Numerical Value : 2
Esoteric Title : Lady of the Silver Star
Path 13 : Gimel (Camel)
Kether – Tiphareth
Planet : Moon
Double Letter : Wisdom – Folly
Sepher Yetzirah : Uniting Intelligence
The High Priestess is a huntress of the ineffable guarding access to the Inner Realms. Her powers are attractive and hypnotic, and her gifts are profound intuitive wisdom and enlightenment. The High Priestess is as deep as the still waters of the ocean of the unconscious that lie behind her. She is the Anima or Soul Image protecting the hidden treasures of the collective unconscious, that fecund, intuitive, imaginative world which all artists and poets inhabit. Largely passive in the material world, she is a silent and secretive soul, who meditates and studies the mysteries. Her meditative stillness is indicative of an intense and active inner life. The two lotus crowned pillars on either side of the card represent the Pillars of Severity and Mercy, while the High Priestess herself is the unifying central pillar, resolving and equilibrating all pairs of opposites. Life is continual process of rhythmic balancing between two poles of activity, and the High Priestess represents this eternal fluid motion, the ebb and flow of life.
The double letter Wisdom – Folly is an appropriate paradox to describe the way of the High Priestess. True spirituality can seem foolish, but its rewards are peace of mind, serenity and a clarity of purpose, without which it is impossible to make the most of our material existance. Modern society demands continuous activity and material success at any cost, and this fixation is highly detrimental of both to our psychological well being and our practical effectiveness. Stillness, receptivity and intuitive wisdom are essential qualities for sanity and happiness, as well as being the basis for truly useful productivity.
The High Priestess sits before a veil decorated with pomegranates, symbolic of the Veil of Illusion that separates us from the mysteries and from our own unconscious minds. Pomegranates (literally apple with many seeds) were one of the first fruits ever cultivated, originating in Mesopotamia and travelling to all corners of the ancient world. As the true fruit of the Tree of Knowledge it is associated with the study of the Qabalah, which is known as entering the Garden of the Pomegranates. The pomegranate was regarded by the Greeks as the fruit of the dead, and features in the story of Persephone. The journey to the Underworld is a central myth in all mythologies and a metaphor for descending into the abyss to gain spiritual wisdom. This is an experience of great sacrifice and suffering, but also the essential source of all creative inspiration and self knowledge. The title Uniting Intelligence refers to the merging of the individual into the great sea of our collective unconscious, from which the wisdom of the ages emerges.
The central, integral position of the path of the High Priestess, from Tiphareth to Kether, says everything about her awesome spiritual power. Her path crosses the Abyss and passes though Daath, the hidden sphere of Gnosis, or spiritual knowledge. Gnosis provides the inner strength we need to bridge the void, and cross the great desert that divides divinity and mankind. The Hebrew letter is Gimel, the Camel which carries its water supply in its hump, a metaphor for spiritual self sufficiency. This path forms the upper reaches of the middle pillar of the Tree, that of balance and harmony. The middle pillar is known as the Path of the Arrow by which a mystic ascends the Qabalah and so the High Priestess holds a bow, while she herself represents the arrow. It is a truly heroic path, a quest of the soul to glimpse the crown of divinity through the sphere of Gnosis. Significantly, it forms a cross at this point with the path of Daleth, the Empress. This cross represents the union of spirit and matter at the highest level possible, the true purpose of incarnation. The High Priestess is the resolution of vertical spiritual polarity, while the Empress is the resolution of horizontal material polarity.
The attribution of this card to the Moon is something I struggled with because I object to the widespread exclusive association of feminine divinity with the Moon. There are Solar Goddesses all over the world, and in ancient times they were common throughout the Middle East and Northern Europe. Both Isis and Artemis were Sun Goddesses forced to adapt to the rise of the Solar masculine principle. Osiris is easily identifiable as Moon type god, and as Egyptians never had Moon goddesses at all, it’s quite likely that the disc that appears on the head of Isis is in fact a solar disc. Artemis was originally Diana, the Solar Goddess of the Scythians, and the presiding goddess of the Amazons. It was only when the Greeks adopted her that they made her into a Moon goddess to complement Apollo. In the end I decided not to make any alterations to the attributions, because there really is something very Lunar and nocturnal about the High Priestess. You could say she is the Lunar manifestation of femininity, while the Empress is the Solar manifestation. Similarly the Emperor is the Solar masculine, and the Hierophant the Lunar masculine. In this analogy Lunar and Solar refer to unconscious and conscious, and spiritual and material. The spiritual and the material are both equally sacred, and outward expression relies on inward attributes for its authenticity and effectiveness. The unconscious is the source of all creativity and collective wisdom, while the conscious is our ability to use and interpret those gifts. In esoteric terms masculine and feminine have nothing to do with physical gender or its superficial attributes. They are rather modes of being which naturally alternate and complement each other and are ideally perfectly balanced within the individual. The masculine urge to separate establishes our individuality and personal power, while the feminine urge to union connects us with the source of all life and energy, our fellow life forms, and the planet which nurtures us. The Lunar feminine, therefore is unconsciousness leading to union, an ineffable spiritual connection to the great sea of the collective mind.
The snake is a potent and ancient symbol of transformation and wisdom transmitting divine will between worlds. The seer who whispered the secrets of life and death into the ear of the Sybil at Delphi was a serpent, and is just one example of the a long tradition of sacred serpents and Snake deities. The High Priestess has snake bracelets on her arms after the fashion of the Cretan snake goddess (yet another Solar goddess) and in front of her two serpents form an undulating S. The serpent is a potent symbol of the Kundalini energy, the life force that flows through all life and is coiled at the base of our spines, traveling upwards during meditation, and inspiring enlightenment. When our chakras are opened this vitalising energy, which is also universal love, flows strongly through us and effects healing and transformation. In the symbolism of the Qabalah, the spine is the central pillar and the Kundalini which undulates up and down is the two side pillars.
We are living in a society where disconnection to the spiritual realm and its healing powers is endemic both in men and women. Organised religion has lost its relevance in the developed world, but the spiritual needs of human beings remain. In the midst of our material affluence we are facing an epidemic of neurosis and psychopathology, largely because of our failure to address these intrinsic needs. We enjoy unprecedented material comforts and wealth, but without the guidance and balance of spiritual wisdom, we become destructive both in our individual lives and in the collective. One of the keys to healing our deeply dysfunctional civilisation is honouring our Inner Life and reclaiming the intuitive healing powers of The High Priestess archetype. This card represents the vital importance of quiet retreat and contemplation, something accorded very little time in our modern world. The most profound understanding can never be communicated in words, but must be experienced personally.