Saturday, March 11, 2006

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: The High Priestess

[Please see the Introduction to this series for a brief synopsis of my approach to working with the major trumps of the Tarot. I am hoping to post a new meditation each Saturday. I use "meditation" here in the philosophical sense of the word, meant to denote an open-ended, free-form exploration of an idea.]

Following the Magician in the Tarot, we come to the High Priestess, sometimes also known as the Popess. In the popular Rider-Waite deck, she is depicted as young, austere, robed as one might find an actual pope. She sits between the Pillars of Solomon, each column marked with a letter. The precise meaning of the letters is a mystery, but some have speculated on their origin. In general, it is common to mark the opening to a temple with two pillars in order to form a threshold, a demarcation of sacred space. This element is crucial to nearly all depictions of the card.

On her lap the High Priestess holds a Torah, representing the manifestation of God's word. She is heavily associated with water and the moon, both in her clothing and the symbols surrounding her. The feminine has traditionally been seen as fluid and lunar, both creative and passive. The paradox in this interpretation is at the heart of the card's archetypal energy.

Sallie Nichols (Jung and Tarot) emphasizes the creative aspect of the card, focusing heavily on the ability of woman to give birth. Nichols hovers round and round this idea in her text, but never quite gets to any deeper meaning as far as I can see.

The Osho Zen version of the card is called Inner Voice. This seems to suggest a passive openness to the Truth that can move through us and provide direction.
If you have found your truth within yourself there is nothing more in this whole existence to find. Truth is functioning through you. When you open your eyes, it is truth opening his eyes. When you close your eyes, it is truth who is closing its eyes.
The Osho Zen view feels to me like a variation on the idea of involution, which approaches the card's depth. They further suggest that the Inner Voice acts as an oracle:
It is like an oracle who only speaks the truth. If it had a face, it would be like the face at the center of this card - alert, watchful, and able to accept both the dark and the light, symbolized by the two hands holding the crystal. The crystal itself represents the clarity that comes from transcending all dualities.
This gets close to the older meanings embedded in the card. Rather than the structured version of the Rider-Waite image, many newer decks allow a more free-spirited Priestess--a move that feels more congruent with her depth.

In seeing the High Priestess as a kind of oracle, the Osho Zen variation suggests a Western priestess of high renown, the Delphic Oracle. She acted as an intermediary between humans and the divine. If the Magician is the creative impulse existing outside of space and time, the High Priestess brings that energy into the manifest realm. Through her, we can access that higher truth that ego obscures.

Holding the Magician as the creative impulse in the psyche that sets the whole process of individuation in motion, I believe the High Priestess is the creative impulse made manifest in the flesh. In this sense, Nichols is on the right track. The High Priestess is the yin to the Magician's yang.

In Jungian terms, she is anima in the male psyche, the gateway/threshold through which he must pass to access the deeper truths of the collective unconscious, which she guards in her role as High Priestess. Similarly, the Magician is also animus or Eros in the female psyche, representing the male energy that Jung felt women must integrate as part of the individuation process. In this sense, the Magician and the High Priestess work as the balancing aspects in the psyche.

According to Jung, and I agree, we must be balanced in our feminine and masculine energies to transcend the ego. These first two cards act as opposites that need each other. Whether we are born male or female, we need the psychic energy of the other to be balanced.

At the higher levels, these two cards act as the idealized masculine and feminine impulses that Spirit adopts as it becomes manifest. In later cards we will see how these energies become grounded in more specific archetypes, but for now they are raw, full of potential, and hard to nail down.

At birth, we have within us the seeds that can release us from the ego bonds that we must develop to mature in manifest form. As we move through the cards that follow, these seeds will grow more rooted in this realm, but they will never lose their source in pure Spirit. If we let them, they will one day guide us back in our journey to fully manifest Spirit beyond the limitations of ego.

One last note on the High Priestess. She has become very popular among the Gaian and Wiccan communities as a representation of the Divine feminine. She is often associated with various goddesses, with Mary, or as Shekhinah (the female face of God). If the Magician embodies the masculine element of God, then certainly the High Priestess is the feminine variation of that same divine energy.
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