Emperor and Empress

You might not remember these characters to the left, Ma and Pa Kettle. I just had to throw them in because I am talking about the “Ma and Pa” of the tarot, and I just love this picture and it’s an excuse to share it!

Our relationships with the archetypes in Tarot change over time, both individually and as a culture.
Some cards can seem to elicit a positive or negative response that I notice in people collectively, I also notice how that can change. More importantly we can become conscious agents of that change.

The Empress and The Emperor are two such symbols. People generally relate to the Empress as maternal energy, nurture and nature, as a matter of fact she is generally depicted AS Mother Nature. The Emperor is often related to as patriarchal energy….notice something there?

Most people tend to see what the empress represents as a more internal energy hence “maternal” (where is the reference to matriarchal?) whereas the emperor is seen as something external (the often bashed patriarchal) rather than paternal sense of it. He gets associated with structure, bureaucracy, authority of a more autocratic nature. Much as these applications have some validity they are not the only uses of the symbols.

We are moving into a time where the world is having to learn more about Matriarchal systems. This isn’t about Feminism necessarily, it is about a different sort of need and resource based way of operating. Did you know that elephants are matriarchal? They are usually lead as a herd by a mother elephant. When there is a limit to resources she has one of her daughters lead off another herd. At the same time they instinctively gather together in times of mating, protection and will adopt one an other’s young. Pretty much what we as a culture are having to re-learn.

At the same time we have lost the paternal. The patriarchal is often seen as a remote and hard ruler. I had a young woman come into my office with a t-shirt that said “%*#@ the Patriarchy”. I must admit I gave it a bit of a glare because she blushed and said “oh I don’t mean you”. I would venture to say that a lot of what we see today is the negative aspects of patriarchy and in order for that to heal and change we need to re-connect with the paternal.

Many of us grew up with absent fathers, we have learned to distrust the archetype and out of necessity we are having to reclaim it. We hear a lot about maternal instinct. I believe there is such a thing as paternal instinct too. I have had to go to some great lengths to heal this element in my own life, partly with my actual father before he died and also in the work I have shared in with other men that I have grown to trust and respect.

I have some reference points in my home and office that remind me of what gentle, strong and responsible father energy is about. One well known person who comes to mind that I think of in terms of healthy paternal energy is Mike Holmes. His motto of “do it right” and his desire to help people comes from his strong sense of paternal instinct passed down from father to son.

I have had to seek out the mentoring and guidance of paternal figures in my life. I’ve had to forgive the figures that have “feet of clay” and have had to let myself in on the same understanding. We are all works in progress. The more I give myself positive reference points the easier it is to grow in that direction. I may fall short but I can know I’m headed in the right direction.

In readings I can see the positive AND negative aspects of both of these signals. There’s places where some structures that Emperor represents can work in a healthy way. I was reading for someone who was having work problems and the Emperor indicated a human resources or a union area they could turn to. Systems aren’t perfect but there are sometimes places where systems can do a lot for us and we can, in turn, participate in evolving those systems.

Empress too can alternately have her dark side (she’s not all sweetness and light) . Sometimes she can indicate the necessity of tough love. Sometimes Mother Nature fights back. Nurture has to evolve or it becomes toxic. Weening off dependencies can sometimes be called for when the Empress is present in a difficult way.

Working with the archetypes, coming to recognize them and see them in ourselves and others is a big part of what I use Tarot for.


Healing The Hierophant

The Hierophant is a card that often gets a bad rap. I’ve seen many interpretations that seem to give it negative associations or that seem to suggest it’s better when the card is reversed. I have come to understand it as a symbol of things that are necessary and useful.

The more I have come to work with Tarot as a tool for inner work and not just as a vehicle for “fortune telling”, the more I have come to see that the Major Arcana are tools, pathways of experience and “file headings” for consciousness.

These symbols relate to experiences that are vital in our lives and can be positive or negative depending on how we are working with them. In a reading, I have to pay attention not just to the card but what it comes up in relation to with other symbols and also what I am receiving intuitively. The Majors are less about actual circumstances but more the lessons that are running through them. They can provide a lot of insight into what is behind what is going on or what we can draw on to get through things. Often a Major card can show the roles we are playing, projecting, or that we are seeing others take on in our experience.

I think part of the negativity people attach to this card in it’s traditional Rider Waite symbolism (see above), is the idea of fixed dogma and the pope like illustration. I’ve had my own healing journey with this symbol and have come to deeply appreciate it.

Generally, The Hierophant in a reading is an indicator of a person’s underlying belief system coming into conscious view. We all have these patterns of belief. They influence (positively and negatively) how we are moving through life. An unhealthy Hierophant aspect would be things like unexamined knee jerk prejudices. I will admit I have had to look at these things in myself. Oddly in some instances where I was fearing judgement of others before I had had a chance to know them better. Looking at some of these old wounds and defenses was (and is) part of the Hierophant path.

In order to work out these things I had to seek out experience from others. I had to find some positive Hierophants! In group work and in personal examination, as well as accessing therapeutic resources, I found that the responsible people (what some would call elders or in some instances people “of the cloth”, some without formal title) I came into contact with had some structure in themselves and also in how they were prepared to be helpful.

I remember one mentor in a support group had some guidelines. He shared that to get the best results of what we were doing a little discipline went a long way. Simple things like respecting one another, sharing in turn, being prepared for the work we were doing, were not meant to be confining rules but things that made us feel comfortable and to know we were really getting somewhere.

Another resource I went to for a time (that was very helpful) suggested early on that I have some concrete objectives. He said ” I don’t want you to be here indefinitely” I appreciated that – partly as this was a resource that I was paying for. I have seen some people stay in some therapeutic loops for a long time that could have moved on had they not had a crutch.

I also had to find authors and people whose life experience could give me some guidelines. One that I refer to quite often is C.S. Lewis (seen left). I was always a big fan of the Narnia books and as I read more and more his writing on religion and theology I came to appreciate him more. He is a Christian and he helped me reclaim some very important things from that area of knowledge and my family background. One thing that really hit home to me was from a book of quotations ( I think the original source was his book “Mere Christianity”) where he wrote about spirituality being every one’s right to make their journey as they chose. Well I liked that, it validated some things. But he went on to say something that made me squirm and think and do some digging. He went on to say that to be journeying and to ignore that others have made similar journeys and have left us maps is arrogant. Well that smarted, which is sometimes exactly what a Hierophant experience is SUPPOSED to do! It made me realise that I had been just as prejudice to some areas of belief as I had felt they might be to me. this was a profound turning point and the Hierophant in me began to become a bit less childish and reactionary and (just a wee bit) better behaved.

Further to C.S. Lewis’s map analogy; he also said just looking at maps is not the same as having a journey. Just quoting religious or spiritual stuff (and maybe burning a little incense) is not going to get me very far, just as reading “Joy of Cooking” is not going to magically give me chocolate cake. I’ve been in some study groups that dissect and dissect things but don’t get far. That’s been a lesson on the journey too.

Personally, I don’t always do well in some structured settings. There have been some areas of group work where I have had to confront my own distrust, resistance and bull-headedness. Some teachers I have developed respectful relationships with, some I have been a jerk to, some weren’t my cup of tea and some I respect although their path has not been mine or was a path that wove along mine for a limited time. These ALL were positive (but not all of them easy) experiences.

As I came to build some relationships with some really cool people on differing faith paths, I have seen a great reduction of my fears of authority figures. I can respect without being either a sheep or a rebel. I have also had the privilege of doing a little mentoring. Like some who taught me, this is more about wanting to build a peer relationship with the person where they are an equal not a follower. There is a Buddhist saying; “If you meet the Buddha on the road of life, shoot him”. This sounds horrid at first, but what it means (roughly) is that others show us their Buddha nature and we must respect that, but we must also find within us our own. To make someone else that (for me anyway) is dangerous. We all have “feet of clay”.

Here is another thing: As I came to see the Hierophant less as a pulpit pounding persecutor and more as a voice of conscience, I came to have a different appreciation of personal morality. The very word “moral” at one time used to make me cringe. I had reacted to it as part of that old defensiveness. What it means to me now is really what it meant to me as a small and trusting child; the moral of the story. What I trust and believe as a result of experience, my own and other people’s. It has given me back a sense of faith that is both stronger and gentler at the same time.

In the actual study of Tarot for instance, I have had to see where there is a common structure, commonly held associations of the symbols. In short there are systems and rules, same as learning grammar (and that sentence wasn’t perfect)! A person has a perfect right to create any kind of deck they like but some (as far as my opinionated hierophant is concerned) should not be called Tarot! So you see, there is my Hierophant and also the Hierophantic aspect of the Tarot itself!

Maybe if I was to choose a personal iconic image for the Hierophant it would be a picture of Jiminy Cricket, the little voice of conscience I need to listen to. Sometimes when I’m in a challenging situation, I can look at what an elder I respect would do, OR I could look at what I would advocate for someone with less experience than myself. Sometimes having a kid brother or sister along has made me listen more to my conscience than if it was just about my egocentric little idea of ME.

I should mention too that the Hierophant is often more associated with some traditional things like marriage than say The Lovers card. It isn’t necessarily traditional in the sense of what a church or government would dictate. Ive seen the Hierophant refer to commitments that weren’t necessarily traditional and Ive also seen some “traditional” relationships that didn’t have much true commitment (consequently the Hierophant would be ill-aspected there).

It has to do with the moral aspect. Did you know that most dictionaries define commitment as “to morally and emotionally agree”? It’s like agreeing on the rules before you play, or having a design before you build, all stuff that can be part of healthy Hierophant work. It means you are on a good level of understanding in terms of one another’s beliefs and integrity.

One last thing: I was going to mention another little reference. There is a deck of symbolic cards that I occasionally use on a personal, meditative level, called The Dakini Oracle that is similar to Tarot in structure. It’s version of the Hierophant is the Hindu deity Ganesh, who cuts through illusions and guides us in learning. In that traditional path Ganesha is invoked before any study or undertaking. I wont go on about it as I found a blog from someone else that really touched on it quite nicely (and better than I would have), here is the link (and I will do a further post about the overall site):

Further On The Hierophant

In my last post I mentioned that part of a Hierophant experience can be the business of looking at our prejudices. Plainly speaking it sometimes is seeing our stinky stuff – in others and in ourselves.
Some of my mentors haven’t always told me what I’ve wanted to hear.

Pema Chodron (seen left), is another of my favorite authors who makes me think and dig. I’ve posted a clip here before of her. These clips talk about  the value of things that wake us up. Sometimes growth is bumpy. I have an old friend that calls these experiences; “the burr under the saddle that wakes up the horse”.



The Tower

Tsunamis and earthquakes and the economy,  Swine flu (when pigs fly? oh my!). All of these things rattle our illusions of security. I have heard some say we are moving through a “Tower” time.

Certainly the new millennium was characterized by a powerful Tower image as planes struck buildings on 911. We knew our world would never be the same. But is this some kind of Tarot Prophecy fulfilled? I don’t mean to sound evasive, but yes and no. It’s nothing new, it is a lesson we get in many forms again and again, personally, communally and globally.

The Tower card is usually an indication of major disruptive force that challenges our sense of security. It’s not an easy archetype (in some senses, none of them are). It represents our human tendency to resist change that ultimately has to give way. A man made structure met with a force greater than itself. These structures are not just physical but more often what the cards refer to are the structures of the psyche. We often times define ourselves by our relationships, our careers, our place in the world. These things are important but they are not the entirety of who we are. On another level, our greater communities define themselves by other structures. Our faith constructs or religion, our nationality, our beliefs and prejudices are all structures that evolve and at times get shaken. If these things are based on a solid foundation, what falls away is distraction. It winnows out the crap. We have the opportunity in a Tower time to wake up and smell the coffee. To see the integrity of whats stands regardless.

Sometimes I compare the Tower to a little clay pot you plant something in. It serves a purpose, but at some point the structure must give way, the plant must be re-potted, or the plant dies or the clay breaks. In any case the structure has to change.

Tower energy is about what makes us go beyond our familiar, safe, easy structures. It can be quite devastating, but it can also be liberating and freeing. People react to it in very different ways. There is an old saying that “20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work”. I notice that in a Tower shake up, often 80 percent run around like Chicken Little saying “the sky is falling, the sky is falling”, while 20 percent are more like the Little Red Hen saying “well what do we have to work with, and how do we carry on anyway”. I truly believe the greatest growth doesn’t come when things just flow along our way, but rather when we have to carry on anyway.

I think a lot of people’s reaction to some world events in the last few years has not been shock that these things happen, but shock at where and to whom. The shattering of the illusion that some places are somehow immune to these ills or that things can’t happen in some places or to some people,was a culture shock.
What we have lost in some of this was our naivete, not our innocence.

On a very superficial level you could compare the Tower to a kid finding out there’s no Santa Claus. Maybe  they have the chance to see what was behind the myth, what it was a metaphor for. Maybe (as is the case for me) we learn that Santa Claus is an idea that we all get to be part of and not just one day a year. Or they could get angry and stop behaving because they aren’t going to get a pony. Going a step further though, are you really being “good” if it’s just to get something?

On a personal level, the Tower can make us question our beliefs, our illusions of immunity, invulnerability and entitlement. I should note that although the Tower is a growth opportunity it is also NOT something we deserve. Bad things DO happen to good people and they don’t deserve these things. Tower is not (necessarily) about karmic retribution. Sometimes it is the difficult business of (excuse me) “shit happens”, but HOW we work through it is the growth opportunity. Do we try to build an even greater, more resistant structure or do we let go and (maybe) see we no longer need it, in some instances we see we never did.

On a career level it could be a set back that shows us we have had an illusion of security. I know many people who felt that security was finding an employer to be loyal to and it would look after you in return. Many people these days are finding themselves laid off, or worse questioning about their retirement or pensions. The structure has been shaken.

I believe that we sometimes get so caught up in these structures and sometimes others get caught up in them as well that they can become self fulfilling prophecies. If a person feels they have to make a lot of money to have worth, for instance, they will attract people who follow that line of thinking. They can feel that if they aren’t successful then people may leave or they wont matter in the same way. Sometimes this proves to be true, some of those people DO leave. Sometimes you have to start over. Quite often though you get a chance to see that the supposed security was something that was owning you. I talk to a lot of people that have lost things and had to start over. They often have the opportunity to get ahead again, but it doesn’t “own” them in the same way ever again.

Remember too that in the numeric sequence of the cards, the Tower is followed by “The Star”. A card of vision, inspiration and hope. Not just a “star on the rise” but also a source of direction. Star is the little glimpse of our greater nature. Not just our potential. Remember that the stars are still used for navigation. We learn to base our growth and direction not just on our immediate circumstances and the things of this world, but with that greater vision.


The Star

When our expectations have been rattled, when our status-quos fall short, what then? In the previous post on The Tower, I mentioned the Star. This is a beautiful and inspiring symbol. We think of a star on a dressing room door, “when you wish upon a star”, “thank your lucky stars”, when you do well in elementary school you get a gold star on your work.

All of these associations are bits of what the star card can refer to on a superficial level. They’re nice things we don’t need to dismiss, but there’s something deeper that I often see to it. As I mentioned before, the stars from ancient times have been used for navigation. They are a reference point beyond our worldly conditions that tell us where we are at and a reminder of things. Science tells us that the light from the stars we see may have long since burned out at it’s point of origin, but who can say how far that light will travel before it is ever unsee-able? Ok I might be getting a bit too deep here, but in the context of a reading the Star card is like a flash of insight, a higher “nudge” that helps us move forward.

The saying that “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but rather spiritual beings having a human experience” comes to mind. When we can, however briefly, put aside our egocentric ideas of what we are and what’s important, the star symbolizes that recognition of not just what we can become but what we truly are. For most of us this is a fleeting insight. C.S. Lewis (who I have blogged about before and respect) tells us that most vision is usually followed by a sort of trough period. From his own experience and that of many others who have known both the preceding trials that led to a vision as well as the struggles afterward he concluded that living with a vision didn’t always necessarily have the luxury of a certainty in it, but rather that we have to live “as if it might be true”.

In William James “Varieties Of Religious Experience”, the theory is that a spiritual experience is not measured in it’s drama or sensationalism. It’s validity is in what it motivates us to do. Sometimes this can be an earth shattering vision, more often it is those little glimpses that move us to be part of great things that need to be done. In the film “Schindler’s List” the title character does not initially set out to be heroic, he starts out as a capitalist who sees an opportunity in using concentration camp inmates in his factories. Along the way though, something in him wakes up and what some see as a miracle goes on, a bit at a time. Later near the end of the story he laments that he could not see it sooner, “how many more could I have saved” he asks. But remember what he was up against. Would it have worked had he known? I believe Creation  can work though our foibles. We are often best just given the little glimpses.

Another way to look at it; have you ever tried to look directly at a star? Sometimes we need to see it out of the corner of our eye. Even when you can focus on it clearly, how well do you think you could walk through a dark forest while looking at a star? You would trip over every root and branch. What we often have to do is glimpse and travel, glimpse and travel. The saying “be in this world, but not of it” comes to mind. We are here for an important experience, we need to at times get caught up in things, go to the fair, eat too many corn dogs, go on all the rides, but not get so caught up that we get lost in it. Sometimes we have to go through the Tower’s upheaval, like falling off the Ferris wheel before we come back to this awareness. Hmm a Wheel Of Fortune reference? Perhaps, but that will have to wait til another post!


The Sun

The Sun card is often seen as one of the most positive cards in the Tarot deck. It often signifies clarity, honesty and optimism. it suggests a bright outlook, not necessarily that everything is entirely problem free, but that everything is out in the light of day. Nothing is hidden in the shadows here and we can bask in the light of reason.

It’s a curious thing that so often difficulties and worries are accepted as facts of life and negativity seems to need little justification. Happiness is sought and sold to us as elusive. I don’t buy into that.

There is never a moment when the sun stops shining on the earth. True at night we turn our backsides to it and things like clouds and pollution obscure it momentarily. Some would be quick to mention that the sun, as a physical entity, has a life span. Like other stars it will eventually burn out. But the very light of the stars goes on shining and ever moving outward long after their demise. Some stars that are visible to us burnt out long ago, the light continues to move forward.

Even what we see as a lower life form knows this. Plants evolve to capture light. Sunflowers (which are depicted more than once in the Rider Tarot as a symbol of self -honesty) adjust daily to follow and soak up the sun’s rays. Dandelions manage to root into concrete and stretch to absorb light. Happiness is our connection to that sort of life force. When we are happy we radiate a kind of energy that is positively infectious and it continues to move forward. This is our natural state. We forget it and get preoccupied. We often buy into the lie that we need to have things or the right conditions or the right relationship in order to be happy, but there are moments where we get to forget that (probably what St. Francis of Assisi meant in “self forgetting”) and experience this. It is what C.S. Lewis meant in the business of being “Surprised By Joy”. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wanting things, it’s when the wanting hurts that we are out of line. Relationships are a prime example of this, when we want a relationship in order to be happy our odds aren’t as good as when we want to share the happiness we do have with someone.

Some many years ago I was in a group that was trying to do some conscious inner work. We were working very hard at trying to be HAPPY people and there was a lot of focus on what our problems were. Some felt that they had repressed issues they needed to get in touch with and while in some areas this is a valid thing, it was also a bit of a blame game. I found myself questioning my childhood. Was there something I was blocking? Something I needed to “get in touch with”? I wondered, and at the time as I was distant from my father (and had blamed him for some things) it was a question of what did I maybe have bottled up that I needed to see. I talked to some people and fortunately someone very wise said “maybe you’re so focused on the negative that you’re blocking the positive”. Well at first I found that annoying, (frankly I was in such a state that I found A LOT annoying those days), but it stayed with me. A few days later I was out with a friend and he asked me to pass him something on the table and as an off the cuff remark he called me sunshine…”could you pass me that sunshine“. It hit me like a bolt from the blue…when I was very young my dad called me sunshine. I had forgotten that, along with a lot of other very positive little things he had done or said. It was at that time I began to re-connect with my father and came to have a happy relationship with him, he passed away peacefully in 2005 and  I was with him when he did.

Another thing this reminds me of; a friend was going through a really tough time, a genuinely hard, tough time. Her partner had left her, had taken everything (even the dog), she was living in a hotel room, she was faced with so much uncertainty and had every justifiable reason to feel low. We were sitting in her car (which she was on the verge of losing) and she was talking about how tough things were. I didn’t have any platitudes to offer (I’m bad for that – sorry). Something told me to just shut up and listen (and thankfully I did). She eventually just fell silent and we were staring ahead down the street. We were parked near my work on College street. Some grubby little kids (about 4 to 6 years old) were playing with an old tire they’d found. They found it uproariously funny to roll that old tire down the street. We just found ourselves watching and after a while when they laughed, we did too. My friend was very okay after that (maybe she just needed to see she was okay all along) still she had rough times but she came through them. I believe happiness is what children know and what we misplace (but I believe we never really lose).

This sort of thing has happened for me again and again, not on demand, not instantly, but often enough for me to know (but still need reminders), that happiness is a natural state. It does not distract us from grief, it does not solve everything, but it’s there. We allow ourselves moments, we need reminders, we get preoccupied, some of us get very lost, there are dark states that can be quite lethal, but in those instances especially I believe that spiritually we all eventually find our way into the light.
Let the sunshine in.



Temperance is one of my favorite cards. I find that there are certain symbols in Tarot that have come to have a deep resonance throughout my life. Some that I relate to easily, others that I have had to really work to understand and some where I have thought I’d seen it all and then they come back and surprise me.

I often find that when this card is predominant in a reading that it indicates a sense of timing. The word Temperance comes partly from the Latin “tempus” and also “tempor”, these are respectively timing and transformation. The balancing of energies and the moderation to work things through.

A few things I have come to recognize as evocative on the card itself; the angel has one foot immersed in the water, the other seems to be hovering over the earth. The irises on the river bank, the careful flow of water between the cups, the crown of enlightenment at the end of the long road. As is the case with most cards, multiple signals that combine to give us a message.

All of the major arcana cards are archetypes, universal symbols that hold within them a kind of guidance through our circumstances. If we were to view the minor arcana as karma, the majors are a sort of dharma that helps us free ourselves. Now that first word “karma” has been getting a lot of play lately. People look at a difficult person or situation and wish it to have some sort of karmic retribution. I’m not an authority on karma but the Buddhist traditions it evolves from tells us that we don’t have to be victims of circumstance or fate. Karmic retribution is about as relevant to mindfulness as Santa Claus is to Christianity. Dharma is the teachings and beliefs that help us to work through karma. We can stop the retributive patterns at any time.

It is significant that the Temperance card comes up in the sequence of the major arcana after the death card, right before we face The Devil. Like a good guardian angel that walks with us through the scary stuff, Temperance is like the angel Virgil in Dante’s Divine Comedy, helping us to see that all of our experiences, good and bad are part of what is shaping us. I like to think that we are all, and perhaps always will be, works in progress. The Maker’s hand is still upon the clay. We can’t just evolve the nice stuff and ignore what’s in the shadows, Temperance is the compassion to work with all of that. It is “The Great Transformer”.

I don’t think it is time alone that does this. Whoever said “time heals all wounds” had never heard of gangrene. It is time though that can wear down our hard shells of resistance. We aren’t the people we thought we were a decade ago and hopefully we wont be in time to come. There is a reason Temperance comes after the egoic passing of the Death card. I am reminded of the common experience of many people who claim to have after death experiences. There is often a kind of life review where we see our lives play out from a detached perspective, we see the good and bad and these things arouse feelings but at the same time many of these people report a sense of being loved, held and protected as these things play out. I like to think of that as a higher nature or angelic awareness such as what Temperance shows. The angel of time is also an awareness outside of time, the all knowing that we are always a part of.

On a much simpler level Temperance is sometimes looking at a situation that could have us all riled up in the moment and reminding ourselves of impermanence. It asks the question – how important will this be tomorrow, a year from now or ten?

Temperance can be a need to slow down, to look at the timing of a situation. To put aside our egoic ideas of good guys and bad guys, to be compassionate with ourselves as well as others. When a troublesome situation comes my way I have to see the karma being as much my own lesson in dealing with it and not just my desire to have it come out my way. By the way, ever notice how no one much considers it was their karma that brought them the headache in the first place? No one deserves difficulties or pain, they happen though just like the weather. When they do Temperance is the awareness that we don’t have to go flying off into reactions or a wish for retribution. We can learn from the situation, go into it’s depths but also rise above it. We can be moderate. We can ask if there is a greater or a higher good than just our own immediate needs. This is challenging work, all of the majors involve some. In this case there is an old saying; “temper justice with mercy”.

As we move into any kind of inner work, we may have some bogey men to face, but Temperance is the higher awareness that lets us know we are on a good path, that we are not alone, and whatever we need to face is ultimately freeing us. Sometimes in a reading temperance is that third choice, somewhere between yes and no that says wait a minute or not right now. Being Temperate or moderate is a better place to work from than just being temperamental. There’s more room and more of a sense of being a work in progress. We aren’t as insistent on things having to be an immediate yes or no and that usually shows us possibilities we had never before imagined.


The High Priestess

The High Priestess as illustrated
by Pamela Coleman Smith in the
Rider Waite Tarot

The following are some random thoughts on one of the most evocative cards in the Tarot deck. I am not putting forth the overall meaning of the card (it would be far too much to post here), but some of what the symbol inspires. There’s some very good resources, books, websites and courses to be found on learning Tarot. It’s a lot like learning a language and the language changes over time. Even after more than 30 years I’m still learning, so here’s some of my take on this lovely archetype.

When people initially begin working with the Tarot this seems to be one of the cards that we feel a strong intuitive pull towards. Fitting really as it is the very aspect of our consciousness we are in the process of waking up or tuning into. Perhaps it has been calling us for some time and we are just learning to listen. I like the saying “What you are looking for, you are looking with”.

When you encounter something that strikes a chord within you or when you are learning something and at the same time feeling like you’ve known it all along, these are aspects of “Sophia” or a kind of higher  spiritual knowing. This is the inner voice, the part of ourselves that only we can reach but also the inner sacred space through which spirit speaks to and through us. She is usually depicted and seen as a divine virgin, the part of consciousness that is above the ego and similar to another vision of the archetype the virgin Mary, she is the blessed wisdom that comes through Grace. She is also Isis, Persephone and a host of other icons. The black and white pillars beside her represent mildness and severity. In the Qabala these are means by which an adept can ascend or raise their consciousness, simply put through discipline and compassion, but she is herself a pillar by which awareness comes down the temple steps to meet us, she is the pillar of mercy.

The High Priestess from Aleister Crowley’s
Thoth Tarot by Lady Frieda Harris

Working with the High Priestess archetype is partly about learning to listen to the inner voice. Her counterpart the Hierophant (or High Priest) is conscience, rules and discipline of morality. The necessary structures of faith and belief. She works as well alongside the Magician who draws associations and names things in the external world, she is the awakening wisdom that both inspires learning and leads us into further questioning. But she is that voice only we can hear, the Hermit card resonates with this as well as he is the translator that carries the message further out into the world, both a guide and an exile. We learn the cards not just in terms of their individual meanings but what they say in interaction with each other. Sometimes surrounding cards may suggest we need to heal or repair an aspect.  Part of my posting about this card is a recognition to clean up the temple of my intuition a little. Clearing distractions to hear and see what Spirit is trying to say.

She is usually depicted holding a Tora or scroll of wisdom and more than one lunar reference appears on the card. Like the moon card itself there is reference to the unconscious, the reflected light of the Sun or the waking mind. Her robe seems to become like a stream and it is, in fact the stream of consciousness. Crowley called her “The weaver of dreams” and we see that in the imagery of his deck. Much of our sense of self is transitory, we are as Edgar Allen Poe said “A dream within a dream”.

One of my favorite alternative views of the
Priestess, from David Palladini’s Aquarian Tarot
Note that in this case the veil is lifted and the
butterfly rests on the flower, suggesting
that when we are still the answers come

There are many artist’s interpretation of this symbol, to really get a scope of what’s out there and the varied imagery check out what comes up when you do a Google image search with “High Priestess Tarot”. I generally work most with the Rider Tarot (the first pictured here) but I love different artist’s interpretations.

So in a reading this card can represent an important questioning, a mystery that leads us towards answers far beyond our questions. It is a hint of a greater learning going on beyond what we can see. I like to remember the lesson of the Fool that what we know or think we know shouldn’t get in the way of what we are learning. To work with the Priestess, we have to lay aside (for the moment) opinion and analysis, to have the pure experience of now and the moment.

For further insight about the High Priestess and other card meanings and attributions a great starting point for every resource you could ever need, as well as reviews of decks, books and a great forum (that I do log into and post to from time to time) is Aeclectic Tarot


“Attraction and Distraction”

These are two of the most enigmatic cards in the entire tarot deck and when seen together, there is a purposeful similarity between the two. You could almost take them as a photograph and a negative.

There are some fascinating discussions that have already gone on in other areas (check out Aeclectic Tarot’s discussion board for instance) about the parallels.

There are many interpretations of these cards and, depending on how they come up they can mean a great many different things. When seen together there is important insight in their reflective similarity and their polarity to one another.

In much of my work I see these two symbols as the motivations in human relationships. The Lovers being the transformational side of love that “lifts us up where we belong”, and the Devil being the obsessional, fear based side. More simply put, I often refer to them together as “attraction and distraction”.

A healthy relationship (not just romantically but on so many levels) helps us discover there is so much more to ourselves and we want to share that. A fear based relationship is where we are desperately seeking in another and avoiding our selves at the same time. I notice a lot of people (and at times I’ve been in this state myself) that aren’t so much afraid of being alone but don’t want to be stuck with themselves. Seeking fulfilment in another while avoiding ourselves is a dangerous trap. We tend to focus on the most distracting person in the room and, chances are if they respond, they are in the same state themselves. This isn’t sharing, this is dangerous role-playing where our fears and insecurities are getting the best of us.

Learning the difference between these motivations is part of everyone’s life journey and it doesn’t just manifest romantically. We can choose situations where there is a motivation of growth or a motivation of fear. Sometimes when the devil card comes up in a reading it is time for these things to be faced and confronted. To see where fear has been manipulating us and to release that. Although it is not a pretty card, it is a necessary symbol of what has not been good for us being brought to light. We can be free of it and this is often a first step. I liken it a lot to discovering our allergies.

There is a card that stands between these two that is part of that sorting out:Temperance is where we slow down and look at what is behind our instinctive drives and see where they have gone off-course. Some say that all instinct has a divine source but we often get misdirected in it’s fulfillment. If the devil card is about temptation ruled by fear, temperance is the ability to see the healthy side of instinct and to move it towards the liberating quality of the Lovers.

The poet Dante in his “Divine Comedy”, wrote of a gaurdian angel (Virgil) that watches over him as he seeks through hell, purgatory and finally paradise. I believe this is the higher awareness that is working with us as me move through our fears toward freedom.