High Priestess

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Decks

RWS

In this depiction the high priestess sits between two pillars which speak to us of dualities, a key theme with two cards.

“Passivity allows the unconscious to emerge.  Only through withdrawal from outer involvement can we allow the inner voice of vision and psychic forces to speak to us, it is precisely to avoid this inner voice that many people never rest from action and movement.  Our society, based completely on outer achievement, fosters a terror of the unconscious, yet without its wisdom we can never fully know ourselves or the world.”
– Rachel Pollack

This is a card that speaks to us of passivity, but passivbity with a purpose, an active stillness.  To reverse the card, and thus the meaning, we can see how unhelpful passivity might be.  But we all need a change to pause and reconnect with our inner self.  It is here that we can feel our feelings, listen to our intuition and realign with our true selves.

The high priestess speaks to us of the dark, the mysterious and the hidden.  She is reflective, enigmatic, solitary and serene.  She sits in her power, confident in herself, supported by the power of the moon.

Pagan Cats

The Pagan Cats High Priestess is the controversial black cat.  She sits between two curtains, one white, one black and there is our first duality.  Her paws appear to be resting on a religious or ritualistic document, a sign she is in control of the spiritual or magical, appropriately given her status as high priestess.

This version is very similar to that of the RWS deck so I’m going to unpick that black cat a bit more.  They are contrary symbols, in some cultures good luck, in others bad luck and even within the same place there are conflicting beliefs.  They have been associated with witchcraft and the devil and in norse mythology, Freya, queen of the Valkyries, drove a chariot pulled by black cats.

The penguin guide to the superstitions of Britain and Ireland confirms that the beliefs around black cats are confused.  One example is that on a british ship, one black cat is lucky but two are unlucky.  This is captured well in a quote from Percy Shaw Jeffrey in his 1923 book about Whitby folklore:

“[31 May 1797] Saw three black cats last night so did not go to market today fearing some evil, but it turned out well as Betty was taken with spasms and might have died had I not stayed at home and she is the best milker of all I have, this omen for ill brought nought but good.”

Perhaps this is a sign that we should listen to our gut and that what first seems awful may actually turn out for the best.  I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where that’s happened.  How we react to seeming setbacks may also be a factor here.

Wild Unknown

A white tiger gazes off to the left, a crystal ball in front of her and the black sky behind, punctuated by a crescent moon.  I once read that in tarot if a character is looking to the left they are looking at the past and if they are looking to the right they are looking to the future.  With this in mind, we can see a nuanced high priestess in the wild unknown.  Where the pagan cats and lumina tarot have characters facing forwards, this tiger is looking to the past.  And the past does strongly inform who we are, our subconscious desires and motivations and all of this in turn shapes our future.  This may be a card that is asking you to look back, perhaps to childhood, to see how your emotions today have been influenced by your early years.  We all have ‘core wounds’, those things that we tend to overreact to – mine being invalidation and dismissal – and knowing these and understanding them can really help you to understand your reactions and feelings today.

The tiger seems regal, thoughtful and serene.  She seems confident and whilst thoughtful, she is not clutching the crystal ball in an obsessive, need to know and need to know now kind of grip.  She knows the answers will come when they will come.  And she knows that when they come it will be the right time for them to come.  Are you as sure as she is?  Are you pushing yourself too hard to listen to your subconscious?  As frustrating as it can be, it doesn’t work like that.  The harder you push, the further away you get.  Open your mind, use tools like tarot and meditation but don’t stand there demanding answers.

She does not strain herself to explain the mystery – instead, she immerses herself completely in that mystery.”
Carrie Mallon

The touch of colour in the crystal ball accentuates the black and white of the card, the duality and the yin and yang of the meaning.

Lumina

Study your wisdom within

Note, the artist of this deck changed the image between versions of the Lumina tarot.  The other version has an older woman, reflected through the vertical axis, holding a staff in her hand which forms an echo of the pillars from RWS.  Above her the moon is depicted and around it, the iconic dotwork of this deck shows intertwined crescent moons.

By turning inwards rather than looking outside yourself for answers, you will find what you need.  The veil of illusion will move aside and you’ll be admitted into a world that not everyone is allowed to enter.

The horns or headdress pictured here suggests a receptive nature, ready and waiting to receive the messages from the gods and goddesses.  This is echoed by the same crescent shape of her necklace and the crescent of the moon.

We also have the high priestess literally reflected.  As well as seeing this as her inner and outer selves we may see it as looking from a different perspective.

The use of purple seems important to me.  Symbolically it has been used to represent wealth, wisdom, creativity, devotion and peace.  It has also been used to represent mystery and magic.  It is said to be calming and uplifting and to invoke feelings of spirituality.

Bourn Creative says that:

“Purple is associated spirituality, the sacred, higher self, passion, third eye, fulfillment, and vitality. Purple helps align oneself with the whole of the universe.”

Animal Totem

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A spider sits in a web against a dark blue sky, again a crescent moon is present.  Immediately, on seeing the spider and knowing that the high priestess speaks of a feminine energy, I was put in mind of Sharon Blackie and her book If Women Rose Rooted:

“Women are spinners and weavers, we are the ones who spin the threads and weave them into meaning and pattern.  Like silkworms, we create those threads out of our own substance, pulling the strong, fine fibres out of our own hearts and wombs.  It’s time to make some new threads; time to strengthen the frayed wild edges of our own being and then weave ourselves back into the fabric of our culture.”

Taz Thornton was the second author my mind went to.  She writes about facing fears, using the spider as an example and lets face it fears are such a powerful part of our sub/unconscious.

“If you are afraid of spiders, try to remember when you first learned that fear, then work out what, exactly, you believe you are afraid of… Is it the swift movement?  Would they still be scary if they moved at a snail’s pace?  Is it the legs?  Who else do you know with legs?  Are they scary?  What would a spider have to do to make friends with you?  What if they started delivering your favourite treats, or spinning lovely words for you to wake up to in the morning?”

Their hunting approaches have resulted in the spider symbolising patience and persistence, and combined with their 8 eyes, perhaps the spider is here to remind you to pay more attention to the details or to look closer to what it is that is on your mind.

Linking back to the idea of active passivity, perhaps this card has shown up to remind you of the value of getting out of your head and using your hands.  I don’t know about you but for me answers and guidance often come when I’m doing something else, in particular something creative that is using my hands whether that’s drawing, painting, knitting, playing with clay, cooking or whatever it is that works for you.

Associations

Tigers

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Cats, and of course tigers, with their ability to see in the dark, are often though to have a gift of prophecy, of clairvoyance or a psychic ability.  We can also feel into this idea as we think of the high priestess looking inwards, into the darkness that is our subconscious.

Tigers also show us some of the contradictory nature of twos with adults described as “solitary but social”:

“Solitary-but-social animals forage separately, but some individuals sleep in the same location or share nests. The home ranges of females usually overlap, whereas those of males do not. Males usually do not associate with other males, and male offspring are usually evicted upon maturity.”
– 
Wikipedia

Their excellent eyesight, great sense of smell and their silent stealth allow them to move through the night, or our inner realms, with ease, with confidence and without startling what it is we are seeking.  We’ve all been there, there’s something in your mind that you’re trying to put your finger on, whether it’s a word or a niggling feeling, and the more you seek it out, the harder it is to find.  That is where the tiger energy comes in – use her skills to creep up on whatever it is without scaring it away.

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Another creature, the thylacine, has been called the Tazmanian tiger and whilst it isn’t actually a feline (it’s a marsupial), it’s interesting to consider it here.  The keyword on the oracle card is wisdom, and inner wisdom and self knowledge is exactly what the high priestess is about. As a scapegoat, they induce fear and hatred due to a lack of understanding and this can be the case when we relate to ourselves.  How often have you felt anger towards yourself because of something you haven’t taken time to unpick.  Perhaps an example would help me to explain myself; when I feel vulnerable, my mind goes straight to a well used internal record I have that tells me I am stupid and horrible and fat and worthless.  But if I take this feeling and wonder why I’m feeling vulnerable, I can start to treat myself a little more compassionately.

Moon

The High Priestess, as guardian of the subconscious, is as mysterious as the moon.”
Little Red Tarot

The moon features as its own tarot card so I’m not going to go into too much detail here, instead I’ve listed some of the key words that will help us to understand it:

unconscious * dreams * the inner self * emotions * feelings * intuition *feminine * cycles * water * imagination * reflection * soul * creation * compassion * mother * moodiness * subconscious * creativity * nurturing * divination

Most of the moons on these cards are cresent moons which indicate receptivity, being open to messages and the word crescent derives from crescere, meaning to grow.  Take the lessons you learn from turning inwards and use them to further develop yourself.

 

Animals as scapegoats: Badgers, Dodos and Thylacines

In previous posts I’ve touched on the idea of animals as scapegoats, in particular when we looked at fox hunting and human – lion conflict.  Cats have also been the victim of scapegoating over the years, for example being cast in the role of the familiar during the witch persecution.  Here I want to explore how other wild animals have been treated as scapegoats, including two extinct species which I hope will serve as a warning.

Scapegoat: Wild animals that are erroneously blamed for one or more real or perceived problems (usually environmental) or that are considered a nuisance, problematic or in competition with personal or business interests/activities and who are persecuted as a result.

Zoo Check

Scapegoated animals include: Eagles, magpies, beavers, deer, horses, coyotes, wolves, bears, foxes, dolphins, seabirds, fish, turtles, seals, sea lions, ruddy ducks, mink, flies, crocodiles and rats.  They can be any type of animal and any size, it is human perception which turns them into an icon of blame.

Badgers

Badgers, in the UK, are held responsibly by many for the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB).  The name alone sometimes makes life hard for badgers as it is sometimes, incorrectly referred to as Badger TB…

Before we get into the badger in more detail, I first want to make it very clear that I understand the devastating impact any disease has on livestock.  It can destroy livelihoods and families and cause financial ruin.  Managing infected cattle is an expensive business and in 2015, there were 36,000 infected cattle slaughtered in Britain at a cost to the taxpayer of about £100m.  It’s clear that action needs to be taken but what is not clear, to me, is the role of the badger.

The debate around badgers, bTB and badger culling is one which is often depicted as farmers against badger lovers and this makes the conversation much more emotionally charged.  In reality, I think pretty much everyone on both sides wants the best for the cows and the badgers.

The first known badger death from bTB was in 1971, after cattle spread the disease to the badger.  And periodically since, we find ourselves with headlines and claims such as “badgers are responsible for bTB” which in themselves are not helpful.  The badger is not an active agent in this, they are not going out looking to infect themselves and then others.  This is a disease which they may get and if they do they suffer.  Infected badgers experience breathing difficulties and struggle to forage and thus lose weight and condition.  To solely blame the badger is to deny the cow’s “involvement” in spreading the infection and as most bTB comes from other cows this is irresponsible and misleading.

This focus on the badger also overplays the role they have in transmitting the infection.  The Guardian in 2016 reported that badger to cattle infection is estimated to be directly responsible for about 6% of herd infections.  If you listen to debates around the issue then you would expect this number to be at least 50%…  We also know that cows are susceptible to many other illnesses and causes of death.

Only looking at the badger’s role in bTB could be preventing work from looking at other sources and ways of controlling the disease.  Despite evidence that cows and badgers rarely, if ever, meet*, the number one guideline from the government’s bTB Biosecurity 5 step plan is to reduce contact between the two species.  And yes, reducing indirect contact may well help, but why put all your time, effort and money into preventing something which isn’t happening…?  The badger as a scapegoat seems to have blinded those involved in the discussion despite the small role it plays.

As well as badgers, bTB also affects deer, goats, pigs, camelids (llamas and alpacas), dogs and cats, as well as many other mammals.  Yet these have not been scapegoated as the cause of bTB or culled because of the association.  Perhaps instead of blaming the badger over and over again, we should be looking more widely at what perpetuates this devastating disease.

Cows are affected by other diseases** and not just bTB so why is the badger bearing the brunt of this? Perhaps because disease management is difficult and expensive and is in some ways like herding invisible cats.  You can’t see what it is you are trying to contain, but you can see badgers.  If culling is found to be successful it would give people something to focus their efforts on.  They can do something to try and gain control over the infection.  And some degree of control is what people most want in uncontrollable situations.

*the disease is spread through indirect contact between badgers and cows, such as badgers flipping over cow pats to look for beetles and cows not avoiding badger scat.

**According to Farmers Weekly, the two main causes of death in beef cattle are pneumonia and clostridial diseases.

Dodo

What you think is a dodo, probably isn’t.  They are victims of misrepresentation both in terms of appearance and behaviour.  We have no evidence of the dodo beyond the skeleton and illustrations from the time, often painted by people who had not actually seen a dodo.  As no skin or feathers survive, any model of a dodo is going to be based on guess work and descriptions and as such are probably inaccurate.  Instead of the bird we think of as the dodo, it is likely that they were fluffier, stood higher with strong long necks and had powerful beaks.  But they were portrayed as being small, comical, dumpy and low to the ground.  This is significant in shaping how we view the dodo.

Dodos inhabited Mauritius for hundreds of years, surviving volcanic activity and climate change.  Then in 1598 a boat carrying starving and desperate dutch men was shipwrecked in the area.  The men arrived on the island in urgent need of food.  In the jungles they found these birds which they called the dodo.

By 1662, when a German was shipwrecked on Mauritius, there were no dodos left on the mainland.  There were a few remaining on a little island cut off from the main island by tides.  This was the last dodo colony ever recorded.

The dodo was said to be hapless and ill fated and thus, it was said, the dutch just sped up it’s extinction.  Probably better than accepting responsibility for wiping out an entire species…

It was assumed that the dutch killed them for food but some descriptions say the meat was said to be tough and oily, the dodo lacked in breast meat and they weren’t easy to catch.  Other reports say that the dodo was easy to catch and that some people hunted dodos only for their gizzards, as this was considered the most delicious part of the bird.

There is much we don’t know about the dodo and about the circumstances surrounding it’s extinction.  But I do think that the dodo, portrayed as hapless victim waiting for man to put the species out of it’s misery is propaganda.  Whilst many believe that humans didn’t hunt to species to extinction, it is highly likely that we were the cause.  The dutch introduced invasive plants and animals, which competed with, and killed, the dodo.  Pigs and other animals, not native to the island, disrupted their ground laid eggs, causing a considerably impact as they only laid one egg per clutch.  In addition to pigs, other animals were introduced including including dogs, cats, rats, and crab-eating macaques.  As the dodo had not evolved alongside ground mammals, they could not compete with these new species.

The cumbersome images play into the idea of the dodo as an inevitable victim, a mishap of evolution and responsible for it’s own extinction whereas the truth is inevitably much more complicated than that.

Scapegoating of dodos continues today, long after the last one died, as dodo is used to suggest someone stupid despite us knowing so little about the lives of dodos.  The dodo is also used as a symbol for extinction and for obsolescence, continually reinforcing the idea that the dodo was destined to die and abdicating man of responsibility.

Thylacine

Tylacines are interesting creatures which went extinct in 1936, leaving us with just a little snippet of black and white film to remember it by.

They were large carnivorous marsupials which were in competition with the Tasmanian Devil.  Bigger than the devil, these ghosts are often compared to the wolves of the northern hemisphere in terms of appearance, behaviour and the similar niche they fill in the ecosystem.  This association would be one factor leading to their extinction. They pursued their prey, kangaroos, to exhaustion and found themselves up against the dingo which also eats roos.  In addition to competition for food, the dingoes are also thought to have hunted the thylacine.

We don’t know a lot about the thylacine but they’ve been described as shy and secretive, generally avoiding humans.  Despite this, they were also rumoured to be fierce, a description probably cast upon them by farmers who weren’t pleased with loss of livestock.  It is likely that a proportion of this was actually down to dingoes but the thylacine was used as a scapegoat, bearing the brunt of anything which went wrong on farms. A well circulated photo from 1921 by Henry Burrell of a thylacine with a chicken probably helped solidify their reputation as thieving from farmers, although some people say the photo is of a dead specimen, posed.

Regardless of whether their killer appetite was fact or fiction, they became feared, loathed and hunted.  A relentless persecution was carried out and a bounty was placed on their heads.  Wikipedia tells us that:

The Van Diemen’s Land Company introduced bounties on the thylacine from as early as 1830, and between 1888 and 1909 the Tasmanian government paid £1 per head (the equivalent of £100 or more today) for dead adult thylacines and ten shillings for pups. In all they paid out 2,184 bounties, but it is thought that many more thylacines were killed than were claimed for.

Whilst there are a number of factors which contributed to their extinction, their alleged impact on farmers was certainly one of them and definitely led to the thylacine being scapegoated.  Today, there are no thylacines left but dingoes run wild across Australia, possibly the original culprits but shouldering little of the blame.

Next I’ll be looking at supernatural scapegoats!

Thylacine: Animal Dreaming

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The most important thing to know about the thylacine is that they are almost certainly exinct.  Also going by the names marsupial wolf and tasmanian tiger, the last known thylacine died in 1936 in a zoo.

They were large carnivorous marsupials which were in competition with the tasmanian devil.  Bigger than the devil, these ghosts are often compared to the wolves of the northern hemisphere in terms of appearance, behaviour and the similar niche they fill in the ecosystem.  This association would be one factor leading to their extinction. They pursued their prey, kangaroos, to exhaustion and found themselves up against the dingo which also eats roos.  In addition to competition for food, the dingoes also posed an immediate threat as it is believed they hunted the thylacine.

The thylacine was a scapegoat, barring the brunt of anything which went wrong on farms. Because of this, they were feared, loathed and hunted.  A relentless persecution was carried out and a bounty was placed on their heads.  This destruction of an animal which had once thrived echoes the severe impact the British had on Australia.

The story of attempts to protect the thylacine are no cheerier. They were finally declared to be a protected species on the same day the last one died, leaving us only with books and a snippet of black and white film.  This sad footage tells a tale of a lonely animal, the last of its kind, a pressure that none of us can know.

Sightings of these mysterious striped beasts continue to be reported in a similar way to those of bigfoot.  Sketchy film and ambiguous accounts fuel conspiracy theories and a cult of believers insist that the elusive animal still lives.  In the context of this card, my focus is less on whether they really are still alive and more about what this belief asks us to think about.  Do we see what we want to see?  Do we see what we expect to see?  How is confirmation bias screwing with our ideas?  What does it say about us when we project the thylacine onto other animals?  Where else are we experiencing a case of mistaken identity?