words + playlist: Zoë Madonna
It’s almost a universal in Tarot writing that discussion of the Magician and High Priestess will mention “masculine v. feminine” energy, but the amount that I buy that ranges from “very little” to “not at all” depending on how I’m feeling. And when I do consider that, it’s never the first thing I think of.
Rant time: as a feminine person, I am so often reduced to a void in the Tarot. Feminine passivity, feminine yin. I call bullshit. I am not a blank to be filled.
Intentional silence is presence in itself, sometimes requiring more presence of mind than speech. The decision to explore the subconscious, emotions, and mystery is as active as an outward manifestation of will. It’s frequently easier to be active than passive in this world, in this country, where we are taught from the time we can walk that we are only worth what we produce. Gender essentialism in Tarot can stuff it.
The High Priestess is pushed aside in modern America. Magicians can survive under capitalism. Most who would have you believe they are High Priestesses are Magicians in High Priestess robes. Capitalism is antithetical to everything about the High Priestess. They can neither be bought nor sold.
The Ostara Tarot has been one of my favorite decks since the time I got it last fall. Its High Priestess, illustrated by Krista Gibbard, could be the twin sister of Julia Iredale’s Magician. The Magician is submerged in water from the mouth downward, while the High Priestess’s eyes are hidden. Both have light hair and smooth faces. One manifests outward, actively guiding a traveler through the labyrinth. The other looks inward; you have to come to her, because she won’t come to you.
When the High Priestess appears in a reading, she’s telling you to listen inward. To me, much of the High Priestess’s domain is beyond words. As soon as I try to translate it into spoken or written language, it frequently loses depth and meaning.
And so, to connect with the High Priestess, I look for music where words aren’t the focus. I vibe with experimental flavors of instrumental music. Or if there are voices involved, they stretch language and sound like Silly Putty.
Perhaps coincidentally, most of these artists aren’t too active on social media. They’re not aggressive self-promoters. You probably wouldn’t hear them talk about “their brand.” (Ugh. Hate that phrase.)
Music that encourages to go inside yourself and hear your own thoughts will always belong, in some way, to the High Priestess. When I need or want to pull some cards in a public place like a cafe or a library, I’ll usually click over to this playlist. Headphones on, world off.
John Luther Adams - Canticles of the Holy Wind III. Dream of the Hermit Thrush
Composer John Luther Adams considers the huge and the tiny aspects of the natural world when he writes. This movement and some others from “Canticles of the Holy Wind” are based on a birdcall, one of the first songs the earth knew.
If you have forty minutes to spare, look up his Pulitzer-winning “Become Ocean,” listen on a set of good headphones or speakers, and make sure nothing interrupts you.
Boards of Canada - Corsair
Sailing smooth, hovering on a single note, yet still it moves around that core.
Julianna Barwick - Labyrinthine
Seeing her in a small stone chapel at Oberlin College was a holy experience. That’s all her voice, multi-tracked and layered. She said when she started recording her “Nepenthe” album in Iceland, she didn’t have anything written ahead of time. She waited for it to rise to the surface.
Cocteau Twins - Those Eyes, That Mouth
"See, I find that mine [lyrics] don't have any meanings. They're not proper. Although I've got a great dictionary of them….They don't mean anything, though, that's the thing. You know all the transcendent sounds. It's all sound all the way through." - Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins, on her lyrics.
Grouper - Heavy Water/ I’d Rather Be Sleeping
Liz Fraser plays with words, syllables, and sounds like a bird playing with a mirror. Listen closely and the words just get blurrier. If you do the same with Grouper, you’ll hear that she’s definitely singing in English, but it’s intentionally hidden thick haze of sound. In both cases, I’d rather let the sound just be.
Fennesz - Rivers of Sand
If the High Priestess from Marie White's haunting Mary-El Tarot was a character in a video game, I believe this would be playing in the background when you meet her.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - Existence in the Unfurling
The modular synthesizer creates lush forests of sound. Artificial electrical signals morph into firing synapses and twitching antennae.
Ascenso - Balún
If you see Angelica Negrón perform this live, those luminous synth melodies might be coming out of vegetables hooked up to controllers.