The High Priestess


Esoteric Titles:
The ESSENCE of Glory
POLARITY is a fundamental LAW of NATURE
The Priestess of the Silver Star
The Virgin Queen
The Unifying Intelligence.

In this card, the Fool (the subject of my previous post) encounters an older, wiser woman, perhaps one in her late prime, sitting at a throne with two monumental pillars on either side. She is sombrely dressed, denoting a chaste or virgin attitude to life’s indulgences. Her gown resembles a web-like veil beneath which she is naked and covered in stars. This invokes the idea that the hero is faced with a serious dilemma when he has to remove the final veil by answering the 3-fold riddle if his life is still haunted by enigmas, paradoxes, and unresolved mysteries. Traditionally Arcanum II, The High Priestess is ruled by the Moon and the planet Saturn. However, it also has a secret affinity with the 28 Lunar Mansions and the Lunar Nodes and their astrological significance. The Nodes define accumulated or inherited Karma, one’s Destiny, Fate and future actions. These are written in the Book of Life which lies half open on her lap. On her bodice is woven the Monad or Caduceus representing the idea that the human intellect is capable of absorbing or penetrating into the subtle, psychic faculties of intuition, clairvoyance and thought transference. She reminds the fool that the intellect or rational mind being masculine must be guided by feminine intuition or the passive principle in the secret chambers of the heart. In mythology she is the Egyptian Goddess Isis as denoted by the Crescent Moon – the embodiment of the Wise Woman or counsellor. With the influence of Saturn she represents the Greek Earth Goddess Gaia, the card also expresses the functions of Great Nature (Cosmic Egg or Womb) – the passive principle awaiting the fertilising spirit of the Great Father (Sun). The pillars on either side of her emphasis this idea of interdependence further, the labyrinthine design of her aura symbolises the absorption of the of the neophyte’s mind with the Womb or the creative forces of the subconscious. A path once travelled by the Greek hero Theseus, who, secretly aided by King Minos‘ daughter Ariadne, he finally found and killed the monstrous Minotaur imprisoned within its subterranean chambers. The second path in Tarot connects the sphere of Kether with Binah (Understanding) and therefore represents the final goal, the power of the human will, and the inevitable conflicts between temporal and eternal power or energy, its manifestations, and applications in life from birth to death. Or, as stated in the Bible:

“The first shall be last and the last shall be first”.

When we are born we take our first breath, as if it were our last and when we surrender this precious gift by exhalation we travel onto the next world (Sephirotic sphere of Daath). Its iconic image being a camel symbolically represents a holy name of god from the Islamic and Western traditions. A popular Muslim riddle from Arabia asks “Why does the camel wear such a secret smile?”. The correct answer is connected to the Islamic idea that there are only 99 names of Allah known to mankind, while the very 100th name is known to the camel alone. This holy name alone is the cause of its lachrymose yet enigmatic expression.

  1. The High Priestess (“The Taming of the Shrew”) GimelThe Virgin Queen

The High Priestess is attributed to the sphere of Binah which imbues her with wisdom, celibacy and prudence. The card can often represent the negative side of conventional femininity of which Katherine appears to express especially whenever marriage is being proposed that would limit her freedom and independence. However, the narrative of Shakespeare’s play makes several allusions to the temperament and character of Queen Elizabeth 1st who was secretly by no means a celibate or “Virgin Queen”. In actual fact quite the opposite it would seem, having had an affair with Sir Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester after which she transferred her affections to the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere and then having an affair with Sir Walter Raleigh. She had several offspring from these secret liaisons, namely, Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Henry Wriosthley and Sir William Hastings. They were all made wards to other noble families and subsequently no scandal would attach itself to the monarch themselves. A talented poet and scholar, Queen Elizabeth styled and promoted herself as the “Mother of the Nation”. The following poem is presumed to have been composed for her by the 17th Earl of Oxford and makes allusions to the dilemmas faced by the sovereign, Queen Elizabeth 1st:

The mysterious “Rainbow Portrait” of Queen Elizabeth 1st which contains many symbolic clues

When I was fair and young then favour graced me;
Of many was I sought their mistress for to be.
But I did scorn them all, and answered them therefore,
Go, go, go, seek some other-where,
Importune me no more.

How many weeping eyes I made to pine in woe;
How many sighing hearts I have no skill to show;
Yet I the prouder grew, and answered them therefore,
Go, go, go, seek some other-where,
Importune me no more.

Then spake fair Venus’ son, that proud victorious boy,
And said, you dainty dame, since that you be so coy,
I will so pluck your plumes that you shall say no more
Go, go, go, seek some other-where,
Importune me no more.

When he had spake these words such change grew in my breast,
That neither night nor day I could take any rest.
Then, lo ! I did repent, that I had said before
Go, go, go, seek some other-where,
Importune me no more.

For comparison one should examine John Fletcher’s own response to the marriage problem or dilemma imposed on Queen Elizabeth 1st “The Tamer, Tamed” (The Woman’s Prize-1611) whose alternative text attempts to set the record straight at least from a feminist perspective:

I’ll make ye knowe and feare a wife Petruchio,
There my cause lies.
You have been famous for a woman-tamer,
And bear the fear’d name of a brave wife-breaker:
A woman now will take those honours off,
And tame you;

Divinatory Meaning of this Card:

The 13th path on the Tree of Life links Kether (Brilliance-Neptune) with Tiphereth (Sun-Beauty) on the central branch, passing through the invisible sphere of Daath (Transition), an experience or journey defined as the unification of human intelligence. In effect it is the essence of glory, and the consummation of the spiritualised truth contained within all human beings. It bridges the “veils” that conceal the esoteric secrets of the supernal triad from those below. Astrologically, it is the Primum Mobile acting through the silvery rays of the Moon on that of the Sun and is strongly associated with the card 2. The High Priestess. However, since the sphere of Daath acts as a modulating influence then arcane secrets are being transferred for use on the higher and lower planes thereby innovating and updating the consciousness of an individual in their quest for self-knowledge and mastery. In this sense also the microcosm is being aligned to the macrocosm by the inherent polarity of its opposing energies. For occultists the sphere of Daath is linked to the North and South Nodes in astrology, to karmic savings and debts brought into this life to be worked out. Metaphorically it is described as a “desert” through which the adept at some time in their life must traverse, hence the associative allusion of the animal symbol, the camel or ship of the desert. Sometimes a snake is also implied in the symbolism. It is therefore a remote, lonely and foreboding place standing directly above the Abyss (Throat Chakra). It links the Crown Chakra with the supraconscious faculties of the soul to the higher emotions of the heart (Anahata).

Positive: Clairvoyance or secret knowledge, intuition. The subtle wisdom of life experience.
The effect of hidden and mysterious influences, of the dark feminine, the archetypal Mother figure.

Negative: The destructive or negative influence of women – distortion and manipulation, a negative view of femininity.

SPHERE 3 Binah (Understanding) Sanctifying Gimel – A Camel
Astrological: Taurus or 2nd House
Constellation: Cassiopeia – The Lady in the Chair
Sacred Gemstone: Emerald or Pearl

Published by Leonidas Kazantheos

In the early part of my career I have worked extensively in media, the arts and theatre as an innovator and environmental conservationist and much later took on a role as an investigative journalist and commentator on the Shakespeare Authorship Controversy.

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