A man clad in armor with a sceptre is ready to proceed in a journey on his chariot. Instead of two horses, it is about to be pulled by two sphinxes. Behind him is an expansive walled city.
The Chariot, from the original 1909 “Pam A” Smith-Waite (aka “Rider-Waite-Smith”) Deck.

The Chariot

Here we run up against yet another card whose symbolism and imagery can be hard to relate to when seen with 21st century, queer asexual eyes. (Incidentally, this is why I’m especially drawn to the ‘modernized’ version of this card in Isabella Rotman’s This Might Hurt tarot deck.) Due to the limitations in the rendering of perspective in Pamela Coleman Smith’s artwork for this card, we hardly even recognize it as a chariot, at least not compared to the way we have grown accustomed to seeing chariots in movies. The wheels are much too thick, and the body itself seems too wide; it almost looks like it’s less of an actual chariot and more of what someone thought a chariot looked like, built out of cement and concrete. And what’s with those two weird beasts at the front? They don’t look like horses…

The Great Sphinx at Giza. An ancient, huge stone statue with a head resembling that of a man, with a serpent’s flares, on top of a lion’s body. The Great Pyramid is in the background.
Detail of the head of the Great Sphinx at Giza (Moh Hakem, Wikimedia Commons)

The Sphinx, of which two are at the front of the chariot, is best known as the guardian figure of the pyramids at Giza, known for telling the Riddle of the Sphinx to any who would hope to pass. Like the riddle, the Sphinx itself is an enigma; its structural origins have long challenged scholars, and its form is an improbable chimera of assorted anatomically animal and human parts. What the Sphinxes are supposedly intended to represent here are the desires and motivations — that are often conflicting — that help motivate us toward our goals. That one is white and one is black is indicative of how often we have a clear goal or endpoint in mind, but often get stuck in balancing competing emotions and interests as we decide on how to get there. Here in this card, they’re resting on the ground. From their stance though, you can almost know with certainty that once the reigns have been pulled, commanding them to rise up and move, they will start veering off in opposite directions.

The physics of inertia and acceleration tells us that once a massive object is set into motion, it can be a practically unstoppable force. And so, our massive, hulking concrete chariot is going to have the force and power of a locomotive once it gets to full speed: The solidness of our own power and confidence in our identity is going to be an incredible force in our lives. It will drive us forward to new relationships and new revelations about ourselves…once we overcome the sluggishness brought about by the weight of our own self-doubt and self-questioning first. And that’s not even taking into account that these engines driving our forward motion are almost useless in their independent, conflicting desires. Two minds connected in a healthy state can move effectively and swiftly as one, but when that relationship is not healthy, only stagnation can follow. On that note, perhaps it’s not a coincidence that it’s this card, and not a singular-figured card like Justice or Temperance, that follows The Lovers.

For aspec people, it’s often hard to figure out what do once you’ve accepted your place in asexuality or aromanticism. The weight of our uncertainty and inner conflict can prevent us from moving forward in our own individual chariots. Where do you go from here? Do you make plans to out yourself to friends, family and loved ones? If so, around whom would you feel safe enough to do that? How would those conversations even go, and what would they look like? And what about community? Do you just start signing up for every queer social event you can find? How would you know they were or weren’t affirming of aspec folks and aspec identities? If you start thinking about going into ace and/or aro community spaces, and you outwardly identify as acespec or arospec, how would you know that you would be accepted as valid? What would you do if you weren’t? These are all valid questions to ask, and important questions to prepare to answer as we continue our queer journey. But at points like these it can almost feel like we have to deal with them all simultaneously. Going through this myself, I felt almost exhausted and drained trying to sort through all of my thoughts, going back and forth in an endless internal dialogue, second guessing and then triple guessing all of the things I wanted to do as a newly minted and freshly self-actualized queer person. Like our charioteer, I felt like I couldn’t go anywhere, because in my mind and heart, there were so many different directions for me to go.

The lesson then, to be taken from this is that once we’ve made that decision to go forward, we have to be focused if we’re to continue, as opposed to be stuck in a mire of indecisiveness and second- and triple- and quadruple-guessing. This means actually taking stock of what want to do: What your goals really are. Coming out of the important decision point of The Lovers, you’ve come out to yourself, and taken some bold steps to recognize and affirm yourself as asexual, aromantic, acespec or arospec. So what then?

After this point, perhaps you’ve run into some aphobia in your online circles, or aphobic comments on social media, and you want to inform yourself more about the meaning, significance and history of asexuality — you just want to know more about this world you’ve entered, and you also want to be prepared for any more instances of prejudice, ignorance or misinformation that you encounter. Your goal then would be getting better informed about asexuality, not just for self-advocacy work but to better understand the context of being asexual. And if it turns out upon further exploration that ace or aro is not a label that resonates strongly with you, it also sets you up to be a good ally to the ace and aro who are in your orbit. You could approach this project by assembling a resource and reading list for yourself: a folder of Tumblr or WordPress blogs in your browser bookmarks discussing the meaning and background of terms you’ve heard like “Split-Attraction Model”, or “Allosexual”. Maybe a list of Medium blogs too with stories of people whose written journeys into asexuality are narratives you can resonate with. Podcasts featuring ace and aro people, while few as of this writing, could be another resource to add. AVEN, Twitter and Facebook are also places where you can find links to both effective sources of information and stories to learn from. Further beyond that: books to find at a local library or bookstore. Julie Sondra Decker’s “The Invisible Orientation” is the most widely known book on asexuality out there, but as of this writing there is a growing number of books out there focusing on informing and illustrating the ace and aro experience. Rebecca Burgess’ “How to be Ace” and Angela Chen’s “Ace: What Asexuality Reveals About Desire, Society, and the Meaning of Sex” are just a few recent additions.

Maybe you feel a need to find friendship and community with others like you — perhaps you tried going to one or two general queer events but found yourself not fitting in, or feeling completely comfortable and safe. Maybe your goal here, then, is to simply find connection with other asexuals, aromantic, and acespec and/or arospec people. You could approach this by looking for local asexual social groups in your city or region, groups which could be found again, through social media, or sites like AVEN. The unexpected blessing of how times have changed in society is how the widespread use of Zoom and other teleconferencing/video meeting platforms has opened up groups that in the past may only have been accessible to only a few out of the limits of geography. With your Zoom account, the possibilities of accessing and connecting with other asexual and aromantic spectrum community groups and events can expand dramatically.

Or maybe you simply need sometime for self-reflection and self-care; your goal here being to heal yourself, especially if your arrival at asexuality was marked with a lot of emotionally intense and tumultuous change. Depending on your own needs and background, you can make a list of the things you need to support your process of care and reflection — whether it be to foster a regular habit of journalling and reading about your asexual experiences, or quiet meditation on what your asexuality has come to mean for you, or something more elaborate, like an altar space for prayer and spiritual work. For me, it was the curious spiritual practice that led me to tarot and the writing of these essays, intersecting with a meditative and contemplative practice from the religious traditions of my youth: reading the tarot for myself (and journalling about it), and praying the Catholic rosary.

To round out our viewing of this card, the imagery of the moon on the central figure’s shoulders are said to be a reference to the High Priestess: This is a recognition of the importance of intuition and inner knowledge to actually know a way forward out of your current situation. On the front of the chariot, a strange spinning top-like object is actually said to be the uniting of the male and the female genitalia: A reference to The Lovers, by visually referring to the importance of unity and cooperation between two whole and different, yet complimentary parts. (Not the first choice of imagery that I would have picked myself, but such is the interesting effect of working with art that speaks to us from over a century ago, despite using themes that are actually quite timeless in how we relate to them.)

All of this is interesting and relevant, but what really draws my eyes is the background of the card: an imposing walled city with tall towers and parapets. It is behind the human figure: It is we who are leaving this city behind. We are on our way to leaving behind our earlier normative perceptions of who we were, in terms of our relationships and our sexuality. Once we gain our focus and our inner strength, and marshal our resources, we can finally move forward. Our movement will take us away from the societal safety and social comforts of amatonormativity and heteronormativity that seemed to serve us so well, for so long.

Into what or where, are we moving? We do not know yet. Outside of the safe walls of the charmed circle of conventionally normative sexuality, who knows what may be waiting for us. But one thing is definitely certain. We cannot live anymore as prisoners in a walled city that, while providing us safety through social conformity, is nevertheless incapable of giving us either freedom or liberation. The process of liberation is scary, but perhaps what is scarier is the prospect of living a life in perpetual repression of who and what you really are.

Previous: The Lovers

Next: Strength

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justin

justin

Perpetually Caffeinated. Biromantic Demisexual. Still trying to figure stuff out.