Mar 30, 2014

The High Priestess' Secret

image of La Papesse or Female Pope card from Marseilles Tarot deck

In examining The Fool and The Magus, we've introduced the concept of three Paths simultaneously emanating from Kether's appearance. One of these is The High Priestess, which is the first Path on the Tree of Life to connect the Supernal Triad (Kether, Chockmah, Binah) to the Sephiroth below and the only direct Path between Kether and the lower Tree. This journey traverses The Abyss that separates Modes of Consciousness accessible to humans from those purely theoretical; the Veil of Maya.

The High Priestess is also the first Trump to depict a gendered form. Here is Divine Feminine Intuition. The Hebrew letter assigned to the card, Gimel, translates to "Camel," the pack animal capable of traveling the desert with cargo intact. Here, more than anywhere on The Tree, lie The Great Mysteries of Life and Death; here is where The Seeker of Knowledge meets She Who Knows That Which Never Is Known.

The Keeper of The Gate

The most apparent theme of La Papesse (The Female Pope) is of Hidden Knowledge; She holds The Book of Secrets, of which we may only catch a glimpse. Her crown breaches the upper border of the card, signifying Her connection to a realm Higher than physical reality - Kether, The Root of Existence. In the Marseilles depiction, She is seated before a curtain, or veil, which separates us from the Knowledge we seek.

Tucked away behind Her, easily overlooked, is the product of feminine fertility: an egg. This egg is white, so, somehow, also represents purity. The Female Pope is every Virgin Mother of mythology, the Mystery of Something from Nothing. Though, as shown by The Fool, Nothing is More than one may first suppose; the sum total of all creation and destruction of Life is Zero, a goose egg.

The feeling evoked is of Spiritual Power born of access to Secret Knowledge. If The Papesse is kind, there is Everything to learn from Her Book, though the decision to slam It shut is Hers to make.

So, what's in that Book?

image of High Priestess card from Rider-Waite Tarot deck

"Vi veri veniversum vivus vici." 
[By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe.] 
-Theodor Reuss

The Holy Guardian Angel 

Further and more explicit motifs are offered in the garish Rider-Waite design. The black and white pillars, borrowed from the legends of King Solomon, are the pillars of Form and Force on The Tree. The High Priestess sits between, in the pillar of Balance. Tiphareth, the Sephirah connected by this Path to Kether, may be thought of as Kether on a lower plane of existence. Therefore, it is the second-most balanced of all Sephiroth and its name translates to "Beauty."

The Priestess is seated before a curtain of what seems to be cross-sections of halved fruits, more pictures of fertility. We are offered a peek at what lies behind the curtain, a great body of water, but not enough to really know anything about it. We may only experience that which occurs this side of the veil, then. Her crown symbolizes Her acceptance of Kether's influence. Her dress becomes as cascades of water, flowing into the crescent moon, another icon of receptivity. This is how we may know something of the water we may never truly know. She is our Intermediary; our Translator.

Here is introduced the concept of The Holy Guardian Angel. Some say the HGA may be called the Higher Self, some say It is a separate entity. There is no way to be sure. What needs understanding is that we, as humans, may only hope to attain Conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel. Much as one may only experience dying but never death, one may never truly "exist" as one's own HGA/Higher Self, else who would be playing the part of our lower self? Despite this, we may hope to attain Communion, that our daily acts in the world serve some Higher purpose.

The most valuable teaching offered by the Rider-Waite design is The Scroll, upon which can be read the letters "TORA," clearly a reference to The Torah, or Instruction. If we place these four letters in a circle and move in either direction, some interesting results are produced: ORAT (Speech), A ROT (Death), ROTA (The Wheel), and TARO(T). There is an element of Great Mystery to be found in each of these concepts. The theme of the card remains consistent.

image of High Priestess card from Crowley/Harris Thoth Tarot deck

"What is it, Major Lawrence, that attracts you personally to the desert?" -Jackson Bentley
 'It's clean.' -T.E. Lawrence

The Camel Crosses the Desert

The Hebrew letter assigned to The High Priestess is Gimel, which means "camel." We know this animal as being capable of traveling great deserts without need of water; the animal's hump was thought to be a container of sorts for the storing of water. This is, obviously, untrue but serves well as metaphor, especially when pondered alongside the Rider-Waite design, is apt. She is The Camel, crossing the Desert of the Abyss with stores of a Spiritual Water.

The Latin quote further above was commonly written by Aleister Crowley as "V.V.V.V.V." and referred to as "five footprints of a Camel!" The Latin phrase is attributed to the occultist, Theodor Reuss, in his work, Das Erotische in Goethes Faust und die Tantriks. [The Erotic in Goethe's Faust and the Tantrics] is, presumably, an esoteric analysis of the famous Faustus fable, in which a mortal man seeks a spiritual shortcut to knowledge of God, unattainable by Man. This is an approach to the subject of sex magick, investigation of which is better suited to discussion of later Tarot Trumps. The connection is, however, worth a passing mention here, because...

The desert is the ultimate allegory of barren receptivity. All is absorbed; nothing is produced. The desert sands remain virgin and pure, no matter what is introduced; total assimilation minus output is tantamount to annihilation. This is the most cruelly negative attribute of the feminine energies. Here is the "mouth" which, were it not for the balancing forces of Nature, would swallow All; The Mother refusing to birth Her child.

The Thoth design's major innovation is to move The High Priestess behind the curtain. We see the same crescent shapes receive Kether's emanation and spill out into the matrix of time-space, before which lie the usual fertility symbols. The High Priestess is further removed from us by her encasement in stone; She isn't even in the card, really, and, ultimately, remains a Mystery most high.

Thank you for your time. Are there any questions?


<<< I - The Magus
III - The Empress >>>

Dion Fortune - The Mystical Qabalah
Aleister Crowley - The Book of Thoth
Alejandro Jodorowsky - The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards
Naomi Ozaniec - The Kabbalah Experience
Joseph Campbell - Tarot Revelations
Paul Foster Case - Tarot Revelations
Lon Milo Duquette - Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot


  1. Anonymous2:20 PM

    Wow!! I've got to know more.. Do I start with basic Tarot lessons?? Oh wait..follow the arrows..Thank you..

    1. Yes, I'm publishing these as they are written. I'm glad you are interested!

      You can subscribe to the e-mail address by filling out the box to the right of the page and you'll be notified when I publish new posts.