Alchemical Study Group - VII The Chariot


(from the book)

"When it (the matter of the work) is in the vessel and feels the Sun or the heat incontinently and breathes and evaporates away into the form of most subtle fume, and ascends into the head of the vessel, and this they have called Ascension and Sublimation."
--Rosarium Philosophorum (pg. 106)

In the Chariot, we find the progeny of the Lovers - their son - who we see setting off on his alchemical journey - a hero's journey. He is brimming with youthful energy and drive, but this energy needs to be focused, and directed. The charioteer is likely to go charging off in the wrong direction, or go too fast and burn out his horses. A vision of his goal before him, he realizes that he must ascend to reach it, but like Phaethon this ascension will lead to an inverted plunge into the underworld.

Phaethon was the son of Helios, the god who drove the sun chariot through the sky. To provide proof of his divine origin, Phaethon convinced his father to let him drive the mighty chariot for a day. Alas, it was a fatal move. He was too immature to handle the immense power of the steeds. Losing control, he veered perilously close to the earth, scorching fields, and drying rivers. To avoid catastrophe, Zeus had to intervene. He struck the rash youth with a thunderbolt causing him to fall head-first into the river Eridanus.

Alchemically, the charioteer has been heated by the energy of the sun, and begins to rise. The vision before him is the solar wheel, or wheel of the year - the opus was often referred to as a year. On the rim are images of 19 consecutive sun rises. Nineteen is a number of completion and return to the one (1+9=10, 1+0=1). Appropriately, 19 is also the number of the Sun card, on which the sun will reappear after Phaethon's decent into the underworld. In the center of the wheel, suspended by the alchemical trinity - mercury, salt, and sulphur - is the spiritual sun. This is not the astronomical sun, but the sun at the center of our being: the self.

Alchemically, the charioteer has been heated up by the energy of the sun. The wheels of the chariot are solar wheels, which in turn represent the wheel of the year. He sees before him his goal--a light that is the whole person, its triune nature represented by its three alchemical symbols of mercury, salt and sulphur. Thus heated, the charioteer rushes off without restraint.

The alchemical process he represents is sublimation. In sublimation, a substance when heated goes directly into gaseous state, bypassing liquification, and ascends to top of the alchemical vessel, where it condenses. Sublimation is an improvement in quality--but the alchemist must not be hasty about the process.

The Chariot marks the beginning of the ascension on the Wheel of Fortune. The signature of the chariot is a bold "I shall reign."

Seven is the first number of completion. There are seven metals, seven planets, seven days of the week. Hippocrates said our lives have seven seasons divided into seven-year cycles, which are marked by transitions between. In myth, seven is associated with the hero, especially the solar hero (the seventh day is Sunday). Seven is a lucky number, and relates to the hero who is lucky as well as plucky. Plato said the universe is generated out of the triangle and the square, which are the three and the four, the elements of the number seven. One may construct four figures out of the triangle and square: a pyramid (fire), octahedron (air), isocahedron (water) and cube (earth).

Seven also is the number of magical and mystical wisdom.

The image here is based on engravings in Johann Daniel Mylius's Opus Medico-Chymicum (1618).

Tarot wisdom: The Chariot shows us what can happen when we become impatient. Alchemical heating is a patient process--the alchemist should not add too much heat too fast. As we draw closer to the Stone, we glimpse it, and want to get to it as quickly as possible. It has been hidden from view--now it is in plain sight. But getting there, to spiritual wholeness, is not a fast process. We must check our impulse to charge off, and proceed more slowly and carefully. We must stay centered.

The Chariot offers us exuberance, energy, ambition, and willingness to take on a challenge. These are good traits that can serve us well, as long as they are properly managed and tempered. The long distance traveler knows how to pace himself so as not to burn out before reaching his destination.