THE HIGH PRIESTESS

LA PAPESSE

 

The High Priestess

 

Dear Unknown Friend,
As set forth in the preceding Letter, the Magician 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 ar-
canum of the pure act of intelligence. But the pure act is like fire or wind: it ap-
pears and disappears, and when exhausted it gives way to another act.
The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it,
but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it
is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John iii, 8)
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MEDITATIONS ON THE TAROT
The pure act in itself cannot be grasped; it is only its reflection which tenders
it perceptible, comparable and understandable or, in other words, it is by virtue
of the reflection that we become conscious of it. The teflection 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”.
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 con-
scious 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 h.Con-sciousness (con-
science) 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 conversa-
tion 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 conscious-
ness 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. Reintegrated consciousness must be born of Water and Spirit,
after Water has once again become Virginal and Spirit has once again become
divine Breath or the Holy Spirit. Reintegrated consciousness therefore becomes
born within the human soul in a way analogous to the birth or historical incarna-
tion of the WORD:
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine. (by the
power of the Holy Spirit the Word became incarnate from the
Virgin Mary)
LETTER II THE HIGH PRIESTESS
31
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 ac-
tion. These two kinds of baptism bring about the reintegration of the two con-
stituent elements of consciousness as such —the active element and the passive
element. There is no consciousness without these two elements, and the suppres-
sion of this duality by means of a practical method such as that inspired bv the
ideal of unity (advaita— non-duality) must necessarily lead to the extinction not
of being but rather of consciousness. Then this would not be a new birth of con-
sciousness, but instead would be its return to the pre-natal embryonic cosmic state.
On the other hand, this is what Plotinus says concerning the duality underly-
ing all forms and every level of consciousness, namely the active principle and its
mirror:
. . .when the mirror is there, the mirror-image is produced, but
when it is not there or is not in the right state, the object of which
the image would have been is (all the same) actually there. In
the same way as regards the soul, when that kind of thing in
us which mirrors the images of thought and intellect is un
disturbed, we see them and know them in a way parallel to sense-
perception, along with the prior knowledge that it is intellect
and thought that are active. But when this is broken because
the harmony of the body is upset, thought and intellect operate
without an image, and then intellectual activity takes place
without a rnind-picturc. (Plotinus, Enneadl. iv. 10; trsl. A. H.
Armstrong. London, 1966, pp. 199 and 201)
This is the Platonic conception of consciousness, the thorough study of which can
serve by way of introduction to the nocturnal conversation of the Master with
Nicodemus on the reintegration of consciousness or the aim of Christian yoga.
Christian yoga does not aspire directly to unity, but rather to the unity of two.
This is very important for understanding the standpoint which one takes towards
the infinitely serious problem of unity and duality. For this problem can open
the door to truly divine mysteries and can also close them to us. . . for ever, perhaps,
who knows? Everything depends on its comprehension. We can decide in favour
of monism and say to ourselves that there can be only one sole essence, one sole
being. Or we can decide — in view of considerable historical and personal experience
— in favour of dualism and say to ourselves that there are two principles in the
world: good and evil, spirit, and matter, and that, entirely incomprehensible though
this duality is at root, it must be admitted as an incontestable fact. We can, more-
over, decide in favour of a third point of view, namely that of love as the cosmic
32
MEDITATIONS ON THE TAROT
principle which presupposes duality and postulates its non-substantial but essential
unity.
These three points of view are found at the basis of the Vedanta (advaita) and
Spinozism (monism), Manichaeism and certain gnostic schools (dualism), and
the Judaeo-Christian current (love).
In order to give more clarity and precision to this problem, as well as to attain
greater depth — we shall take for our point of departure what Louis Claude de Saint-
Martin says concerning the number two in his book Des Nombres (“On Num-
bers”).
Now, in order to show how they (numbers) are related to their
base of activity, let us begin by observing the working of unity
and of the number two. When we contemplate an important
truth, such as the universal power of the Creator, his majesty,
his love, his profound light, or suchlike attributes, we bear
ourselves wholly towards this supreme model of all things; all
our faculties are suspended in order to fill us with him, and we
really only make ourselves one with him. This is the active image
of unity, and the number one in our languages is the expres-
sion of this unity or invisible union which, existing intimately
between all attributes of this unity, must equally exist between
it and all its produced creations. But if, after having borne all
our faculties of contemplation towards this universal source, we
return our gaze to ourselves and fill ourselves with our own con-
templation, in such a way that we regard ourselves as the origin
of some of the inner light or satisfaction that this source has pro-
cured for us, from that moment we establish two centres of con-
templation, two separate and rival principles, two bases which
ate not linked; lastly, we establish two unities, with this dif-
ference—that one is real and the other is apparent, (p. 2) [Then
he adds:] But to divide being through the middle is to divide
it into two parts; it is to pass from the whole to the quality of
the part or the half, and it is here that the true origin of illegiti-
mate twofoldness lies. . .this example is sufficient to show us
the birth of the number two — to show us the origin of evil. . .
(p. 3). (Louis Claude de Saint-Martin, Des Nombres, Nice, 1946,
pp. 2-3)
Duality therefore signifies the establishment of two centres of contemplation,
two separate and rival principles —one real and the other apparent —and this is
the origin of evil, which is only illegitimate twofoldness. Is this the only possible
interpretation of duality, twofoldness, the number two? Does there not exist a
legitimate two/oldness?. . .a twofoldness which does not signify the diminution
of unity, but rather its qualitative enrichment?
If we return to the conception of Saint-Martin of “two centres of contempla-
LETTER II THE HIGH PRIESTESS
33
tion” which are “two separate and rival principles”, we can ask ourselves if they
must necessarily be separate and rival? Does not the expression “contemplation”
itself, chosen by Saint-Martin, suggest the idea of two centres which contemplate
simultaneously—as would two eyes if they were placed vertically one above the
other—the two aspects of reality, the phenomenal and the noumenal? And that
it is by virtue of the two centres or “eyes” that we are —or are able to be—conscious
of “that which is above and that which is below”? Could one, for example, enun-
ciate the principal formula of the Emerald Table if one had only one “eye” or cen-
tre of contemplation instead of two}
Now, the Sep her Yetzirah says:
Two is the breath which comes from the Spirit, and formed in
it are twenty-two sounds. .. but the Spirit is first and above these.
(Sepber Yetzirah i, 10; trsl. W. Wynn Westcott, London, 1893,
p. 16)
Or, in other words, rwo is the divine Breath and its Reflection; it is the origin of
the “Book of Revelation” which is the world as well as the Holy Scripture. Two
is the number of con-sciousness of the breath of the Spirit and its “formed” (en-
graved) letters. It is the number of the reintegration of consciousness, signified
by the Master to Nicodemus by the virginal Water and the Breath of the Holy Spirit.
Two is all this, and it is even more. Not only is the number two not necessarily
the “illegitimate twofoldness” described by Saint-Martin, but also it is the number
of love or the fundamental condition of love which it necessarily presupposes and
postulates.. . because love is inconceivable without the Lover and the Loved, with-
out ME and YOU, without One and the Other.
If God were only One and if he had not created the World, he would not be
the God revealed by the Master, the God of whom St. John says:
God is love; and he who abides in love abides in God. and God
abides in him. (I John iv, 16)
He would not be this, because he would love no one other than himself. As this
is impossible from the point of view of the God of love, he is revealed to human
consciousness as the eternal Trinity—the Loving One who loves, the Loved One
who loves, and their Love who loves them: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Do you not also experience, dear Unknown Friend, a feeling of discomfort each
time that you encounter a formula stating the higher attributes of the Holy Trini-
ty, such as “Power, Wisdom, Love” or “Being, Consciousness, Beatitude” {sat —
chit—ananda). Personally, I always experienced this discomfort, and it was only
later, many years later, that I understood its cause. It is because God is love, that
he admits of no comparison, that he surpasses all — power, wisdom, and even be-
ing. One can. if one wishes, speak of the “power of love” the “wisdom of love”
34
MEDITATIONS ON THE TAROT
and the “life of love” in order to make a distinction between the three Persons
of the Holy Trinity, but one cannot put on the same level love on the one hand
and wisdom, power and being on the other. For God is love and it is love —it is
only love—which by its presence gives worth to power and to wisdom and to be-
ing itself. For being without love is deprived of all worth. Being without love would
be the most appalling torment —the Inferno itself!
Does love therefore surpass being? How could one doubt this after the revela-
tion of this truth through nineteen centuries by the Mystery of Calvary? “That
which is below is like to that which is above”—and is not the sacrifice of His life.
His terrestrial being, accomplished through love by God Incarnate, is this not the
demonstration of the superiority of love over being? And is not the Resurrection
the demonstration of the other aspect of the primacy of love over being, i.e. that
love is not only superior to being but also that it engenders it and restores it?
The problem of the primacy of being or of love goes back to antiquity. Plato
raised it when he said:
The sun, I presume you will say, not only furnishes to visibles
the power of visibility but it also provides for their generation
and growth and nurture though it is not itself g e n e r a t i o n . . . In
like manner, then, you are to say that the objects of knowledge
not only receive from the presence of the good their being
known, but their very existence and essence is derived to them
from it, though the good itself is not essence but still transcends
essence in dignity and surpassing power. (Plato. The Republic
509B; trsl. P. Shorey, 2 vols., London, 1930, 1935, vol. ii, p. 107)
And seven centuries later Sallustius, the friend of Emperor Julian, said:
Now if the First Cause was soul, everything would be animated
by soul, if intelligence, everything would be intellectual, if be-
ing, everything would share in being. Some in fact, seeing that
all things possess being, have thought that the First Cause was
being. This would be correct if things that were in being were
in being only and were not good. If, however, things that are
are by reason of their goodness and share in the good, then what
is first must be higher than being and in fact good. A very clear
indication of this is that fine souls for the sake of the good despise
being, when they are willing to face danger for country or friends
or virtue. (Sallustius, Concerning the Gods and the Universe,
v; trsl. A. D. Nock, Cambridge, 1926, p. 11)
The primacy of good (good being the abstract philosophical notion of the reality
of love) in relation to being has also been discussed by Plotinus (Enneads vi, 7,
23-24), by Proclus (In Platonis Theologiam ii, 4 = On the Theology of Plato),
LETTER II THE HIGH PRIESTESS
35
and by Dionysius the Areopagite (De divinis nomimbus, iv = On the Divine
Names). St. Bonavcntura (Collattonesin Hexaemeron x. 10) tried to reconcile this
Platonic primacy of good with the Mosaic primacy of being: Ego sum qui sum
(“I am that I am”. Exodus iii, 14) —asserted first by John Damascenus (John of
Damascus) and then by Thomas Aquinas. The latter states that amongst all the
divine names there is one which is eminently suited to God. and this is Qui est
(“He who is”), precisely because it signifies nothing other than being itself. Etienne
Gilson, in harmony with St. Thomas, John Damascenus and Moses, writes con-
cerning being:
In this principle lies an inexhaustible metaphysical fecundity
. . .there is but one God and this God is Being, that is the
corner-stone of all Christian philosophy, and it was not Plato,
it was not even Aristotle, it was Moses who instituted it. (Etienne
Gilson, The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy, trsl. A. H. C.
Downes, London. 1950, p. 51)
Yet what is the full significance of the adoption of the primacy of being, in-
stead of that of good, or according to St. John, that of love?
The idea of being is neutral from the point of view of the moral life. There
is no need to have the experience of the good and the beautiful in order to arrive
at it. The experience solely of the mineral realm already suffices to arrive at the
morally neutral idea of being. For the mineral is. For this reason the idea of being
is objective, i.e. it postulates, in the last analysis, the thing underlying everything,
the permanent substance behind all phenomena.
I invite you, dear Unknown Friend, to close your eyes and to render an exact
account of the image which accompanies this idea in your mental imagination.
Do you not find the vague image of a substance without colour or form, very similar
to water in the sea?
Whatever your subjective representation of being as such, the idea of being is
morally indifferent and is. consequently, essentially naturalistic. It implies some-
thing passive, i.e. a given or an unalterable fact. In contrast, when you think of
love in thejohannine sense or of the Platonic idea of good, you find yourself fac-
ing an essential activity, which is in no way neutral from the point of view of moral
life, but which is the heart itself. And the image which accompanies this notion
of pure actuality would be that of fire or of the sun (Plato compared the idea of
good to the sun, and its light to truth), in place of the image of an indefinite
fluid substance.
Thales and Heraclitus have two different conceptions. The one sees in water
the essence of things and the othet sees it in fire. But here, primarily, it is so that
the idea of G O O D and its summit — LOVE — is due to the conception of the world
as a moral process, whereas the idea of BEING and its summit —the God QUI
EST—is due to the conception of the world as that of a fact of Nature. The idea
36
MEDITATIONS ON THE TAROT
of good (and of love) is essentially subjective- It is absolutely necessary to have
had experience of psychic and spiritual life in order to be able to conceive of it,
whilst —as we have already indicated— the idea of being, being essentially ob-
jective, presupposes only a certain degree of outward experience. . .of the mineral
realm, for example.
The consequence of choosing between these two — I will not say “points of view”,
but rather “attitudes of soul”—lies above all in the intrinsic nature of the experience
of practical mysticism which consequently derives from this choice. He who chooses
being will aspire to true being and he who chooses love will aspire to love. For
one only finds that for which one seeks. The seeker for true being will arrive at
the experience of repose in being, and. as there cannot be two true beings (“the
illegitimate twofoldness” of Saint-Martin) or two separate co-eternal substances
but only one being and one substance, the centre of “false being” will be sup-
pressed (“false being” = ahamkara, or the illusion of the separate existence of
a separate substance of the “self). The characteristic of this mystical way is that
one loses the capacity to cry. An advanced pupil of yoga or Vedanta will for ever
have dry eyes, whilst the masters of the Cabbala, according to the Zobar, cry much
and often. Christian mysticism speaks also of the “gift of tears”— as a precious gift
of divine grace. The Master cried in front of the tomb of Lazarus. Thus the outer
characteristic of those who choose the other mystical way, that of the God of love,
is that they have the “gift of tears”. This is in keeping with the very essence of
their mystical experience. Their union with the Divine is not the absorption of
their being by Divine Being, but rather the experience of the breath of Divine
Love, the illumination by Divine Love, and the warmth of Divine Love. The soul
which receives this undergoes such a miraculous experience that it cries. In this
mystical experience fire meets with FIRE, Then nothing is extinguished in the
human personality but, on the contrary, everything is set ablaze. This is the ex-
perience of “legitimate twofoldness” or the union of two separate substances in
one sole essence. The substances remain separate as long as they are bereft of that
which is the most precious in all existence: free alliance in love.
I have spoken of “two substances” and “one essence”. Here it is necessary to really
grasp the significance of these two terms —substance (substantia) and essence
(essentia), whose exact distinction is today almost effaced. However, at one time
these two terms denoted two distinct categories not only of ideas but also of ex-
istence and consciousness itself.
Plato established the distinction between elvai (einai, being) and ourria (ousta,
essence). Being signifies for him the fact of existence as such, whereas essence
designates existence due to Ideas.
Everything which has existence has essence through its share in
Ideas, which are themselves essences. The term essence will
therefore not designate for us abstract existence but the reality
of the Idea. (A.J. E. Fouillee, La philosophie de Platan, 4 vols.,
Paris, 1888-89, vol. ii, pp. 106-7)
LETTER II THE HIGH PRIESTESS
37
Essence (essentia, ousia) signifies the positive act itself” by means of which being
is (in the Cabbala one would speak of the act of emanation of the first Sephirah,
KETHER—whose corresponding divine name is AHIH (eyeh), i.e. “I AM”—from
AIN-SOPH, the Unlimited).
. . . as it esse could generate the present participle active essens,
whence essentia would be derived. (Etienne Gilson, The Spirit
of Mediaeval Philosophy; trsl. A. H. C. Downes, London, 1950,
p. 54)
Thus the term essentia properly belongs only to God alone; everything else enters
into the category of substantiae. This is what the Church Father and Platonist,
St. Augustine, says:
.. . manifestum est Deum abusive substantiam vocari, ut
nomine usitatiore intellegitur essentia, quod vere ac proprte
dicitur, ita ut fortasse solum Deum dici oporteat essentiam
(. . . hence it is clear that God is not properly called a substance,
and that he is better called by the more usual term essence,
which term is a right and proper one; so much so indeed thai
perhaps God alone ought to be called essence.) (St. Augustine,
De Trinitate vii, 5, 10)
The distinction between substance and essence, between reality and the ideal,
between being and love (or the idea of good), or between He who is and AIN-
SOPH is also the key to the Gospel according to John:
No one has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the bosom
of the Father, he has made him known. (John i, 18)
“No one has ever seen God”, i.e. no one has ever contemplated God face to face
while maintaining his personality. For “to see” signifies “to perceive while being
in the face of that which one perceives”. Before Jesus Christ there were, without
doubt, numerous examples of the experience of God —being “seized by God”
(experience of the prophets), being “immersed in God” (experience of yogis and
mystics in antiquity), or seeing the revelation of His work, the world (experience
of sages and philosophers in antiquity), but no one ever saw God. For neither the
inspiration of the prophets, nor the immersion in God of the mystics, nor the
contemplation of God in the mirror of the creation by the sages is equivalent to
the new experience of the “vision” of God —the “beatific vision” of Christian
theology. For this “vision” takes place in the domain of essence transcending all
substance; it is not a fusion, but an encounterin the domain of essence, in which
the human personality (the consciousness of self) remains not only intact and
without impediment, but also becomes “that which it is”, i.e. becomes truly
itself—such as the Thought of God has conceived it for all eternity. The words
38
MEDITATIONS ON THE TAROT
of St. John, when thought of in this way. tcndet intelligible those of the Mastet
in the Gospel of St. John:
All who came before me are thieves and robbers. (John x, 8)
There is a profound mystery in these words. Indeed, how may they be understood
alongside numerous other sayings of the Master referring to Moses, David and
other prophets, who were all before him?
Now. it is a matter here not of theft and robbery, but of iht principle of initia-
tion before and after Jesus Christ. The masters prior to His Coming taught the
experience of God at the expense of the personality, which had to be diminished
when it was “seized” by God or “immersed” in God. In this sense — in the sense
of the diminution or augmentation of the “talent of gold” entrusted to humani-
ty, the personality, which is the “image and likeness of God” (Goethe: Dashochste
Gut der Erdenkinder ist dock die Personlichkeit, i.e. “The highest treasure of the
children of earth is surely the personality”) —the masters prior to Christ were
“thieves and robbers”. They certainly bore testimony to God but the way which
they taught and practised was that of depersona/isation, which made them wit-
nesses (“martyrs”) of God. The greatness of Bhagavan, the Buddha, was the high
degree of depersonalisation which he attained. The masters of yoga are masters
of depersonalisation. The ancient philosophers — those who really lived as “philos-
ophers’—practised depersonalisation. This is the case above all with the Stoics.
And this is why all those who have chosen the way of depersonalisation are
unable to cry and why they have dry eyes for ever. For it is the personality which
cries and which alone is capable of the “gift of tears”. “Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted” (Matthew v, 4).
Therefore this is one aspect at least (there is also another more profound one,
but I do not know if it will be possible to write about it in one of the following
Letters) according to which we may say that the mysterious words relating to “thieves
and robbers” can become a source of radiant light. When the Gospel speaks of
those who came before Jesus Christ, it is not only time which the word “before”
designates, but also the grade of initiation —they are thieves and robbers with
respect to the personality, since they taught the depersonalisation of the human
being. In contrast, the Master also says: “I have come that they (the sheep) may
have life, and have it abundantly” (John x, 10); in other words, the Master has
come in order to tender more living that which is dear to him and which is menaced
with dangers, i.e. the sheep as the image of the personality! This appears in-
conceivable in the presence of the ideal of the personality according to Nietzsche
and his “superman” or the great historical personalities such as Alexander the
Great, Julius Caesar, Napoleon.. . and the “great personalities” of modern times!
No, dear Unknown Friend, possession by the will-to-power or the will-to-glory
makes neither the personality nor its greatness. The “sheep” in the language of
love of the Master signify neither the “great personality” nor the “little personali-
i.KrrERirnii:iiiGiii>Rii-;sii:ss
w
ty”, but simply the individual soul which lives. He wants the soul to live without
danger and to have as intensive a life as God has destined for it. The “sheep” is
the living entity, surrounded by dangers, which is the object of divine care. Doesn’t
this suffice? Is there too little brilliance and glory here? Is this too feeble an im-
age to be able to arrive at, for example, a magician evoking good and evil spirits?
Here it is a matter of drawing attention to one thing, to one sole thing: the
language of the Master is that of love and not that of psychology, philosophy, or
science. The powerful magician, the artistic genius, the profound thinker, and
the radiant mystic certainly merit all these qualifications and perhaps still greater
ones, but they do not dazzle God. In the eyes of God they are dear sheep to him;
in his consideration of them he desires that they shall never go astray and that
they shall have life increasingly and unceasingly.
Before completing our reflections on the problem of the number two, the prob-
lem of legitimate twofoldness and illegitimate twofoldness, I should pay tribute
to Saint-Yves d’Alveydre, who set this problem in motion with his passionate intel-
lecuality. In his work Mission desjuifs (“Mission of the Jews”, Paris, 1956), he con-
centrated on the comparison of the complete divine name (YOD-HE-VAU-HE)
with the incomplete name (HE-VAU-HE). In the first case YOD, essence, is con-
sidered to be the supreme hierarchical principle; in the second case it is HE,
substance, to which priority is attributed. It is in this way that spiritualism and
naturalism originated —with all the consequences they entail in religious, philo-
sophical, scientific and social spheres. The problem —as a formula- is therefore
put with admirable exactness and precision, and it is this that I want to draw at-
tention to. But I am at the same time obliged to say that exact and precise as it
is, the material content that Saint-Yves gives to it leaves much to be desired. In
particular he states that the principle of pure intellect is YOD, and to HE-VAU-
HE as material content he attributes the principle of love and soul, or the “pas-
sionate principle”. Thus, in attributing priority to the intellect as the masculine,
spiritual principle, he subordinates love to it as the feminine, psychic principle.
Now, the Master taught of the Father, who is love. The intellect being the reflection
— or light—of the fire principle of love, can only be the feminine principle, Sophia
or Wisdom, who assists the Creator in the work of creation, according to the Old
Testament. The gnostic tradition also considers Sophia as the feminine principle.
Pure intellect is that which reflects; love is that which acts.
The fact that man is usually more intellectual than woman does not signify
that the intellect is a masculine principle. On the contrary, rather: man, being
physically masculine, is feminine from the psychic point of view, whilst woman,
being physically feminine, is masculine (active) in her soul. Now, the intellect is
the feminine side of the soul, whilst the fertilising imagination is the masculine
principle. The intellect that is not fertilised by imagination guided by the heart
is sterile. It depends on impulses which it receives from the participation of the
heart by means of the imagination.
With regard to the third principle, the Spirit, it is neither intellect nor imagina-
40
MEDITATIONS ON THE TAROT
(ion, but Love-Wisdom. In principle it ought to be androgynous, but in practice
it is not always so.
This, therefore, is all that it seems to me necessary to say on the subject of” the
problem of two and its significance —the resolution of this problem being the
key to the second Arcanum, the High Priestess. For this is the arcanum of the
twofoldness underlying consciousness —spontaneous activity and its reflection; it
is the arcanum of the transformation of the pure act into representation, of
representation into memory pictures, of memory pictures into the word, and of
the word into written characters or the book.
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, wordand writing; or,
in other words — revelation and tradition, spoken and written; or, to express it
in a single word — GNOSIS (this is also the title given by Eliphas Levi as a heading
for the second chapter of his Dogme et rituelde la haute magie; trsl. A. E. Waite,
Transcendental Magic. Its Doctrine and Ritual, London, 1968).
It is concerned with gnosis and not at all with science, since gnosis is exactly
what the Card of the High Priestess expresses both in its entirety and in its details,
namely the descent of revelation (the pure act or essence reflected by substance)
down to the final stage —or “book”. Science, on the contrary, begins with facts
(the “characters” of the book of Nature) and ascends from facts to laws and from
laws to principles. Gnosis is the reflection of that which is above; science, in con-
trast, is the interpretation of that which is below. The last stage of gnosis is the
world of facts, where it becomes fact itself, i.e. it becomes “book”; the first stage
of science is the world of facts which it “reads”, in order to arrive at laws and
principles.
As it is gnosis (i.e. mysticism become conscious of itself) that the Card sym-
bolises, it does not present the image of a scientist or a doctor, but rather that
of a priestess, the High Priestess —the sacred guardian of the Book of Revelation.
As the High Priestess represents the stages of the descent of revelation, from the
small uppermost circle on her tiara as far as the open book on her knees, her posi-
tion is in keeping with this —she is seated. For, to be seated signifies a relation-
ship between the vertical and horizontal which corresponds to the task of the out-
ward projection (horizontal, book) of the descending revelation (vertical, tiara).
This position indicates the practical methodof gnosis, just as the standing Magi-
cian indicates the practical method of mysticism. The Magician dares—Tor this
reason he is standing. The High Priestess knows — this is why she is seated. The
transformation from to dare to to know consists in the change of position from
that of the Magician to that of the High Priestess.
The essence of pure mysticism is creative activity. One becomes a mystic when
one dares to elevate oneself—i.e. “to stand upright”, then even more upright, and
LETTER II THE HIGH PRIESTESS
-11
ever more upright – beyond all created being as far as the essence of Being, the
divine, creative fire. “Concentration without effort” is burning without smoke or
crackling fire. On the part of the human being it is the act of daring to aspire-
to the supreme Reality, and this act is real and effective only when the soul is serene
and the body completely relaxed —without smoke and crackling fire.
The essence of pure gnosis is reflected mysticism. Gnosis signifies that that which
takes place in mysticism has become higher knowledge. That is, gnosis is mysticism
which has become conscious of itself. It is mystical experience transformed into
higher knowledge.
Now, this transformation of mystical experience into knowledge takes place in
stages. The first is the pure reflection or a kind of imaginative repetition of the
experience. The second stage is its entrance into memory. The third stage is its
assimilation in thought and feeling, in a manner where it becomes a “message”
or inner word. The fourth stage, lastly, is reached when it becomes a communicable
symbol or “writing”, or “book”—i.e. when it is formulated.
The pure reflection of mystical experience is without image and without word.
It is purely movement. Here consciousness is moved by the immediate contact
with that which transcends it, with the trans-subjective. This experience is as cer-
tain as the experience belonging to the sense of touch in the physical world and
is, at the same time, as much devoid of form, colour and sound as the sense of
touch. For this reason one can compare it with this sense and designate it as
“spiritual touch” or “intuition”.
This designation is not quite adequate, but at least it has the merit of express-
ing the character of immediate contact, which is peculiar to the first stage of reflec-
tion of the mystical act. Here, mystical experience and gnosis are still inseparable
and are as one.
If we want to establish the relationship between, on the one hand this state
of consciousness and the three states which follow it, and on the other hand the
sacred name mm (YOD-HE-VAU-HE; abbreviated YHVH), which is the sum-
mation of Jewish gnosis or the whole Cabbala, we cannot do otherwise than to
attribute it to the first letter, YOD. The letter YOD is a point with the tendency
of the indicated projection: •> . This corresponds admirably to the experience of
spiritual touch, which also is nothing other than a point signifying germinally
within itself a world of potentialities.
Spiritual touch (or intuition) is that which permits contact between our con-
sciousness and the world of pure mystical experience. It is by virtue of this that
there exists in the world and in the history of mankind a real relationship between
the living soul and the living God—which is true religion. Mysticism is the source
and the root of all religion. Without it religion and the entire spiritual life of
humanity would be only a code of laws regulating human thought and action.
If God signifies for man something more than an abstract notion, it is thanks to
spiritual touch or mysticism. It is the seedai aW religious life —with its theology,
rituals and practices. Mysticism is also the seed of gnosis, which is esoteric theology,
i
Ml I >l I A I K ) I V > U N 11II: I A K O I
jusi as magic is esoieric art and occultism or Hermeticism is esoteric philosophy.
Now, mysticism is the YOD of the Tetragrammaton, jusi as gnosis is the first HE.
magii is the VAU – or “child” of mysticism and gnosis – and Hermetic philosophy
is the second (final) HE, i.e. the summation of what is revealed. The last HE or
Hermetic philosophy is the “book” which the High Priestess holds on her knees,
whilst the three layers of her tiara represent the stages of the descent of revelation
from the mystical plane to the gnostic plane, then from the gnostic plane to the
magical plane and, lastly, from the magical plane to the philosophical plane — to
the plane of the “book” or the “doctrine”.
Just as spiritual touch is the mystical sense, so there is a “gnostic sense”, a “magical
sense” and a special “Hermetic-philosophical sense”. Full consciousness of the
sacred name YHVH can only be attained by the united experience of these four
senses and the practice of four different methods. For the fundamental thesis of
Hermetic epistemology (or “gnoseology”) is that “each object of knowledge
demands a method of knowledge which is proper to it”. This thesis or rule signifies
that one ought never to apply the same method of knowledge on different planes,
but only to different objects belonging to the same plane. A crying example of
ignorance of this law is “cybernetic psychology”, which wants to explain man and
his psychic life by mechanical, material laws.
Each mode of experience and knowledge when pushed to its limit becomes a
sense or engenders a special sense. He who dares to aspire to the experience of
the unique essence of Being will develop the mystical sense or spiritual touch.
If he wants not only to live but also to learn to understand what he lives through,
he will develop the gnostic sense. And if he wants to put into practice what he
has understood from mystical experience, he will develop the magical sense. If,
lastly, he wants all that he has experienced, understood and practised to be not
limited to himself and his time, but to become communicable to othets and to
be transmitted to future generations, he must develop the Hermetic-philosophical
sense, and in practising it he will “write his book”.
Such is the law that YOD-HE-VAU-HE expresses concerning the process of
transformation of mystical experience into tradition; such is the law of the birth
of tradition. Its source is mystical experience: one cannot be a gnostic or a magi-
cian or a Hermetic philosopher (or occultist) without being a mystic. The tradi-
tion is a living one only when it constitutes a complete organism, when it is the
result of the union of mysticism, gnosis, magic and Hermetic philosophy. If this
is not so, it decays and dies. And the death of the tradition manifests itself in
the degeneration of its constituent elements, which become separated. Then,
Hermetic philosophy separated from magic, gnosis and mysticism becomes a
parasitic system of autonomous thought which is, truth to tell, a veritable psycho-
pathological complex, because it bewitches or enslaves human consciousness and
deprives it of its liberty. A person who has had the misfortune to fall victim to
the spell of a philosophical system (and the spells of sorcerers are mere trifles in
comparison to the disastrous effect of the spell of a philosophical system!) can
no longer see the world, or people, 01 historic events, as they are; he sees everything
onW through the distorting prism of the system by which he is possessed, I hus,
a Marxist of today is incapable of seeing anything else in the history ol mankind
orhet than the “class struggle”.
What I am saying concerning mysticism, gnosis, magic and philosophy would
be consideted by him only as a ruse on the part of the boutgeois class, with the
aim of “screening with a mystical and idealistic ha2e” the reality of the exploita-
tion of the proletariat by the boutgeoisie. . . although I have not inherited anything
from my parents and I have not experienced a single day without having to earn
my living by means of work recognised as “legitimate” by Marxists!
Another contempotary example of possession by a system is Freudianism. A
man possessed by this system will see in everything that 1 have written only the
expression of “suppressed libido”, which seeks and finds release in this m a n n e r
It would therefore be the lack of sexual fulfillment which has driven me to oc-
cupy myself with the Tarot and to write about it!
Is there any need for furthet examples? Is it still necessary to cite the Hegelians
with their distortion of the history of humanity, the Scholastic “realists” of the
Middle Ages with the Inquisition, the rationalists of the eighteenth century who
were blinded by the light of their own autonomous reasoning?
Yes, autonomous philosophical systems set itated from the living body of tradi-
tion are parasitic structures, which seize the thought, feeling and finally the will
of human beings. In fact, they play a role comparable to the psycho-pathological
complexes of neurosis or other psychic maladies of obsession. Their physical analogy
is cancer.
With respect to autonomous magic, i.e. magic without mysticism and without
gnosis, it necessatily degenerates into sorcery or, at least, into a pathological,
romantic aestheticism. There is no “black magic”, but rather sorcerers groping
in the dark. They grope in the dark because the light of gnosis and mysticism
is lacking.
Gnosis without mystical experience is sterility itself. It is just a religious ghost,
without life or movement. It is the corpse of religion, animated intellectually by
means of scraps fallen from the table of the past history of humanity. A “Univer-
sal Gnostic Church”! Good Lord! What can one say, what should be said, when
one has a knowledge, however limited, of the laws of spiritual life governing all
ttadition?!
Passing on to mysticism which has not given binh to gnosis, magic and Hermetic
philosophy —such a mysticism must, sooner or later, necessarily degenerate into
spiritual enjoyment” or “intoxication”. The mystic who wants only the experience
of mystical states without understanding them, without drawing practical con-
clusions from them for life, and without wanting to be useful to others, who for-
gets everyone and everything in order to enjoy the mystical experience, can be com-
pared to a spiritual drunkard.
So tradition can only live —as with all other living organisms —when it is a com-
44
MEDITATIONS ON 11 IK TAKOl
plete organism of mysticism, gnosis and effective magic, which manifests itself
outwardly as Hermetic philosophy. This means to say simply that a tradition can-
not live unless the whole human being lives through it, in it, and for it. For the
whole human being is at one and the same time a mystic, a gnostic, a magician
and a philosopher, i.e. he is religious, contemplative, artistic and intelligent.
Everyone believes in something, understands something, is capable o/something
and thinks something. It is human nature which determines whether a tradition
will live or die. And it is also human nature which is capable of giving birth to
a complete tradition and keeping it living. Because the four “senses”—mystical,
gnostic, magical and philosophical — exist, be it in potentiality or in actuality, in
each human being.
Now, the practical teaching of the second Arcanum, the High Priestess, relates
to the development of the gnostic sense. What is the gnostic sense?
It is the contemplative sense. Contemplation —which follows on from concen-
tration and meditation —commences the very moment that discursive and logical
thought is suspended. Discursive thought is satisfied when it arrives at a well-
founded conclusion. Now, this conclusion is the point of departure for contempla-
tion. It fathoms the profundity of this conclusion at which discursive thought ar-
rives. Contemplation discovers a world within that which discursive thought simply
verifies as “true”. The gnostic sense begins to operate when it is a matter of a new
dimension in the act of knowledge, namely that of depth. It becomes active when
it is a question of something deeper than the question: Is it true or false? It perceives
more the significance of the truth discovered by discursive thought and also “why
this truth is true in itself, i.e. it reaches to the mystical or essential source of this
truth. How docs it arrive at this? By listening in silence. It is as if one wanted to
recall something forgotten. Consciousness “listens” in silence, as one “listens” in-
wardly in order to call to mind from the night of forgetfulness something that
one formerly knew. But there is an essential difference between the “listening
silence” of contemplation and the silence arising from the effort to recall. In this
second situation, it is the horizontal’—in time, past and present—which comes
into play, whilst the “listening silence” of contemplation relates to the vertical—to
that which is above and that which is below. In the act of recall, one establishes
in oneself an inner mirror in order to reflect the past: when one “listens in silence”
in the state of contemplation, one also makes consciousness into a mirror, but
this mirror has the task of reflecting that which is above. It is the act of recall in
the vertical.
There are, in fact, two types of memory: “horizontal memory”, which renders
the past present, and “vertical memory”, which renders that which is above as
present below, or — according to our distinction between the two categories of sym-
bolism which were defined in the first Letter—the “mythological memory” and
the “typological memory”.
Henri Bergson is perfectly right when he writes of horizontal or mythological
memory:
LETTKR II III! HK,H PKUSfESS
45
The truth is that memory does not consist in a regression from
the present to the past, but on the contrary in a progress from
the past to the present. (Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory;
trsl. N. M. Paul and W. S. Palmer, London, 1911, p. 319)
and also:
. . . pure memory is a spiritual manifestation. With memory we
are in very truth in the domain of the spirit, (ibid., p. 320)
It is therefore the past which comes to us in the remembrance and this is why
the act of recollection is preceded by a state of empty silence which plays the role
of a mirror, where the past can be reflected or, according to Bergson, where
the state of the brain continues the remembrance; it gives it a
hold on the present by the materiality which it (acting as a mir-
ror) confers upon it. (ibid., p. 320)
It is the same again for vertical or typological memory. Plato is also perfectly
right when he says of the memory of the transcendent Self which can confer
reminiscence upon the empirical self:
Seeing that the soul is immortal and has been born many times,
and has beheld all things both in this world and in the nether
realms, she has acquired knowledge of all and everything. . .
(thus) it would seem, research and learning are wholly recollec-
tion. (Plato, Menon 81, c, d; trsl. W. R. M. Lamb, London, 1924.
p. 303)
Here, likewise, that which is above, in the domain of the transcendent Self,
descends to the plane of the empirical self, when there is created in oneself the
empty silence which serves to mirror the revelation from above.
What is necessary, therefore, in order to obtain here in the realm of the state
of waking consciousness the reflection of that which is above in the mystical
domain?
It is necessary “to be seated”, i.e. to establish an active-passive state of con-
sciousness, or state of soul which listens attentively in silence. It is necessary to
be woman”, i.e. to be in the state of silent expectation, and not in that of the
activity which “talks”. It is necessary “to cover with a veil” the intermediare planes
between the plane whose reflection is expected and the plane of the state of wak-
ing consciousness where the reflection becomes actualised. It is necessary7 “to cover
the head with a three-layered tiara”, i.e. to apply oneself to a problem or ques-
46
MEDITATIONS ON THE TAROT
lion of such gravity that it bears upon the three worlds and on that which is above.
Lastly, it is necessary “to have one’s eyes turned towards the open book on the
knees”, i.e. to carry out a complete psychurgical operation in the aim of objectify-
ing one’s result, in the aim of “continuing the book of the tradition”, adding
something to it.
Now. all these practical rules of gnosis are found clearly indicated in the Card,
the High Priestess. Here is a woman, she is seated; she wears a three-layered tiara;
a veil is suspended above her head to cover the intermediate planes that she does
not want to perceive; and she is looking at an open book on her knees.
The gnostic sense is therefore 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, and that the contact be-
tween the perceiver and the perceived is not so immediate as in spiritual touch
or mystical experience.
It still remains to characterise the two other senses mentioned above, namely
the magical sense and the Hermetic-philosophical sense.
The magical sense is that of projection, whilst the Hermetic-philosophical sense
is that of synthesis. By “projection” is meant ro put outwards, followed by detaching
from oneself, the contents of the inner life —an operation similar to that which
is produced on the psychic plane in artistic creation and on the physical plane
in giving birth.
The talent of the artist consists in this: that he can render objective — or project
— his ideas and feelings so as to obtain a more profound effect on others than
that of the expression of ideas and feelings by a person who is not an artist. A
work of art is endowed with a life of its own. When a woman gives birth to a child,
she gives birth to a being endowed with a life of its own, which detaches itself
from her organism in order to start an independent existence. The magical sense
also consists in the faculty of projecting outwards the contents of the inner life,
which remain endowed with a life of their own. Magic, art and giving birth are
essentially analogous and pertain to the same category of projection or exteriorisa-
tion of the inner life. The Church dogma of the creation of the world ex nihilo,
i.e. the projection from “nothingness” of forms and matter which are conferred
with a life of their own, signifies the divine and cosmic crowning of this series
of analogies. The doctrine of creation ex nihilo is the apotheosis of magic. Its essen-
tial statement is. in fact, that the world is a magical act.
In contrast, pantheistic, emanationist and demiurgic doctrines deprive crea-
tion of its magical sense. Pantheism denies the independent existence of creatures;
they live only as parts of the divine life and the world is only the body of God.
Emanationism attributes only a transitory, and therefore ephemeral, existence to
creatures and the world. Demiurgism declares that ex nihilo nihil(“out of nothing
comes nothing”) and teaches that there must exist a substance co-eternal with
God, which God uses as material for his work of craftmanship. God is therefore
LETTER II THE HIGH PRIESTESS
47
not the creator or magical author of the world, but only its craftsman — he only
forms, i.e. regroups and recombines, the material elements which are given to him.
Here it is not a matter of considering the doctrine of creation ex nihilo as the
only explanation of the world that we find around us. within us and above us.
Because the world is vast and great, there is room and there are levels of existence
for all modes of constructive activity which, taken all together, explain the world
of our experience such as it is. What is it a question of here? It is to affirm with
as much clarity as possible the thesis that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is the
highest possible expression of magic, namely divine and cosmic magic.
But if you ask me, dear Unknown Friend, if I believe that the creation of the
world is only a magical act, without something preceding and wirhout something
following it, I reply to you: no, I do not believe this. A mystical-i-ct and zgnostic
act “precede” in eternity the act of creation as a magical act; this is followed by
the activity of formation by the demiurge, or the demiurgic hierarchies, who under-
take the work of craftmanship—work which is essentially rhat of executive or
Hermetic-philosophical intelligence.
The classical Cabbala furnishes us with a marvellous example of the peace possi-
ble between apparently rival doctrines. In its doctrine often Sephiroth, it teaches
first the mystery of eternal mysticism—AIN-SOPH, the Unlimited. Then it ex-
pounds the gnostic doctrine of eternal emanarions from the womb of the Divine,
which precede — in ordine cognoscendi—the act of creation. They arc the ideas
of God within God. which precede the creation — the latter being a conscious act
and not impulsive or instinctive. Then it speaks of pure creation or creation ex
nihilo —the act of the magical projection of the ideas of the plan of creation, i.e.
the Sephiroth. This creative, magical act is followed — //? ordine cognoscendi,
always —by the activity of formarion in which the beings of the spiritual hierarchies
participate, including man. It is in this way that, according to the Cabbala, the
world comes into being, that the world of facts or deeds known to us rhrough
experience becomes what it is.
Now, ‘olam ha’assiah, the world of facts, is preceded by ‘olam ha yetzirah, the
world of formation or the demiurgic world; this is the product of ‘olam ha beriah,
the world or creation of the magical world which is, in turn, the realisation of
olam ha atziluth, the world of emanations or the gnostic world, inseparate and
inseparable from God, who in his true essence is the mystery of supreme mysticism
– A I N – S O P H , the Unlimited.
It is therefore possible — and for us there is no doubt about it —to reconcile the
diverse doctrines concerning the creation; it is only necessary to put each of them
in its proper place, or to apply each to the plane which is proper to it. The Cab-
bala, through its doctrine of the Sephiroth, provides a wonderful proof that this
is so.
Pantheism is true for the “world of emanations” (‘olam ha atziluth), where there
are only ideas —within God and inseparable from him; bur theism is true when
one leaves the domain of uncreated eternity to pass on to the creation, meaning
-48
MEDITATIONS (>N II l|- TAROT
the creation of the ancestors or archetypes of phenomena that we know through
our experience. And demiurgism is true when we contemplate the world or plane
of formation, or the evolution of beings with the aim of coming into conformity
with their created prototypes.
But leaving aside the worlds or planes of formation, creation, emanation and
divine-mystical essence, one can confine oneself solely to the plane of facts. Then
naturalism becomes true —within the limits of this plane, taken in isolation.
The establishing of the hierarchic order of these doctrines concerning the crea-
tion, which appear to be rival, has led us right into the domain of activity of the
Hermetic-philosophical sense —the sense of synthesis. This sense, corresponding
to the second HE of the divine name YHVH, is essentially that of final summary
or the vision of the whole. It differs from the gnostic sense—which corresponds
to the first HE of the divine name — in that it summarises or gives the synthesis
of the differentiated whole, whilst the gnostic sense gives the reflection of the
whole in its germinal state. The gnostic sense produces the first synthesis or the
synthesis before analysis. The Hermetic-philosophical sense, in contrast, produces
the second synthesis or the synthesis after analysis. The work which is accomplished
by means of this sense is not entirely creative. Rather, it is “demiurgic”, a work
of craftmanship, where one carries out the forming of a given material with the
aim of giving it the form of its final manifestation.
Since one finds in the Emerald Table formulae summarising “the three parts
of the philosophy of the whole world” (trespartes philosophiae totius mundi),
and since these at the same time summarise the worlds of magical experience,
gnostic revelation and mystical experience, we have given this sense the name
“Hermetic-philosophical” sense, i.e. the sense of synthesis of the three worlds or
higher planes in a fourth world or plane. It is the sense of synthesis operating in
the vertical of the superimposed planes, i.e. it is “Hermetic”. For Hermeticism
is essentially the philosophy, based on magic, gnosis and mysticism, which aspires
to the synthesis of the diverse planes of the macrocosm and microcosm. When
one summarises facts on a single plane — for example those of biology — one uses
the scientific sense and not the Hermetic-philosophical sense. The scientific
sense —which is generally known and recognised —summarises the facts of experi-
ence on a single plane, in the horizontal. Hermeticism is not a science and will
never be one. It can certainly make use of the sciences and their results, but by
doing so it does not become a science.
Non-Hermetic contemporary philosophy summarises particular sciences with
the aim of fulfilling the function of a “science of sciences”—and has this in com-
mon with Hermeticism. But, in itself, it differs from Hermeticism, which aspires
to summarise experience in all planes, which varies according to the plane where
the experience takes place. This is why we have chosen the term “Hermetic-
philosophical” to designate the fourth sense, the sense of synthesis.
It goes without saying that the characterisation of the four senses —whose col-
laboration is necessary for a tradition to live and not to degenerate— is sketched
LETTER II THE HIGH PRIESTESS
49
here in a very incomplete manner. But the two following Arcana —the Empress
and the Emperor-are of a nature such as to give greater depth and more con-
crete content to what we are setting forth, especially concerning the magical sense
and the Hermetic-philosophical sense. For the third Arcanum of the Tarot, the
Empress, is the Arcanum of magic and the fourth Arcanum, the Emperor, is that
of Hermetic philosophy.

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