Looking Within is a series that explores the symbols and meanings associated with tarot cards and how they can be used as tools for growing and evolving. Read the whole series here!
“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.” – Rachel Pollack
A journey of self-knowledge cannot start without answering the question of the Magician: “Do you want to? Do you intentionally choose to take this step?”
If the answer is yes, we can tap into our own magic. The path is open. We’re ready for a meeting with the High Priestess.
And this is where we’re… well, baffled.
The magician gives an enchanting vibe. It’s wild electricity, a surge of energy, potential on the brink of breaking loose; we are charged, ready to act. But into the realm of the high priestess, everything is silent, static, unmoving. Where’s the adventure? The thrill of the unknown?? The pizzazz???
Truth is, most adventures don’t have glamorous beginnings.
The greatest journeys in literature and movies often start from the bleakest realities. Harry Potter’s life was a misery before it was interrupted by a mysterious letter from an unknown place called Hogwarts. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Finn was horrified by the slaughters of the First Order and Rey was struggling to survive on the desert planet Jakku. Amidst the shallow, petty hobbits of the Shire, Frodo felt lonely and crazy for desiring to travel like his uncle did.
This is what storytelling calls the experience of the ordinary world. In the ordinary world, the protagonist knows something is missing. They have fallen into routines and patterns; maybe they long for more, but fears and weaknesses prevent them from leaving the known world. The bleak, dark world they live in is often a reflection of a void within them.
And this is what we need to see. We need to know who they are – to see the obstacles and the stakes, the hidden strengths and the corroding doubts. Because the only way for the characters to survive and evolve is to name the shadows and the lights in their inner world, to understand who they are and who they want to be.
The greatest adventure of all, the high priestess says, is to discover who we are.
Will alone is not enough. We may have a goal, and a well-defined path to get there, but if we don’t intimately know ourselves, our path will soon be filled with thorns. Maybe we pursue that goal because someone else has urged us to do so. Maybe that path will awaken long-forgotten toxic patterns and thoughts, which we don’t know how to deal with. Maybe we’ll find ourselves struggling with strong emotions, or discovering hidden jewels, or learning how deep some of our shadows are. Only self-discovery can give us the wisdom we need to live our life to the fullest.
In Stephanie Law’s Shadowscape Tarot, the high priestess holds a pomegranate in her hand. That fruit is a symbol of Persephone, the goddess who was abducted by Hades and became the Queen of the Underworld. But what if Persephone left by choice? What if she willingly escaped her mother’s control because she knew, deep down, that there had to be more? What is leaving for the Underworld was the only way for her to discover herself and her power, and become the most feared yet gentle goddess of the Greek pantheon? The owl holds a key; where there’s a key, there’s a door waiting to be open. Other common symbols of the high priestess, like the moon and the water, tell us of mysteries and shadowy paths leading to greater knowledge. Like Persephone, we too discover our power by traveling through our personal underworld.
The high priestess is receptive, not passive. They have chosen to stand still and listen, to tune out the outside world so to create a space for the most hidden aspects of themselves to come out. The magician holds the wand channeling the power of will, but it is the high priestess the one clearing the path for the magic to happen.
The secret is to look within: this is the message of the high priestess. Knowledge is the key to freedom. It is in the shadows of the subconscious, in the hidden and forgotten, that there is the greatest potential for growth.
“The more you know yourself, the more clarity there is. Self-knowledge has no end – you don’t come to an achievement, you don’t come to a conclusion. It is an endless river.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti
As the high priestess understands the importance of mapping the inner world, so we too come into contact with our inner high priestess by going inward. Going to a therapist or counselor, journalling, creating pockets of time-space to open up to our own emotions and thoughts and listen to what they want to tell us… these are the ways of self-knowledge and self-awareness. If we want to grow, we have to stop and listen to ourselves. This is the secret of the high priestess.
- Write down three-six activities that give you a feeling of contentment and flow. What about them do you like so much? Are there any common themes or patterns? (For example, are there specific values or strengths they tap into?)
- What are some negative patterns in your life, and how have they been causing you problems? (Think about your work/school, relationships etc.) If you can’t think of any, write about some specific problems you are experiencing right now.
- Which emotion do you find difficult to deal with it? Write about specific examples from your past when you felt that emotion and had a hard time expressing it in a healthy way. Then, write about how your life could be if you could deal with it in another way.
- What do your family/friends/culture think about inward-going activities like journalling, going to a therapist, and taking time for yourself in general? How does it make you feel?
- What have your learned about your needs so far? Write a list as if it were an instruction booklet. Keep it updated as new events happen.
- For the vision boarders/visualizers/imaginative: how would your inner world look like?
If you have already done some visualizations before, you can use one of these images of the High Priestess (or look for one you like on the internet) to contact this aspect within yourself.
Sit in a comfortable positions, take some deep breaths, and when you are ready close your eyes.
Enter into the image and look at the High Priestess. Observe how they feel, and how you feel in their presence. Observe what they do or say. If you wish, you can ask them for a gift or a word, something that could help you connect with them in the future.
Once you want to leave, thank them for their presence. Take a few breaths, move your body, then open your eyes. Write everything down.
The deck featured in this post is the Shadowscape Tarot deck.
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