The Portland Tarot Majors – A Daily Commute
Day “2” – The High Priestess
Feel and embody the mysteries of the universe. Let them flow through and become part of you, to strengthen your intuition. When your special, secret knowing arrives, it’s a powerful moment—you realize that it’s your own blessed duty to burn this singular fire. Share the beautiful heat of your knowingness/ beingness with your tribe, while honoring that they, too, hold their own secret, sacred flame. And remember—every person’s flame is to be honored equally.
The High Priestess is such a deep and quiet card that I sometimes have a hard time being fully present with it in a reading. I feel as if it’s keeping secrets from me, just at a time when I am looking for clear answers. The message I often hear when I pull this card is, “You know what you need to know; it’s there, deep within.” I’m being called to follow my intuition.
Of course, when doing a reading we may find that we are sometimes hoping that Tarot will let us off the hook, since carrying a flame implies that sometimes it can burn us, instead of us burning it. Also, sometimes our intuition doesn’t feel so strong.
However, falling into the meditative grace of your own flame can connect you to something larger. It’s not always about having an answer, but more about being present with an understanding. In a fast-paced, answers-or-be-damned world, this can create a sense of panic; but in order for us to survive the chaos of our lives it is essential to connect with this sacred stillness regularly. We can know what we need to know, without needing to know all the answers.
There are so many beautiful women in this card and I’d love to tell all their stories. Some I know well, and some I only met on this shoot, but every one of them brought such a beautiful energy and pulse to the image, and I am so grateful to them for collaborating with me to create this image. With a group this size, normally I would consider photographing the models separately; but I’m glad I didn’t for this card, because the energy of the sisterhood proved vital to the powerful vibe of the image.
Going through photos after the shoot, this is the one that gave me chills. I “knew” instantly it was the one. Not just a good “the one”, but a whiz-bang-I-can’t-breathe-it’s-so-beautiful “the one.” The poignant gaze of the women seems to not only look at, but to deeply see the viewer: beyond labels and beyond judgment—whole and worthy. Each holds a small totem of an earth element or a spirit element before them as if offering the mystical bounty of their circle to the querent—a new initiate into the tribe of priestesses.
The image for this card came to me in a meditation in an Ancient Women’s Circle (stewarded by friend and intuitive counselor Liliana Barzola-Read). The High Priestess had always been such a lonely card to me, and in this group of women I recall feeling as if I was in the midst of a circle of priestesses: each one with a calling and a sacred truth to bear. Even as we were in the circle together, we were individuals on our own journey.
As Liliana guided us in a meditation to draw us inward, I started to see this card in my mind’s eye. I felt how important the existence of this sisterhood—and others like it—were to carrying the divine flame of the grandmothers and the threads they weave between life and spirit. It takes a true High Priestess to remember to simply be with each other in the process of ritual and remembering, and to let go of control enough to truly witness the fire’s glow.
As this understanding unfolded, I knew that I would need to follow my inner vision and extend this concept to the visuals of the High Priestess card itself. I wanted to convey that it is possible to be alone in our own journey but together on the road, and that this simple act of companionship can give us the strength we need to be the most intrepid explorers of our own inner cosmos—even (or especially) when we feel too tired and afraid to take another step.
The woman in purple, Ivy Stovall, was a wonderful collaborator in the creation of this card. When I met her and saw the sacred landscape she shared with others—via her Mud Hut sauna, communal garden, and space for special gatherings; not to mention her own gentle rhythms—I felt certain that we were meant to work together on this image.
The group gathered on the day and night of the super moon, an unplanned synchronicity. (As a side note, we couldn’t actually see the moon because of the usual Portland cloud cover, but I decided to incorporate it into the image anyway, since we could definitely feel its presence that day and night.)
I brought bags of costumes and jewelry while Ivy dug through her incredible collection of fabrics, clothes, and exotic accoutrements; then we threw it all together and let the ladies have a dress up party. Each woman embodied her inner goddess through her costume choices, and we laughed and played as only grownup little girls can. I was also really happy that we were able to get a young High Priestess to share in the creation—another beautiful piece of unplanned kismet that proved so perfect for the image and its deeper meaning.
After costuming, we set up the sacred circle. We played with arrangements and poses and got our rhythm as a group.
Then something magical happened. During a pause in shooting, Ivy had the brilliant notion to run ceremony. Up until that point we had all been abuzz with chaotic energy, experimenting with clothes, rushing to prepare the set. Taking that extra time to connect with nature, with each other, and with spirit is exactly what we needed to get grounded and focused.
I remember looking through the photos, before and after that ceremonial break… The difference was stunning. Each image thereafter was powerful, potent, grabbing. The energy had most notably changed. Every gaze showed a powerful high priestess embodying and owning her own flame. It felt like a scene out of a faery glen, or a snapshot from the ancient sacred grounds of Delphi.
I must also take a moment to note the woman in white, Sara Cooper. She has a deep knowledge of Tarot (and many other amazing gifts) and is a soulful, magical person in her own right. I was delighted when she could join us for this shoot, because she had also been on my radar as a potential key collaborator for the High Priestess card.
The positions that Sara and Ivy took in the final shot felt most visually and energetically balanced, and I feel that we unconsciously put them in the roles of the traditional dual pillars usually found in the High Priestess card. To me, they represent the connection between earth magic and heavenly magic with their differing modes of dress and the symbols they carry. Neither one is in charge of the circle, but they do carry responsibilities in this image: one of holding energy for and setting in motion the group ritual and another for keeping a protective energetic space around the divine mysteries that are given room to play there.
Looking upon this image in a reading, I still feel the need to peek past my own curtains to gaze at my own inner flame, but it seems like a far less lonely place. This card is imbued with a deep sense of magic and purpose that goes beyond words and naturally creates a cool, quiet stillness in me. The serenity of the women in the image inspires and reminds me that there is much strength to be found in the sisterhood, and that it lives with me even when I may think I am all on my own.
Locations/Landmarks: The Mud Hut (St. Johns), St. Johns Bridge
Models: Ivy, Sara, Julie, Inez, Jana, Odelia, Christy, Young Priestess