{Tarot Equus} The High Priestess

Since my long-ago graduation from the Avante-Garde Uber Artsy School, I've developed an aversion to posting my post-graduation work for comment, aside from a few trusted loved ones.  I stopped drawing and painting for a while once I picked up full-time museum work, feel like I'm way behind my peers and yadda, yadda, yadda, self-deprecating bullshit excuses.

I have this irritating thing I do to myself as an artist.  If you're also a creator- maybe a writer, maybe a crafter or designer, you might be familiar.  I finish a piece, then stare at it until I hate it.  I don't really show it around, I never post a photo of it.  I just sit and hate on it, then move on to the next project.  Sometimes that process takes hours, but sometimes it takes months and therein lies the problem.  I can't keep doing that and expect to ever publish a long-term project like a tarot deck.  So here I am sharing one of my cards with you Lovelies.  Constructive critique is welcome, it's been a long time since I've gotten it.  This is a mix of Prismacolor pencils, black micron pens, and metallic gel pens on paper, and it's hasn't been played with in Photoshop at all (yet?).  The original is 8.5x11.  Photo taken amateurly with a 14 mpxl camera.  

Tarot Equus is based heavily on the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, and I've tried to match equine myths, legends, and lore from around the world with the meaning of each card.  This is my High Priestess.  The spirit of this card is the goddess Epona. Ok Gamers, yes, Epona is Link's horse.  BUT! Her namesake is a Goddess from Gaul (modern day France) who was later adopted by the Roman cavalry and spread throughout the Empire. 

Image result for epona gaul
Epona is a protectress of equines and they are featured heavily in her depictions.  Images of her have been found in temples and stables from France to Germany.  Some sculptures depict her with a mare and foal, riding, taming a horse, standing or sitting with a horse, or- as I've adopted for the card- seated between two horses. This example is from 2nd century Germany and currently resides in the Historic Museum of Bern.  Epona is also frequently portrayed with symbols of fertility such as the cornucopia, which almost landed her as the Empress in my deck.  She is frequently compared or conflated with the Welsh Rhiannon, who did become the Empress for this deck.  There is also a popular notion in the modern Pagan community that she and her horses are psychopomps- spirits that lead recently deceased souls to the afterlife.  If someone can point me to a source for that I'd really and truly appreciate it.  

That brings me to Pamela Smith's High Priestess.  She's pictured sitting enthroned between black and white temple pillars Boaz and Jakin, with a tapestry of pomegranates pinned up behind her, blocking the viewer's sight into the uknown lands beyond.  She has the moon at her feet, a sacred scroll of the Torah in her hands, and the crown of Isis on her brow.  She wears Virgin Mary blue and a cross on her chest.  The High Priestess in earlier decks was also called The Papess, in honor of Manfreda Visconti, whose brief reign ended with her burning by the Catholic Church in 1300.  Her family commissioned one of the first Tarot decks (as we know them) around 150 years later, the Visconti Tarot.  

So, look close and you see where the symbols intertwine.  Epona's mares have taken the place of the pillars.  Tarot readers note that she is feeding Boaz, the pillar of passivity and mystery.  Her dress is still in Virgin Mary blue, but is now styled after Gallo-Roman clothing from the 5th century.  The lunar crown has become a crescent moon and horseshoe, with the full moon still represented in the sky, and in the reflection at her feet.  I think these changes evoke Epona and stay true to the themes of the High Priestess.  

 For this post I've shared a drop of my research, but the companion book for this deck will read more like a story book.  There will be notes on the symbolism and meaning of each card, but narratives that function as guided meditations into the images will play a key role.  If you are looking for a more in-depth analysis on the history and symbolism of the cards, there are already quite a few good books on the shelves for that, including 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack and Arthur Waite's own books. I'm aware there are more classic decks to model from- Crowley’s Thoth deck, The Tarot of the Golden Dawn, and the medieval Visconti deck among them.  

I am purposely not getting into the meanings behind the card for the following reason: if you Lovelies choose to give me feedback, I'd like to know what comes to mind when you see this image, especially if you are not familiar with the Tarot.  If you are familiar with the layers of meanings behind the card, I'd like to know how this measures up!  Thank you much!


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