Today’s card is one that I have always been interested in, I don’t think I can say why exactly, but in every deck it always stands out, as if it is calling to me. Lots of people are drawn to the Death card in a deck, or sometimes it’s The Devil or The Lover’s that make or break a deck for someone, but for me it’s The High Priestess who keeps calling out to me, taunting me with the secrets she holds. I see her as representative of why I wish to use Tarot, to learn more about life’s mysteries and to look beyond the obvious surface of the situations I find myself in, to what is hiding beneath.
The High Priestess is card number 2 in the Major Arcana and stands for mystery, potential, pyscic awareness and all things unconscious. She comes to tell us to look deeper, both within ourselves and in the world around us, to see what could be, to seek what is concealed or hidden, and to open ourselves to our own intuition. By doing so we can begin to trust our inner voice and in turn become aware of a larger reality!
In the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot we see a mysterious dark haired woman sitting before a veil, in between two stone pillars representative of ‘Boaz’ and ‘Jakin’, the two pillars in the Hebrew temple in Jerusalem. The dark pillar here represents passivity and mystery, while the white represents conciousness and action. And she sits between them both. What I see as important however is that the letters inscribed upon the pillars are of there opposite colour, showing that within two extremes there is always an aspect of its opposite, that duality is in fact an illusion and the world is made up of a spectrum, not a one or the other dynamic. This is what The High Priestess promises, knowledge of the true nature of all things.
As in the RWS representation she most often sits before a veil, which represents the thin layer of consciousness that seperates us from our inner awareness. It is often thought that we are not allowed behind this veil until we have been initiated, for what we will find will be to unrational for us to understand, but I feel it is there to show us that there truly is little that holds us back from inner awareness. And what is behind the veil, not a dark and mysterious temple, nor symbols of magical power. It is a lake and hills, a body of water representative of our unconscious and the truths hidden within. And it is important to note that this body of water is still and calm, for that is the only way to come to terms with our inner reality, we must become calm, passive and receptive!
This brings us to the fact that The High Priestess is often seen as the ying to The Magician’s yang, where he is representative of the active principle, and she the passive. And more often than not activity is seen as a positive masculine trait and passivity is seen as a negative or weak feminine trait! I want to break this ill-conceived and outdated belief. For without passivity, we would never have the time to sit and think about what we have learnt from our actions. Passivity gives the mind a chance to think and in turn to learn from what we have experienced. And more importantly passivity allows the unconscious to come to the forefront, to emerge from beneath all that constant action and movement that we all too often burden our lives with. For if we are active, we never have to truly think about what it is we are doing, and question the motives behind our actions. I feel that this is a real problem with our society today, we build success upon outer involvement in the world, upon what it is we do, and how ‘important’, we are. And this creates a fear of the unconscious, a fear of our inner truth. And what’s worse is that this has grown to be such a persistent trait within our society that in a way has become unconscious. We need to conciously break this pattern, to in turn come to term with our true inner awareness.
And this brings me to the Shadowscapes version of The High Priestess. Originally I was shocked to see the difference between her and the other High Priestesses I have seen. She seems much more active than previously represented, flying in the air with her arms open to the stars around her, willing their knowledge to her ears. I think this again brings up the question of what is active or passive? In the companion book Stephanie says that in that posture her body becomes the ‘living symbol of a chalice’. The Chalice itself is of the Water element and stands for intuition among other things. To me her posture tells us to open ourselves completely to the mysteries of the universe, to embrace our intuition and to have no fear of what lies deep within ourselves. And like the veil in the RWS image I think she is trying to tell us that there is little holding us back from this awareness!
Amother big change in this card is the fact that she is no longer the mysterious dark haired woman, in fact her hair seems both golden and somewhat Sunlike. I think this could mean a few things. It could be a continuation of the Sun tattoo we see move from The Fool’s foot, to The Magician’s shoulder, and then finally here in The High Priestesses hair. It could also represent a blocking of the sun, a reflective lunar light. The High Priestess is often linked to the Moon and it’s intuitive powers. In the Rider-Waite representation she wears a crown representative of the Triple Goddess and her left foot is positioned over a crescent moon showing her dominon over intuition. Here in the Shadowscapes card, the phases of the moon are reflected within her shawl, her arms up to the sky presenting a complete cycle of the moon. Another interesting thing I noticed yesterday was that if you look through the veil you see a pool of water and mountains, does this mean that The Moon card in RWS is actually what is behind the veil?
There are a few more symbols I would like to discuss in this representation. As stated above the waxing and waning moons pictured in her shawl represent a cycle, as does the seed filled Pomegranate, representing potential and birth, and the Autumn leaves falling in front of her, representing completion and death. The Pomegranate itself is also a symbol of Persephone and her journey to Hades. Then there is the owl holding a key by the bottom of the card. Owls are often thought of as one of the most wise animals, bearers of secret knowledge, and the key he holds is offered to those worthy to unlock life’s mysteries. I really like this imagery :).
So why has The High Priestess come to me? Well for me, right now I believe the most important thing to take from her is that some things can only be understood from experience. When we look at the RWS card we see a veil decorated in Pomegranates, the personification of Persephone’s journey to the underworld. The water and the moon represent the subconscious and intuition, and The High Priestess herself sits between two pillars, showing s very specific and controlled entryway. And when we put these all together we see that something specific needs to be experienced, but that all the details are not clearly apparent. We see this in the Shdowscapes card as well. The pomegranate representing the journey and the owl the resulting wisdom. Now of course there are many other things this card can stand for such as the feeling of intuitively understanding the answer to something that’s been bothering us, or maybe the unrealised potential in our lives, but for me right now it is experience. Something that can only be understood through experience. Now it’s just up to me to get out there and experience what the world has to offer and hopefully come out the other end with knowledge and wisdom 🙂
Until next time, live well xx