Tarocchino Arlecchino: The Chariot

Mercurial! Martial! Such is the dual nature of this Harlequin, with his winged helmet and sword. His war chariot is drawn by two horses, opposed at the head and entangled in the center. Streams of red punctuate the air, litter the ground, and bind the horses together.

The Chariot from Tarocchino Arlecchino

One sun emits circles of light, the other long rays (details taken from my reference in the BnF). I also love the tri-color red-green-gold scheme of the original so I preserved it… well, mostly, with the addition of some browns.

Maybe here is also a good place to note one of Harlequin’s ties to the tarot itself in popular imagination. In previous posts I have mentioned Harlequin’s demonic heritage. But if we go to the other side of his family, we might find the god Mercury: patron of trickery as well as divination… and, according to Etteilla and descendants, author of the tarot in the guise of Tri-Mercury.1

Wielding a caduceus and wearing a winged helmet, Harlequin-Mercury descends on an eagle.
A theatrical illustration, for Anne Mauduit de Fatouville’s Arlequin Mercure Galant (1685). Reproduced from Napoléon-Maurice Bernardin, La comédie italienne en France et les théâtres de la foire et du boulevard (1570-1791), Paris, Revue bleue, 1902 (PD-US)

The Etteilla meanings for The Chariot2 are more negative than I’ve seen elsewhere. To me, this change seems spot on. I mean, look back at a Marseille deck (or better, the Jacques Vieville tarot) – the card does not exactly radiate happiness. It covers all sorts of fights, violence, and disagreements.

Anyway, it is a boiling 90+ degrees in beautiful New Jersey this weekend, so I am really feeling this contentious scene. I will also use the weather to please excuse any particular incoherence in this post – stay cool, my friends.

Keywords (translated from Julia Orsini)

Upright: dissension, discord, disturbances, riots, agitation, insurrection, revolt, sedition, faction, conspiracy, rebellion, defection, war, battle, conflict, combat, duel, pride, arrogance, vanity, false glory, pomp, ostentation, audacity, temerity, violence, disorder, anger, insult, affront, presumption, impulse, outburst, vengeance

Reversed: arrogance, noise, disturbance, quarrel, dispute, debate, litigation, nuisance, argumentation, struggle


1 Etteilla claimed that the tarot was not a card game, but a book engraved on gold leaves under the dictation of Hermes Trismegistus, a hybrid of Greek Hermes (Roman Mercury) and Egyptian Thoth. Thoth is preserved in today’s occult flim-flam through Crowley.

2 In the Etteilla deck, The Chariot is moved to the end of the trump sequence and, in keeping with the Egyptian theme, rechristened The African Despot.

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