Today, I thought I’d talk about a particular card that’s been coming up for me. I hope, by way of discussing the way I look at the cards, this card in particular, and divination in general, to illuminate the way I use divination.
I am not a Tarot expert. I have been reading since 1991, but Tarot is something of which one can make a detailed, deep study for a lifetime and never come to the end. Rachel Pollack, Lon Milo duQuette, and the writer of the book that comes with the Magickal Tarot, have all been very helpful to me.
Honestly, though, the best teacher I’ve had in Tarot has been my wife. She uses a watercolor, impressionist deck called Tarot of the Spirit. It’s beautiful, and utterly unlike most more traditional decks. And she is a master at reading from it.
Because it unlocks her intuition. It helps her be shuffled along with the cards. And watching that process has helped me learn that all my “seeking and yearning shall not avail [me]” unless I go within, unless I let my intuition take over. Unless I take what I have learned about numbers and symbols and let it all simmer around inside my mind, body, heart, and spirit, my seeking and yearning and $4.00 will get me a cup of cappuccino.
So I thought I might do an experiment.
For the last year, I’ve been pulling the (High) Priestess (some decks add the “high” and some do not) with notable frequency. Most recently, I pulled Her in the first witchy ceremony I’ve attended in my (still feeling new after 3 ½ years) city. People asked the priestess of the ceremony what their cards meant. Those who asked were given small verbal tokens—the Eight of Wands and speed, the King of Pentacles and groundedness, the Lovers and partnership…
I didn’t ask about mine. I just sat with Her.
The High Priestess again.
Someone asked me once, “So you’re a high priestess, right?” And I said no, because that’s not a designation or role that my tradition uses or espouses (or frankly, most of the time, even supports using). I am not a high priestess.
It is also true that I am a priestess of the Third Degree in the tradition of Stone Circle Wicca. It is also true that I was a leader in Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary for over ten years, and much of that time was spent in my role making ceremony, offering pastoral care, organizing people, and mentoring dedicants through their work in Stone Circle Wicca.
I am a priestess. But I am not the head of a coven. My tradition does not have covens. (Many would say as a result that we’re not even a tradition of Wicca as a result, but that’s a whole other kerfuffle.)
So I say all that to say that I do not believe the High Priestess card keep pulling is saying to me what the words seem to be on the face of it.
So the question is “What am I missing?”
First, it is important to note that much of the Waite-Smith deck, is based on a tradition of Ceremonial Magick in the Western tradition. I know probably 1% of the symbolism necessary to understand the RWS deck in its most traditional form.
But if you’re in that boat with me, don’t let it stop you! Remember what I said about my wife and the Tarot of the Spirit. And remember further that we all start somewhere. I’ve read from some twenty decks, and each writer, each painter or collage artist or photographer has their own take on the Book of Symbols.
Tarot is about metabolizing symbols and engaging them with your intuition, your subconscious mind.
So, in this case, I begin with this post, using the Waite-Smith deck (also called the Rider-Waite or RWS deck) image of the High Priestess. Robert Scott and I discussed the Waite-Smith deck image of the High Priestess at some length. So much of our conversation was a turning, whirling spiral, that I cannot begin to quote his exact words without mangling both the spirit of our conversation or my memory of what it surfaced within me.
Any time I read a card, especially if I am reading it in relation to other cards, different aspects of the card seem more or less important to me. Some of the ones that were important to me yesterday.
Pomegranates: Behind the priestess, in what is called “the veil to the Temple,” is an elaborate tapestry, covered with pomegranates. You may see the individual seeds if you look closely at the image. Robert noted that the pomegranates of the High Priestess’ temple veil show up on the gown of the Empress, the next card in the deck.
What’s important here for me is that the pomegranate has many meanings. One is fertility, right? A ton of seeds in there. Another is that the pomegranate, probably due to its red-blood juice, is associated with death. It is sacred to Cybele, and also to Persephone, the goddess who travels back and forth, every year, from the Underworld to the Upperworld. Persephone is the traveler, the one who knows the Way. The Mysteries of Persephone’s journey and Her mother’s powerful grief are the mysterious journey of Eleusis.
And it is Persephone who comes to my mind on the High Priestess card. That the High Priestess sees both worlds. In the Priestess’ stillness—there is nothing about her that suggests physical movement—she is nonetheless the Traveler.
The scroll: Beneath her mantle, and in one hand, she holds a scroll. Robert pointed out a classic note about the anagram here. Tora = scripture. Rota = wheel. Taro = Tarot. I sort of dismissed this as something I don’t usually pay attention to. And then my eye fell on the Wheel of Fortune card. It has the same letters, and they are clearly significant. The letters shift and change as the Wheel turns, no?
With the High Priestess, the scroll seems to me part of Her hidden wisdom. It is partially beneath Her veil/mantle and partly in view. Again, the twilight vision of the petitioner must be able to approach Her with soft eyes, willing to see into both worlds of oneself.
The moon: One of the most frequently noted aspect of the High Priestess card is the moon. Her crown is the triple moon of waxing, full, and waning moon, and Her mantle and gown fall over a waxing moon.
The moon has its own card, and while it’s tempting to discuss the two cards’ relationship, I’ll resist here. Again, the moon is about light and dark, shifting, attending to cycles, and a particularly image of womanhood and priestesshood. “Come to me in the moonlight…” “Once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full…”
Mistresses of the moon abound in the Western Mystery tradition, though some deities associated with the moon, like Mani in the Germanic tradition, are male.
“I know what it’s worth / to pull at the sea / and illumine the Earth. / Oh, I am calling the Moon.” (Dar Williams) The moon both shines and rules. She moves across the sky, brilliant or dark, pulling at the sea, sovereign of the great waters.
Clearly, in the High Priestess card, the moon, Luna, is central.
The columns: Let me say first, I have no idea what the B and J stand for. Zero idea. The columns seem to be Corinthian, with details like the acanthus leaves common on those pillars. One black, one white, while She sits between. There is so much about Her, I see now, that is between. So much between.
The cross: The cross on her white gown’s draped bodice, is nearly equal-armed. As we have just celebrated Imbolc, the observance of Brigid’s day, the cross on the High Priestess appears equal-armed to me. The solar cross, the division of the Elements, one of the places where magical traditions and Christianity come together, the crossroads…
I don’t get any solar energy from this card, but I do get the sense, again, of going between. But between and within. The High Priestess is not The Chariot, not the eight of cups, and certainly not The Fool. In fact, she sits on what appears to be a block of stone.
So I’m interested.
What do you make of all this? What comes to mind? What does She say to you now that you are missing?
What do you think She might be saying to me that I am missing? What does your inner eye see that I am not? How does the High Priestess teach you in ways that I have missed? And further…
How do you sit between things? How are you in the place between?
Next time, Ciro Marchetti’s very different image of the High Priestess. The crescent moon on high and the dancing, glorious, ecstatic High Priestess over the sea…