The High Priestess

Number: 2 Letter: 3 Beth

In this picture we see a female figure clad in a priestly robe and seated on a strange throne, immobile, calm, inscrutable, mysterious and majestic. She is the high priestess of the temple and guardian of its secrets. She wears a tiara ringed by two gold bands, with a crescent moon on top. This crescent moon signifies that this figure represents a passive, female-receptive state in which man directs his whole interest and receptivity simultaneously to two planes: to this world and the other. These two planes, these two worlds, are also symbolised by the two gold bands on the tiara.

The face of the high priestess is partly covered with a white veil. This shows that she reveals by no means all of her nature. She wears a long, tight-fitting, blue dress. Blue denotes that in her innermost being she is filled with pure faith in God, selflessness and love of mankind. Over this dress she wears a red robe edged with yellow. Red shows the spirituality which she outwardly manifests in the world of matter. In so doing, she hides from inquisitive eyes her loving, innermost being symbolised by the colour blue. The yellow border signifies her reason, which she manifests through language and writing. The robe is fastened to her body by two broad straps on which there are several small crosses. These again signify the priestess's close relations both to the realm of the spirit and the realm of matter.

In her right hand she holds a half-closed book which contains, but as yet does not yield, the mysteries of this world and the other. On the cover of the book is the Chinese symbol of the deity resting in itself, Yang and Yin, in which the two poles still rest in one unity in God. Only in their manifestations are these two worlds, the external material world, and beyond this the inner spiritual one, ostensibly separated from each other. In the inner reality they always belong together, they cannot possibly exist without each other. For it is on the tension existing between them in the world of matter that the whole of Creation is based.

In her left hand she holds two keys. These are the keys to this world and the next. She has access to both worlds, she can lock or unlock the gates, enter or leave as she pleases. But she does not divulge the mysteries of these worlds to the immature.

She is seated on a throne. On either side of the back of the throne are two tall pillars. Simply the colours above reveal that the right-hand pillar is fiery, masculine-spiritual, and the left-hand one moist, feminine-feral. These are the two pillars of King Solomon, Jachin and Boaz, on which he built his temple. They are also die two legs of Logos in Revelation. One foot stands on the land, the other on the sea. These two pillars sustain the tension between the two creative poles, the positive and negative one, on which, as the Bible says, the creative principle, Logos, rests as it creates the universe. There is a curtain between the pillars. It corresponds to the veil of the Egyptian goddess Isis. In the Hindu philosophy of religion this curtain is the veil of may a. It screens the mysterious absolute reality resting in man's unconscious, but which the immature man cannot and is not permitted to see. The secrets of the unconscious are still hidden from his eyes, but he already suspects the titanic powers at work below the level of his con sciousness. He believes that the phenomena he perceives do not arise from his own unconscious but from outside. Thus he begins to concern himself with the phenomena of occultism. He attends spiritualist meetings where, as he believes, the 'spirits' of the departed manifest their presence and transmit messages from the hereafter. He also goes to other circles and societies which pursue all kinds of' sciences of the occult'. Thus he becomes a 'seeker'.

The floor on which the high priestess sits is made up of two kinds of coloured tiles, black and white stone squares laid out like die squares of a chess-board. The white tiles symbolise the spiritual, invisible world, and the black tiles the material, visible world. Just as these various squares are combined on the floor, so, in the soul of the seeking man, the two worlds are combined, but not yet united. He already begins to grow spiritual, but is still essentially in the bondage of matter.

One arm-rest of the throne represents a black sphinx and the other a white one. Only the black sphinx is, however, visible; the white sphinx is still hidden from view under the high priestess's robe.

The sphinx is a very important stage on die path to self-knowledge. In Greek mythology we read that people asked Oedipus, loudly lamenting, to save them from the monster, the terrible sphinx, who sat on the clifftop looking down to the plain and poisoning the pure air with her breath. If help did not come at once all the people of Cadmus would perish and die. Every day she uttered her incomprehensible words and devoured each man who failed to solve her riddle. Oedipus asked what this riddle was. The wailing people replied: 'The sphinx says no more than this: "What is it that has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?"' And Oedipus went to the sphinx and when she posed the same question he answered: 'Man, who crawls on all fours in infancy, walks on two feet when grown and leans on a staff in old age.' And with a terrible roar the sphinx leaped down from her cliff and ran away.

The riddle of the sphinx is thus the great riddle of man. And in this picture, as the arm-rest of the throne, this sphinx is also the great riddle of man - self-knowledge.

The high priestess's left arm rests on the visible black sphinx, and her right arm on the as yet invisible white sphinx. The whole picture of the high priestess shows the state of the newly awakened human being, who, for the very first time, has experienced the stirrings of self-awareness. He has learned that an 'other world' exists besides this earthly material one. His interest turns to this 'other world' which is to be found beyond his consciousness. He begins to wonder about the hereafter and wanders from one so-called 'spiritual society' to another. He goes wherever he senses a possibility of solving the great riddle of being. He already suspects that he is not in this world for the sole purpose of fulfilling earthly duties. These duties are also 'his' duties, for the additional and very good reason that these and only these can help him to reach the great goal of his life, the attainment of self-knowledge. What this great goal is, he does not yet know, but he feels that this life still owes him something, that it must bring him something wonderful which he has waited for all his days. This must be fulfilment, redemption. He does not yet clearly recognise that this goal consists in nothing other than the sweeping aside of the veil of the maya, the veil of illusions, renouncing all errors, discovering his own true Self and raising it to full consciousness. He knows only the worldly, conscious side of his own being, his apparent Self which he is not, while his own spiritual being still rests in his unconscious. Since he does not even know where to start seeking it, he seeks the hereafter and what happens after death. He wishes to know where the departed go, because he knows that he too will go there. But the high priestess who guards all these secrets does not yet take the great key and unlock the gate to the hereafter for him. Nevertheless he feels that behind this curtain he will find the solution to the riddle, the whole truth. And so he pursues his search. He goes on to learn philosophy and psy chology, studies the philosophies of religion of all countries, and pursues all the Arts. It is only a question of degree whether he becomes an earnest seeker or a charlatan. For behind the serious research of the scholar, as behind the various childish amusements of the charlatan, lies the same desperate search by man for the great divine mysteries of eternal being !

The picture of the high priestess carries the number 2 and the letter beth. The number 2 embodies the idea of division. There is no unity in existence which could contain the number 2. If, however, this number nevertheless lodges itself in a unity, this signifies a schism, disintegration of the unity concerned, and, in the case of a human soul, death. This state is expressed by the number 2 in every language of the world.* In this picture the number 2 denotes the two worlds, here and beyond, which the seeking man bears within him and which bring about an inner conflict. This torments him and he seeks release, 'redemption' from it. On the one hand he still belongs here in the temporal world with its earthly joys and sorrows, on the other hand he is already interested in what lies behind it, what purpose it all serves if in the end we have to leave everything here, and what the values are that wre can finally take with us. And if we succeed in taking something with us, where shall we go with it ? This whither is what interests him, for he has already realised that this world is only the effect, but not the cause. This world is not an absolute reality, it is only a world of appearance. Yet where is the absolute reality, the eternal, immortal cause? He knows that where there is an effect there must also be a cause. And the cause of this world is what man seeks to find.

The high priestess, however, does not raise the curtain before the sacred shrine, but lets the immature man continue to seek the truth by himself. If she were to reveal the nature of this truth to man, he would not gain anything by it. On the other hand, if he himself seeks this truth, he will find it in

* The author here draws attention to the German word ' Vcriweiflung7 containing the number two —

reality - he will be this truth himself! - To understand through reason is all very well, but that which has been understood is still outside and not inside man. Reason is merely an instrument which helps us to understand. Yet this understanding is still very far from realisation. We do not seek words, but the meaning of words, the reality, which we can never experience through reason but can only be ourselves.

In hieroglyphic writing, the letter beth symbolises the human mouth. The high priestess as yet keeps her lips closed. She betrays nothing of her secrets and yet implies that they exist, so that man does not merely stand there, but is lured into seeking them himself. He will find them!

The letter beth designates the second host of angels. It is the second sefirah and corresponds to Hokkmah, theoretical reason.

0 0

Post a comment