Let mystery have its place in you; do not be always turning up your whole soil with the ploughshare of self-examination, but leave a little fallow corner in your heart ready for any seed the winds may bring.
– Henri Frederic Amiel (Swiss writer 1821-1881)
We seem to be on a roll. Except for a very non-trivial Ace, we have received all Major Arcana cards so far this year. This week, we get a tremendous one, one that has never once appeared in all the seven years I’ve been posting.
We welcome the High Priestess.
She sits quietly, on the cubic stone, the Philosopher’s Stone of alchemy, from which all things may be transformed. Gazing straight at us from between the columns of Boaz and Jakin, pillars of the Temple of Solomon, her temple is also that of the great Goddess Isis, as well as the Shekhinah, the Hebrew God’s glory made manifest in the world and, according to the mystical Kabbalists, the feminine side of the Divine.
The pillars are black and white, representatives of the duality of dark and light, active and passive, order and chaos. Yet, like the ancient Yin-Yang symbol, the white lettering on the black column, and the black lettering on the white show that duality is only a perception. Each side holds the seed of its opposite.
She sits in the balancing space between, holding the scrolled Torah, the book of Law. In her, the opposites are reconciled.
Behind her, a veil is decorated with pomegranates and dates, representing lush fertility. These were also carved onto Solomon’s Temple. The placement of the pomegranates hints at the upper sephiroth of the Tree of Life, the lower half remaining mostly hidden behind her.
She is obviously associated with the Moon, not only from the crescent that is held in the watery hem of her gown, but from the lunar crown of Isis that she wears. Yet she is also a priestess of the Sun, as it is a solar cross that covers her heart.
Although the scene directly behind her is veiled, it peeks from behind the pillars, and we can see a blue world of water, symbol of the unconscious. According to author Paul Quinn, tradition says that all other water depicted in the Tarot cards flows from the High Priestess.
The High Priestess is the deep, the mysterious, the non-verbal Knowing. She is the gateway to our direct, unchaperoned communion with the Divine.
Unlike The Empress, the mothering nurturer that makes everyone feel like cherished family, the High Priestess holds the authority of silence, containment and being sovereign unto herself. Hers is the power of those things so intimate, so mysterious and deep, that we cannot, indeed should not, attempt to express them in words.
Her alignment with the Moon, and her emotional, psychic, solitary ways of worshiping the Divine have been labeled heresy in the dominant patriarchal religions. She is the aspect of feminine power (belonging to both men and women) that has historically been feared, punished, shunned, and demonized by misogynist cultures and institutions. She is not the Mother Goddess, but the untamed Maiden/Crone Goddess of magic, potential, secrets and inner understanding.
Her visit this week is momentous. This is the last week of Winter’s inward journeys, when silence and contemplation are most aligned with the seasonal energies. Next week, we will celebrate Imbolc (Brigid, or Candlemas), when the first stirrings of Spring are recognized. From that day forward, life unfolds from its wintry sleep, and Spring’s signs grow with the increasing light each day.
So it would seem that the High Priestess invites us to take this as a last opportunity to dive deep into the dark stillness. In what ways do you need this period of silence or contemplation? What mysteries does she invite you to consider this week?
What do you seek behind her veil? Are your dreams and premonitions on high alert at this time?
One of the four pillars of magic is the power to keep silent, and this, too, is her gift to us. Are there important secrets that you need to keep? Wisdom is recognizing when to act, and when to wait.
Rather than verbalize, analyze or hypothesize, the High Priestess offers a chance to directly experience Mystery through our visions, our intuition and the understanding hidden within our own bodies.
Our culture shuns the irrational and only recognizes as valid that which is overt and logical. Yet the High Priestess reminds us that we must hold as sacred space that which is wild and inexplicable. Hers is the fallow place where the seeds may grow.
In the words of the late, and aptly named, Shekhinah Mountainwater, “She is the receptive and sensitive part of us, which we need for successful magic as well as personal wholeness.”
May our old fears of the unknown melt into the discovery of Mystery’s beauty, and may the deep knowing that cannot be spoken guide us to wholeness, with the greatest of wisdom.