When I talk to people about the Dream Logic Tarot that I am creating with my friend and artist extraordinaire, Jay Gidwitz, they commonly ask me about the process of creating a tarot card. I’ve therefore decided to write a little bit about said process, and shall use the card of the High Priestess as an example.
Each tarot card has a series of traditional correspondences. In the case of the High Priestess, those correspondences are the Moon and a path on the Qabalistic Tree of Life known as Gimel.
The Moon, as many of you know, has a whole slew of interesting and beautiful symbolic analogies all its own. The power of the tides, feminine sexuality and fertility, menstrual cycles, “lunacy”, nocturnal mysteries, and the “astral plane” all fall beneath the Lunar banner.
Now we can look at Gimel. Gimel, is a Hebrew letter that means “camel”, and is associated with the longest and arguably most dangerous path on the Tree of Life. You see, there is a hidden sphere on the Tree known as Daath, or “knowledge”, though most people tend to call it “The Abyss”. This Abyss represents, among other things, the complete annihilation of the spiritual seeker who wishes to reunite with his/her divine source. It is the Void manifest as the destruction of the ego, and most people who spend too much time there find little more than gibbering insanity awaiting them. The path of Gimel travels directly through it.
This is where the “camel” comes into play. The path of Gimel has been likened to a vast, inhospitable, desert wilderness. As such, no human can cross this expanse alone without perishing. However, with aid and spiritual guidance, one might be able to traverse it. Desert nomads relied upon camels to travel great distances over deadly terrain, and specifically relied upon the female camel when supplies were scarce. On exceedingly long journeys, when water was terribly rare, the nomads would drink the camel’s milk to sustain themselves.
As such, the High Priestess represents the ultimate field guide, initiating the seeker into the heart of some of the darkest and most secret mysteries. She is inspiration and spiritual sustenance personified.
As I was musing over the card, I was simultaneously reading The Spartacus War by historian Barry Strauss. In it, he explains how Spartacus was in love with a Thracian priestess who inspired and guided him during his slave-rebellion. Thracian priestesses tended to not only be tattooed, but also snake handlers.
Now, the serpent has a slew of its own concurrences. One of these is that of the “initiator” into secret wisdom, while another is that of yogic kundalini, the spiritual “fire snake” that climbs the spine of the yogi, uniting with his/her crown chakra. If we superimpose the Tree of Life over the human body, the path of Gimel becomes a portion of the spinal column itself. The highest sephiroth, or sphere on the Tree, which Gimel leads to, is known as Kether, or “Crown”. In addition, priestesses of Apollo at Delphi were known as Pythia, referencing the monstrous Python slain by the Sun God. The other sphere on the Tree that Gimel connects to, Tiphareth, is deemed by most to be the sphere of the Sun.
Immediately, the perfect model came to mind. For a period of time, I had worked a relatively mundane job with the incredible visual artist K Lenore Siner. K, a priestess in her own right, was not only stunning, but also had colorful snake tattoos on her arms perfect for the symbolism I was going for. All I needed now was a real snake. Conveniently, my friend Pete Murphy (himself a model in the tarot deck as the 4 of Swords), owned a beautiful and friendly albino corn snake named Glen. All necessary parties were called, picked up, and brought to Jay’s studio. The photo shoot went very smoothly, and many wonderful conversations (occasionally involving giraffes) were had.
Jay created a series of interesting and colorful Mandelbrot fractals to work as the background, some that looked much like the chamber nautili, adding to the Lunar connection to the seas. I was also reminded of the myriad microscopic shells found in the desert sands when magnified. A picture of the dark and mysterious crescent moon was placed behind K’s head like a nocturnal halo. In addition, two trees, one black, one white, were placed flanking her. This is due to certain classic tarot decks that would place the Priestess between two pillars which represented the Qabalistic pillars of Mercy and Severity, or Jachin and Boaz, to the Freemasons. The Priestess, the path of Gimel, signifies the longest section of the Middle Pillar, the pillar of balance and equilibrium. Thus, a Dream Logic Tarot card is completed.