I am Phaethon

Yikes. What a scary mythological figure to identify myself with. For those of you who don’t know, Phaethon was the illegitimate child of the Sun (Helios). When he was a young man, he had a coming-of-age-time-to-meet-daddy moment and left home to find his father. The two reconnected, there was much joy and celebration, and then Daddy dearest made the incredibly stupid mistake of offering to grant any one wish that his bastard son desired.

[Note: if you’re a near-omniscient deity and you’re dealing with short-sighted mortals, don’t promise to give them whatever they want.]

Phaethon decided he wanted to drive his father’s chariot across the sky for a day. Helios was unable to talk him out of it, and (long story short) it ended badly. Phaethon, being a mere mortal, did not have the supernatural prowess necessary to control the chariot of the Sun. He lost control, almost destroyed the world, and was eventually mercy-killed by a thunderbolt from Zeus.*


Why do I recount this story and identify myself with the tragically idiotic central character? Because over the course of the past week or so, I’ve found my thoughts turning progressively towards the Chariot.

This is a card I’ve never much related to in the past. I don’t dislike the Chariot, but it’s just never felt terribly important to me. Thematically, I totally approve of the drive to move forward, to reconcile opposing forces (brief shout-out to the allegory of the soul-as-chariot in Plato’s Phaedrus) in the name of psychic progress. But there are also other cards, like the Six of Swords and the Eight of Cups, that beautifully represent similar themes, and I’ve somehow never spent much time with the Chariot as an individual card. Plus, astrologically, the Chariot is Cancer, and Cancer and I just don’t click very much.**

But this year has been a goddamned whirlwind for me. I have seen sweeping and entirely unforeseen changes in just about every area of my life. A lot of those changes are still in progress, and I’m juggling uncertainty in a lot of different domains. (It won’t surprise you to know that I don’t do well with uncertainty. I am a planner, and I’m at my happiest when I have every hour of the future planned out eight years in advance.) I’ve been working on letting go of a lot of things–interests, behavioral patterns, and even people–that weren’t doing me much good, and in turn, I’ve been trying to explore what new things I want to bring in to fill the suddenly vacant space.

Throughout this process, I’m feeling kind of like Phaethon. Many, many things are happening, but they’re happening much more quickly than I’m able to process or react to them. I got into a chariot (or roller coaster; whichever image you prefer) and started to move, but I am very much not in control of the world around me. We’ve reached the point where I’m hurtling along at breakneck speeds and I have no idea which direction I’m going or where I’m going to stop. But damn it all, I’m along for the ride.

Change is inevitable. For me, right now, change is swift. And it’s certainly intimidating. Yet underneath it all, as I watch Zeus on the horizon preparing to strike me down from the heavens if I prove incapable of keeping up with the aforementioned chariot-slash-roller-coaster, there’s a deep sense that change is necessary. Things were stagnating, and now it’s time for them to move.

I’ve always felt that the Chariot belongs to the TdM more than to any other deck. I don’t quite know why.

On top of that, the Chariot is my year card for 2016.***

There are a lot of cards in the deck that represent change. Hell, it’s just about the most prevalent theme in Tarot, from the High Priestess to the Wheel of Fortune to Death to Judgment to the Three of Wands to…

But each of those cards has its own distinct flavor. Tarot is the Baskin Robbins of change, and though I’ve sampled heavily from Death and the Six of Swords, I’ve never actually ordered myself a scoop of Chariot drowning in hot fudge. (What does the fudge represent in this metaphor, you ask? Nothing at all! But it’s anathema to go to an ice cream parlor and not get fudge.) The cosmic soda jerk has, I suppose, decided to correct this.

The Chariot tastes different than any of the other change cards. There’s an underlying sense not just that change is necessary (because it’s always necessary), but that it’s long overdue. When I interact with the Chariot, I feel that things have been stagnating for a long time, and that if I stayed in the same place much longer I would suffocate and die like a shark that stopped swimming forward.****

My thoughts return to Phaethon. His hubris was, to understate, ill-advised, but he had to do something. He had to leave home and go somewhere. And even though he proved unable to handle the fate he chose for himself, maybe it was, in some way, preferable to the slow, boring death that waited for him at home.

I certainly hope that the changes happening around me right now serve me better than Phaethon’s charioteering venture did for him. Nevertheless, I see myself in Phaethon. I see the urgent need for progress, for motion, and I see the willingness to hop into a chariot and start driving even if I risk losing control. If I crash, I crash, but I’ll be no worse off than if I hadn’t moved at all. And if I don’t crash, well, the heavens open themselves up to me.

I like to think sometimes of what would have happened if Phaethon had been able to guide his chariot. Of the triumph he would have felt, of the transcendent feeling of becoming something new. That is the elusive promise of the Chariot: that if you forego what’s (too) comfortable and easy, you can ride among the stars.

For that, I’m willing to risk the crash.

*(I summarize.)

**Better than Pisces, though. I really dislike Pisces, and I’ve never found myself liking someone who identified strongly with the Pisces influences in their natal chart. Pisces sucks. (Only mild offense intended to the Pisces-inclined among my readers.) There’s a reason I distrust the Moon card as much as I do.

***The astute and mildly obsessive reader would be able to use this information, in combination with other tidbits I’ve revealed in the past, to determine the year of my birth. Personally, I don’t recommend that anyone waste time on this endeavor, but in theory, it’s doable.

****And we’ve gone from an ice cream metaphor to a shark simile. Not my smoothest transition.

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