Hierophantic Spirituality

Witches' High Priest

Orthodoxy & fundamentalism scare me. Organized religion sends me running for the front door. There is nothing inherently wrong with believing that your way is the “right” way. In fact I can admire that kind of dedication. The problem arises when you also become convinced that your “right” way is the only way and everyone else should be doing things your way too. I admit to having a bit of an orthodox streak in my nature and I work at trying to avoid imposing my will on anyone else.  I will admit that there have been times I’ve taken an “it’s my ball and if we don’t play my way I’m leaving” approach to things. When it comes to spiritual matters I definitely prefer a more hands-on, less structured and orthodox approach. Unfortunately when humans come together in groups, orthodoxy and fundamentalism tend to erupt.

One of the reasons I avoid most group situations is because I have a cantankerous kink in my personality. The more people tell me the way I “should” be doing things, the more I feel compelled to do it differently. I blame this on my parents. One of the mantras of my childhood was “just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to”.  That stuck. I don’t see it as a bad thing but it really makes group membership challenging. I’ve tried several ranging from a small Wiccan coven (in which I lasted all of a month before becoming the catalyst for an implosion) to ADF, the Druid organization. In both situations there were elements I liked about the groups but ultimately their long term goals were not my own. In one case I quickly realized the group was a cult of personality for the high priestess/founder. In the other I realized the group’s mission to serve as ambassadors to the general public with regard to Pagan beliefs and rituals was counter my own nature and preferences. I have no interest in leading or even participating in public rituals.

I also have a knee-jerk reaction to the concept of Pagan “churches” or owning land to build temples etc.  I realize that for many people this is an opportunity to worship among a group of like-minded individuals in safety and privacy. I wish them well in this approach.  For me, this becomes a dramatic shift in priorities that will ultimately cause Pagan spirituality to go the way of Christianity, moving from a more High Priestess approach to a more Hierophantic one.  Once an organized religion owns “stuff” their priorities shift so that maintaining that stuff becomes paramount. It’s often slow but steady. It also tends to be a short step to creating a priesthood and establishing leaders as arbiters of what the right way is to do things. It’s a shift from exploring the hidden mysteries on your own (the realm of the High Priestess) to worshiping in a church or temple led by a priest (the Hierophant’s bailiwick). It doesn’t have to be a negative shift but it often seems to develop into one.

Hidden Realm High Priestess

Look at Christian history. Once the apostles got hold of things and made Peter the first pope, they began codifying what Jesus taught. They left out writings about Jesus that didn’t fit their views such as the Book of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. I realize these might not be “regulation” gospels but they certainly could be. They offer a very different and perhaps more honest view of who Jesus was and what he taught.  However these teachings threatened the legitimacy of the early church.  The Jesus of the gospels is open-minded and welcoming of all peoples but the Christian church quickly became codified and orthodox. If I remember correctly there were even arguments in the early church regarding whether Gentiles could be allowed to join.  Things grew increasingly worse once the church grew into the Holy Roman Empire. After acquiring buildings and lands from the collapsing Roman Empire, the Christian church took on a very aggressive approach to converts and trumpeting the “word of God” to any and all who could hear.

Tarot of the Holy Grail Hierophant

We also seem to forget that one of the reasons early Christianity appealed to so many was because the various Pagan traditions in Rome at the time had lost their soul. They became about right acts and public observances. Many Roman citizens paid lip service to the gods by offering sacrifices but they held no true belief in their hearts. It’s as though codifying and establishing orthodox practices sucks the life out of spiritual paths. The idea of Pagan “clergy” also bothers me. I am in no way trying to condemn other people’s choices, but for me clergy sends the message that I need someone to function as an intermediary between me and my gods. It also seems like I’m being told these folks know more or are better trained to do this work than me. That irritates me. It also creates a class system in Paganism, whether intention or unintentional. Humans have a tendency to lend more credence and weight to words stated by someone with a degree of some type. It doesn’t seem to matter if what they say makes sense. The fact that the speaker has a jumble of letters after his/her name makes their pronouncements more valid to others. Down this road always seems to lie dragons of some type.

I realize that many of us seek out groups that share our spiritual beliefs because deep down we want to be sure we’re doing it “right”. We don’t trust our instincts or our connections to the gods. We want a leader, a priest or priestess to show us the “correct” way. I suppose for some folks that is great but to my mind that path leads to the same trajectory that Christianity and various Pagan traditions before it followed. The harder we try to establish ourselves as legitimate in the eyes of others, the quicker we lose our connection to the divine. We find ourselves jumping through hoops created by some external authority with little understanding of who we are or what we do in order to be validated and legitimized. I say fuck it! We do we need to meet some arbitrary guidelines created by outsiders. Instead of pursuing accreditation according to their terms I’d rather see us continue to do things our own way. Unfortunately I don’t think that will last. I may not live to see it but I have no doubt that it’s the end result of trends like paid clergy, tradition neutral training programs and the purchase of “church lands”.

Transformational Sorceress

The Sorceress
Transformation Tarot
Created by by Arnell Ando
Published by US Games ISBN:1572815396

The LWB says: A free-spirited woman initiated into the mysteries by her openness and dedication to self-study. This may lead her in many directions: magic, spirituality, philosophy, psychology – but the eventual outcome is the same. Intuitive and wise, she is a natural healer, though secretive and guarded. She is surrounded by her familiars: the raven, black cat, and snake.

TarotBroad’s Buzz: She peers into the crystal ball, scrying the future and peering into the past. The crescent moon gracing her brow connects her to the psychic world – our inner landscape of hopes, dreams and nightmares. The cards falling from the table are simple playing cards but their message is clear to her. She is The Sorceress and her sanctuary is not a place for the faint of heart. Are you willing to risk what will be revealed to her and by her? Are you ready to face the truths hidden in those deep places in your soul you prefer to avoid?

The Sorceress is self-contained and secretive. She guards the keys to awe-filled mysteries and can unlock the powers of the hidden world. Before giving you even one hidden key she must test you. She will look into your soul and see if you are ready to handle the power and responsibility of such knowledge. If you are not, then she will help you and teach you to become ready. She is not unforgiving but she is unpersuadable. You cannot charm her into giving you the answer you seek.

The Sorceress aka The High Priestess not only guards these mysteries, she also guides us through them. She helps us find our way through seemingly dark and frightening landscapes that make no sense. She can offer us a small light of hope, help us find the familiar in the darkness and not fear. She leads us into the core of the labyrinth to find the heart of who we truly are and then she helps us heal from whatever lingering pain holds us back. She is guide and mentor, healer and teacher. If we are willing to face her in her sanctuary there is much to gain but the learning may prove to be a painful, transformative and ultimately healing process.

Blue Rose High Priestess

High Priestess
Blue Rose Tarot
Created by Paula Gibby
Published by Soul Guidance

The Book says:  “What does she tell [The Fool} with such eloquence?  That not everything he needs to learn can be perceived with the naked eye or sensed with the physical body that delights him so.  She gives him a sense of the awe and mystery of the great No-thingness.  She gives him a sense of its great cosmic cycle and its universal rhythms.  She gives him a glimpse of the eternal.  More importantly, she gives him an awareness of the eternal, for one cannot seek it out if there is not realization that such a state of being even exists.

This glimpse, this awareness, along with a hint of what it takes to find this state of being again … these are the great gifts of the High Priestess, the Spiritual Mother.”

TarotBroad’s Buzz:  The High Priestess almost seems to be coming out of the wall at us.  It’s as though she’s ripping through the veils of time and space and entering our awareness to bring us a message or offer guidance.  A chalice sits on a table in the center of the room.  What does it offer – healing, insight, knowledge?  The butterflies reinforce the sense that this woman is otherworldly and connected to our spirit freed from all boundaries and limitations.  It’s as though I walked in expected a gypsy woman to tell my future and instead met a Goddess.

She seems ageless, timeless; both a being of the otherworld and yet real and grounded in this one.  Her aura glows with power that she has learned to use wisely.  I have a feeling she has made mistakes along the way but only once and then she learns from it and grows stronger and wiser.  She is almost terrifying.  As I look at her I feel the need to kneel and pay obeisance.  I feel unworthy to enter her presence because I am so flawed and arrogant.

However that is her mission, her calling in life.  She is there to gently lift us up and offer guidance and wisdom.  She reminds us that our mistakes are lessons and the only way to true wisdom is to embrace those lessons.  She knows human nature and while it may sadden her she is realistic too.  She knows there is potential for abuse of her powers and knowledge.  She knows that there are those who seek it only for their own glory and fame.  However she is a true spiritual leader.  She offers the wisdom and insight to all.  What we choose to do with it is our decision.

Wheel of Change High Priestess

Wheel of Change Tarot
created by Alexandra Gennetti
Published by Destiny Books, 1997

The Book SaysThe High Priestess is a woman whose life is full of wisdom.  To attain this wisdom she has always been observant, and she has, in her many years, attained the respect and ancient knowledge of her people.  She is the repository of healing wisdom, of mythology and of the pattern that shows itself through nature.  She is the one who teaches women’s mysteries to all the young and changing girls and encourages the menfolk to honor and to respect the women.  Because she has lived through four of the five stages of woman’s life, she has learned her wisdom through practical experience, which is the surest way to learn.  Through her years of experiences and through a life truly lived, she is respected by her community for the knowledge she holds and uses to help her people.
When this card is part of a reading, think about feminine intuition and knowledge.  This is a time in which these attributes will influence your decisions.  Intuition is partially a function of prior experience.  We can sometimes predict the outcome of a particular situation through intimate knowledge of the participants or through understanding a similar incident in the past.  The wisdom of the High Priestess is a kind of knowledge we use to move forward every day when we anticipate the outcome of our actions.
The High Priestess is the symbol of esoteric wisdom and the power of the ancient wise woman of the temple, who could see the future in signs around her.  This card also symbolizes the need to study the ancient past in an effort to understand our historic motivations and present needs.

TarotBroad’s Buzz:  This card represents the search for knowledge and understanding of human nature, but from a sympathetic and supportive standpoint.  This is not the clinical, objective approach used by science.  It is the knowledge and wisdom gained by watching and observing and still being able to care and want to help despite human frailties.

The High Priestess is the type of person who is dedicated to helping her people.  Her energies are not limited to her immediate family – they are meant to serve the tribe, her people.  I’ve often thought one of the reasons the High Priestess is often shown as an older woman or a “virgin” is because her energies cannot bloom as long as she needs to focus on the day to day concerns of family life.

The High Priestess is not a mother (at least not anymore) or a wife.  She is independent and solitary.  She needs to be able to focus on her quest for knowledge and wisdom.  At the same time she interacts with her people and cares for them – she is their spiritual mother tending their spiritual wounds and needs.  I get a feeling of peace and acceptance from this High Priestess.  She is a woman who does what she does because it is her calling.  She doesn’t feel the need to follow the strictures and instructions of others.  If “the rules” say to do it this way but she feels that way is more effective, she trusts her intuition.  Her own instincts and inner wisdom mean more to her than any external dogma.  She has learned enough from her experience and studies to trust in herself.

Fairy Lights Tarot Emperor Fairy Lights High Priestess

 

The Emperor crossed by The High Priestess – so does this mean my inner empire building is crossed by my inner temple guardian? Nah, that’s a bit too glib (although not necessarily inaccurate). The Emperor represents the benefits of being in control, in charge, the head honcho. It also represents the responsibility and obligations that go along with such power. For a great ruler, it’s not merely about satisfying your own personal needs and goals. It’s also about caring for those who follow you, protecting those who are weaker than you and ensuring that the powerful don’t trod upon the peasants. How sad that we have so few leaders who actually embody this archetype in its most positive aspects.

The High Priestess is the guardian of the hidden mysteries. She knows the way but may choose not to give you directions. She is able to look into your soul and determine whether you’re ready to peer behind the veil. She can read you like a book. This can be a huge responsibility because if she allows somehow who is unready or unworthy to see what lies beyond, it might cause damage to that person’s psyche. It might be too much for her to assimilate or she might use the knowledge acquired in negative ways.

So The Emperor is letting me know that if I want to build something stable and solid in my life, I need to remember that it will require responsibility, determination and steadfastness. He’s also reminding me that everything comes with a price. The more concrete and grounded things gets, the more rooted you become, the less mobile and flexible you can be. As we acquire things, responsibilities and stature, we are less able to maneuver quickly and make changes.

The High Priestess reminds me that sometimes spiritual knowledge and enlightenment can be blocked by having too many things, too much stuff. When we are too stable, too set and too grounded it can be difficult to make the necessary changes to acquire knowledge and see beyond the veil. It may be a reminder that focusing too much on stuff, having things and building a stable foundation, I may also discover that my spiritual work gets sidetracked. These two areas in life may not be mutually exclusive but it requires a lot of effort to balance between the two.

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