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What is the Tarot?

The 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.

The Sign Cancer and the Chariot Card

Beginning 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.

The Chariot in Plato’s Dialogues

In Plato’s 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.

The Chariot in the Mystery Religions

The 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.

Questions Posed by the Chariot Card

When the 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 growth?

Astrology, Tarot, and the Four Elements

Astrology 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.

The sign 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.

After studying 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 his chariot?

Again we 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.

Tarot Meditations while the Sun is in Cancer

For those 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.



Anthony Louis is the author of Horary Astrology Plain and Simple and of Tarot Plain and Simple (Llewellyn Publications) and has also authored computer reports on secondary progressions and vocational astrology for Halloran Software. He has lectured internationally and has been published widely in astrological literature. He is a member of the Astrological Society of Connecticut and maintains the website of that organization at

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Other StarIQ articles by Anthony Louis:

  • Tarot and the Sign Sagittarius   11/28/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Libra   9/26/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Virgo   8/20/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Pisces   3/1/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Aquarius   1/13/2002
  • Tarot and the Sign Scorpio   10/31/2001
  • Tarot and the Sign Aries   3/26/2001
  • Tarot and the Sign Capricorn   12/19/2000
  • Astrology Looks at a Skeptic   11/12/2000
  • Michael Shermer: Astrology Looks at a Skeptic   10/25/2000
  • Tarot and the Sign Leo   8/6/2000
  • The Mystery of the Student Deaths at the University of Georgia   5/17/2000

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