About

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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Quotations

The Hebrew Bible
Jewish scripture
Judaism

“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
Judaism

“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
Hinduism

“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
Buddhism

“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
Daoism

“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."

Plato
Ancient Greek philosopher
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

"We will liken the soul to the composite nature of a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. Now the horses and charioteers of the gods are all good and of good descent, but those of other races are mixed; and first the charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, and secondly one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. Therefore in our case the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome."

The Hebrew Bible
Jewish scripture
Judaism

“See, the Lord is coming with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind; he will bring down his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.” (Isaiah 66:15)

Shunryu Suzuki
Zen master
Buddhism

“Buddha said the same thing about the good ox driver. The driver knows how much load the ox can carry, and he keeps the ox from being overloaded. You know your way and your state of mind. Do not carry too much!”

Gustav Meyrink
Austrian novelist
Art & Literature

“I saw in a flash that my situation was just like that of the horse: fate was lashing me with its whip, and all I was aware of was my suffering.  I hated the invisible power that was tormenting me, but I had not understood that it was all being done so that I should learn to perform some task, take some spiritual hurdle so to speak.”

The Analects
Confucian Text
Confucianism

“I do not see how a man can be acceptable who is untrustworthy in word? When a pin is missing in the yoke-bar of a large cart or in the collar-bar of a small cart, how can the cart be expected to go?” (2:22)

Chuang Tzu
Daoist sage
Daoism

“Yen Ho came by and went in to see the Duke, saying, ‘Chi’s horses are almost worn out.’ But the Duke said nothing. Shortly after, the chariot broke down and the Duke said, ‘Sir, how did you know this would happen?’ Ho replied, ‘The strength of the horses was spent but he urged them on. That’s why I said they would collapse.’”

Sufi Parable
Islam

"Picture a charioteer. He is seated in a vehicle, propelled by a horse, guided by himself. Intellect is the ‘vehicle’, the outward form within which we state where we think we are and what we have to do. The vehicle enables the horse and man to operate. The horse, which is the motive power, is the energy which is called ‘a state of emotion’ or other force. This is needed to propel the chariot. The man, in our illustration, is that which perceives, in a manner superior to the others, the purpose and possibilities of the situation, and who makes it possible for the chariot to move towards and to gain its objective."