Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven pillars.
(Proverbs ix, 1)
Apropos of The High Priestess, our Anonymous Author writes:
“[The Magician] is the arcanum of the pure act of intelligence. But the pure act . . . in itself cannot be grasped; it is only its reflection which renders it perceptible, comparable and understandable or, in other words, it is by virtue of the reflection that we become conscious of it. The reflection of the pure act produces an inner representation, which becomes retained by the memory; memory becomes the source of communication by means of the spoken word;
and the communicated word becomes fixed by means of writing, by producing the “book”. . . . The second Arcanum, the High Priestess, is that of the reflection of the pure
act of the first Arcanum up to the point where it becomes “book”. It shows us how Fire and Wind become Science and Book. Or, in other words, how “Wisdom builds her house”. The High Priestess wears a three-layered tiara and holds an open book. The tiara is laden with precious stones, which suggests the idea that it is by way of three stages that the crystallisation of the pure act descends through the three
higher and invisible planes before arriving at the fourth stage —the book. For the problems that the symbol implies are: reflection, memory, word and writing; or, in other words — revelation and tradition, spoken and written; or, to express it
in a single word — GNOSIS . . . ” (Meditations on the Tarot 40).
This understanding of The High Priestess emphasizes tradition (and the importance of extending the tradition), on the one hand, while simultaneously stressing the possibility– indeed the necessity –of a direct experience of the Divine, on the other (albeit one which is, nonetheless, informed by the tradition).
But what of The Magician–what’s wrong with his experience of the Divine? What does The High Priestess have that he does not? A clues is provided near the beginning of Letter II:
“The Magician the is the arcanum of intellectual geniality and cordiality, the arcanum of true spontaneity. Concentration without effort and the perception of correspondences in accordance with the law of analogy are the principal implications of this arcanum of spiritual fecundity. It is the arcanum of the pure act of intelligence. But the pure act . . . in itself cannot be grasped; it is only its reflection which renders it perceptible, comparable and understandable or, in other words, it is by virtue of the reflection that we become conscious of it. . . . The second Arcanum, the High Priestess, is that of the reflection of the pure act of the first Arcanum up to the point where it becomes “book”. It shows us how Fire and Wind become Science and Book. Or, in other words, how “Wisdom builds her house” (29-30).
So, while The Magician represents authentic mystical experience — an experience that is reflected in spontaneous activity, The Magician, per se, does not seem to reflect on his experience in a way that permits him to contribute to the preservation and augmentation of the tradition in any profound sense. For this, the gnosticsm of The High Priestess is needed:
“As we have pointed out, one becomes conscious of the pure act of intelligence only by means of its reflection. We require an inner mirror in order to be conscious of the pure act or to know ‘whence it comes or whither it goes’. The breath of the Spirit —or the pure act of intelligence —is certainly an event, but it does not suffice, itself alone, for us to become conscious of it. Con-scious- ness (conscience) is the result of two principles —the active, activating principle and the passive, reflecting principle. In order to know from where the breath of the Spirit comes and where it goes, Water is required to reflect it. This is why the conversation of the Master with Nicodemus, to which we have referred, enunciates the absolute condition for the conscious experience of the Divine Spirit —or the Kingdom of God:
<<<Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of Water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. (John iii, 5) >>>
” ‘ Truly, truly’— the Master refers here twice to “truth” in this mantric (i.e. magical) formula of the reality of con-sciousness. By these words he states that full consciousness of the truth is the result of ‘inbreathed’ truth and reflected truth. Reintegrated consciousness, which is the Kingdom of God, presupposes two renovations, of a significance comparable to birth, in the two constituent elements of consciousness — active Spirit and reflecting Water. Spirit must become divine Breath in place of arbitrary, personal activity, and Water must become a perfect mirror of the divine Breath instead of being agitated by disturbances of the imagination, passions and personal desires (30).
The Magician embodies the “active, activating principle” — divine Breath has, indeed, replaced personal activity — but, considered alone, he seems to lack the needed “mirror” (or water) to reflect the divine Breath. This mirror is also described as virginal Nature:
The re-birth from Water and Spirit which the Master indicates to Nicodemus is the re-establishment of the state of consciousness prior to the Fall, where the Spirit was divine Breath and where this Breath was reflected by virginal Nature. This is Christian yoga. Its aim is not “radical deliverance” (mukti), i.e. the state of consciousness without breath and without reflection, but rather “baptism from Water and the Spirit”, which is the complete and perfect response to divine action (31).
And, as we hinted above, this perfect response to (and reflection of) the Divine breath is gnosis:
“. . . the practical teaching of the second Arcanum, the High Priestess, relates to the development of the gnostic sense. . . . The gnostic sense is . . . spiritual hearing, just as the mystical sense is spiritual touch. This does not mean to say that the gnostic sense perceives sounds, but only that its perceptions are due to a consciousness analogous to that in the attitude of expectation and attention when one listens…” (44, 46).
Moreover, the practical import of such expectation and attention is elaborated on in Letter III which opens with this epigraph:
Ecce ancilla Domini;
mi hi fiat secundum verbum tuum.
Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord;
let it be to me according to your word.
(Luke i, 38)