The first of the 4 cards I repainted for the Mary-el 2nd Edition is II The High Priestess. There is a lot I liked about the original; the dark waters and her connection to them, the pregnant belly with the tree of life on it. The two towers off in the distance. But, it was missing a few things that bothered me as time went on. I was happy when given the chance to make some updates.
The things I felt she was missing were the black and white columns and the pomegranates.
The old High Priestess was one of the first cards I did. As I neared the end of the deck, and even beyond as I worked with it, these symbols became an important part of the High Priestess lexicon for me. Also there are other cards with those symbols I wanted her to relate to, such as the Magician, the 9 of Swords, 9 of Cups and the 9 of Disks. The 2 columns are alluded to in many other cards. It seemed fitting that she, the first TWO, should have them. They are even part of her title “II”.
The old card does have the two columns, but they are a tiny shadow in the lower right corner, probably in direct relation to my understanding of them at the time I painted this card.
What are the black and white columns? At their core they are a symbol for duality. This is important to us because we live in a dual world and/or we perceive things in relation to other things in our world in a dualistic, contrasting way. I can add a ton of examples here: Objective/subjective, good and evil, black and white, yin and yang, fire and water, male and female, conscious/unconscious, life/death, and so on.
The image in the new High Priestess illustrates this duality with the ancient and mysterious Temple of Solomon. I have long been intrigued by Jewish symbolism because I see it as a gateway to the ancient belief systems at the very dawn of human civilization and collective consciousness – when we first began to record our human knowledge in words and symbols in a complete, rich and meaningful way. That in itself becomes a symbol of our own genesis as the universe or even as an individual being.
So we have here the symbols of the Temple of Solomon. Flanking the entrance was a black column named Boaz which (they say) means Strength and a white column named Jachin which means to Establish. The original columns were decorated with a pomegranate motif.
The pomegranates were and are a prevailing symbol in the Middle East and it’s easy to see why. It thrives in a hot arid climate. The fruit is strikingly large and red and when it is fully ripe the many seeds can burst through the skin with their juicy abundance. The seeds themselves resemble drops of blood and are incredibly delicious. What a bounty it must be to the eyes and the palate when the pomegranates are ready for harvesting.
I would go as far as suggest that this was the fruit referred to in the genesis story. That fruit may have been westernized into an apple. (For our purposes we can read the apple and pomegranate as symbols pointing to the same archetype in this tarot).
The pomegranates here are on the veil stretched between the two columns. The veil between the two columns is suggestive of a scroll, the columns becoming the rollers and the veil the papyrus. A symbol of knowledge, as is the High Priestess (understanding, Binah, knowledge we have through the perception of polarity). In even the oldest depictions of the High Priestess she is shown with a book or scroll on her lap and a veil or scroll behind her (Marseille, Visconti).
There is another symbol on the veil, the palm or palm frond. It is an ancient symbol of triumph or victory, thus why they were laid at the feet of Jesus as he triumphantly rode into Jerusalem. Note that the Latin name of the palm tree is Phoenix.
Putting these ideas together I see the veil as a key between where we are and what is beyond, be that the heavens, consciousness, what we do or don’t know. The palm is a symbol of a triumphant return, a rebirth. The pomegranates are a symbol of leaving the Garden of Eden and entering the world of duality. One leads in, one leads out.
Behind that veil we see a sun setting, or rising, on the horizon. The Sun is the source of all. The source of our life force. But a small piece of it is contained within this temple, within our bodies, within our consciousness, within our soul, within our cells. The High Priestess, wrapped in all her layers of flesh and material reality, is holding a broken off piece of divinity. It is a divine flame emblazoned with the word Torah (TVRH תוֹרָה).
She is Bet, house, temple and keeper of the soul.
The landscape depicted here is God and singularity at the top with the sun, an individual life, consciousness and our immortal soul at the center, and the water at the bottom is the collective unconscious, subconscious, or the abyss, into which her feet are firmly planted.
It’s hard to see in the card, but one of the layers o her fabric is edged in gold and embroidered with the repeating word “chai” het yod, which means “life”.
Like the old High Priestess and the other 2 cards that make up the supernal trinity, the Magician and the Fool, she is faceless.
What is her connection with the Magician?
I see her as his companion. I see the first 6 cards of the major arcana in male and female pairs like this:
0 Fool (pure and migrating soul)– V Hierophant (manifestation)
I Magician (divine masculine principal) – II HP (divine feminine principal).
III Empress (physical feminine principal) – IV Emperor (physical male principal)
The two trees behind the Magician are ancient pomegranate trees. They are in opposition to the pomegranate seeds in the High Priestess. The High Priestess holds the divine soul where the Magician holds the potential of your soul. This soul doesn’t just have that divine spark you inherited from your mother and father, but contains a soul you have worked on and grown into a true immortal individual. The High Priestess is the seed and inheritance, the Magician is the complete realization and destiny.
I also want to compare the High Priestess briefly to the 9s because they also contain the 2 columns Boaz and Jachin.
The same elements are there, the soul and the columns. In the 9 of Wands YOU are the black and white columns. The manifestation and full awareness of the 2 poles within you and the harnessing of that power. In the 9 of Swords through all of your hard work and perseverance, you create an architecture that leads to the Sun. The lighthouses guide you in. In the 9 of Cups you realize you are just a monkey in a black and white world of life and death (ankh and scorpion). The clouds are beginning to swirl and part and you see a stairway connecting you to the Star. In the 9 of Disks your body becomes a connection between the earth and the divine heavens and the light flows through you, you become the master of two worlds to use a Joseph Campbell term.
The reason I made the towers so prevalent in the 9s was that I saw them as a mastery o our dual natures in a dual world which would finally lead to existing beyond duality. Where the Sun and the Flame are separate in the High Priestess, the life flows through as a single and new column in the 9 of Disks, connecting heaven and earth. What the High Priestess begins, the 9s complete. The Sun in the 9s relate to the Hermit’s lamp. They light their, your, lamp and then become a guide for others in the dark.