The High Priestess
What are some key words and images that come to mind when you think of The High Priestess?
Write these down if it helps acquaint you with the concept.
How I think of it:
I prefer not to think of the cards in terms of good or bad, positive and negative. Sometimes they can be warnings, like STOP signs, and sometimes they can be predictors, or GO signs.
The High Priestess is difficult to write about because she is intuition, representative of knowledge that can only be felt, and yet, so much like her duality of the unspoken and the manifest - I could literally write a book about her! But, we are the keepers of our own divinity, so, whatever is imparted here - just know her meaning is actually felt and experienced within YOU!
The High Priestess is the divine feminine, (much like the Magician is the divine masculine) manifested in the Empress. And yet, she can also be seen as the counterpart to the Hierophant. She bears symbols which originate from early depictions of the Virgin Mary, her foot on the moon for example.
The High Priestess asks you to trust your intuition, which is different from imagination, delusion and fear. Resistance is the enemy of the High Priestess, as she summons you to look inward, rather than searching for what you seek on the physical plane. Sometimes the strongest monsters are within us. She asks you not to think of your emotions and thoughts as your own. Emotions and thoughts are intrinsic to physical experience, and when we identify with them, i.e. "I am angry," rather than adopting the perspective, "this is anger," we separate ourselves from others, and consequently from the source. Think of it this way: when we identify with a feeling, we are like butterfly snatchers, capturing sadness or a delusion (an untrue thought or judgment) and holding it prisoner. If we acknowledge these occurences as a phenomenon of existence, we can simply greet them, watch them pass, and, with our foot on the moon, discern whether or not it's merely a thought, or a call from within which warrants our attention.
Recently, I had a dream that I was in China (I've never been to China, but I imagine this has to do with my current research into Yin and Yang energies) and a well-kept business man (no, he was not a monk, just an average Joe like you and I!) told me that suffering arises when, "Something makes itself known," and we "determine we need it, when we don't." This "something" could be a thought, it could be an advertisement, it could be an idea, or a really cool sweater we just have to have (but maybe we don't have the money for it. And also have enough sweaters). Even good ideas can cause suffering! (I can't even tell you how many good ideas I've had, but sometimes I get depressed because I cannot manifest them all! I'm currently learning to greet them, appreciate their sales pitch and politely decline, without putting the pressure on myself to pursue each one - because this attachment leads to the thought of loss or failure when I realize I don't have the bandwidth to add another project to my plate and see it through to fruition.)
Do not mistake the instruction of the High Priestess as a message to denounce emotions and thoughts completely. They exist for a reason! That's why there are entire suits dedicated to them!
The High Priestess asks you to directly consult your unconscious. The more you practice clearing out the noise (the influence of advertising, your inner critic installed and programmed by an oppressive parental figure, the judgments of others which can damage our will and ego and cause us to alter our beliefs and choices) through meditation, the more easily you can hear your intuition. Intuition feels like knowledge without a known source. I have had experiences with my intuition where it feels like someone told me something, a message, or a cosmic truth that I, of course, must have read in a book written by a human! If you don't currently register these little blips on your radar in waking hours, consulting your dreams is a great way to tune into the channel. You can even ask your dreams a question!
The High Priestess asks you to pause, recognize and explore your thoughts and emotions, which are currently in control of YOU. Imagine all of the butterflies, moths, and other flying critters caught within your net. What happens when you have and hold onto all this stuff? Naturally, it attracts more negativity, or becomes preventative energy blocking divine support (intuition) and weakens your Will. You've become preoccupied with the mosquitos, beetles, dragonflies, and even dangling spiders, that have ended up in your net. Now, you have anxiety! Anxiety is sourced from fear and leads to sadness.
Unconsciously, you've become so focused on adopting the role of warden for all your thoughts, desires, emotions, and fears - this is all you have the energy for! Touché! The roles have reversed! You have become the prisoner of your own mind! This mental state is represented in the Nine of Swords.
The High Priestess is asking you to meet your shadow. Why has this happened? You may not be ready to meditate, and would perhaps benefit from a more therapeutic approach, contacting an expert that can help you sift through all your bugs. The goal here is to attain comfortability with the process of clearing out, because, well - It won't be easy. The spiders may bite. The mosquitos may sting. You may realize you've killed a few butterflies, and have to come to terms with your murderous nature. But this is all necessary to make room for what your true Will wants to manifest.
Perhaps you have a tendency to stay with abusive partners, are working a job that does not align your heart and will, or are fixating on a damaged relationship in which you've done all you can to mend. Letting go of these things is difficult, and it's painful. But what purpose is it fulfilling if you allow suffering to take up permanent residence in both your head and heart?
When I think of the number two, duplication, I think of the duplicitous self, or looking at ourselves in a mirror/a reflection. Often, I think of how we, as humans, naturally manifest the process of creation by meeting another individual, and engaging in the act of creation. This could be a man and woman bearing a child, two women or men adopting and caring for a child, or two business partners coming together to manifest a creative goal. What we often see in the other person is ourselves, which is not necessarily narcissistic (although it can be if we have very strong egos) but essential. We impose our ideals in the form of fantasy upon another, as well as our fears. We come together with another individual to then separate, and see ourselves better. This is an example of how the process up and down the Tree of Life exists not only in itself, but holographically within each Sephiroth. If I can learn that I am, in fact, projecting an ideal upon another, I am learning about my own inner world. It is the role of the other to help me become aware of this projection and bring it from the unconscious to the conscious, that I may have more control over it, ultimately achieving the ability to step on the moon. We must see ourselves to know ourselves.
The High Priestess is the mirror in which this is possible. It is not essential that we acquire another human being, or use a relationship deliberately for this purpose. This idea is more in line with the Hierophant. The High Priestess is your unconscious, and all the helping guides who inhabit it. Spirits can visit you in dreams, but they do not give you dreams. The dreams exist in your inner Universe, of which YOU are the creator.
The number two, more traditionally, refers to balance. The High Priestess is the middle path in the Sephiroth. She operates between the dual energies on either side of it (the left being severity - in which the practitioner achieves a god-like status, and the right being mercy, the path of the practitioner working in service of a higher power). The High priestess balances the macrocosmic focus of the right path, and the microcosmic focus of the left, asking us to consider not just ourselves, and not just our community, but ourselves as a member of society. Thus, she requests that we attempt to perfect ourselves for the good of our community, and suggests that one does not come before the other.
It is interesting to note that the number two is also symbolic of karma. In keeping with the concept reflected upon earlier, our thoughts and actions can be considered causes that yield the appropriate outcomes. Thus, to change our karma, we must change our way of being within this life time.
Try this activity:
Look at your tarot card, and determine what symbols in it resonate with you. If you are advanced, any tarot deck will do. If you're new to tarot, I suggest starting with a variant of the Rider Waite Smith.
Black and White Pillars with "B" and "J" - These are the two biblical pillars on Solomon's Temple. Boaz means, "In him is strength," and Jachin means, "He (Solomon) will establish". Here, they are black and white, symbolizing the feminine "darkness" of the left path, and the masculine "light" (harking back to the Magician as the first light in the Universe) of the right path; they reflect also yin and yang energies. Pillars are also found on the Hierophant and Justice cards, indicating a connection between all three arcana. Justice, the eleventh card, reduces to two, thus symbolizing the potential for equilibrium in the High Priestess, or karmic rewards or reckoning. If you are interested in learning more about the pillars, which have a wealthy esoteric history associated with alchemy and astrology, I strongly encourage you to visit: https://www.rimasons.org/trestleboard/212-the-esoteric-meaning-of-the-twin-pillars-boaz-joachim. Here, the duality of opposites is emphasized in a number of ways, and also mentions the pillars being constructed of both "moon" metal and "sun" metal, which relates to the Yellow Crescent Moon.
Yellow Crescent Moon - The moon, in addition to symbolizing the suit of cups and control over emotions, has multiple meanings. I will spend time on what I find most striking, based on my intuition! In many historical depictions, the Virgin Mary rests her foot on the moon. Similarly, in some renderings, she presses her foot upon the serpent. If we think of this in terms referencing the emotional aspect aforementioned, not only is Mary in control of emotions, but in control of what results from emotions running amok: evil action. I do not like to think in terms of evil and good, but for the sake of keeping with Christian terminology, evil, here is most fitting. Evil action is essentially maladaptive unconscious behavior which is a direct result of unconscious and unacknowledged negative emotions. Evil, essentially, is stunted growth. We murder or abuse others because we have made our anger actionable. Thus, we achieve temporary relief from actually feeling the emotion.
In today's society, we condemn individuals for being violent toward another, and feel empathy for those who hurt themselves, either through drug addiction, self-harm or suicide. The latter is forgiven and met with empathy, and the former is condemned. Murder of another, and ending one's own life are both violent actions, the only difference is the victim. In American culture, it is more acceptable to direct our anger toward ourselves, and inflict ensuing violence. Does this mean we should condemn suicidal individuals, or those who struggle with addiction, and anorexia? No! We should instead have compassion for the lonely murderer, for they suffer pathology and imbalance as well. Anger and hatred are healed with love, not more of the same negativity.
An online Vipassana meditation course I recently took, taught that even being too busy is a form of violence. We are attacking ourselves when we neglect our need for rest and personal reflection, in the service of projects, excess work, or altruistic surrender (putting the needs of others first in a self-sacrificial manner). The High Priestess demands balance!
The moon also relates to the pillars, being constructed of both copper and tin (gold and silver). Thus, it represents both the masculine (sun) and the feminine (moon). The moon is the womb which harbors the seed of light responsible for physical creation. Physical creation is represented by the pomegranates, which symbolize fertility and the blood of life. Think of the blood of menstruation preparing for the process of procreation, an advancement in symbolism moving toward the pregnant Empress. The Empress wears a twelve crown star like some older depictions of the Virgin Mary. I find it interesting that both arcana refer to Mary through the adoption of specific symbols. Together, they are both divine and mundane, spirit and matter. Matter naturally arises from the immaterial.
One could say that the High Priestess represents the Holy Spirit impregnating Mary, or The Empress. This is a thought that occurred to me intuitively, and in doing further research on the High Priestess, I discovered that in the Cary-Yale Visconti deck, La Papesse is a depiction of Sister Manfreda. Quoting Wikipedia:
"La Papessa in the Visconti-Sforza Tarot has been identified as a depiction of Sister Manfreda, an Umiliata nun and a relative of the Visconti family who was elected Pope by the heretical Guglielmite sect of Lombardy. In The Tarot Cards Painted by Bonifacio Bembo, Gertrude Moakley writes:
'Their leader, Guglielma of Bohemia, had died in Milan in 1281. The most enthusiastic of her followers believed that she was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit, sent to inaugurate the new age of the Spirit prophesied by Joachim of Flora. They believed that Guglielma would return to earth on the Feast of Pentecost in the year 1300, and that the male dominated Papacy would then pass away, yielding to a line of female Popes. In preparation for this event they elected Sister Manfreda the first of the Popesses, and several wealthy families of Lombardy provided at great cost the sacred vessels they expected her to use when she said Mass in Rome at the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Naturally, the Inquisition exterminated this new sect, and the "Popess" was burned at the stake in the autumn of 1300. Later the Inquisition proceeded against Matteo Visconti, the first Duke of Milan [sic], for his very slight connections with the sect."'
Of Note - I find it wonderfully interesting that the feminine "womb" is pre-existant to the masculine "seed" in many myths, reflected also in the Big Bang Theory. When we look at the developing foetus, it begins first as female, with the xx chromosome (that wonderful number two! How fitting for the High Priestess!) prior to becoming the xy chromosome. This could also be physical confirmation that true knowing is within us, represented by the unconscious language of symbolism preceding scientific discovery.
Cross - This symbol is traditionally accepted as a Greek cross, but, from an artist's perspective, the body of it is slightly longer than the equal armed Greek cross. Though I have attempted to reference multiple sources looking for precedence, to no (current) avail, based on the picture alone I would say that it is a combination of both the Greek cross and the Latin cross. The Greek cross, representing the four elements, pre-dates Christianity. Its symbolism is certainly more fitting for the voice of the tarot. I wonder, however, if the length of the body was slightly elongated to indicate the structure of religion. The elusiveness of the form depicted here, upon sight alone, certainly can be interpreted as symbolizing the balance between knowledge intuited from the natural world and divinity within the self, and knowledge which can be learned through structured doctrine - also indicating a method to the madness: the underlying potential for order hidden in apparent chaos.
Crown - The most interesting aspect I find in relation to the crown, is its resemblence to the crown of Hathor. Some say that this is plainly a moon crown, indicating the phases: Maiden, Mother, Crone (waxing, full, waning). But, considering that most other aspects of this card have the dual interpretation of both sun and moon, (The Palm, in contrast to the fruit of the pomegranate, represents seminal fluid), it makes sense that the prominent crown would portray this message as well. If we think of symbols as a visual language, the crown is not trying to speak only "moon." But, by using both the shape of Hathor's (Hathor, being a solar goddess) crown, and coloring it white or silver, it is sharing both qualities visually, hence relaying the message of duality, and once again, balance. It doesn't even matter whether or not this was intended by the artist! Symbols and art are sourced from the language of the unconscious, and it is important to just listen to them, rather than worry about whether or not a specific human intended such meaning.
Blue Robe - The blue robe, which flows downward toward the feet of the High Priestess, has been said to represent water. In considering this, it is possible, that as it is met with the moon, it represents accessing the divine through entering the world of emotion, once more indicating that once we truly feel in line with our intuition, we can receive the knowledge behind The Veil. However, I invite you to consider the historical aspect of this robe by visiting: http://templeinstitute.org/priestly-garments-2/. This is the typical attire of the High Priest, of which the main color of the robe is blue. Adornments of note are the breastplate, representing the twelve tribes of Israel (as well as the twelve houses of the Zodiac), and the pomegranates. The twelve star crown in ancient depictions of Mary represents also represent the tribes of Israel in The Old Testament, and the twelve apostles in The New Testament - twelve being the number of perfection, which reduces to three (The Empress - who also adorns the twelve star crown).
Rider-Waite makes note that the High Priestess represents the Hebrew concept of the Shekinah, the femine dwelling or place where the divine presence of God is seated. Perhaps this also connotates with Jung's idea of the "anima".
TORA - "Tora" is also depicted on The Wheel of Fortune. In keeping with its potential relation to other Jewish symbolism (the robe), it refers to the Torah, the divine law. Tora, on the world card, is cyclical, representing karma, or a completion of one full cycle, and also spells "Tarot" when read in reverse. The High Priestess keeps part of the word hidden, indicating esoteric knowledge.
Let's pass on the automatic drawing this time. I've had much more fun interpreting things that already exist as symbolic forms representing the concept of the High Priestess. I've decided to forgo depicting any traditional cards, and am showcasing two paintings.
Keep the High Priestess in mind this week. See if her message appears to you in dreams, or in the song of a bird (the squawk of a blue jay? ;)) on a quiet hike. Feel free to #mystic_bluejay with your experiences!
Image 1: Lovers, by Remedios Varo
Image 2: Reflections, by Mystic Blue Jay