|Journeying the Sixties: A Counterculture Tarot
THE HIGH PRIESTESS
"In order to live a full human life we require not only control of our bodies . . . we must touch the unity and resonance of our physicality, the corporeal ground of our intelligence."
--Adrienne Rich "Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution"
The High Priestess is a wise authority that arouses and rephrases the truths of the body. In old Tarot decks she is the Popess, a spiritual leader shrouded in a nun's wimple and large robe. In this image she is a California midwife attending a home birth in 1973. Her wimple is her long hair, a visceral emblem of sexual presence that the nun's wimple-in its traditional use-was meant to hide. But here the tables are turned. The midwife hides nothing. She waits with confident patience as before her a new life finds its way into the world, a life she will help out of another woman's body. She abides the new life moving in the womb's dark water. The High Priestess knows, as the poet Adrienne Rich also wrote, that swimming under water requires relaxation, not stress. Dutifully present long after the germinating moment of continuity that produced this new life, she manages, finally with a woman's tending touch, the child's arrival into the discontinuous community of existence.
The rise of midwifery in the early 1970s grew from women's resistance to the treatment of birth as disease. The idea that childbirth is an illness seemed as absurd as the idea that menstruation is unclean (a concept that still carries broad religious significance across cultures). Women traced both ideas to male superstition and fear and male dominance in the shaping of social and cultural attitudes. Midwives offered women a way to reconnect birthing with their bodies and to realize the spiritual power of their fecundity. If women could not own their deep, primary, and inseparable link with creation, what could they own?