Started by Helvetica


This has taken so long - I didn't really have a handle on this lady! And still don't but I shall try and give my impressions.

First off, when I saw the image Moongold had posted, I was baffled because she seems totally expressionless, and I couldn't understand her. When I received the deck a couple of weeks ago (love it!), I studied her in my hand: I thought I would see more. But she remained hermetic. Well - she is the High Priestess. I read a lot about Isis. Then I read the book that came with the deck and it wasn't quite what I had read in my mythology books, so we have have different sources, Clive Barrett and I. I was especially annoyed that he'd given Hathor, the Empress, some of Isis' legends! ;) (of course Isis and Hathor are the same goddess, or at least became so in time). But the lady on the card still remained silent.

I wrote nothing because I had nothing to write.

Then I did a 6-card reading for myself. I don't know why it was six cards - it was random, I stopped when the circle felt complete and assigned no "positions". In this reading, the High Priestess, Isis, came up next to Hathor, the Empress. And exactly below them - the Moon and the Sun.

And it clicked! Or at least, something did...

Isis is a sorceress, a powerful magician, a knower. She extracted Rê's real name from him with a magic ruse, which made her the most powerful goddess. But she ain't telling. She is also the sister, lover, wife of Osiris. When he was killed by their jealous brother Seth, she kept his body in a sarcophagus, but Seth found it and tore Osiris to pieces and scattered him along the Nile. So she searched the long river, brought together the pieces of her love and hid in the Delta reeds with him, and wept and sang him back to life. Here is some of her magic song, translated from the hieroglyphs (not by me!):

"I desire to see thee again,
I am thy sister Isis, whom thy heart loved,
Pursuing thy love when thou art away.
I flood the country with my tears, today.
Come back in peace, oh my Lord, so I may look upon thee again.
O sovereign, come back in peace.
I am a woman good to her brother,
Thy wife and thy sister.
Come back to me in haste,
For I desire thy face since the time I was deprived
of gazing upon it.
A heat is in me because of my love for thee.
Ah! Come that I may look at thee!

Darkness dwells here for me, in my eyes,
Even when Rê is in the sky
My heart burns to be separated from thee, o woe!
I lament thy love for me.
Come back! Be not solitary, be not far away!
Come alive, come alive!
Thy limbs once more belong to thee, o Wennefer!
Thy flesh once more belongs to thee,
o thou whose heart was weary.
Those in the Underworld welcome thee in joy.
Stand up! Stand up in peace!"

He stayed alive long enough to make love to her and make her pregnant with Horus.

The High Priestess has at her feet offerings of pomegranates and camels - essential items in the desert, guarantors of life and the continuance of life - almost magical gifts. A dove shows the spirit that inhabits her - her love for Osiris, her magical gifts. She wears the crown of Hathor, because she is also Hathor. Mother - not of a born child: she is the gestating mother, the lunar mother who is preparing creative gifts and children in the dark of the womb or the mind. She is the bringer of life, for it was Isis who with her tears of love brought the floods yearly to Egypt, which fertilised the soil along the Nile with rich silt.

Below, her, the card of the Moon reminds me of her lunar attribution - she stands at the gate of the land of the Dead, over which her beloved Osiris now presides. The Moon, like the floods that blessed Egypt before Nasser built the Asswan dam, is cyclical - an eternal beginning, middle and end...

Hathor/Isis, whom we see enchantingly in a Garden, is the mother of Horus, the born child, the child of light and sun, who eventually claimed the heritage of Osiris, his father, and became the overall sun god, the hawk-headed, god of war and life. Hathor is the Sun goddess, the warm daylight side of Isis. She has birthed the creative and real children of Isis, she is busy developing them freely under the sun. The Sun is not cyclical, but back then it was believed to be - it rose every morning and set every night - more or less at the same time year-round, in Egypt, give or take an hour. A much quicker cycle than floods...

The High Priestess can tell us to be patient. A child or an idea needs gestating, and all things - full Moon, floods - come in their time. She is telling us not to talk of our unborn children to all and sundry, but to nurture them in the darkness, in the moonlight. She teaches us magic, the magic name of the Divine, if we have ears to hear her silent voice...


Beautiful, Helvetica.....

I am looking right now at the RWS High Priestess alongside the Ancient Egyptian High Priestess and thinking of Isis, the RWS High Priestess and Mary, the Mother of Jesus and her importance in Christianity. Just random thoughts. But the connections between the Jesus/Mary story and the Isisi/Osiris story are very strong. I think there are also connections between the GD High Priestess and Mary. It's also Clive Barrett who makes the connection between the blue robes of all three women. I wonder at the boundaries between history and reality

The UW High Priestess also wears the Crown of Hathor - a direct Isis link. Here the RWS HP bears the Christian cross on her beast; Isis holds the ankh, a symbol of life. The connections betwen the ankh and the cross would be interesting to explore. The crescent moon which appears in the RWS HP is also an Islamic symbol.

The crescent moon lies at Isis' feet in this image as well but the veil between the two pillars is also moon-coloured. This may be another allusion to the illusion of the Moon.

Isis is one of the oldest of deities. She was wife, widow, mother, protectress, saviour, comforter and destroyer. She was the ultimate Goddess. Her life was full of difficulties yet she transcended them all.

Jean Houston in The passion of Isis and Osiris quotes from Apuleius" Golden Ass where he has Isis declare:

I am nature, the Universal Mother, mistress of the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all the gods and goddesses that are. My nod governs the shining heights of heaven, the wholesome sea breezes, the lamentable silence of the world below. Though I am worshipped in many aspects, known by countless names and propitiated with all manner of different rites, yet the whole round earth venerates me.

Wow ...... when one reads this and considers the position of the female in contemporary times, one can only wonder at the loss.

You've made me think a lot but sleep calls again. I'll come back to this. Thanks for your insights as usual :).


Below is a combination of information from the companion book, research that I've done, reactions to what's already been posted and connections that I've made about the High Priestess.

The High Priestess appears stoic/emotionless because she holds secret knowledge and wisdom that will only be revealed when the candidate has reached a level where s/he can accept and understand the gifts that she will bestow.

As drawn, she represents the middle pillar of the Tree of Life.

The blue of her robe and shown throughout the card suggests truth, revelation, wisdom, chastity, peace and contemplation, sensitivity, healing, hope, physical protection, guidance and inner peace. Blue is also the color of water and of the sky.

The ankh that she holds combines male and female symbols to show the union and unification of the sexes. The ankh is the key to the mysteries, the mystical union of heaven and earth and the marriage of Isis and Osiris. Its red color symbolizes menstruation, which is the female symbol of fertility. The Knot of Isis bears a resemblance to the ankh, except that its arms curve down. As a symbol, the Knot of Isis represents the ideas of eternal life and resurrection.

The papyrus roll that she holds contains knowledge that she will reveal to those who are ready. It contains the book of the law and the Word.

The dove flying just past the pillar on the left was sacred to Isis. It represents submissive innocence, purity and virginity. It's white like the Moon. It's also the agent of divine impregnation through which the virgin becomes the mother, the Priestess becomes the Empress and the idea becomes manifest on the earthly plain. Interestingly enough, Isis was often shown wholly or in part as a hawk. In today's Western world, the hawk and dove symbolize the extremes of war and peace.

The hieroglyph of a throne represented the sound that was one of Isis' names, suggesting that the throne is the physical embodiment of Isis. And as the personification of the throne, she was an important basis to the Pharaoh's power.

Astrologically, the card corresponds to the Moon, which rules the subconscious mind and governs insight, instinct and intuition. As the Moon, Isis is the visible reflection of divine light. There is a crescent Moon at Isis's feet. It symbolizes receptivity, instincts, the subconscious, the emotions and the ability to react. The Moon controls the waves and tides (see the Magician). Water is another symbol for the unconscious/subconscious.

There are other items at her feet. The camel statue symbolizes an inner spiritual source, while the pomegranates suggest carnal knowledge, fertility (which ties into the ankh) and love, marriage and childbirth. The arrow laying on the ground is a symbol of directed energy.

The silver gray cloth that hangs between the pillars conceals most of what is behind Isis. It's decorated with closed lotus flowers since the veil is the darkness before the dawn, darkness that will be cast aside when the sun rises, suggesting the state before enlightenment and the promise of revelation. The veil also suggests the concealed entrance to the subconscious levels of the psyche and is also another reference to virginity.

One thing that isn't hidden by the veil is Sirius, the dog star, just to the upper right of the left pillar. Sirius signaled the start of the new year. As Isis became associated with this star, she became known as the goddess of rebirth and re-incarnation and as a protector of the dead (which is also appropriate since she is the wife of Osiris, who rules over the dead). (See the reference to Sirius in the Fool.)

She is the mother of Horus (who is also depicted in the Fool) and the goddess of magic (which she used to extract Ra's secret name from him, thereby greatly increasing her power) and healing.

Her headdress is that of a solar disk between the horns of a cow, which was originally associated with the goddess Hathor until she was assimilated by Isis.

The vines climbing the pillars can have three associations: a) thoughts, ideas, aspirations, desires, emotions, etc., b) a new idea that's thriving and growing or c) an old belief system that chokes out new possibilities.

I'm not sure if the decorations on the pillars or the ceiling mean anything.