Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Isis and the Tarot: Goddess of the Moon and High Priestess

In a recent talk at the Theosophical Society, Katy N Butler gave a talk entitled ‘Isis- Bright Queen of Magick and Healing and the Eternal Soul (Ba)’. The story of Isis, her suffering and message of unconditional love was shown as a map for a process of internal integration. Katy talked about loss and sorrow, ‘the shadow sides of Isis’ and connected her with the High Priestess card in the Tarot. Katy has recently published a book ‘The Egyptian Path To Love’ and runs a modern-day Mystery School in Egypt (Sacred Egypt).

Isis features heavily in the Major Arcana if you look for her. In the story of Osiris and Isis, seven scorpions assisted Isis in searching for the scattered 14 body parts of Osiris. The card entitled The Moon (number 18) shows a scorpion and a crayfish emerging from a body of water. The water could be the Nile, which symbolises Isis’ tears. In some accounts of the Isis and Osiris story a crayfish or crab ate the phallus of Osiris, the one body part Isis could not find in her search.

Two dogs are pictured looking up to the moon. Dogs have mythical links with death and the moon, and Anubis, Egyptian god of the underworld had the head of a jackal.

A woman’s face stares out from inside the moon. The deep sorrow of Isis at the loss of Osiris is reflected in this card, which also contains lessons about the concepts of fear and loss and the lessons to be learned from going through these experiences. This card is one of the most misunderstood of the Tarot, it has attracted a host of different associations and interpretations, some very negative. It was often thought of as a bad omen to draw this card- but really it speaks only of fear, which is in the mind. Without fear, we can transform ourselves by loving courageously even if we cannot be sure of outcomes.

The Moon is the link between Spirit (Sun) and Earth (Matter), urging a transcending of the material and physical and a plunge into the realms of the unconscious for answers.

In ‘The Sacred Magic of Ancient Egypt’, Rosemary Clark tells us that the most respected use of divination in Ancient Egypt was dream interpretation. The Sentyt- or Priestess, was the practioner of divination sciences and she would have been ‘versed in several forms of divination, such as scrying, and in reading sacred images like the Tarot.’ The patron deity of divination science- or oracle – was Maat. This fits in with the moon card in the Tarot being linked to dreams, and seems to point at this card being one of the most important in terms of Ancient Egyptian symbols and resonances.

Just as the true symbology behind moon worship remained hidden for centuries, the true meaning of the Moon card seems to have been masked and distorted. All of the three water signs are represented here - Cancer the crab, Scorpio the Scorpion and Pisces the fish who swim in the waters of the unconscious. The moon is not just about emotions it is about bodies, our link to the earth and to the Source. There are layers of sacred meaning.

It is the card of the divine feminine, linked to another card which shows another facet of Isis, The High Priestess. The High Priestess was often called ‘Isis’ in earlier packs. She is representative of the Moon Goddess, her veiled face indicating mystery and secrets.

‘Isis, in her veiled form, presided over a powerful and widespread mystery religion. She was said to incorporate many goddess forms within her character and was known as myrionimos – ‘the one with ten thousand names.’’ (Jane Lyle)

She holds a scroll on which is written ‘Taro’. The connections with ‘Torah’ and ‘rota’ are clear. This woman holds the key to the wisdom in the book of Tarot. She is the guardian of the gateway to the deepest recesses of the soul. This card is drawn when someone needs to listen to their intuition. It concerns issues of female independence and agency, and of giving away one’s power.

On the card, palm trees are shown. These were used for divination in the Isian Temples. Pomegranates sit above the head of this the High Priestess, a sign of fecundity.
A card that retains much Egyptian character and appearance is the Chariot. Many depictions have the Egyptian ‘Aten’ winged solar disc displayed on the front of the Chariot, pulled in two directions at once by two Sphinx creatures. Some have connected this card with ‘Horus The Warrior’ – in some decks he has a hawks head and wears the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. Horus was the son of Isis.

Text by Lena Munday