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.

 

Cats in literature

We’ve already realised that I love cats, and because I am very very allergic to them I can’t have one so I tend to live vicariously through other cat owners and cat related things.  Hence cats in literature are getting their very own blog post!

Cats, as we know, have been with humans for a long time so it is no surprise that they have a prominent place in art and literature of both today and the past.  They are complicated creatures but cats, in stories and poems, tend to be portrayed as clever and wily, as independent and cunning, and as mysterious and enigmatic.  They are shown to be witch’s familiars, travellers companions, heroes and villains. In some writings they take centre stage and in others, supporting roles.

In folklore, cats tend to be haughty and proud, sneaking and clever, wise and helpful.  This sits gratingly against the less flattering cat related metaphors we use; fat cat, copy cat, pussy, pussy footing, cat burglar, alley cat, have kittens, wild cat, catty and so on.  Even miow, when said the right way, is derisive.  There is something about the cat that means we use it to say lazy, to talk of sexual behaviour and to deride sexual women.  I’m actually going to look a bit closer at cats and women when I focus in on gender within nature and writing so I shall leave that thought with you for now.

As well as metaphors, there are also a host of interesting sayings involving cats which are great for sparking the imagination!  It can be raining cats and dogs whilst children fight like cats and dogs and suddenly curiosity kills all these cats, except the one in the cat’s pajamas!

Cats in stories

To get a flavour of the many different cat characters found in fiction, here is a small sample:

  • Lewis Carrol’s Cheshire Cat, a cunning, clever and manipulative beast.
  • The range of cats which appear in the books of Beatrix Potter, portrayed anthropomorphically but still retaining a number of elements of their natural life and are playful and a little mischievous.
  • Mog from Judith Kerr
  • Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams
  • Garfield created by Jim Davis
  • The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber
  • The Marmalade Cat by Kathleen Hale
  • There are even cats in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales

And big cats aren’t neglected either

  • Aslan, the lion from the Narnia books. I don’t know much about the Christian imagery in the series but I do know that Aslan is supposed to represent Jesus.
  • The tiger in The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Bagheera from the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
  • There is also the Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

In addition to these examples, cats show up in a range of fiction types, from children’s books to science fiction and beyond.  They are familiar creatures with an array of different personalities and habitats which give authors a lot of scope to work with.  Because there are a lot of metaphors and symbols that can be found in the cat, they can be used to add depth to work and as shortcuts in creating character traits.

Naturally, cats also crop up in Aesop’s fables, written about 500BC, so the use of cats in fiction is not a modern idea.  In one of the fables, Belling the Cat, the cat is cast in the role of enemy and hunter, as does the Town Mouse and The City Mouse. Obviously, perspective is important when considering the traits of any animal.  Of course, most stories told from the point of view of mice are going to show the cat as evil and dangerous.  And stories told from the point of view of a dog would probably exaggerate the cat’s faults and tar them with aspersions which emphasise their own strengths.  If you were a dog who was trying to show everyone how fast and hardworking you were, you’d tell everyone how lazy the cat was.

There are lots of folk tales (I nearly did go there and say tails…) regarding the cat but here are just three, from very different cultures, which help give a flavour:

  • The boy who drew cats, Japan. In this tale, the cat is shown to protect the boy and to be helpful towards humans whilst not expecting anything in return.
  • The cat who came indoors, Africa. This is a story which illustrates how the cat domesticated itself and thus how the cat is independent and strong minded.
  • Puss in boots, also known as the master cat, Europe. Here we see the cat as clever, planning ahead and getting what it wants (and escaping death).

We also find cats all over the world in mythology playing the roles of gods and goddesses as well as guides and guardians of humans.  They were often considered magical and portrayed as moving between worlds; night and day, this world and the other.  As we’ve seen before, cats in Egypt were associated with pregnancy, motherhood and the feminine and this was also the case in Norse mythology where they were sacred to Freya, goddess of love and beauty and fertility.

Cats in poetry

As the subject of poetry, cats appear across the centuries and from both male and female writers. There are serious poems and playful ones, ones where the cats are adored and ones where the cat is barely tolerated…

The earliest cat poem I found was written in 550AD by Agathias about a cat attacking one of his partridges… Not a great start to a literary career but by the 9th century, in Ireland at least, they were faring better; Pangur Ban tells of a monk and his cat.  However, cat poetry seems to have become more popular from the mid 1700s which makes sense when you think about the timeline of cats and humans.  Prior to this, they were considered more as pest control than pets and just before this time, they were associated with witches and thus were not popular to keep around.

Again, I just want to provide a few examples to show the scope of cats in poetry:

  • T S Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
  • Dr Seuss’s Cat in the Hat gives us a characteristic rule breaker, showing the more chaotic side of our feline friends.
  • Edward Lear, The Owl and the Pussycat, 1868
  • William Blake, The Tyger, 1794
  • William Wordsworth, The kitten and the falling leaves, 1804
  • Emily Dickinson, She sights a bird – she chuckles, 1800s. Don’t you think even the title brings to mind a cat?!
  • Eleonor Fargeon (1881-1965), Cats.
  • Cat Kisses by Bobbi Katz (at the bottom of the link)
  • Black Cat by Rainer Maria Rilke, 1875 – 1926
  • Edward Thomas, A Cat. It turns out not everyone is such a fan…

As you can see, there are a very diverse range of cats hiding within the pages of our books and we’ve not even looked at plays and films and tv programmes.  Or even cats in non fiction such as Elsa in Born Free.  And we’ve only glanced at cats in myths.

You can find out more about big cats as symbols and their role in myths and beliefs in my animal spirit posts:

Who are your favourite literary cats?  Let me know, I’d love to hear and I’m always up for book recommendations (about cats or even, I suppose, not about cats).

Tiger: Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Cards

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From a solar big cat to a lunar big cat.

This amazingly powerful animal is one most of us are familiar with from childhood stories.  Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!  But just in case you aren’t, let’s start from the beginning…

And a warn of warning, it’s a long post, grab a cuppa and settle in!

The basics

The tiger is the largest of the cat family, with the largest subspecies reaching almost four metres long.  They have muscular bodies with powerful forelimbs, large heads and long tails and are striped with orange and black.  This colouring may seem a bit strange for camouflage, it feels counterintuitive, especially when you seen photos of their brilliant, vibrant markings but it works – any number of documentaries will show you!

The tiger on the card appears to be white and black which may be an artistic choice or may be showing us the white tiger.  This is the result of a recessive gene and is only expressed in Bengal tigers.

White Bengal Tigers

  • The white bengal is larger than the none white version and grows faster as well.
  • For a white Bengal tiger to be born, both parents must carry the recessive gene, meaning white tigers are born only about once in 10,000 births.  Naturally that is, us humans did go through a big phase of breeding for white tigers which also resulted in genetic defects such as crossed eyes.
  • White tigers have blue eyes rather than the green or yellow coloured eyes.
  • Their colouring means they find it harder to camouflage.

But given that their behaviour etc are much the same as the orange tigers, we shan’t differentiate here.

More about tigers

Adults are “solitary but social” which seems a bit of a contradiction…

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

Continuing with the sex aspect, female tigers are only in heat for a few days at a time although mating can happen at any time during the year.  Male tigers must be patient when they are wooing a female but if successful they will enjoy sex up to 50 times in one day apparently… I’m not sure how we know… did we count scratch marks on a nearby tree?  They can have several partners over their lifetime and once the sex is over, it’s down to mum to raise the cubs.  There are normally two or three and they are born blind and helpless so spend the first few weeks of their lives in a cave or den.  The tiger mother is a protective guardian who uses her sharp teeth and powerful bite to carefully and gently pick up her cubs.

Males, but not dad, will kill cubs in order to get the female in the mood for mating and thus pass on his own genes and kick out the future competition…  Only when they reach 2- 2 1/2 years old will the cubs separate from mum.

Tigers are powerful predators but they aren’t above a bit of scavenging or opportunistic feeding if the circumstances arise.  In terms of hunting, they are patient and can seem to appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly.  Their hunting technique is learnt through play whilst they are cubs and is aided by the excellent eyesight, great sense of smell and their silent stealth.

In terms of dangers to the tigers, sadly the main risk is humans.  Tigers have been hunted for the prestige of hunting them, for trophys, for their fur, because they are feared and for use in traditional medicine.  As the tiger is a powerful and virile animal, their bones and male tiger penises are used to treat erectile dysfunction and create aphrodisiacs for insecure men…  This may be served as tiger penis soup…  Because of our destructive and greedy natures, tigers are an endangered species.

Lunar queen

As I mentioned above, this card is very much one of lunar energy.  The tiger is thought to hunt mostly at night, although in areas away from humans they will also hunt during the day.  As we’ve seen before, this links us to the unknown, to mystery, to…

Interestingly, the water element is associated with the moon (as we’ll see in more detail when we get to that suit) and, like the jaguar, the tiger enjoys swimming.  They have webbing between their claws which make them strong swimmers.

Yin and Yang

Something I read likened the tiger to the Chinese idea of yin and yang.  I haven’t been able to find the reference again but the idea was that the tiger embodied both; their light and dark stripes, their love of water and land, their link with water and fire.  We also have their aggression and intensity with their deliberate and observant nature.

When I looked into it a bit more, we find that the tiger and the dragon are used together to symbolise balance.  The tiger is the yin because of its courage, patience, loyalty and it’s feminine nature.  The yang of the dragon is down to it’s outgoing nature and masculine energy.

There is a lot more about this online and I have only touched the surface in terms of understanding but the idea of balance and contradictory energies keeps coming up for me at the moment so I’ll definitely be looking into it at some point.

Culture

Despite hunting them to crisis point, these regal animals have featured in our culture for a very long time.

They are one of the Chinese zodiac animals and people who are born under the tiger are considered to be leaders, courageous, fighters, confident and in a hurry.  In Chinese art, they are depicted as a rival to the dragon.  Relevant to the discussion about colouring above, the White Tiger is one of the four symbols of the Chinese constellations.  In Chinese culture, the tiger is the king of the beasts and when it reached 500 years old, its tail would turn white.  According to legend, the white tiger would only appear when the emperor ruled with absolute virtue, or if there was peace throughout the world.  Wikipedia suggests it’s the old age and turning white that meant the white tiger became considered a mythical creature… Personally I’m not so sure that it isn’t because no one can really imagine, let alone bring about, worldwide peace…

Tiger gods are found in a number of cultures:

  • In Buddhism, the tiger is one of the Three Senseless Creatures, symbolising anger, with the monkey representing greed and the deer lovesickness.
  • The Tungusic peoples considered the Siberian tiger a near-deity and often referred to it as “Grandfather” or “Old man”.
  • The Udege and Nanai called it “Amba”.
  • The Manchu considered the Siberian tiger as Hu Lin, the king.
  • In Hinduism, the god Shiva wears and sits on tiger skin. The ten-armed warrior goddess Durga rides the tigress Damon into battle and in southern India the god Ayyappan was associated with a tiger.
  • In Korea, the tiger stars in a folktale about how the sun and moon were made.

Tigers are the national animal of a number of countries, are mascots for many sports teams and feature highly in imagery around conservation.  There is clearly a great drive to harness this magnificent beasts strength, majesty and beauty throughout the world.

And that’s all without touching on the tiger in modern literature such as the adorably Tigger in Winnie the Pooh and Shere Khan from Kipling’s Jungle Book.

The Wild Unknown Tarot

wp-1488479676895.jpg This regal creature features on the High Priestess card in the Wild Unknown Tarot deck.  Again, this card ties us to the moon and the realm of the unconscious.  She is intuitive and spiritual.  She is a card of non-action.  Pause.  Listen.  Just be.

If you’ve reached this far, give yourself a pat on the back for dedication!  There is still so much that I’m leaving unsaid about the tiger so do go forth and read if you feel this card is important to you!