persephone. 

Although not all pomegranates on this veil are visible, we know that they stand in the same formation as the Sephiroth in the Tree of Life of the Kabbalah. 

Further reference to this Hebrew tradition can be seen in the scroll held by the High Priestess, which here reads “TORA,” a reference to the Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses (typically transcribed in English as “Torah”). 

Behind the priestess, her veil hangs from between two pillars, one white and the other black. The letters B and J refer to “Boaz” and “Jakin”, the names of the two main pillars which once stood in the Temple of Solomon. Their black and white color is a reference to the apparently opposite dualities through which we experience our existence. 

Similar to the yin and yang symbol, each letter is written in a color opposite to the pillar, indicating that each extreme contains the seed of its opposite. The polarities we too often take for granted are truly only opposing ends of the same spectrum of our one existence. 

Interpretation for the High Priestess

Above all, the High Priestess stands for our subconsciousness, and all the mystery that lies beneath the reach of our normal, conscious awareness. It also speaks more generally to a sense of the mystery of life, of the vast wonder and terror that normally eludes us, but remains lurking beneath the surface, ready to rise to our awareness if the right conditions present themselves. 

The High Priestess represents one side of the archetypal feminine: that of the mysterious, nonrational, and intuitive elements of women’s being. She shows a part of the divine feminine which has historically been feared: dark, filled with mystery, unknowable through logic or language, connected to a deep wisdom beyond words. 

Due to its connection to the unconscious, this card also refers not only to our intuitive capacities, but even to psychic phenomena such as clairvoyance and other types of nonrational knowing. 

The High Priestess is also thought to refer to the passive quality inherent in the archetypal feminine (in contrast to the active principle represented by the previous card, the Magician). 

Due to the patriarchal culture of which we are a part, the term “passive” typically carries many negative connotations of inferiority, weakness, and is seen to lack value, purpose, or meaning. 

However, there is much power in the passive: it is not simply lack of action or existence. This yin quality is perhaps better thought of as being receptive in nature. It can be compared to the receptivity of the womb, which receives the seed of masculine, and generates within itself something new from what has been planted within. 

The darkness, receptivity, and inferiority of the High Priestess is the necessary precondition for all creation (as we will come to understand more of in the next card, the Empress). 

As such, this card refers also to the vast potential of the High Priestess. When she appears in a reading, the High Priestess may be asking us to pause, withdraw from the busyness and action of the outer world, and go within. She asks us to pay attention to the seeds of our future selves which have lain dormant within us, seeds which need tending to, in order that we may give birth to our highest selves.