My First Year Learning Tarot: February, The High Priestess


Seated, solid,

solitary; Strength

on a crescent moon

Bleeding across

light and dark

Manifesting her own


below high full moon

Veiled face, clearly

halved and whole

and entire

Expansively, Actively


Last night I took the G to the L to St. Marks, home of the Poetry Project. The route grows more familiar each time I attend a reading as I mentally trace it several times before setting out and, physically, once in each direction. This time, my mind decided to wander into the crevices of attention that open when I can trust my memory to take charge of navigation.

I looked up into the Brooklyn night and witnessed a blazing crescent moon in an uncharacteristically clear, soft, expanse of sky. Orion’s belt and part of one of the Ursas pushed through the light pollution. I turned my head upward once again when I reached Manhattan’s 2nd Ave station and found a similar expanse of celestial bodies, though they had shifted slightly and had to fight a bit harder to make themselves visible.

The High Priestess, sitting on a similar incarnation of her own moon, came to mind, and I let myself revolve around that focal point as I listened to the night’s readers from my chair in the back left of the room.

The High Priestess is veiled wisdom. She will receive you if your desire is true, if you are willing to explore your spirit, free of the need for answers.

Over Winter Break, it’s become a game in my tarot practice to see how many ways I can relate the cards I draw so that I may witness a kaleidoscope of potential understanding. Traditionally, tarot cards have one meaning if they are drawn upright and take on an opposite meaning if they are drawn upside down. While I could imagine the space where the two meet if I were to perform a typical reading, placing cards vertically, the act of allowing the grey area to present itself in the placement of the cards adds another dimension of possibility.

As I play with sideways and diagonal connections and placements as degrees of balance between the two available interpretations of the cards and give weight to groupings with similar or complementary color schemes, I witness action guiding back to interpretation. I give myself visual permission to hold, explore, and blur the lines between the diametrically opposed interpretations of the cards’ images.

I also spent time exploring information on the origin of Tarot. One line of thought places Tarot’s beginnings in ancient Egypt. There is speculation that the name Tarot, and derivatives of the name, comes from the Arabic word taraha (he rejected, put aside).

An article by Wu Mingren in Ancient Origins argues that “this Arabic connection is seen in the opinion that tarot cards were used originally as playing cards by the...Muslim rulers in Egypt during the Middle Ages” before they spread to Western Europe and took on the divinatory aspects which they are known for today.

However, several competing theories suggest Tarot originated in northern Italy during the 15th c. AD under the name ‘carte de trionfi’ (cards of triumphs) and that, as the Tarot Association claims, the Egyptian connection was “invented and popularised in later occultism...picked up by authors in the Golden Dawn.” The association further states that, in the first half of the 20th century, the myth was “continued for marketing purposes only, giving the ‘tarot’ a ‘forbidden’ branding through the use of motifs such as gypsies, pyramids, skulls, black cats and hypnotists.”

It cites that the cups, coins, swords, and wands in the standard portion of a tarot deck (in place of cups, diamonds, hearts, and spades) indicates Italian origins as those suits were used in regular Italian playing cards. East Asian practices that fold into the story of Egyptian popularisation are also mentioned.

Reading various articles and checking the logic that feels most authentic to myself, I made a claim about which origin story I believed to be the ‘real’ one. However, I sense that I, and we, cannot completely disregard the other narratives.

In reverse, she is vanity, zealousness, ignorance, reduction.

If we disregard the ‘false’ histories of tarot, are we also erasing a form of ‘true’ history, the history which necessitated the fabrication of past?

Are we performing a permutation of the same action of reduction that came from choosing to market a fantasy-narrative in place of the original?

True wisdom blossoms in quiet, solitary reflection and trusting the experience of life, the space between extremes where ideas and thoughts are uncovered, where they emerge and expand.

What if the action becomes a search for and imagination of the context and place of each narrative that ties itself to Tarot in a manner which may inform similar action on one’s navigation of other realms of life?

After hearing Dolfi Trost’s words on the revolutionary need to reconcile dream and action and allowing it to work on me during the end of the semester, I decided to bring it into the nowhere moment between semesters. The decision to take myself to the Poetry Project and make that part of who I am outside of the semester became an offshoot of this exploration.

The process of deciding to go, existing in all the spaces between myself and the reading, the moment of the reading, and the aftermath fold into the imagination that, if I can hold, experience, and grow from the intersection of other’s actions (the subway rider’s choices of where to get on and off, the performer’s choices of what to read, the other audience member’s choice to be there), then my imagination of a world where this kind of collective harmony exists on a more complex scale is already present in some form.

I can, by evidence of my action, imagine that there is connection in proximity, even if I can’t see the before and after that ‘explains’ said proximity. I do not know where my fellow passengers are going. I do not know the work that could have been presented. I do not know the nuance of the lives of my fellow audience members beyond the limited information I have from our hour and a half together. As The High Priestess affirms, I do not need the answers to those questions.

When I left St. Mark’s, I was arrested of the need to be anything but active witness, carrier of an attempted, and ultimately impossible, burial of truth. Full of ideas about landscape, ruin, memory, forced disappearance, the ambiguity of night, and the permeable membrane of reality, I felt I had lived multiple days. I felt those days defined by the ideas I had touched and pinned for later, deeper exploration.

Illustration by Janie Peacock

written by
Katie Vogel
February 3, 2019