28 July 2013


Just as the map is not the territory, the conveyance is not the conveyed.

Introduction & Disclaimer[1]

char14The ninth post in a series that adds commentary to Nichols’ (1980)[2] Jungian commentary on the major arcana of the Tarot, here I engage with card 7: the Chariot.

Over the past two or so years, I’ve been reading a lot of Jung’s writings,[3] and will continue to do so,[4] in part not only because his approach to psychology resonates with my own experience but also because when I read his works I experience a dislodging of psychic imagery that seems interesting and/or fruitful and/or inspiring. In addition, I have been doing Tarot card readings since 1986,[5] when my friend in college introduced them to me, and have even worked “professionally” as one.

So it proved very on-point and kind of my friend to think of me when she saw a copy of Nichols’ (1980) Jung and Tarot: an Archetypal Journey. This series, then, embodies my reactions to and commentaries on Nichols’ commentaries, &c, and will work through the major arcana (the trumps) of the Tarot deck chapter by chapter as Nichol’s book does in order from 0 to 21.

The Chariot: It Carries Us Home [6]

The general tenor of Nichols’ commentary here emphasizes that, whatever entanglements prevailed during the previous card, the (masculine) ego-consciousness has broken free and gotten himself into a conveyance—one, of course, that sometimes hurtles out of control, as Phaeton’s ill-fated ride records. Nichols takes the opportunity to wax less beatific about ego-consciousness, locating the threat of ego-inflation (what Jung also called godlikeness and which Nichols synonymizes with the Greek notion of hubris)

also hybris, 1884, a back-formation from hubristic or else from Greek hybris “wanton violence, insolence, outrage,” originally “presumption toward the gods;” the first element probably PIE *ud- “up, out,” but the meaning of the second is debated.

char15In my analysis of “levels” or “series” of major arcana, the sequence 5–8 (Hierophant, Lover,  Chariot, Strength/Justice) signifies actual power, and not just the ascription of or assent to power evident in the Magician, High Priestess, Emperor, Empress series. And if the Lover pointed to synergy and cooperation—plus all the snarls and pitfalls that can arise when attempting cooperation—the Chariot points to instrumentality of all sorts, or more simply, to technology.  Whatever the explicitly human (and entangling) forces in the last card, here they have become fashioned, harnessed, into a conveyance, a technology. The “pulling in opposite directions” seen in the Lover here becomes a device for making the chariot’s horses pull in the same direction. More precisely, as the card Nichols examines makes clear, the horses still pull in different directions, but the contraption (literally) harnesses them so that that energy pulls only in one direction.

This tool-making obviously has and has had enormous historical implications and effects, many of which seem unambiguously beneficial, but we should not for that reason ignore its socially undesirable effects as well. It suggests for example that we can sever ourselves from human cooperativity in general. Even more seriously, it suggests ways that humans might get fashioned into tools. On this view, the Chariot itself consists of people, and we may see what this means in the transformation of the two human figures on the Lover card into the two animals (horses) on the chariot card. Fortuitously, I can rescue a passage from Canetti’s (1960)[7] Crowds and Power out of its self-damning context to put it to better use here:

Man easily persuaded himself to see as vermin everything which opposed him; as such he regarded and treated all animals which he could not use. And the despot who reduces men to animals and only manages to rule them by regarding them as belonging to a lower species, reduces to vermin all who do not qualify even to be ruled and ends by destroying them by the million (363).

This diagnoses, in the particularly extreme case of the despot, what seems to happen more innocuously with the transformation of humans into animals or—one should add—even less into merely inert raw material that fashions the body of the Chariot itself, its tent-poles and skin-awning.

char12Certainly no simple, Luddite condemnation of technology readily follows from this, but neither does the need for some acknowledgment of the issue disappear. Nichols somewhat dogmatically it seems to me leaves her focus strictly on the sense of the Chariot as a (potentially perilous) invention for the conveyance of the ego. In her sequence, which runs in groups of seven cards, the Chariot represents a culmination and thus the “hinge” into the next series of seven cards. Previously, she has emphasized the archetypal numinousness of the preceding figures, so that this appearance of the Chariot (not so much the ego-consciousness within the Chariot) makes the “appropriate” end to this sequence. Out of the Fool and Magician, &c, has finally appeared this self-contained, mobile thing, the chariot, which threatens continuously to topple over, so that our own growing mastery at maintaining its balance and equilibrium will become, Nichols promises, the central concern in the next cards to come.

I think one might find a slight tension in Nichols’ presentation, an expository “wobbling” in itself that nicely befits writing about the wobbling Chariot. I mean, specifically, that her tendency to talk about the ego-consciousness itself overlooks that the Chariot stands as the actual, central feature of the card. Not that she wholly ignores this; again, I sense a kind of wobble in her emphasis, on the one hand, on the Chariot or the figure in the Chariot. If I suggest that such a focus on ego-consciousness denotes a sort of premature emphasis, this itself applies justly to the Chariot itself—hence the themes of hubris and over-reaching and Phaeton’s ill-fated ride across the sky. With the Chariot, we jump the gun to start speaking of controlling or directing the Chariot’s progress.

When I remember that Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad-Gītā serves as Arjuna’s charioteer—so that by no irresponsible stretch of the imagination we might call the Chariot itself Kṛṣṇa—then  clearly his injunction to trust him explicitly makes sense, since Kṛṣṇa symbolizes the Self. In the ego-consciousness framing Nichols offers, one in fact must trust “the Chariot” (Kṛṣṇa) because our jiva, our atman, our individual soul as an ego-consciousness has yet to reach the point of taking up the reins, which Nichols’ card pointed excludes in any case.

Even though this all drags the discussion to a strictly psychological or personalistic level, we can still consider what happens if we expand this out into the social domain. Particularly as regards technology, this illustrates clearly how the Chariot, technology, looms larger than us and not within our ambit or ability to control. So, although we recognize that we should label dangerous poisons or regulate dangerous materials, in general we do not extend this thought to technology in general, and prefer, for example, to say “guns don’t kill people; people kill people”. The Chariot card suggests how dangerously naïve we should find such a position. And then, if I extend the Kṛṣṇa part of this into the social world, it takes on the problematic aspect that “history” (the ultimate extension of “technology”) denotes something we cannot take any kind of control of (at least not at this point). On a lesser level, this pertains to technology in its narrow sense as well, but the metaphor particularly fails in this case, because humans have crafted all technology that exists. We most assuredly cannot see with omniscient foresight all of the ways our technologies will get used in the world, but the desires and forces and means and patronage of any technology that exists, from hydrogen bombs to cells phones to space shuttles to spears and woven baskets, do in fat originate from Arjuna not Kṛṣṇa, so to speak, from the immanent not the transcendental aspects of human existence.[8]

char13At one point, Nicholls remarks, “Another dubious detour on the road to individuation is the use of drugs” (149). One may say briefly enough that her objection falls into the “square” category and the objection to the absolute value or valuelessness of drugs merely reflects a most likely ignorant opinion on the matter.

I need more precision here. Drugs, as a technology, remain subject to human abuse and misuse, and one may advance the argument that some require regulation to prevent undue harm or problematic use, just as we might think about this for poisons or uranium or guns. A great deal more precision, however, needs working out about what constitutes a drug in the regulatory sense. Peyote grows naturally; methamphetamine does not. Whatever detail we may bring to this, when Nicholls flatly rejects the notion of “drugs,” she actually says more than she means and nothing at the same time, since such a flat condemnation makes no sense. To treat alcohol, caffeine, an marijuana as somehow identical, because all constitute “drugs,” amounts merely to ideological propagandizing and no basis for public policy (or life choices). The distinction between licit and illicit drugs only muddles the situation further.

In her facile rejection of “drugs,” we may see Nicholls prejudiced ignorance, especially precisely for those drugs most celebrated for their mind-expanding qualities: hallucinogens.[9] I think, because she wobbles between focusing on the chariot itself and the ego-consciousness within the Chariot, that this makes her miss the more consistent emphasis one might put on drug use; specifically, that drugs alter not ego-consciousness but the conveyance for that ego-consciousness, the Chariot itself. Because hallucinogens by design afford this modification, rather than say the pleasure-inducing effects of opiates and alcohol or the emotional “rush” or “mellowness” of ecstasy or amphetamines, speed, marijuana, &c—I don’t intend this list as complete—the “value” for individuation that hallucinogens offers less mediately than other drugs offers an alteration to consciousness (and thus a modification to the chariot).

All drugs, of course, to some extent modify both our responses to the changes of our body/mind consciousness along with the body/mind mechanism of consciousness in the first place, but if one may say that most such substances make us “feel” different in some way, hallucinogens particularly first and foremost make us “see” differently, which of course has downstream alterations to feeling as well.[10]

char16So, whatever one wants to say about the yay or nay or drugs, we may at least recognize that where their use aims to change the shape or materiality of the conveyance of our consciousness (the Chariot), then this seems more legitimately like a genuine experiment or intervention in the direction of individuation, one that may have fruitful or pointless consequences but nevertheless aligns with the “intent” (or project) of individuation overall. Nicholls’ prohibition on drugs carries an object lesson behind it, that “tampering” with the technology of the Chariot, trying to take the reins too soon like Phaeton, will end in a fiery crash. This simply points again tot eh “angers” of technology that our technological society generally doesn’t like to look at (“guns don’t kill people; people kill people”), but this also means we needn’t enforce or adopt an explicitly hands-off always policy.

Certainly, a desire or project of Timothy Leary and the like involved the notion that we might “get in there” and experimentally modify the Chariot. Whatever cautions belong to that project, Nicholls (and others’) rejection of such a project, if it does not arise simply from boorishness or terror, entails a demand: you’ll have to wait. It puts a person in the unenviable position of having to hope on faith that whatever complementary mechanisms might arise out of the unconscious to provide the ground for further individuation will occur sooner than later; it suggests a rather pious fear, superstition, or reverence of the mysterious workings of the unconscious (“the unconscious works in mysterious ways”) but that good things come to those who wait. Even though Jung, in one remarkable passage, defends the “Western project” of the mind against easy critiques in an eastern light, Nicholls’ condemnation of drugs here demarks a zone of cognition that that project of the Western mind should not touch. It ultimately advocates a sort of obnoxious or disturbing quietism all the more disheartening since self-evidently most of us get to the end of our lives without having gotten very far down the trail of individuation. Jung says the trail remains difficult in the best of times, and I have no idea what he might have thought of hallucinogens, but perhaps he would have welcomed, if with his usual thoughtfulness and circumspection, the promise and premise of something that might “activate” the unconscious in a very, very literal way.

The notion that this risks profound psychic dangers sands contradicted by the vast majority of hallucinogenic substance use; the min danger, as with other drugs, involves the merely masturbatory use of this technology, the use of it “just for fun,” which I don’t count as much of a risk.  One can say people “short-sell” the use of life all the time; this provides no reason to stop living or even to change how one lives, abstractly speaking.

But Nicholls’ objection (and others like it by others) has more disturbing consequences in the long run as well. Somewhere, she cited Jung’s emphasis on suffering as a prompt to growth. Of course, this idea hardly limits itself to Nicholls or Jung, and their “appreciation” for it arises in part from seeing ‘growth” by those who came to their psychiatric couches, when such growth actually happens.[11] The larger point of this involves the belief in the necessity of suffering, which in Jung further expressed itself in a defense of evil—by which I mean, he felt strongly that the social discourse that wanted to deny the metaphysical (so to speak) existence of evil engaged in a perilous piece of self-delusion; he found very disturbing and often commented against the notion of evil as simply the absence of the good. Consider a sadistic child-bully; perhaps this boy really does have a “hurt little child” at his core and that causes him to lash out (an absence of good) but he might also simply enjoy brutalizing other children (the evil).

char10We needn’t make an either/or out of this, but one can see some problematic conflations that begin to happen if suffering becomes necessary for growth and evil persists as a presence in the world. One might with just as much justice say that the public avowal of evil in the social world becomes an excuse by some to exterminate that evil by burning them alive in churches, by incarcerating them, by placing them in asylums and lobotomizing them, &c. And the public avowal for the necessity of suffering whitewashes all of that atrocity under the guise of ‘enlightenment” and “character building” (for those who don’t go up in smoke, presumably).

On a less social scale, then, if I do not suffer, I do not individuate. And more than this, if I do want to insinuate, then I might get at that by becoming hopeless one-sided—I could deliberately (though one usually does this accidentally) so much in one direction of a psychic function in my life that the inferior function rears up in a complementary dudgeon and kicks the shit out of me—after some requisite period of hubris, ego-inflation, or godlikeness, of course. In Jungian terms (or psychoanalytic terms in general), I must make myself neurotic, if not mentally ill, before I can receive the “grace” of individuation.

Clearly, I don’t have to take this to a psychotic degree—I can stop at merely mildly neurotic and then solicit the active imagination of the psychoanalytic couch; or possibly I might try that method by myself, though it seems pretty clear that this kind of “outside-of-oneselfness” that individuation generally seems to require almost demands the participation of at least one other person. We needn’t resort only to an analytical psychologist for this, and we may doubtless see it as a testimony to our sad times that this function, at one time performed by friends (some of whom were priests), has largely disappeared from social life. But all this being so, to demand that I either suffer or condemn myself to madness first seems not only perverse, it also (as the horrible arguments above show) becomes the very justification for those who create the conditions that lead to actual structural and institutional suffering in the first place.

Instead, we might take matters into our own hands, with hallucinogens in particular. Used safely, thee create a circumstance where active imagination becomes explicitly thrown in our faces. Once again, the lazy may do this simply to entertain themselves, but I leave them to worry about that effect of that in their own lives. Hallucinogens very powerfully externalize the materiality of the Chariot so that we may make individuating intervention into it—piecemeal and ad hoc, yes—without having to distort, addle, or harm our psyches by deliberate one-sidedness or whatever agonies of life that prompt actual suffering.

char5For quite some time now, a part of the social contract has involved citizens giving up the permission to deal with violence in their communities; in effect, citizens must rely upon police to address “crime”. The benefit of this involves reduced risk in confronting actually dangerous members of or in one’s community—if some thug robs me, I may not have the means to do anything about it, while the (armed) police at least in principle do. Two main downsides of this entail that we must get the police involved in everything that falls under the category of “crime”; whereas in the “old days,” if two people got into an altercation (especially youngsters) their parents might settle the matter between themselves, more or less amicably or not. These days, if the police get called, then formal charges must get filed, and one (or both) of the youngsters may get suspended from school and/or wind up with an arrest or prison record needlessly, a family may get broken up due to a he-said/she-said domestic circumstance, &c. Secondly, this reliance on the police means we lose the means to protect ourselves from the police themselves, who now do or don’t selectively enforce crimes that citizens complain about (i.e., they don’t do the job we want) while actively and aggressively filing charges that the State wants filed, especially under the banner of mass incarceration due to the War on Drugs (i.e., they do the job we don’t want). Consequently, communities have begun organizing ways to keep the police out of things, with a consequent increase of community-desired social justice along accompanied by a decrease of community-undesired predatory behavior by police.

This DIY response to needless suffering (due to racial profiling, the War on Drugs, and the like) offers a metaphor for experimental (DIY) interventions into the vehicle of consciousness (the Chariot) as well. It shows how we needn’t suffer at the hands of the system as a prerequisite for individuation, if only we reject the notion that we must place our safety and power in the hands of some duly-appointed (psychoanalytic) expert (however well-qualified or not).


char4[1] As a general context, I do not believe Tarot cards are in any way inherently magical; I’m not someone who becomes psychically disturbed if you touch my deck or someone who claims you’ve ruined the vibe if you do. Personally, doing Tarot readings for people is one place in my life where my intuitive and intellectual sides work in tandem, rather than being at odds with one another—and that sense of co-operation is a pleasure to experience. For others—for the “us” that exists during the duration of the Tarot reading—it is a chance to have a conversation; as an example, I’ve had a radio show where I did Tarot card readings on the air with formerly incarcerated individuals in order to let the world listening hear the reality of incarceration, &c, but the conversation is also for the other person, to examine the forces, the patterns, the trends in her or his life, and to have the opportunity to change them. I continually ask questions when doing Tarot card readings; I don’t pretend to be or act psychic. And having said all that, to the extent that the imagery in the Tarot operates archetypally (as Nichols claims), to the extent that it can inspire images and dislodge psychic impressions in those using and viewing the cards, then I agree that the Jungian approach Nichols brings to the Tarot stands to be helpful, insightful, and useful—hence this commentary on her commentary.

[2] Nichols, S. (1980). Jung and Tarot: an archetypal journey. New York: S. Weiser.

[3] Psychological Types (Collected Works 6, [1921], 1971), Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works 9, Part 1, 2nd ed. 1968), Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (Collected Works 7, 2nd ed 1966), Psychology and Alchemy (Collected Works 12, [1944], 2nd ed. 1968), Alchemical Studies (Collected Works 13, 1968), Mysterium Coniunctionis (Collected Works 14, [1955-6], 2nd ed. 1970).

[4] I have Symbols of Transformation (Collected Works 5, [1911-12], 2nd ed. 1967), Aion (Collected Works 9, Part 2, [1951], 2nd ed. 1968), and Psychiatric Studies (Collected Works 1, 2nd ed. 1970) lined up next, and need still to find affordable copies of Experimental Researches (Collected Works 2, 1973) and finally The Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche (Collected Works 8, 1970).

[5] I began with the Crowley-Harris (1972) Thoth Tarot, which I used for many years, acquired but didn’t find myself inspired by Dali’s (1955) Universal Tarot, owned, found myself inspired by, but did not use Tavaglione’s (1979) Stairs of Gold Tarot, used Brian William’s (1988) Renaissance Tarot during my professional phase, in part because the trumps readily leant themselves to that kind of setting, Gerhardt & Zeeuwen’s (1996) Terrestrial Tarot, which one reviewer describes as very unsettling yet still possessing a “strange magnetism,” and finally, Sergio Toppi’s (2000) Tarot of the Origins—Toppi being, as it turns out, one of my favorite illustrators of all time (see here and here, for my reviews of two of his books).

[6] The title used for this header comes from the title of the chapter in Nichol’s book.

[7] All quotations are from Canetti, E. (1981). Crowds and Power (trans. Carol Stewart), 6th printing. New York: NY: Noonday Press. (paperback).

char2[8] This does not contradict what I have already said. Insofar as a technology exists as something larger than us in the social domain, then we stand “along for the ride” that it takes us on. But the “unleashing” of that technology upon the world in the first place does not manifest ex nihilo from the cosmic beyond. If one wants facile dichotomies, then we must conclude that people design guns to kill things, including people, quite apart from whether people kill people with guns. Gain, no one objects to the labeling of dangerous poisons, because dangerous poisons “by design” inflict grievous harm or death. Similarly, we regulation the creation of even the materials for atomic weapons. It seems disingenuous that we should overlook how one particular technology, guns, affords by design grievous injury or death.

[9] I do not mean by this drugs that cause hallucinations. Given sufficient withdrawal, alcohol can inspire delirium tremens, the hallucinations of which may sometimes have very cinematic or visionary qualities. This occurs as a consequence of alcohol poisoning, however, not the more deliberate mind-alteration associated with LSD, peyote, psilocybin, &c.

[10] Some mushrooms have a distinct “body high” as well, of course.

[11] Jung candidly admits this does not always happen, or sometimes happens so slowly that the psychoanalytic process can hardly get credit as an effective cause, however much it contributed.


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