The Goddess Major Arcana: Sarasvati/Wisdom

The High Priestess is, as I’ve said, my favorite card in the entire Major Arcana and in fact in the entire deck. I so fell in love with the idea of Priestesshood when I first encountered in through Tarot that I became a Priestess myself!

While the High Priestess is envisioned in a way that particularly evokes ceremonial magick traditions, especially in the Rider-Waite deck and decks directly inspired by it, I see Her as being about more than institutional authority or power granted by rising through the ranks of an initiatory tradition. The High Priestess to me is about the deep well of wisdom that we can access when we learn to explore our own unconscious, to move between worlds, and to descend into the darkest parts of ourselves. Like the Magician, the High Priestess represents power, but she also represents that ability to know when to receive as well as when to manifest. She is a repository of great knowledge, but also of great wisdom — and those two are not always the same.

This is why I love the rendition of the High Priestess in Kris Waldherr’s Goddess Tarot so much. Waldherr has chosen to reinterpret the card as Wisdom, and has chosen the Hindu Goddess of knowledge, art, music, and spirituality as the core image. Sarasvati — “one who leads to the essence of self-knowledge” — floats on her lotus, playing the sitar, embodying all the beauty and wisdom in all the realms.


Wisdom/Sarasvati from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photograph generously granted by the artist.

I love this vision of the High Priestess card. When the High Priestess arrives in a reading, I typically interpret that to mean that the querent is being asked to deeper their knowledge of themselves. This might be through spiritual pursuits — I particularly see this card as calling for Underworld or Shadow work. This might also be through arts, music, writing, or other activities which awaken creativity and encourage us to use our imaginations and connect with Spirit. In Waldherr’s discussion of Wisdom/Sarasvati, there is the added dimension that the querent is on a teaching and learning path — it may be that a wise teacher is about to appear, or that the person themselves is being called upon to be the wise teacher of others. On my own Priestess path, Wisdom/Sarasvati has shown up in my reading when it was time for me to level up in my Priestess work, by hosting open rituals, by offering classes online and in person, and even in starting this blog!

Wisdom/Sarasvati is a card of initiation for me, but not initiation within a formal structure. Rather, this card appears when there is going to be a significant breakthrough or move to the next level. Sometimes this means letting go of what no longer serves us, which can be difficult. However, Sarasvati assures us that we are moving on to a higher level of wisdom and self-knowledge, and that we will be surrounded by all the beauty, all the wisdom, and all the wise teachers we need in order to thrive on this next level.

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A Journey Through the Major Arcana: The High Priestess

The High Priestess is, hands down, my favorite card in the entire Tarot deck. Perhaps it’s because I’d never even heard of a High Priestess before I started reading Tarot, and 25 years later I am a Priestess. But She’s held a fascination for me ever since I first saw her in my brand-new Rider-Waite deck when I was 17. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rendition or interpretation of Her that I haven’t immediately loved, even though I do have my favorites. When Rose at The Bliss Institute asked me to join in her series on the Tarot, writing about the High Priestess was the part I immediately looked forward to.

If the Fool represents the first steps in faith on the road to Enlightenment, and the Magician encourages us to use our power and our resources at hand to catalyze transformation, then the High Priestess invites us to go deeper. Rose’s beautiful entry on the High Priestess is a great source of information on the card and the archetype. There is so much in this card!


The High Priestess from the Rider-Waite Tarot

Who Is the High Priestess?

The High Priestess represents the willingness and ability to dive into the deep waters of our own unconscious, to explore matters of spirituality with our whole attention, and to claim our own Inner Goddess (regardless of our gender). The High Priestess, like the Magician, is aware of Her own innate power, and She has stepped into it fully. She has the ability to move seamlessly between realms, and has journeyed to the Underworld to bring back not just knowledge but wisdom and insight. She is able to sit in stillness at the gate between the worlds and serves as a guide for those of us who are traversing those liminal spaces.


A coven of lovely High Priestesses! From left, they are The Wild Unknown Tarot, the Goddess Tarot, the Rider-Waite Tarot, and the Fenestra Tarot

When the High Priestess appears in a reading, She is inviting us to go deeper, to pay attention with our whole being, to be open to messages and omens. In particular, the High Priestess may arrive to tell you to pay attention to your dreams, to pay special attention to your surroundings, and to dedicate yourself to the pursuit of occult or arcane knowledge. She has this in common with the Magician, but the High Priestess asks us to take this knowledge and power a step beyond manifesting our personal dreams and wishes — She invites us to step into the role of guide or teacher, to bring knowledge and wisdom back from the deep dark places and share it with others. She may appear when you are about to meet a teacher who will catalyze your next transformation — of when you are being called to play that role of wise teacher for another. The High Priestess invites you to honor and pay attention to your intuition, and may in fact indicate that it’s time for you to pursue intuitive practices such as Tarot, oracle cards, pendulum work, and the like.

The High Priestess often appears when a major change is on the horizon. More often than not, this change is of the internal rather than the external variety, representing a kind of initiation into the next phase of life or spiritual growth. I typically see the High Priestess as a positive card, though the changes She heralds may not be comfortable or easy while they are occurring. But they are necessary. The High Priestess heralds a new phase of wisdom and growth.

In fact, in the Goddess Tarot, the High Priestess is re-envisioned as Wisdom and embodied by the Hindu Goddess Sarasvati — one of my all time favorite interpretations of this card! Come back tomorrow to go in-depth on this vision of the High Priestess!


Wisdom/Sarasvati (The High Priestess) from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo generously granted by the artist.

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The Goddess Major Arcana: Isis/Magic

The Magician is perhaps the most iconic card in all of Tarot (though Death can probably give it a run for its money). This card of pure power and potential is the second step on the road to Enlightenment, and is a call to acknowledge our own power and self-sufficiency, our ability to bend and shape reality. The Magician is usually the first card I look at in a new deck, simply because it has always held a fascination for me ever since I got my first Rider-Waite deck, in its classic yellow box with the Magician as the cover image.

In the Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr, the deck I read with most frequently (at least over the last decade), the Magician is reinterpreted as Magic, which is represented by Isis. I love this reimagining of the card, which I think brings in a whole new set of nuances while also staying true to the message of the Magician in more classic decks. In the classic Tarot, the Magician is a message to stand in personal power, to draw on our own abundant inner resources, and to know that we can catalyze the transformations we want most. Magic/Isis goes further by asking us to be aware, perhaps for the first time, of the magic inherent in the world around us.


Isis/Magic from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use the photo generously granted by the artist.

Isis is essentially the Queen of the Egyptian pantheon. While there are many powerful Goddesses in that pantheon, Isis reigns supreme. (In fact, some scholars hold that all Egyptian Goddesses are just faces of Isis, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Isis is the Goddess of Life and Death, even conquering death to conceive Horus. She is the patron of medicine and healing as well as of magick and spirituality, and much else of great import to Egyptian society. As such, she holds the pure potential of the Universe within her, and rules supreme over herself and all that she surveys. In this way, Isis as the Magician/Magic reminds us that we have the ability to be our own sovereign. We possess with us all the power and magick we need to affect change. And yet part of realizing our own inner magick is seeing that the entire world around us is embued with magick and power.

When Isis/Magic shows up in a reading, she is reminding us to own our power, to step into our authority. It may be a call to explore magickal teachings and spirituality in a literal sense. But I find that this card is more than that. Isis/Magic reminds us that we are magick and that we have the right to be seen and treated as the holy mystery we are. When we are aware of how full we are of magick, of the magick we bring to the world, we are able to act on the highest level and with the most self-regard and respect for ourselves and others. And this is truly a catalyst for the changes we seek.

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A Journey Through the Major Arcana: The Magician

Once The Fool begins his journey into the unknown, the next step on the road to Enlightenment in represented by the Magician. The Magician — sometimes called the Magus — is perhaps the most recognizable card in Tarot; it’s even the cover image on the classic yellow box for the Rider-Waite Tarot, which is the first deck for many readers. Most renditions of the Magician feature the symbols of all the suits, which are classically grounded in ceremonial magick or alchemical practices. Associated with the number 1, the Magician is a card of pure potential and pure personal power.

In the classic Rider-Waite (or Rider-Waite-Smith) deck, the Magician looks like this:


The Magician from the Rider-Waite Tarot

Who is The Magician?

It’s worth taking a moment to ask exactly who the Magician is. In contemporary Western culture, we often associate the title of magician with stage magic, sleight of hand, trickery, and even what is dismissively called “magical thinking.” (Note: I use the spelling magick to denote occult and spiritual practices, and magic to indicate stage magic and sleight of hand.) From this perspective, it’s easy to see the Magician as a card of delusion and self-deception. However, if we think of the Magician within the occult tradition in which Tarot is grounded, we get a very different view.

The Magician in this view and worldview is truly the master of all — he has the tools at his disposal and the knowledge to use them to bend the Universe to his Will. This is great power and comes with great responsibility, as is so often the case. The Magician invites us to recognize that we hold within us all we need to manifest our highest ambitions and our fondest dreams. It also reminds us to wield that power with discernment — a key aspect of any magickal practice is knowing when not to wield magickal power as well as when it is appropriate to do so. The Magician is ultimately self-reliant; he is able to draw on his own inner resources, skill, learning, and external resources to create reality. He is a wealth of arcane knowledge. I like to think of the Magician as more John Dee than David Blaine, if you will.


Some of my favorite Magicians. From left to right: Fenestra Tarot, Goddess Tarot, Rider-Waite Tarot, and The Wild Unknown Tarot

When the Magician appears in a reading, it is a message that it is time to find your inner power and draw on that infinite well. You have everything you need to make the life you want or to transform the situation. The Magician often shows up when we are feeling unsure of our power, or when we are breaking free from old stories about what we should or should not be or do. The Magician may also show up when it is time for you to “level up” in some ways — to move from novice to initiate or initiate to adept, whether in a literal hierarchy or in a metaphorical sense. The Magician can also be an invitation to look at creative ways to solve a problem, and is an affirmation that you are doing everything just as you should — all is falling into place because you are doing the next right thing, then the next, then the next.

Finally, the Magician is an invitation for you to see the magick in the world around you. This might mean literally taking up spiritual, occult, or magickal studies. It may also be the cards encouraging you to look at the world around you with fresh eyes or to approach your life with what in Buddhist philosophy is known as “Beginner’s Mind” — a sense that everything is a new experience that has something to teach us, no matter how many times we may have engaged in an activity before. This perspective speaks to me, and is perhaps why my favorite rendition of the Magician is from Kris Waldherr’s Goddess Tarot, where the Magician is re-envisioned as Magic/Isis. (Come back tomorrow for an exploration of this version of the Magician!)


Magic/Isis, from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to use photo of the card generously given by the artist.

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The Goddess Major Arcana: Tara/The Fool

I have been reading Tarot for 25 years (as of a couple weeks from now), and like many readers I started out with the classic Rider-Waite (or Waite-Smith) Tarot. I started with it because it was what I could get in a small Midwestern town in 1992 — and I was lucky to even find it — but I quickly came to love and appreciate it. In fact, when asked what is the “best” deck for new readers to start with, I always say that I recommend a Rider-Waite or one of the decks that is an immediate heir to it, such as the Universal Waite, because so much of what is out there for writing and other decks is based on Waite and Smith’s system. I read exclusively off my Rider-Waite deck for the first three years or so, when I cautiously began exploring other decks. And even today, when I really need to get real with myself, I’ll pull that first deck out. We’ve known each other a long time; we don’t have the need to talk around an issue.

But my favorite deck to read off of for the last decade or so — following an intense love affair with the Thoth Deck —  is Kris Waldherr’s Goddess Tarot. There are many, many things I love about this deck, but foremost among them is the way in which Waldherr has reinterpreted some (though not all) of the Major Arcana. This summer, I’ll be taking us on a Journey Through the Majors along with Rose at The Bliss Institute, including looking a the Goddess Arcana.

The first card in the Major Arcana is The Fool, and the Goddess Tarot features my all-time favorite interpretation of The Fool: Tara/Beginnings. The Fool marks the beginning of new journeys, new ventures, and new phases, and so Tara is the perfect Goddess to take this role. A central figure in Buddhism, Tara  is described as either a Goddess or a Bodhisattva. Originally a human woman, Tara chose to forgo enlightenment in order to attend to the sufferings of the human world (something she has in common with Kuan Yin, who appears later in the deck). She is sometimes considered the “Mother of Liberation” and invites to let go of all that does not serve us. She appears in many guises  — Green Tara, White Tara, Black Tara, and Blue Tara are the best known — and in all of them embodies some aspects of the guardian or patroness of new beginnings, clean slates, letting go, and reaching out.


Tara/Beginnings from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Permission to photograph the cards and use them here graciously granted by Kris Waldherr.

I love Tara/Beginnings as a face of The Fool because she not only invites us to step out on a new path, but to step out in faith. Much in the way that the classic Fool steps onto the path without being able to see the whole thing, and steps out in trust that he will not fall off the cliff (or be injured if he does fall), Tara/Beginnings invites us to step out knowing that the path will unfold before us. Rather than trusting that the path exists and we will find it, Tara encourages us to take the first tentative steps in the knowledge that next right step will reveal itself just in time. Because we intuitively know this, we can step into the future with no fear, with trust, and with optimism.

In this way, she echoes The Fool’s message of embarking on a new chapter without regard for what is holding us back, or fearing because we don’t know where the path will ultimately lead. Like The Fool, Tara/Beginnings assures us that this new chapter, this new path, this new journey will be for our ultimate benefit, evolution, and enlightenment. She does not promise that the path will be easy and without obstacles (and The Fool doesn’t, either). What she does promise is that things will unfold as they should, that we will be liberated from what doesn’t serve us, and that we are not alone on our journey.

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A Journey Through the Major Arcana: The Fool

If you’ve been reading this blog for even a little while, you know that Tarot is the most consistent spiritual practice in this Priestess’s life — I’ve been reading for 25 years as of this summer, and Tarot has been a constant in my life through periods of major upheaval. The more I get to know these 78 cards — these 78 self-portraits, these 78 mirrors — the more I love them and the more I learn from them. So I was honored when Rose, my lovely co-Priestess over at The Bliss Institute, asked me to collaborate with her on a Tarot series this summer. She’s recently started her own journey through the Major Arcana, with her entry about The Fool, and asked me to talk about The Fool and present my favorite reinterpretation of this card — from Kris Waldherr’s Goddess Tarot.

Who Is The Fool?

The Fool is the first card of the Major Arcana (sometimes just called “The Majors”) in the traditional 78-card Tarot deck. (The Majors are the 22 cards that are not associated with the 4 Suits — classically, Wands, Swords, Cups, and Pentacles.) These cards represent the journey to enlightenment. In some traditions, they are also associated with the Qabbalahic Tree of Life, though since I don’t work with that particular imagery I won’t discuss it here. The Fool is associated with the number 0, which is sometimes thought to represent endings and beginnings. In the classic Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (the deck with which most people are familiar), The Fool looks like this:

Dressed in his bright tunic and leggings, he’s off on an adventure — and clearly not heeding the warnings of the dog about the impending plummet off a cliff, right? In my decades of reading, I have seen many querents have a negative reaction to this card — both because of the apparent danger to the figure on the card, and because of all the connotations that come with calling someone “a fool” in Western culture. People often assume that drawing The Fool means that one is “acting a fool” or “making a fool of themselves” — ie, acting without forethought, looking ridiculous, or otherwise being played or taken advantage of.

I like to remind people that the figure of The Fool only took on those connotations relatively recently. If we look instead to history, to the Fools and Court Jesters of Europe (as well as to Trickster figures like Coyote or Anansi) we see that The Fool is anything but “foolish.” The role of The Fool in the courts of Europe was to act as a fool/foil to the nobility — and in this role, outside the conventions of the court and society, he or she could tell hard truths, make crude jokes, and point up absurdity with little or no fear of censure. Trickster figures across cultures play this role — they fill a prescribed place where they can (and indeed are expected to) act outside cultural norms. (Henry VIII’s Fool, Will Sommers, is an excellent place to start reading about the important role of The Fool in courtly life.)

When we look at The Fool through the lens of someone whose socially sanctioned role is to challenge boundaries and conventions, as someone whose job it is to both tell us hard truths and make us laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of it all, as someone who is unafraid to be unapologetically themselves, this card takes on a whole new meaning. The Fool from this perspective is the person who takes the first steps on a journey even without being able to see the final outcome — the person who steps out in faith, knowing that they might indeed fall, but who is willing to take the risk that they might instead fly.


A feast of my favorite Fools. From left to right: Tara/Beginnings from The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr, The Fool from The Wild Unknown Tarot by Kim Krans, The Fool from the Rider-Waite Tarot, and The Fool from the Fenestra Tarot

When The Fool appears in a reading, I take it as a sign that a new phase of life is unfolding or will soon unfold — a phase or cycle that will require us to trust and take the first steps out into the unknown, to challenge what we think we know of ourselves and the world and how it works. The Fool represents the first steps on a new path, often a path that will serve our Highest Self and Highest Good. There will surely be obstacles and pitfalls along this path, but The Fool does not allow fear of these or the negative voices of others or their own inner critic to deter them. (I see the nipping dog as symbolizing those voices that try to hold us back from pursuing our true calling.) The Fool is not “foolish” in our modern sense — he does not go into the new without consideration of what he needs to take with him (his bundle), or of what cautions he needs to take, but merely prepares as best he can and trusts that he will be able to navigate the path ahead.

This perspective on The Fool perhaps explains why my favorite Fool card is the one from Kris Waldherr’s Goddess Tarot. In this deck, Waldherr has reinterpreted many of the Majors and associated them with particular Goddesses. In the case of The Fool, Waldherr has opted to envision The Fool as Tara, Buddhist Goddess of New Beginnings. Appropriately, both for Tara and for the underlying message of The Fool, Waldherr has called the 0 card in her deck “Beginnings.”

Join me tomorrow for an in-depth exploration of Tara/Beginnings as The Fool, and why She’s my favorite Fool of all.

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Easing into the New Year

I’ve been sitting back and watching all the vibrant New Year energy swirling around me. People setting goals, making plans, putting changes into motion. I love the clean slate of a new year, and in years past I’ve been known to taking a flying leap into ALL THE THINGS on January 1. I love the idea of a whole new year stretching out in front of me, to be explored and experienced. And as a Sagittarius, my tendency is to race headlong into anything new and exciting.

But this year I find myself easing into the New Year. I have plans, I have projects, I have ideas. And none of them were ready for launch on January 1. I spent a day feeling bad about this, as if I had somehow failed 2019 before she had even begun. I berated myself, as I watched my friends launch new Patreon tiers, start new manuscripts, clean their houses from top to bottom. I loved watching it happen, and yet I couldn’t make myself move to join them.

Then it occurred to me that maybe what I need is ease. 2018 was a brutal year for me, with a job loss, significant and painful changes to an important friendship, more than one death, a battle with depression, and the ongoing stress of living through what feels like the end of the world via American politics. I have had to be extraordinarily gentle with myself over the past 12 months, something that doesn’t come easy to the Priestess. I am used to Keeping Going no matter what, and having been forced to just STOP over the last year has been jarring. Even as it’s provided amazing room for growth and healing and understanding, it’s been jarring and difficult.


Phoenix in repose, preparing to rise. Photo by Dee Hill and HAMU by Vivienne Vermuth.

And so I’m giving myself permission to ease into the New Year. A friend once told me that it’s OK to look at these down times, these times when the world brings us to our knees, as a time of recovery. And when we recover from an illness or operation, we need to take it slow for a while. We’re not going to be at 100% capacity right out of the gate. It’s OK to take time to rehab our bodies, our hearts, and our souls.

And so it is.

I have so many plans for 2019, fellow travelers — blog series and magazine articles and retreats, rituals and spells and readings, personal projects and household projects. So many ideas, so many plans, so many desires.

It’s hard to remind myself that it doesn’t all have to happen at once, that it’s perfectly all right to allow things to unfold. That there is time. That everything always comes in its own perfect time, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Winter is a time to recover, to root, to nest, to be gentle. Even — perhaps especially — when everything outside us is less than gentle.

Don’t be afraid to ease in slowly, dear ones.

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