The High Priestess

 

highpriestess

 

There is no other card in the deck that took a deeper dive into Hermetic imagery than this one.  The two columns represent Boaz and Jachin, said to have guarded the entry to King Solomon’s temple.  The TORA scroll represents the divine wisdom and secrets of Jewish Kabbalism. One imagines that the exact directions for this card came from Arthur Edward Waite, rather than the fertile imagination of Pamela Colman Smith, who painted it.

Leaving aside the rather glaring irony that women were not even ALLOWED in the inner sanctum of Solomon’s Temple (unclean creatures, doncha know?)  we can move right along and affirm that the Lady on the card is a lunar Goddess. The crescent moon at her feet is a common symbol of the lunar Goddess and is found even in Christianized versions of her such as the Virgin of Guadalupe’.

The real message in the imagery of this card, though, is about balance between opposites and the center point where intuition reigns.  The cross on her chest is the solar cross rather than the Christian cross, its’ four arms all of exact equal length from its’ center. She sits exactly between the white and black opposites of the columns.  The crown she wears is a solar disk surrounded by crescent moons, emphasizing the opposites of night and day.

By now most of us are familiar with the left brain/right brain dichotomy.  While not absolute, the left brain tends to be more involved in so-called rational, logical thinking, while the right brain tends to be more involved with imagery, emotion, and artistic endeavors.  Mysteries, omens, subconscious patterns tend to percolate and grow in the right brain. At a certain point they may cross over into the left brain and become a conscious realization. That phenomenon is often described as the, “Ah, ha!” moment when something which was previously puzzling and odd suddenly makes sense.  It’s also described as intuition and intuition is what the High Priestess is all about.

When the High Priestess appears in your reading it means that it’s time to start paying very careful attention to your intuition and subconscious.  Answers to problems which have been bothering or blocking you can be found in dreams, sudden insights, or hunches. This card points out the need to trust your deep Self.  Listen to your inner voices. If you’re having trouble hearing them then take the time you need to meditate or go sit by yourself in isolation. Let the answers bubble up from your subconscious and trust those answers.

If the card applies to a person in the questioners life it may be a very intuitive, mysterious, but fairly asexual person.

Reversed:  The questioner isn’t paying attention to his or her intuitive nature.  This is a card of being out of touch with your inner Self. The pomegranates on the tapestry in this card hearken back to the myth of Persephone, a Goddess of crops and Spring who was kidnapped by Hades, dragged into hell, and then forced to live there half the year because she had eaten a single pomegranate seed.  It was a myth which was meant to explain the changing of the seasons: when she was living in hell the world turned into winter and the crops died.

It can have a deeper meaning with the reversed presence of this card.  The creative, intuitive, feminine right side of the brain is being overpowered and held hostage by the logical, sequential, male left side of the brain.  Intuition and creativity are being ignored in favor of so-called rational thinking. There is a need here to reconnect with your primal self. Take the time for meditating, long hot baths, dancing, art.  Get back in touch with your creative energy.

Just as an interesting side note it’s been absolutely fascinating watching the rise of the new women’s movement in the United States.  Starting with the massive march on Washington, D.C. right after Trump’s inauguration and running through today’s Me Too movement, we’re seeing a massive awakening of Right Brain perception in the United States.  The Divine Feminine is asserting itself and the Goddess is alive and well.  No doubt the High Priestess is hiding a smile.

Pamela Coleman Smith – The Real Genius Behind the Waite-Rider Tarot Deck

 

The most popular Tarot deck in the world is the Waite-Rider deck, authored by A.E. Waite and published by the Rider Company.  The illustrations in the deck were done by Pamela Coleman Smith and it’s been within recent memory that people have started referring to it as the Waite-Smith deck.  The standard description of it is that the illustrations were prepared by Pamela Coleman Smith, “under the directions of A.E. Waite.”

It might be more accurate to say that the illustrations were prepared by her DESPITE the instructions of A.E. Waite.

 

Pamela_Colman_Smith_

PAMELA COLEMAN SMITH

 

She’s one of the more fascinating people in the history of modern occultism.  She had a wonderful smile and was so tiny that she was nicknamed, “Pixie.” As she was growing up her family shuttled between London, Jamaica, and New York and she spent several years living in Kingston and absorbed much of the Jamaican culture.  Her mother was an artist and she, too, developed artistic talents at an early age and began attending the Pratt Art Institute in New York at the age of 15.

By the age of 21 both of her parents had died and she moved by herself to London where she supported herself working as an illustrator, author, and set designer for theatrical productions.  It was there that she met the poet William Butler Yeats who introduced her A.E. Waite, one of the founding member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Shortly thereafter Waite commissioned her to illustrate his Tarot deck and the rest is history.

But that’s where it really gets interesting.

There have been many, many people who have claimed that they were channeling some sort of a higher power that guided their creativity and, “co-created,” with them.  Painters, sculptors, writers who felt the presence of a greater power than themselves literally telling them what to paint, carve, or write. Some of them talk about spirit guides, others describe the guides as angels, a few might even think that god was talking to them.

It is my strong belief that this is exactly what happened to Pamela Smith when she created the Waite deck.

Consider this:  Smith created ALL 78 cards between April and October of 1909.  That means that for that 6 month period she was pumping out an average of 13 highly complex illustrations a month.  As an artist I can tell you that’s nearly impossible.

There is also strong evidence that Waite may have had fairly precise instructions about the Major Arcana but Smith pretty much invented the illustrations for the Minor Arcana herself, even using some of her close friends as models.  With the sheer volume of illustrations she produced and her admittedly short exposure to occultism, you have to think that those pictures were almost painting themselves.

And, finally, there is the evidence of the nature of A.E. Waite himself.  He was, to put it mildly, one incredibly boring old fart. Shortly after Smith produced the cards Waite published a book called, “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot.”  Here’s just a bit of his definition for the card The Magician:

“With further reference to what I have called the sign of life and its’ connexion with the number 8, it may be remembered that Christian Gnosticism speaks of rebirth in Christ as a change, ‘unto the Ogdoad.’ “

And it gets a lot worse.  Can you imagine having a drink with that guy?

The Waite-Smith tarot deck is truly magical.  Every card is beautiful and tells its’ own unique story.  That magic definitely didn’t flow out of A.E. Waite. It flowed out of the eyes and soul of Pixie.  She was in the groove and some higher force was using her mind and her hands to bring those cards into being.  Aren’t we lucky that happened?

 

Can You Learn to Read Tarot Cards?

Over the 50 + years that I’ve been reading Tarot cards I’ve had many people ask me if they could learn how to read the cards.  The answer, of course, is, “No.”

Just kidding.

The answer is an unreserved, “Oh, hell, yes.”

Anyone can learn to read Tarot cards.  There are really only three things you need:  a deck of Tarot cards, a good set of definitions and layouts, and a little time.

The deck you choose will probably depend on what sings to your subconscious.  You have a very wide choice already and it seems like some enterprising artists and writers are coming up with new designs almost every month.

If you’re a purist at heart you may want to consider a nicely done reproduction of The Marseille Deck.  This most closely resembles the original decks that were used in the 15th and 16th centuries. A word of caution:  the, ‘pips,” – cards ace through ten of the four major suits, AKA the Minor Arcana – do not have the intricate illustrations of themes and situations that we associate with modern Tarot cards.

A nice alternative is The Aquarian Tarot Deck.  These are beautifully illustrated with knock-your-socks off Art Deco pictures.  Not the deck I use, but absolutely elegant cards.

The most popular deck by far – and the one that I personally favor – is The Rider Waite Tarot Deck, Rider being the company that manufactures them and Waite being A.E. Waite, the person who authored them.  Thanks mainly to the amazing artist who did the illustrations – Pamela Coleman Smith – it’s definitely the most magical deck out there. There have been several variations in colors and inks through the years so you can find them in hues that range from fairly muted to near neon.

You can find nearly all of the decks that are available on Amazon.com if you want to browse through them and most decent occult shops or larger book stores will have a few on hand.  Something to be aware of when selecting cards is to be sure that they actually ARE Tarot cards. There are a ton of card decks that are used for fortune telling or intuition work that have nothing to do with the Tarot.  The Inner Child Cards and Medicine Cards come to mind – both lovely decks but not the Tarot.

Finally, it is highly NOT recommended that you ever, ever purchase a used deck of Tarot cards.  They do tend to retain the vibrations of the original owner and you don’t want that popping up in your readings.

As far as finding a good set of definitions and card layouts, I personally recommend

STAND BY FOR SHAMELESS ACT OF SELF-PROMOTION 

my book, “Just the Tarot,”  by Dan Adair available as an Amazon Kindle ebook for only 3 bucks.

END OF SHAMELESS ACT OF SELF-PROMOTION

There are, of course, a lot of alternatives.  The most popular of the free online definitions at this writing are at biddytarot.com and tarot.com.  Both of them have excellent definitions but tend to be a little New-Agey so be prepared to be inspired, uplifted and filled with positive thoughts whether you want to be or not.

You can also, of course, browse through the books on amazon.com and compare the various reviews that the readers have left.   A strong caveat: if you’re thinking of buying, “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot,” by A.E. Waite, don’t bother. Ironically it’s one of the worst books on the subject that’s ever been written and it is MAJORLY boring to boot.

As far as the third element necessary for learning the Tarot – time – that’s up to you and your individual temperament.  Some people are really into taking classes and socializing and you can find online courses or, if you live in one of the hipper locations of the country, you can probably take personal classes.  If you’ve got a busy schedule like most of us do, try to do a reading or two a week. Write down the results and then go back to them at the end of the week and see how accurate the readings were.  As time passes you’ll start to get a personal feel for each card and begin to develop a talent for putting all of the cards in a layout into a story.

Have fun!