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2 The High Priestess (Peony)


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Continuing my studies of the Herbal Tarot with The High Priestess and her herb, peony, today!


2 The High Priestess

The High Priestess sits on an outdoor throne in a field that leads away to the mountains behind her.  The sky is blue and cloudy.  The throne is made up of two pillars (one white one grey-ish brown), a white backdrop and a decorative band of blue and red across the top.  The High Priestess herself sits on the throne with one foot resting on the symbol of the crescent moon.  Her left hand cradles a purplish orb while her right hand remains hidden.  Her garments are blue and flowing and has the symbol of the ankh (which symbolises life, possibly even eternal life) at her breast.  She wears an ornate necklace and her eyes are blindfolded.  Her headdress is also ornate and is also blue.  In front of her, the herb Peony grows and blossoms.


The High Priestess symbolises many things.  She is one of the most mysterious cards in the tarot deck.  Her focus is inwards and she spends her time in exploring her inner world - the conscious and the subconscious - and exploring the mysteries of the world (the why behind the creations of this world).  She is a symbol of feminine beauty and can represent the yin, or female, aspects of ourselves (be we male or female or anything else).  The pillars symbolise the equilibrium in which she lives.  The blue of her garment and the clouds in the sky symbolise the element of water which she reigns over, in fact, many of the rivers shown within this deck are said to be an extension of her flowing, blue garments.



Family Name: Paeoniaceae

Botanical Name(s): Radix Paeoniae Alba


This herb is sometimes called White Peony or Chinese Peony Root and is native to Asia and Europe.  The companion book calls this the Herb of Inner Knowing.  Spiritually it can be used to help us get in touch with our feminine side and ensure a good balance between the yin and yang energies within us.  If used by a woman it said to help her to understand and accept her cycle of life through the stages of childhood, puberty, motherhood and wise crone.  Medicinally it is used to strengthen and aid the woman's natural cycle by helping cleanse the blood and work with the hormones.  It is also able to relax the muscles to ease spasms and pain.

According to the companion book, just meditating with a picture of the flower is said to help us attune to the High Priestess within us.

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We call Peony, Bai Shao and it is a cooling herb (yin) that enters the spleen and liver. It is considered mostly bitter, hence the liver connection though some say it can be also sour and sweet (the astringent and spleen connection). It is a very common herb in formulas for 'women' and often mixed with other complementary herbs for increased efficacy. It can be brewed into a tea to be taken by itself, and is sometimes used as a kind of long term beauty tonic. 

The liver controls the flow of qi throughout the body, so when it is under stress and things go stagnant there can be issues in the areas where this occurs. This may happen as women loose too much yin through their cycles (blood = yin), or not being able to replenish what was lost quickly enough. In traditional medicine the idea of blood, is different to the western understanding of it. Quantity is one thing, and quality is another. But without getting too bogged down in this theory, the important thing to remember is that if there is a deficiency then flow will be compromised as it looses that momentum (causing issues like cramping for instance). Peony helps to build back the yin, and in doing so tempers the yang imbalance that can cause issues like hot flashes while also astringing to ensure more isn't lost. The liver houses the emotion of anger, and stagnation here can be accompanied by unexpressed frustrations, things that should have been said but weren't. From the livers point of view it is definitely 'better out than in', but if there is an imbalance it can lead to outbursts and moodiness - a thing that women know of well as PMS or even what people notice as 'personality changes' during menopause can be attributed to liver qi stagnation, and yin deficiency. Western medicine would call this a hormonal imbalance, whereas Eastern medicine sees the hormonal imbalance as a symptom of a greater cause.

While the liver stores and controls the flow of qi, the spleen transforms food and water into qi. For everything to work smoothly you need both in harmony and the Peony works on both these channels.

I like the way the Peony has been matched with the High Priestess. It is very much a female's herb, though of-course not exclusively. The companion book says it helps to move a women through her life stages, and I would agree that life is much easier for those who are balanced and the Peony is known to assist in that goal. Peony in the right formula can ease PMS, and there has been some studies that show the Peony to effect the imbalance of prostaglandins, which is a hormone that causes contraction and 'spasms'. I've never meditated on the Peony flower, but I'm willing to give it a try!

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