Reflections on The High Priestess, and the Informative Power of Dreams

Ever since I moved back into the house where I grew up to take care of my mother, I’ve been having some of the most vivid—and unsettling—dreams that I can recall in quite some time; and most of them have revolved around the theme of “losing my way”—literally, “getting lost” in an airport, or a shopping mall or (last night) in a hotel/casino complex. In each case, I have a relatively simple task to accomplish—to board a plane, for example, or to check into a hotel room—and in each case, a seemingly endless series of obstacles and detours arise that distract me to the point where I don’t know where I am going or what I am supposed to be doing anymore. Sometimes the “distractions” take the form of people asking me for help, and other times they manifest themselves as people offering to help me. In any event, these dreams have left me feeling very shaken and disoriented when I’ve awakened from them, and they’ve been getting increasingly difficult to “shake off” during my waking hours..

Anyway, I thought I would consult the Tarot on this matter today, and after spending a few minutes meditating and praying for guidance, I shuffled the deck a few times, dealt the top card, and this is the card that turned up:


If there is a single card in the Tarot deck that can be considered the mother-progenitor of the dream, it is The High Priestess, queen of the moon and the unconscious mind, and bearer of God’s original message of transformation to man; and her appearance here today suggests a powerful stirring in the unconscious of the querent. Exactly what is signified by these stirrings, or what their possible influences on his psyche, can be difficult to ascertain—the High Priestess, like The Magician and The Fool, is a very “distant” archetype whose meaning is hard to divine in and of itself; so seeking some clarification, I laid out a five-card pentagram-style spread around the Priestess in an order meant to mimic the morning “invoking” ritual in ceremonial magic:


3     Priestess      4

5                          2

The pentagram, of course, is analogous to the five extensions of the human body and to the five functions of man, and as such, this kind of layout can be helpful when we are trying to “humanize” a distant archetype that dwells in the deepest recesses of our consciousness, and to make her influences more acutely felt in our waking lives. The five cards that decided to make an appearance today were these:

Screen shot 2015-06-13 at 5.31.42 PMThe meanings of the individual cards can be interpreted, roughly, as follows:

1. Head: The process of thinking, and the function of sight. In this position, the Three of Swords suggests a state of consciousness ruled by negativism and self-destructive thinking. We see this in our everyday lives whenever we meet people who seem to go through life with the proverbial “black cloud over their heads,” who always seem to take the most pessimistic view of humanity, and of the world they live in. Sometimes, this attitude masks a deep psychic “Amfortas” wound that is the result of some distant trauma—an abusive relationship, for instance, or the tragic loss of a loved one—or simply a reflection (literally) of a narcissistic impulse: That state of self-pity we are capable of manufacturing when we are feeling particularly unloved or unappreciated. In either case, the Three’s appearance in this spread directly above the High Priestess suggests a state of conflict between the querent’s “thinking” conscious mind and the “feeling” unconscious, a struggle which can sometimes manifest itself as the seemingly incoherent pastiches of perception that we often refer to nightmares. How is the conflict to be resolved? Perhaps the other cards can provide clues.   

2. Right foot: The process of working, and the function of touch. This is where we “put our best foot forward” and “reach out” to our brothers and sisters in a spirit of selfless giving, knowing that such “labors of love” carry with them their own reward. The appearance of the SIx of Cups here is particularly poignant since the traditional meaning of the card revolves around themes of childhood, innocence and nostalgia; these themes have, for the near term, become the dominant ones in the querent’s life since he moved back into his parents’ house to care for his ailing mother. Perhaps his psyche has been more inundated by a flood of childhood and adolescent memories in recent days than he is consciously aware of, and that this might be playing a powerful role in the reactivation of his unconscious mind. 

3. Left hand: The process of understanding, and the function of hearing. The Three of Wands in this position poses a conundrum. The card suggests a journey of discovery—but in this position in the spread, which signifies a “passive,” not an active (i.e., coming or going) function, does this mean that the querent’s journey has yet to begin, or that it has been completed, such that now he can look back on where he has been and take stock of what he has accomplished (or not) in his life? Following the Six of Cups in the drawing order, the Three suggests that the opportunity has arisen for the querent to tap into those distant childhood memories, to fully take the measure of his life as he has lived it, and to begin to chart a path for the final third of his life. In his youth, the querent often relied on his wittiness and charm to “improvise” his way through life. In his late middle age, however, he is neither so clever nor so endearing, so he should consider drawing up a roadmap for the journeys yet to come.

4. Right hand: The process of creating, and the function of speech. This is the most powerfully charged position in this spread. The Ace of Swords represents dynamic change, the “cutting through” one form of consciousness to reveal a sharper, more finely honed incarnation. Coming as it does in the position denoting “communication”, this suggests that the querent’s confusion over his unconscious visions are likely short-lived and that will likely give way to a clearer understanding of his emotional state if he is willing to be assertive, to “seize the day” in his conscious decision-making as the sword-bearer’s hand wields the blade. The querent has also, we must remember, spent his entire career in the field of communications, so the Ace here could similarly denote a sudden change for his career prospects*, which regular readers of this site are aware have kept him awake at nights in a kind of “waking nightmare.” Paired opposite the Three of Wands, the Ace suggests the completion of one journey, and the commencement of another. But whither?

5. Left foot: The process of re-creating (as with art), and the function of smell. This is the power of sensuality and sensation as personified by the Queen of Cups. Note how she gazes hypnotically at—or perhaps even into—her censer, which in ancient times would have been filled with herbs and incense to be burned while devotions and prayers were recited by the temple priests. She is the psychic “healer” of the court cards, and her position here, alongside the Six of Cups at the “foundation” of the spread, suggests that the querent’s dreams are essential to his psychic make-up and that they likewise represent the “foundation” of his personal identity. If the querent feels “lost” and disoriented in the netherworld of dreams, it may simply be a reflection of the state he feels in his waking, sensory existence—and if he really had to be honest with himself, he would admit that he has often entertained fears that he has been “discarded:” by the working world, which in turn has left him wondering what is to become of him in the near future; he is too young to retire yet too old to learn a brand-new trade, so what is to be done? The Queen of Cups, paired with the Six of Cups, suggests, as was once written, that the querent “must be as little children” before his dreams of greater self-awareness can be fully realized. Due to circumstances beyond his control, the querent has been thrust into his childhood home, which now in his middle age appears to him as a strange and foreign environment—you “can’t go home again.” right? But if he is patient and continues to meditate, to look within and reflect on his origins and how far (or how little) he has moved beyond them, perhaps the answers to his questions will become clearer and his worries assuaged.  

In the center of the spread, the High Priestess represents Heart: The process of feeling, and our “sixth sense”—the function of loving. Hers is the influence that enhances or tempers the five “sensory”cards surrounding her. Here, she also functions as the psychic “center of gravity” that holds this spread together. The Air signs alongside and above her (Ace and Three of Swords) move in whatever direction they desire at the moment—east, west, up or down—while the Water signs beneath her (Six and Queen of Cups) will always want to move downward flow of gravity. Without her mitigating influence in the center of the spread, holding the diverse elements in a state of equilibrium, the querent’s ego and his unconscious mind could experience a psychic rupture; and this condition, of course, is the origin of nightmares in dreams and psychosis in waking life. Her appearance today, therefore, reminds the querent that the answers to life’s most vexing questions are often beyond our conscious ability to apprehend (note the lack of Pentacles in this spread), but that if we remain faithful to our better instincts, spreading our blessings with others and acting boldly when the opportunity arises—for the betterment of our Selves, and never at the expense of others—then eventually, our our hearts will be stilled and the path to fulfillment revealed to us. The querent has entered an emotionally challenging and difficult stage of his life; he need only know that the deeper he descends into its apparent darknesses, the closer he is to re-emerging into light.

 * Two hours after laying out this spread, the querent received a phone call  from a prospective employer asking to arrange a time for a job-screening interview next week. For real!

Dante DiMatteo

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