Preparing for a recent Tarot meditation, I delightedly explored a new aspect of the High Priestess. I am constantly amazed how the meaning of the cards is revealed afresh to me despite the fifteen or so years that I have studied the Tarot. This time my attention was drawn to the High Priestess’ connection to deep memory through Rachel Pollack’s writing in her book on the Haindl Tarot about the High Priestess’ correspondence to the Hebrew letter Gimel:
“The Hebrew letter for this card, Gimel, means “Camel,” the animal we see crouched at the the woman’s legs (in the Handel High Priestess card). A symbol for timelessness and patience, the camel, which carries its own liquid as it crosses the dessert, links the elements Water and Earth. But the camel (on the card) is filled with light, radiating upward, reminding us of truth found in animal instincts. The camel looks away into the past. The images and myths implied in this card belong to humanity’s most ancient memories” (p. 31).
The High Priestess is the conveyor of deep memory along with deep mystery. But what does this really mean? Certainly this includes wisdom passed by our ancestors through books and scrolls like the High Priestess holds in so many pictures as well as through the oral tradition. But I have also been reading lots of material on the new cosmology which weaves together science and spirituality. In Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry’s The Universe Story, they move through time from the Big Bang to the present day. They describe the birth of the earth and tell the story of the first living cell, who they name Aries. Aries is our first ancestor and we’ve been drawing on his life generating forces since his birth from a lightening strike. As Swimme and Barry write, memory is what connects Aries to us:
“Cellular memory powers all of life, for nothing is more important to a living being than memory of the past. … For four billon years the prokaryotic organisms have been remembering the composition at the beginning. Most impressive of all their feats of memory is to remember how they were created. They display this memory every time they create another version of themselves. These cells have the power to revivify that sequence of events that brought them to life” (p. 87).
This memory continues creation, but not in a constant, stagnant way. The memory of the basics of creation allow for the innovation of change. From that first cell, life has evolved to include incredible complexity of organisms and ecologies.
This is the deep memory and wisdom of the High Priestess. And this is what makes her, paradoxically, a key part of any change process. She carries forward the necessary foundations of life, inspiration, tradition upon and out of which the new will be created.
Questions for a High Priestess spread drawn from these ideas would be:
- What do I need to honor and bring from the past into the future?
- How am I being supported by a particular tradition (or the fabric of creation…) right now?
- How can I receive the deep wisdom of the universe right now?
- How does my past shape my future?
- How can I cooperate with my own life-generating cellular memory to make change?