Thursday, May 10, 2012

Where does the High Priestess come from?

Papesse from Le Mat Comunicaciones:
With Sphinx and phallus and egg
After there has been some interest in the Papesse (or the High Priestess), and where she comes from, I would like to add some more information about this card. It is one of the most interesting cards of Tarot de Marseille, because she is a conundrum. A "Papesse" is an impossibility, something illegal and against the church.

Because of this, this card has often been compared with other legends and historical people. Especially in modern decks, the symbolism of these stories is seen reflected in the cards, and this makes it worth looking at the Papesse in more detail. Because this card depicts a sitting woman, the meaning was originally often described as passivity, like the "reflex of god", describing re-action rather than action. This meaning, describing the opposite of the activity of man, tried to explain the card plainly as relating it to the men around it. However, the Papesse  is much more, and is often directly related to the following women:

Isis: This relates to an Egyptian legend of Isis and Osiris. I do not want to repeat the story here, especially since Wikipedia has a good summary, but the relationship between the High Priestess to Isis is an interesting one: Isis was able to build a Penis for Osiris out of gold. She took charge and did not need the man-part to create a man. The High Priestess, or Papesse is also able to take charge, and use female power rather than suppressing it. The Papesse in the Marseille deck - even in very old decks - often has a penis-shaped strap for her coat. She is a woman, but does not need a man to develop ideas and use femininity to her advantage. In the easter-blog I have written about the self-germinating qualities of the egg. The Phallus accentuates these qualities of the Papesse. Tarot Rider-Waite partly picks up on the symbology of Isis (especially the hat and the pillars). In modern Marseille decks (like above), a Sphinx can be found.

Pope Joan: This relationship is obvious. People who wonder how a female pope is possible, always relate her to the story of Pope Joan. Even the iconography is similar to pictures of this legendary pope, however the meaning in the tarot is dissimilar to the catholic-teaching of this story. Pope Joan disguised herself as a man, and managed because of her cleverness and her knowledge to rise to papacy. However, then her womenly  feelings and physicality overcame her, and she gave birth to a child in public. Because of her giving birth, it came out that she was a woman, and was stoned to death after giving birth. The story on the one hand shows - which was revolutionary for the time - that a woman can become a pope if people would let her, and that she can be even wiser and cleverer than a man. Pope Joan was - according to the legend - a very good, wise, clever pope. This so far relates to the Papesse. However, the cruel outcome, the public birth, the stoning to death, the being "too clever for her own good" has nothing to do with the Papesse. It is a very good card that encourages the person to be smart, make use of feelings and senses, and not to suppress the instincts.

Mary Magdalene: This was mentioned in the Easter-blog. The story of Mary Magdalene has a very similar meaning as the story of Pope Joan. Mary Magdalene is often referred to as the right hand of Jesus, who supported Jesus, and helped him. There are conflicting stories about Mary Magdalene, and her reputation changed from being a prostitute who is being forgiven by Jesus, whereby Jesus broke convention and took her into his community, to being the right hand of Jesus and possibly his wife. It is difficult to extract from the noise of stories and viewpoints where the symbolism of Mary Magdalene went into this card: The egg is an obvious one, but there is also simply the fact that Mary Magdalene is often referred to as the first pope, carrying the church forward. For more about this, you can read in the DaVinci Code.

Shekhinah: Rider-White also related the High Priestess with the "Divine Law and the Gnosis", which corresponds with Shekhinah.This is the general divine presence of god, which is female. Rider-Waite related tarot strongly with Kabbalah. The meaning of the High Priestess will be the same as described below, but the symbols clearly relate to a higher spirit, a person who stands above everything earthly. Because of the illegality, this card can also represent "secret tradition".
The Meaning:

The High Priestess, or Papesse, knows all the rules. She is the representation of the intuition and femininity combined with the knowledge she is acquiring. The advise of this female Pope is to listen inside yourself, because you will find the answer in yourself; believe your intuition and start using it.

The egg of the High Priestess that appears in several tarot decks represents the big potential that a person has inside herself. You only need to think carefully about what you are willing to do and you have to mature your ideas. This card tells you " You have a potential you can mature." The Papesse is a person with a lot of knowledge combined with intuition.

The Papesse is the seed and the Empress nourishes and allows this seed to germinate. The seed can be represented by the egg, which is a symbol of this potential. She can also be a religious person, a teacher, a lawyer, a nun, or a spinster.

Also a Papesse: Angela Merkel 
Source: Armin Linnartz 
The Papesse symbolises the gestation of ideas, the knowledge and discretion. This cards describes the female virtues, being caring, being approachable, but combines it with knowledge, and being smart. But it also describes passivity, and re-action. The Papesse or High Priestess follows her way, because she knows, from books and from her feelings, that that way is correct. This is different to the Pope, who represents more external advise from a third party. The Papesse means that the answers are there, but she does not always give the answers: Look into your heart and mind. Make an analysis of the situation and come to your own conclusion! The information is already there, there is no need to go around asking for advice. Sometimes, the advice could be to stop asking the cards if you already know the answer inside of yourself.
The Papesse also represents a hold, a pause, a momento of reflection and meditation.

More information:

This card has been heavily discussed by numerous authors, and I am explaining the relationship of this card - one of the most important in a reading - in my course. However, I am also grateful for comments and suggestions! This very short summary did not fully dwell on the meanings, but wanted to give an overview of the different women this card is related to. In reality, it is possible to find other personalities whose influence can be visible in this card. Remarkably, the Visconti-Sforza tarot deck is said to depict the female pope from a Christian sect related to the Visconti family, Sister Manfreda, that was eradicated in the Inquisition.