Tarot: the High Priestess and her Avatars – Viviane from „The Mists of Avalon“
The High Priestess, the second Major Arcana of the Tarot, reflects the values of spirituality and inner self. In the Tarot of Marseilles, she is crowned with a papal tiara and her name is „La Papesse“ (the Popess – probably a reference to the catholic legend of Pope Joan, a woman who had reigned as pope during the Middle Ages).
In the Rider-Waite tarot deck, her name is „The High Priestess“ and she wears no more the papal tiara, but a horned diadem at her head and a large solar cross on her breast. Behind her, there is the veil of the Temple and the scroll in her hands bears the letters TORA. She was also associated by different occultist with Virgin Mary or with the Egyptian goddess Isis but the main interpretation remains that of inner spiritual power of feminine nature.
When speaking about the divinatory meaning of the High Priestess, A. E. Waite offers, in his book „The Pictorial Key to the Tarot “, several possible meanings: „ secrets, mystery, the future as yet unrevealed; the woman who interests the Querent, if male; the Querent herself, if female; silence, tenacity; mystery, wisdom, science“. Waite also affirms that „ there are some respects in which this card is the highest and holiest of the Greater Arcana“.
In literature, painting and cinema, there are many scenes and characters that more or less accurately illustrate the meaning of this Major Arcana. We chose Viviane, the Lady of the Lake from „Mists of Avalon“ – 2001 miniseries based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a retelling of the Arthurian legend with an emphasis on the perspectives of Morgan le Fay and other women of the tale.
In the movie, the Lady of the Lake is the title of the ruling priestess of Avalon, and various characters assume it, including Viviane and Morgan le Fay, named Morgaine. Viviane is interpreted by Anjelica Huston. At her first appearance, she comes at her sisters Igraine with the prophecy that she will bear a king destined to beat the Saxons, but who will not be Gorlois’ (Igraine’s husband) child. After few years, Vivian announces her younger sister Igraine that is time to take Arthur (son of Uther) and Morgain to Avalon. There, she initiates Morgain in the power of the elements and in the servitude of the Three-fold Goddess (Maiden, Mother and Crone). The final test is to part the mists that protect Avalon.
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