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The Second Principle, Part 2

August 2, 2020

by Tony Willis

At this stage of our exploration of the Occult Tarot, it is worth pausing for a moment to plot the changes made to the image on Trump 2 from the Popesses of the Milanese Visconti-Sforza decks of the early fifteenth-century to the Waite-Smith-High-Priestess clones found in so many twenty-first-century tarots.

2_papessa_fournier      2t tdm

My first illustration is the Popess from the Sforza-Fournier deck. The figure is indisputably a female Pope – a woman in nun-like robes, wearing the distinctive papal triple-tiara over a white wimple. She is seated on a dais, a tapestry or patterned wall behind her. In her right hand she holds a long staff topped by an equal-armed cross. With her left hand she clasps a closed book. There is nothing written on the cover of the book; for all we know it could be a bible. This is a far cry from the Waite-Smith High Priestess. It is instructive to track down how the transformation came about.

The French occultists who took up the tarot worked with the Tarot de Marseille as their model. They accepted Court de Gébelin’s proposition that the Marseille deck was a direct descendant of the Egyptian Book of Thoth. Over the passage of almost two millennia, so they believed, the loose leaves of this pharaonic tome had survived with its images relatively intact but misunderstood and misinterpreted by the masses who were using them to play games of chance with. Our next object of study must, therefore, be the Tarot de Marseille Popess.

Again we have a straightforward representation of a female pope crowned with a papal tiara. Like the Sforza-Fournier Popess, she is not veiled. On the Marseille card, however, her book lies open on her lap. Behind her hangs a piece of cloth that would appear to be held in place by two clasps or nails high above her and outside the scope of the illustration.

Eliphas Levi, prime mover of the French occult revival, accepted the Tarot de Marseille cards as a starting point for further investigation into the tarot’s esoteric dimensions. Accordingly, he ‘revised’ or ‘improved’ the designs of one or two Trumps but, as he didn’t ‘rectify’ the image on Trump 2, his opinions need not detain us at this juncture. When Papus published his Tarot of the Bohemians, he included two versions of each Trump. One was the appropriate card from the Marseille tarot, the other a re-drawing of the Marseille illustration done by Oswald Wirth. Wirth made significant, if subtle, changes to the design of the Popess card. While she remains a recognizable female Pope, Wirth draws a lunar crescent at the summit of her tiara. Drapery falls from the tiara on either side of her face. This detail is present in the Sforza-Fournier and Marseille cards but is not as noticeable there as it is in Wirth’s design. His Popess wears two sashes that cross on her chest, a little below the breasts, though you may have to look closely to see them.

PapusWirth02     Arcane-Arcana-02-papesse-high-priestess

Wirth’s Popess holds a book in her left hand. It is partly open and she seems to mark her place in it by the insertion of finger. In her other hand are two keys, crossed, though not in the broad ‘X’ formation usual for two keys when presented as the insignia of St Peter, who, according to legend, was the first Pope. Wirth’s Popess sits between two pillars, a veil stretched between them, held up by two rings attached to the capitals of the pillars. At her feet is a chequered pavement, resembling a chess board.

Later on, Wirth further revised his designs, making them more explicitly esoteric. In the more recent colored rendering of Trump 2, one of the Popess’s pillars is red, the other blue, the veil between them being white. One of her keys is gold and the other silver. The Yin-Yang symbol is imprinted on the cover of the book she holds. The introduction of the pillars and chequer-work floor onto this card are suggestive of Freemasonry. The furniture of a Masonic Lodge include a pair of pillars and a carpet or floor-cloth marked with black and white squares and said to represent the paved interior of King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, usually referred to as the First Temple.

2t Egyptian Tarot       2 b of light

Seven years after the publication of The Tarot of the Bohemians, in 1896 the first ‘Egyptian tarot’ was published: the twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana redrawn in a quasi-Egyptian style. The ‘reforms’, along with a set of new names for the Trumps, were taken from works be a one-time student of Eliphas Levi who used the nom de plume Paul Christian. In M. Christian’s opinion, Trump 2 was known to the Egyptians as The Gate of the Sanctuary and the seated female figure is guardian of that gateway. She is no longer a female Pope but has become a Priestess. However, she continues to be crowned with a papal tiara, though now there is a crescent moon at its top. One text explains the symbolism in this way: “The tiara upon her head is the emblem of the power of intelligence lighted up by wisdom represented by the crescent.” The motif of intelligence is adverted to again by the sigil for Mercury on the priestess’s chest, evidently affixed to her robe. A veil covers the upper portion of her face and a patterned cloak is draped over her right shoulder. The scroll spread out on her lap is partly obscured by her cloak which falls across it. She sits between two pillars, necessarily so as she is now vaunted as the guardian of the gate to the sanctuary: the Sforza-Fournier and Marseille Popesses do not have pillars at their backs, but the priestess of the ‘Egyptian’ tarot must, so as to underscore the function Paul Christian has assigned to her. In one colored version of the card, the pillars are painted red and white. In penny-pain versions, the pillars are presented in simple black and white. No veil is suspended between the pillars.

In 1910, Papus published Le Tarot Divinatoire (known in English as The Tarot of Divination) illustrated with tarot card designs executed by Gabriel Goulinat. While Goulinat’s Trump 2 is named La Papesse, she no longer bears any resemblance to a female pope. She wears a headdress emphasizing three lunar phases, waxing, full, and waning, and a veil falls over the top half of her face. Her robe is pale violet. There is a symbol on her chest colored yellow or gold. It is difficult to make out what the symbol is. It is possibly a solar cross, another addition suggested by Paul Christian. One text informs us that the solar cross is “emblematic of universal generation”. The scroll on the knees of this popess/priestess is partly unrolled and also partly obscured by the sleeve of her robe. The pillars before which she is seated are red and blue in the colored version of the card. There is a white veil stretched between the pillars. Goulinat’s card is a model for all Popesses, Priestesses and High Priestesses that follow.

Arcane-Arcana-02-papesse-high-priestess         2 knapp hall

The Revised New Art Tarot created by J. Augustus Knapp under the direction of Manly Palmer Hall was published in 1929. It was later reissued as the Knapp-Hall Tarot and it is by that name that the deck is best known today. The card continues to bear the name La Papesse but the design has more in common with the Waite-Smith interpretation of Trump 2 than it does the Tarot de Marseille’s Popess. Given the date of publication, it is possible that Hall had seen the Waite-Smith cards, which came out in 1910. However, as is apparent from Gabriel Goulinat’s design, French occult tarots were at this time moving away from depictions of a Popess and favoring symbolism more suitable to a Priestess of a pagan pantheon.

Like the Goulinat representation, the Knapp-Hall Popess is kitted out with a papal tiara surmounted by a lunar crescent. A white veil covers half her face. On her pale blue robe there is the sigil for Mercury at chest height. Her cloak is white, trimmed with gold. White and blue, be it noted, become almost the de rigueur colors for High Priestess’s vestments in tarots following the Waite-Smith tradition. On the Knapp-Hall card the pillars are dark and light grey in color. The veil between them is red and opaque. The book the Popess holds in her left hand is closed. In her right hand she carries the two keys we have become familiar with, one gold, one silver. As on the Wirth card, the keys are crossed but not as the keys of St Peter’s insignia are. Also in keeping with Wirth’s symbolism, there is a chequered floor at the Popess’s feet. The finials on her throne are in the form of owls, the bird sacred to Athena, goddess of wisdom.

The Waite-Smith tarot, first published in 1910, names Trump 2 The High Priestess. The woman on the card wears a headdress representing the three lunar phases, as on Goulinat’s Papesse card (see above). True to her new title, she is very much a priestess and can in no way be construed as a female Pope. In Pamela Coleman Smith’s illustration, the High Priestess’s face is not covered, as the woman’s face on the ‘Egyptian’ tarot card is. Instead, a white veil falls from her crown either side of her face. Her robe is white, her cloak pale blue. At her feet, the robe might be dissolving into water. She bears a white equal-armed cross on her chest and she is seated on a stone cube. There is a crescent moon at her feet on her left, the viewer’s right. At her back are two pillars. The one to her right is black with the letter B painted on it in white. The one on her left is white and has a black letter J painted on it. A veil is hung between the pillars bearing an arrangement of green palm leaves and red pomegranates, the latter distributed so as to hint that they are describing the layout of the spheres of the Qabalistic Tree of Life, the lower part of the veil being obscured by the High Priestess’s body. The scroll on her lap is partly unrolled and in part it is covered over by a portion of her cloak. It has the word TORA on it in capital letters. This word has been interpreted as a reference to the first five books of the Old Testament, known in Judaism as the Torah, and as an anagram of Taro, or Tarot, if one is allowed to use the letter T twice.

r-w priestess 2        mouni-02

The pictures of tarot Trumps used to illustrate Mouni Sadhu’s book The Tarot: A Contemporary Course of the Quintessence of Hermetic Occultism were drawn by Eva G. Lucas some time between 1948 and 1962. They are a fusion of elements found in the Oswald Wirth and the Waite-Smith tarots with the occasional additions of features suggested by Paul Christian.

Mouni Sadhu tells us that “the vulgar name” for the card “is ‘the Priestess’,” and that is how the illustration presents her. As on the Waite-Smith card, Mouni Sadhu’s Priestess wears a headdress referencing the three lunar phases of waxing, full, and waning. As on the Wirth card, the upper half of her face is veiled. A broach in the form of a solar cross acts as the clasp to her cloak, a detail taken from Paul Christian, as previously noted. She holds a partly open book in her right hand as she does in the Wirth tarot. Her left hand is empty. The pillars to her rear are colored red and blue in one version of the image. There is a Sun on top of the one pillar and a Moon above the other. As with the ‘Egyptian’ tarot, there is no veil between the pillars. At the priestess feet is a tessellated floor, all its squares white, not decorated so as to resemble a chess board.

The High Priestess from the B.O.T.A. tarot (drawn under the supervision of Paul Foster Case) is a re-envisioning of the Waite-Smith illustration with a few minor adjustments. The crescent moon placed by Pamela Coleman Smith at the High Priestess’s feet has disappeared and her headdress is presented somewhat differently. The capitals of the pillars on the B.O.T.A. card have the form of lotus buds and their bases are cubes, which on the Waite card they are not. While the letters on the pillars remain B and J, they are now in Hebrew rather than in the Latin alphabet.

The main facts for the student to take on board at this juncture are that the woman on Trump 2 has been transformed from a female Pope into a pagan priestess and that, rather incongruously, the space around her is now firmly identified as the entrance to King Solomon’s Temple. On the continent, where in some areas the game of tarot continues to be played using Tarot de Marseille-type decks, tarots still have a Popess in the pack, but elsewhere in the world it is the High Priestess, under that name or some other, who reigns supreme.

BOTA HPS       mmTarot 02

The Trump cards of the B.O.T.A. deck were used as illustrations for Paul Foster Case’s The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages (Macoy Publishing Co.) when the book was published in 1947. A little prior to that, in 1935, the Thomson-Leng tarot was issued in the UK. The designs for this pack represent a fusion of ideas taken from the Waite-Smith cards on the one hand and from the French occultist Eudes Picard on the other. In this deck, Trump 2 is named The Great Priestess, suggesting that the artist, who was plainly also an esotericist, had studied tarot from the perspective of the French occultism, for in French the card is sometimes called La Grandpretresse, literally ‘Great Priestess’. The picture on the Thomson-Leng card resembles the Waite-Smith High Priestess; her headdress has been redrawn and the symbolism of the veil between the pillars distorted (the artist was evidently no Qabalist), but the close relationship between the two images is obvious. The two pillars of the Thomson-Leng card are not differentiated in any way. However, the Priestess has a scroll on her lap with the letters TORA written on it, although the word is hardly discernable, and the scroll is partly unrolled and partly hidden by the High Priestess’s robe, exactly as depicted on the Waite-Smith image for Trump 2. The Thomson-Leng deck is printed using a limited palette of colors; this may account for its Great Priestess wearing a red, rather than a blue, cloak, although it appears to have been the artist’s decision to color the solar cross on the lady’s breast, which on the Waite-Smith card is white. The half-hidden scroll with the word TORA on it and the cross on the Priestess’s chest both come from the Waite-Smith tarot.

In the recent modern tarot designed by Theofanus Abba, the representation of the t2 alk trtHigh Priestess is named ‘Isis’. Abba’s Alchemical Tarot is an occult tarot in the continental tradition. His Trump 2 is essentially the earlier Wirth image redrawn apart from the way Abba has elected to depict the veil between the pillars. The Priestess’s robe is blue and spangled with stars. She wears no cloak and while folds of red material fall from her triple tiara, they do not cover her face, although a white, sheer veil does, obscuring it completely. An owl, the totem of Athena, is perched on her left wrist. On the arm of her throne is the carving of a face possibly representing a bewigged judge or lawyer. (English barristers and judges wear such wigs to this day.) As already remarked, the main difference between this image and Wirth’s is that the veil between the pillars is here patterned with a series of concentric circles in an array of colors.

Occult tarots of the twenty-first-century continue to depict the woman on Trump 2 as a Priestess figure, the Popess of the early tarots all but forgotten now in esoteric circles. A faint echo of the Popess’s presence sometimes remains, as it does in Abba’s illustration, when the Priestess is depicted wearing a papal tiara, but otherwise the fact that she once existence is all but erased from modern occult tarots.

It seems as though at least one new tarot deck comes out every year nowadays. But for a long time now I haven’t seen any that I would consider an Occult Tarot. Some of these decks are works of art – I call them Art Tarots – but they add nothing to the tarot student’s understanding of the esoteric tarot. Even the most inventive packs tend to have illustrations that are essentially restatements of the divinatory meanings that have been assigned to the cards, particularly the spots, by common consent as a result of study of the Waite-Smith designs.

old english trt 3 coins        pentacles 3

Take the Old English Tarot’s 3 of Coins, for instance. In the foreground, if you look hard enough, you can see a man laboring in an orchard. He looks to be pruning one of the trees. This image is just another way representing the ‘story’ told on the Waite-Smith 3 of Pentacles, where a stone-mason is working on the arch of some palatial or ecclesiastical building. A quick check on the Net leads me to these attributes for the 3 of Pentacles: hard work, determination, dedication and commitment. Another website gives the significance of the card as: Excellence and success acquired through productive teamwork or simply by being industrious. “It relates directly to being a master of your trade and great career accomplishments,” this text continues. Most of the meanings quoted for the 3 of Pentacles could be applied to the Old English Tarot’s 3 of Coins if one is “reading the picture on the card”. The one meaning that cannot be extracted from the OET design is “teamwork”. It is a meaning that crops up a lot on other websites I consulted. It comes about because people have “read the picture” on the Waite-Smith card, observed that it depicts a workman and two other men apparently holding the plans of the building, and interpreted this image as a symbolic representation of teamwork. The OET’s card is the depiction of a lone worker. Those tarotists who “read the picture” therefore lose the meaning “teamwork” when using the Old English Tarot deck, it becomes inaccessible to them; but they get to hang on to “hard work, determination, commitment, etc.” Here, once again, we see demonstrated one of the prime rules of Occult Tarot: If you change the picture on a card you will alter the way people interpret that card.

Modern versions of the High Priestess are often, to my mind, of great artistic merit but superficial in their symbolisms. Key points are omitted from the design while others, though present, are downgraded in importance. Below are examples of the Trump 2 card from three Steampunk tarots.

2t steampunk1  2t steampunk2  2t steampunk3

In the first, the pillars are depicted as cogs and gears affixed to metal shafts. The symbolism of the High Priestess’s headdress has been relocated to the foot of a crystal ball near the bottom of the card. Tarot cards replace the TARO scroll and a stray lock of hair, rather than a veil, falls over part of the lady cartomancer’s pretty face. This card is a re-envisioning of the Waite-Smith High Priestess design, but the second example card has been given the minimalist treatment. In it the High Priestess has become a robotic nun and renamed “Samaritan”.

The third card in the set has been endowed with the most inventive symbolism. Behind the female figure is a gigantic crescent moon “laying on its back”, in the form it has when placed atop the Popess’s tiara in continental Occult Tarots. The two keys that so often feature on continental versions of the card have made a comeback and double as the pillars, the letters ‘B’ and ‘J’ visible in the hoops of their handles. The mechanism that is almost obligatory on Steampunk tarots has been relegated to the foot of the image. The veil of the Temple has gone, the TORA scroll has gone, the symbolism of the Priestess’s robe turning to water has gone, and the figure on the card is standing, not sitting.

The simplicity of the High Priestess from the Whimsical Tarot (the first card below) is to be admired as is the ingenuity of the design on the card lying next to it. I don’t know which tarot this card is from. If anyone could enlighten me, I would be most grateful. I assume the High Priestess on this card is modeled on the actress Angela Lansbury in her role as amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher, an appropriate embodiment of what Trump 2 represents: a woman of knowledge and insight able to ferret out the secrets of others. This illustration, like that of the first of the Steampunk High Priestesses above, is Pamela Coleman Smith’s design redrawn. As with the second and third Steampunk High Priestesses, the woman in the final example card is standing, and in making that change the artist loses a detail that was of vital importance to the first generation of occultists to study the tarot.

2t plain simple2        2t modern trt

French occultists of the nineteenth-century occult revival made use of the symbolism of the Tarot de Marseille deck, the only tarot deck of which they were aware, drawing conclusions from the imagery they found there. Thus the pictures on Trumps 1 and 2 were thought to highlight the distinctions between the potencies of the numbers One (Unity) and Two (Duality). It was quickly noticed that The Popess of the Marseille Tarot is a seated, female, sacerdotal figure in stark contrast with that deck’s representation of the preceding card, there called The Juggler (Bateleur in French). He is the antithesis of the Popess, seeing that he is depicted as a standing, male, secular figure, the opposite in every sense of the lady depicted on Trump 2.

1t tdm          2t tdm

I have spoken at length about the Popess/High Priestess card for the simple reason that it is not possible to properly comprehend the principle of the Dyad without comparing it with the Monad. We learn more about both the Monad and the Dyad by comparing them to one another than we would learn from studying each of them separately. The Popess from the Occult Tarots, and even more so Waite and Case’s High Priestesses, are unmistakably lunar cards. If Trump 2 is the symbolic mate of Trump 1, then it follows that the Magician/Juggler must have some kind of solar connection. However, the Sun in not represented overtly on Trump 1. In place of a solar sigil, or an image of the actual sun, we find the infinity sign. The mystic meaning of this symbol is that it references “the Sun behind the Sun”, a term implying God, or the Original Energy that existed before the Created universe as we experience it came into being. As Paracelsus wrote:

“There is an earthly sun, which is the cause of all heat, and all who are able to see may see the sun; and those who are blind and cannot see him may feel his heat. There is [also] an Eternal Sun, which is the source of all wisdom, and those whose spiritual sense have awakened to life will see that sun and be conscious of His existence; but those who have not attained spiritual consciousness may yet feel His power by an inner faculty which is called Intuition.”

Quoted by Manly P. Hall in The Secret Teachings of All Ages, 1928, p. 51.

Artists who present the High Priestess as standing are losing one of the points of contrast between Trumps 1 and 2 that were of great importance to occultists of the nineteenth-century. I am saddened by such changes of symbolism, although I recognized that, in today’s tarot community, I am in the minority – and that it might be a minority of one!

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