Saturday, December 10, 2016

Revisiting The High Priestess

     What does the future hold? Will there be world war? Will the economy collapse?
In antiquity, leaders, politicians, and the public probably asked the same questions when they consulted the priestess at the oracle. These questions were often answered by “wise women” in early cultures. Modern day concerns probably aren’t much different than the issues of the day in 7th century BC, when, today, we consult astrology charts and have tarot readings as we seek other options and new perspectives on things.
High Priestess TOCC
     In contemporary interpretations of The High Priestess in Tarot, the basic meaning pertains to listening to your intuition and paying attention to the inner voice within. When you meditate on the High Priestess card in Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness, think of directing your thoughts to a deeper place, and connecting to an inner spiritual language. Metaphorically, she represents a portal, so when you step between the dark and light pillars and cross the threshold in your mind, you may open stored buried memories and repressed emotions, symbolized by the little rainbow colored vessels.  
Venus of Wilendorf
     Many concepts of the priestess’s role have been written about in historical mythology, from the study of early Goddess worship and the role of sibyls in ancient cultures, to modern day Wiccan practices. For some, it is rediscovering the feminine side of God.

“The Goddess image implies a new feminist matristic consciousness at the same time that it reveals a new knowledge of our most ancient historical past.”
Gloria Feman Orenstein, The Reflowering of the Goddess (Pergamon Press 1960)

According to early Greek writers, the “Oracle of Delphi,” was tended by the Pythia, a priestess, who sat on a tripod over a crack in the earth, supposedly entranced by fumes where she related the prophecies or advice of the gods. The story goes that the site was originally built for the Great Earth Mother Goddess Gaia, but was taken over by Apollo after he killed the giant python guarding the site. Thereafter, the priestess was channeling the voices of the gods, especially Apollo.

 Obviously, in our scientific age, we have come a long way from worshipping the old gods. In Tarot, we have the remnants of what the goddess and her priestess once stood for. She represents the gateway to one’s spiritual being and discovery of the Feminine Principle, the formator of life. In a reading of the High Priestess, we are connecting to something beyond our daily lives and attuning to cosmic patterns of life. Symbols and signs discovered here can be divine messages from our Cosmic Selfhood.  This is often symbolized in art, music, dance, poetry, prose, religious ritual, and the spoken word.

Early Priestesses in Art and Literature
1.      Paleolithic times, (30,000 BC to 10,000 BC) small fertility goddesses held in the palm celebrated the great Mother Goddess.

“As in Paleolithic art, female figurines and symbols occupy a central position in the art of Catal Huyuk, where shrines to the Goddess and Goddess figurines are found everywhere.” Raine Eisler, Chalice and the Blade (HarperCollins, 1987)

2.     Neolithic times (10,000 BC to 2,000 BC)
Ancient Middle East: Cuneiform stories written on clay tablets such as “Descent to the Goddess” was about the Goddess Inanna (Ishtar or Ashteroth) and her trip to the underworld guided by her priestess Ninshubur. Here she confronted death and resurrection. Reference: The Descent to the Goddess, Sylvia Brenton Perera (Inner City Books, 1981)

Malta, Hypogeum: (around 3,000 BC) An elaborately carved underground sanctuary/tomb with an oracular hole where a voice could be projected throughout. Small sleeping ceramic goddess figurines were found there – the priestesses were probably acting on behalf of the Goddess - was this figure a depiction of drug induced dreaming/visions, prophesizing? It included a snake pit – for snake bites to enhance the visions?  Reference: “Sanctuaries of the Goddess,” Peg Streep (Little, Brown and Company, 1994)

3.     Biblical, mentions goddess worship of Ashteroth (around 1000 BC) (Judges 2:13; 10:6) Israelites broke their covenant with God and worshipped the gods of the Canaanites, Baals (male god) and Ashteroth (female goddess)

4.     Egyptian (New Kingdom – 19th Dynasty (1550 BC) – celebrated the Egyptian goddess Isis. Priestesses were living representatives of Isis. Tomb paintings in the tomb of Nefertari show her as priestess giving offerings to the goddess Hathor

5.     Early Greek and Roman cultures: Elaborate temples and realistic sculpture to portray and celebrate the gods (450+ BC)
          Greek statues were thought to be temporarily inhabited by the gods.
          Greek – (4th century BC) Oracle of Delphi – Pythia priestess for Gaia/Apollo
          Roman – Priestesses of Vesta performed rites to regulate water-supply
                 Reference: “Oracles and Divination,” Michael Lowe, Carmen Blacker (Shambhala, 1981)

6.      Early European earth worship – (up to the 11th century when Latvia was the last country to be Christianized) There were ritual dances and celebrations of so-called pagan religious belief in early European tribal cultures. The Earth Goddess was immanent in nature represented by “wise women” who saw earth with sacred places and sacred springs, attended by women at the well; sacred stones, nooks and crannies, and sacred forests. There were Wiccan Priestesses, matres familiae (older women casting lots) – such as Volva, Voluspa, Norwegian; and Veleda, Eastern European women representing the Mother Earth Goddess.

“That Anglo-Saxon peoples invoked a mother goddess at plowing and seeding is proved by an early medieval plowing charm recorded ad preserved in a manuscript in the British Museum.” Pamela Berger, The Goddess Obscured (Beacon Press, 1985)
Reference: “The once and future Goddess” Elinor Gadon (HarperCollins, 1989)

7.     Middle Ages Europe: (11th century to 15th century) various oracles of prophecy spread throughout Europe: astrology charts, tarot card paintings on cardboard; Norse carved signs (Runes) on Rune Sticks and Tarot decks of the 15th century: Parts of the Visconti Tarot deck of 22 Triumphi are held in the collection of Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. It was thought to be painted around 1400 -1466. The Visconti High Priestess is depicted more as a Popess with a 3 tiered Tiara. Reference: Visconti Tarots, Giordano Berti/ Tiberio Gonard (Lo Scarabeo, Turin 2002)

So you might ask, “Why are we looking back at priestesses of the ancient past”?
Visconti High Priestess
In today’s feminist mood, it is part of the search for lost feminine wisdom, which has been suppressed, forbidden, cast aside, and extinguished over the centuries. We can see that an acknowledgement of the feminine has been re-emerging in the 20th century and continues more than ever now.  It includes a recognition of our dependence on this sacred mother earth who is currently being devastated by wars, blasted and drilled for her precious resources, and trampled upon disrespectively in most all countries.  When you get The High Priestess in a reading, take time to pause and rethink your relationship to the earth; the safety of the food you eat; the water you drink, and your role in acting on your intuition. What is your “gut feeling” to do the right thing – without mad ambition and greed, selfishness, or political motivation? It’s a time to get in touch with the truth and goodness of your real self.