Chariots were likely first invented in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago and were subsequently used and developed by many other ancient cultures. Thus, they would have been familiar to people living around the time of the prophets and founding figures of many of the world’s major religions. Chariots were a sign of wealth and many religious examples of chariot imagery were used to argue against such extravagant living. More interestingly, though, is the use of chariot metaphors to illustrate ideas about the self and the mind. Just as charioteers must tame wild and potentially dangerous animals (horses), so too must we all learn to control our wild and destructive baser instincts that can otherwise get in the way of living consciously. Chariot imagery extolls the importance of self-mastery.

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The Hebrew Bible
Jewish scripture

“As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind."

Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism
Collection of Jewish writings

“The most striking parallel to Elijah is the myth of Enoch. Just as Elijah was carried into paradise in a chariot, so too was Enoch brought into heaven the same way when God took him(Gen. 5:24). And just as Elijah is described here as being transformed into angel, so too was Enoch transformed into the angel Metatron. Both of them are among the most important angels, taking orders directly from God. In fact, it seems likely that the extensive mythic tradition about Enoch was inspired by the description of Elijah being taken into heaven in a fiery chariot."

The Mahabharata
Hindu scripture

“Then Dharma and Indra and the Maruts and the two Ashvins and all the other gods and celestial sages made Yudhishthira mount the chariot, and along with them, in their own chariots, went the perfected beings that go wherever they wish to go, all of the dustless gods with their great virtue and with their virtuous speech, thoughts, and actions. The perpetuator of the Kuru family(Yudhishthira) flew swiftly upwards in that chariot, encompassing heaven and earth with blazing glory."

Shunryu Suzuki
Zen master

“So which do you hit, the cart or the horse? Which do you hit, yourself or your problems? If you start questioning which you should hit, that means you have already started to wander about. But when you actually hit the horse, the cart will go. In truth, the cart and the horse are not different. When you are you, there is no problem of whether you should hit the cart or the horse.”

Lieh Tzu
Daoist sage

“Now let me tell you about charioteering. All charioteers must start by learning how to run on the posts. Although it appears that you are training to be agile in your footwork, you are actually training your body to respond to the commands of your mind. This is the key to driving a chariot. Applying and releasing pressure in the reins should be at one with your intention. If your fingers and your palms respond naturally to your will, then you can transfer your intention directly to each horse on the team. The team will respond to the smallest pull or slack in any direction, and you can guide the chariot forward or backward and turn left or right without any effort. Your body responds to your mind, the reins respond to the movements of your body, and the horses respond to the pressure from the reins. In this way, without expending any energy, you can drive a chariot over long distances and not feel tired. When this happens, you know you have mastered this art.”

Jens Schlieter
Scholar of religion
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“In ancient Greece and India, the real use of chariots encompassed sports, cults, journeys and combat. These uses of the supposedly most complex mobile technology of early Greek and Indian culture suggest a potentially similar complex metaphorical or ‘symbolic’ use of the chariot[…]In fact, in both (and other Eurasian) traditions chariots were depicted as vehicles of gods such as the sun, i.e. as a symbol of cosmic stability; they were, moreover, used as symbols of royal power and social prestige, e.g. of kings and warriors (in the Iliad Vedic hymns, and poetic literature); and, finally, chariots served as metaphors for the ‘person,’ the ‘mind’ and the ‘way to liberation’.”

Jens Schlieter
Scholar of religion
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

"As is well known, Plato uses the chariot imagery in a complex simile for describing the difference between the souls of humans and of gods by pointing to the ambivalent nature of the human soul’s parts, its heavenly ascent, and its return to earth, i.e., rebirth[…]The obnoxious steed of poor breeding wants to return to earth, to human desires, and gets inflamed and sexually agitated if the chariot meets other chariots in the sky. The noble steed, on the other hand, wants to ascend; if the charioteer could steer the whole complex accordingly, the chariot would leave the inner space and would enable the human soul to see being itself, reality, as it were."