Last time, I elaborated a bit on the Magus’ baboon. It’s the first time we see a creature besides the Magus himself in the card. It’s odd, too, because the first card is supposed to represent singularity. But because we know that the Magus is Mercury and the baboon is Thoth, and Mercury is Thoth, we can surmise that the baboon is an aspect of the Magus. More accurately, the baboon is the Magus’ shadow, or his Devil. The Devil is essentially the trickster gone bad, or the Juggler at his most extreme. The baboon suggests the pitfalls of language, how it pulls us further from the divine, not closer to it. It also hints at the brutal reality of a wild animal just beneath our fragile constructions.
In part four, I discussed the demiurge, or the creator of the world. The demiurge is not the supreme power in the Universe, although he is not necessarily conscious of forces beyond his sphere of influence.
In mythology, the demiurge typically manifests as a masculine sky god. This includes figures like Zeus and Odin, as well as Jehovah. The stories say he created order from chaos, and that the world was shaped by his actions or his commands, and can be altered according to his will. The Magcian similarly manipulates the worldly elements on his table.
In some myths, the Sky Father subsequently assumed control of Creation and all its occupants by ostensibly declaring himself King Of The Castle. Zeus and Odin are each the pater familias of his respective pantheon, and while the Biblical God has no divine peers, He descended from heaven to Mt. Sinai to pass his Commandments along to Moses and his people. Thus the demiurge becomes the Lawgiver. We can easily recognize this development in the Emperor.
Even more rudimentary than the law is the language in which it is written. The myths that tell about the invention of language and stories often involve death and magic. The god of wisdom journeys to the underworld to obtain the letters, and then returns with his boon for mankind. This is Thoth, and Odin. With the aid of monkey-Thoth and the quill and scroll, the Magus can ascend to the heights represented by the Hermit, who is this god of wisdom. And with storytellers such as Anansi, we see again the ties to the trickster.
The trickster, the demiurge, and the wise man. The Devil, the Emperor, and the Hermit. What do all of these have in common? I pondered this for some time before the obvious hit me over the head one evening: they are all men, like the prototypical Man that is the Magus.
It is often said that three is a magic number. What’s that occult saying? From One comes Two, from Two comes Three, and from Three comes everything…? Something like that. The idea is that consciousness boils down to recognition of three (not two, as I asserted in part four to make a point about the Magus and the Priestess). The archetypes are the Father, the Mother, and the Child. Man, Woman, and the integrated Individual. One, Two, and Three. Each of our many perceptions are unconsciously constructed from a pair of binary opposites, and the self stuck somewhere in between them.
I’ve read that the corresponding Tarot cards are the Magus, the Priestess, and the Empress, because of their respective numbers. This makes enough sense, but I believe that the archetypes actually match up like this: The Father-Magus, the Mother-Priestess, and the Child-Fool. After some playing around with the Major Arcana, I found a way to divide the cards into categories based on these three. Each card depicts either a Father figure, a Mother Figure, or the Hero at some point along his quest for individuation. I will eventually write more about this; but for now, back to the Magus.
Aside from the Magus, the male cards are the Emperor, the Hierophant, the Hermit, and the Devil.* Three of these were mentioned at the start of this post; the fourth – the Hierophant – also has a connection to the Magus, which I discussed here. Each of these characters is only a possible manifestation of the Male archetype, which is mythically associated with the sun and sky; the Magus is this archetype in its purest form (in the Tarot). And like Mercury, he has a suit for every occasion, able to perform with skill any role he takes on.
I think it’s interesting that the lemniscate, whether overt or implied, is one of the only constants in all three versions of this card that I’ve covered so far. This is what I’ll be exploring next time, and I believe it is the key to understanding the Magus, no matter which version you’re dealing with.
*I’ve just named four Tarot cards, coinciding with the number of elements or suit symbols on the Magician’s table. This tickles me. Off the top of my head, I’d associate the Emperor with the Pentacle, the Hierophant with the Cup, the Hermit with the Sword, and the Devil with the Wand.
The trickster can be considered the point of origin of the story because he generates the conflict which drives it. It follows that the tricksy Juggler is the appropriate card to kick off the chain of events that is the Major Arcana. But with the Magician, another way of looking at it becomes a bit more obvious (to me) than with the Juggler: he is at the start of the sequence, because he is the creator of the world.
Now, before I continue, I need to make mention of another card which received a wardrobe change and new name with the RWS: the High Priestess.
The High Priestess
When the Magician was a Juggler, the High Priestess was called the Popess, the Female Pope, or Pope Joan, which essentially established her as the female counterpart to the Pope (the Hierophant in the RWS),* and leaving the Juggler to stand alone. The High Priestess introduces a certain level of ambiguity into these relationships – she can still be partnered with the Hierophant, or she can court another card (such as the Hermit), or she can stand alone as a symbol of unfettered femininity. Or, she can pair with the Magician, a pairing with some significance, as I shall attempt to explain.
In fact, I have already explained their relationship to some degree in my post about the High Priestess, and I urge any who are reading this post to please read that one, as well. It is a relationship of binary opposites, the fundamental relationship between the numbers One and Two.
Basically, One (the Magician) and Two (the Priestess) are the primordial creative forces of the Universe, progenitors of all that ever was and will be – everything boils down to them. From a psychological perspective, this makes total sense, because we experience consciousness only through constant subliminal comparison of hypothetical opposites. Certainly everything ultimately reduces to one, but one is meaningless without two as a point of reference. They complete each other, give meaning to each other, like the yin and the yang. It’s probably also partially rooted in biology: there can be no offspring without both a father and a mother. The Magician is the Cosmic Father, and the High Priestess is the Cosmic Mother.** They are the personifications of the purely abstract notions of male and female, which are themselves symbolic of all other binary opposites.
Now, all this is technically by virtue of their numbers, and not necessarily of the characters themselves, so it could be argued that the Juggler and Popess represent these very same concepts as the Magician and Priestess. From a numerology standpoint, they absolutely do; but I think the artistic differences between the old and new help to highlight certain ideas that would otherwise have remained obscure.
The Magician is generative, and the High Priestess is receptive. The Magician may be the initial spark, but the Priestess is the incubator. We tend to think the gift must precede the receipt, but in the grand scheme of things, it really comes down to the classic conundrum of the chicken or the egg. One simply does not exist without the other.
Having established that the Magician is actually an equal, though opposite, creative force as the Priestess, the question of his position as first is raised once again. From a purely symbolic perspective, as explained in the High Priestess post linked above, his very masculinity is the answer. One precedes two, and one is considered masculine while two is feminine. Men come first, unfair though it certainly is,*** and we have been conditioned to think that way for an age. Look at any of the three Abrahamic religions which prevail in the Western world: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all bow to (the same) God the Father. They’re not the first. And whether you’re an adherent to any of these religions or not, your cultural heritage is imbued with the indelible imprint of at least one of them. Their message is not wrong; their specifics are not always right; but right or wrong, they are. It’s inescapable. We think the way we do in large part because of the people who thought before us.
It is only because the Tarot was conceived in this atmosphere that such a bias is reflected in the cards. This is true of the Marseilles just as it is of Waite’s cards. It could easily have been reversed along an alternate timeline, and it could easily be reversed now, without really upsetting the intrinsic meanings that either of these cards hold (symbolic attributions to the physical characteristics of genitalia aside, these associations of sex with numbers, or with any form of opposites for that matter, are totally arbitrary constructs). By all rights, they should both be in the first spot. But unfortunately our temporal limitations insist that one or the other has to be first, and the simple fact remains that the Magician just, well, is.
This is a perfect opportunity to make an essential point: “God” is not truly confined by gender or sex. Or rather, maybe “God”, as the Christians define him, is confined to his masculinity. But one of the reasons I continually find myself frustrated with this sort of religion is that “God” is used primarily as a name, a contrived denoting device with a capital “G”.**** This causes great confusion, because the word is not a proper noun in and of itself. There have been many gods and goddesses (lower-case “g”) since the dawn of time (that is, the awakening of consciousness). It becomes a question of whether or not any god by any name, be it God or Allah or Zeus, is really the top dog on the divine hierarchy.
When I say the Magician is God the Father, what I’m really saying is that the Magician is the demiurge. He does indeed create and manipulate the physical world, which is represented on the card by the aces upon the altar. He set up the table, he put the items in their places on it, and he moves them into their proper positions to effect the results he desires.
And yet, he still holds his wand above him, as if anything could be above him.
Your average demiurge refuses to acknowledge that he (or she) is not actually the supreme power in the Universe.***** Most of them probably honestly do not even realize it; it’s an awareness beyond their capacity, and indeed, beyond the capacity of many mortals far below them.
But the Magician knows. He knows that what he perceives as his own will is in truth the will of the Universe; that for every feat he accomplishes through his magic, he is merely a conduit for something greater; that desire and decision for him are ultimately illusions. He knows that, though earth-bound mortals may call him God, he is really only a hand of the supreme godhead.
The Magician is remarkably humble for his esteemed position. Most gods are jealous, and some are even vengeful, when their vaulted status is called into question. But though the Magician is receptive to divine influence, he is not receptive by temperament as the Priestess is. He is an active agent. It is why so many creator types do seem supreme. They harness divine energy, and they do stuff with it. The Magician may not be any more impressive than the Priestess is, but his actions certainly draw more attention than her meditations.
I liken it all to a pencil sketch: the Magician is the pencil, the Priestess is the paper, the drawing is Creation, and the artist is the higher power. Imagine for a moment that the drawing somehow developed consciousness. Doesn’t it make sense that, from its limited stance, it might view the pencil as its creator?
By himself, the Magician might remain a mere trickster, even with his new ritual attire (you didn’t really think the trickster only wears clown clothes, did you? That would be too obvious). It is only because of his relationship with the High Priestess – a relationship the Juggler does not openly share with the Popess – that he is able to ascend to the level of Creator, because man cannot become father without a mother to bear child. The potential is really there either way – the Magician does not have to be defined by the Priestess, any more than she is defined by him. But the concepts represented by her go a very long way in refining what exactly it is he stands for. It is a perfect illustration of the idea mentioned above, that One is incomprehensible without Two.
It is also a good example of the true nature of the demiurge: he may appear all-powerful, but he is not the sole power in the Universe. He just makes the flashiest show of it.
So, we can now view the first numbered card of the Major Arcana as the Trickster and the Demiurge. Could there possibly be more? You betcha.
*It’s interesting to note that the Empress and Emperor are side by side, and the Popess and Pope are on either side of them. I think that this was supposed to make a point about worldly authority versus spiritual authority during the Renaissance – the worldly being contained within the jurisdiction of the spiritual. By the time Waite was designing the RWS, this notion about the relationships between Emperors and Popes was outdated, or had at least lost much of its practical significance.
**Hajo Banzhaf refers to the Magician and the Priestess as the Heavenly Father and Mother in his book about the Tarot and the Hero’s Journey. They are not necessarily literal persons, just concepts, and they are followed by the Earthly Father and Mother, a.k.a. the Emperor and Empress.
***Institutionalized oppression is real, it takes on many forms including sexism, and it is unfair. I know this, so please don’t castrate me for stating my observations about the world around me. And, even in a patriarchal society, those who are enlightened know that true femininity cannot be extinguished. The High Priestess is a shining example of the sublime feminine power, even from her place among the shadows.
****In the NKJV Bible, any time the word “god” appears, it is actually written in the text as GOD, all caps, and it is really nothing more than a roughly-translated English placeholder for the unpronounceable tetragrammation, or true name of the Hebrew god. It is used interchangeably with LORD (if you’ve ever heard the names Yaweh or Jehovah, you’ve heard the most common attempts at phonetic verbalization of the tetragrammation). So, technically, the religious book does not actually claim that the Judeo-Christian deity’s name is God. However, its use of the word, combined with the crusade to demonize any and every other named god and goddess, has proven to be an effective way to impress the divine supremacy of this being into the minds of the masses over time. I don’t think the tetragrammation is very common knowledge to the the average self-professed Christian these days, so for all intents and purposes, their god’s name is God.
*****So, if not God, then what is the supreme power in the Universe? This post is not the place for such a discussion, so let it suffice to say that, whatever it is, it’s probably beyond our ability to define with our primitive languages. If there was a Tarot card to represent this supreme power, I would say it’s the World, although, truth be told, I don’t fully believe such a concept can be limited to a single card. If anything, the entire Tarot deck is itself the closest representation of this Universal force, and every single card is but a minute aspect of it, even the seemingly comprehensive World and the powerful demiurge Magician (and, I might add, the much maligned Devil).
In the previous three installments of this series, I lined up the Major Arcana of the Grande Etteilla III (GE)* against the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS). The first of these installments (Part II of the series) saw me compare the first eight cards of each deck, one at a time. The nature of these cards made this feasible; for the next two parts (Parts III and IV), however, I did them in groups of seven each, because the nature of these cards shifted, and the parallels we saw in the first part between the two decks were no longer applicable. I interpreted these cards, as progressions rather than as individuals, from an angle of mythology. The RWS was fairly straightforward, illustrating the so-called “Hero’s Journey” type of myth. The GE, on the other hand, posed some difficulties. I believe it can be boiled down to the basic structure of beginning-middle-end, much like the Hero’s Journey and the RWS. However, while the RWS dealt on the level of individual development, the GE appears to deal with that of the collective. Therefore, the beginning-middle-end structure becomes Creation, Preservation, and Destruction of the world (one can easily see a parallel with the Hindu trinity of Brahman, Vishnu, and Shiva). Broadly speaking, this pattern evokes another type of myth, referred to collectively as Creation myths.
Having established a basic framework through which to understand the cards as a series, I will now shift my attention to the cards as individuals. What I will be doing for the foreseeable future is matching up cards from the GE with appropriate counterparts from the RWS (or other decks as I see fit). Some cards are fairly obvious, such as Death or the Devil, both of which appear in both decks. Some cards do not have an equivalent, such as the Hanged Man from the RWS or the Birds and Fish from the GE. And some cards from the GE match with more than one from the RWS, such as the High Priest, which has elements of both the Lovers and the Hierophant.
Chaos: This card was matched with the Fool in part II of this series, and while the two look nothing alike, I think there is something to that connection. In fact, the Fool is Chaos personified. Chaos does not mean destruction, nor anything inherently negative (or positive, for that matter); rather, it represents formlessness, like the potential of the Fool. It is everything and nothing, beginning and end, existing outside of time.
Additionally, Chaos is labelled “Etteilla,” which means that this card is intended to serve as a significator for the querent. As the Fool is also an “universal significator,” these two cards both serve as the connection between the cards and the person consulting them.
Sun or Light: The obvious match for this card is the Sun. However, because the Magician represents the active “male” principle, he matches here as well. This attribution makes more sense, I think, with the addition of the following card to the sequence.
Plants: Despite the title of the card, the moon seems to be the main focus of the image, and as such, I think the Moon can be matched with it, same as the Suns from both decks were paired above. This is sort of a superficial match, though, and there is another card latent with lunar symbolism which I think fits better. The High Priestess is the compliment of the Magician, or the passive or “female” principle. Not only does the Priestess represent the principle opposite the Magician, she represents the principle of opposites itself, or “binary opposition”. In the case of the Plants card, this simultaneous display of principles is made clear by the combination of Earth and Sky in a single image, which we did not see in the Sun.
For the titular Plants, the best card I can think to match is the Empress. She signifies Nature; she is Mother Earth.
Together, the Sun and Plants illustrate the moment of the creation of the world out of the Chaos that reigned before. The Cosmic Egg has hatched to reveal a primal distinction of opposites: Light and Dark; Sky and Earth; or, in the case of the RWS, Male and Female.
In the next installment of Etteilla v. Waite, I will continue to match Etteilla’s Major Arcana cards with counterparts from Waite’s deck.
*It should be understood that the actual deck in use here is called the Book of Thoth Etteilla Tarot, and is supposed to be based on the pattern of the Grande Etteilla III. I’ve never seen a genuine Etteilla deck of any pattern, so I cannot say how true to the source these cards are, although they are admittedly quite a bit removed from Etteilla himself.
More than anything else, the High Priestess is the card of binary opposites. This term “binary opposites” has appeared a couple of times before on this blog. But what does it really mean?
To really understand this concept, we have to go alllll the way back to the beginning of time, back to the Creation of the World.
According to more mythic traditions than I care to list, before there was the World, there was nothing, or everything, all mashed up together in an undefinable mess that was neither light nor dark nor up nor down, often called simply “Chaos” or something to that extent.
Then, for some inexplicable reason, Chaos began to fall apart.* Everything split in two. First was the split between Light and Dark, followed by Earth and Sky, etc. etc., all the way down to the emergence of animals and humans, which were split between male and female.
The halves of these splits are called binary opposites. It’s like any other opposite, except they are the most extreme, most fundamental opposites we can think of. Light and Dark, Earth and Sky, Male and Female. The list can go on, but I think you get the picture. The World was created through binary opposition, or so the myths would have us believe.
These myths of creation and the binary opposites they present us hint at an interesting aspect of our collective psychology: we can only understand our reality based on comparisons of opposites. For example, if the weather is particularly hot one day, you can only perceive it to be so because you can imagine what a cold day would feel like in comparison, and vice-versa. The night is only dark because you know the day is light. The extreme ends of the spectrum do not really exist except as concepts in our minds. No human has ever experienced pure, absolute Darkness. Everything we perceive on a daily basis falls somewhere in between the two poles of the binary opposites. It’s like the Yin-Yang symbol; everything dark has within it a kernel of light, and everything light has within it a kernel of dark. This is a reminder that the duality created by binary oppositions is really just an illusion. Everything is all just an aspect of a greater whole.
This brings me back to the High Priestess.** The binary opposites are pictured on the card as the two pillars behind her. This isn’t the only time two pillars are pictured on a Tarot card, but it is the first time, and because one is white and one black, it is clearer here than anywhere else that they represent binary opposites. But the letters on each pillar are not where they ought to be. The letter on the white pillar signifies darkness, and the letter on the black pillar signifies light. This again calls to mind the Yin-Yang. The High Priestess’ position between the two pillars suggests that she understands the mystery of the binary opposites; she has succeeded in reconciling them in her mind. She has a true understanding of the Universe. In order to join her in this understanding, you must traverse the entirety of the Major Arcana. She can only hint at this wisdom; she will not tell you outright.
The High Priestess represents binary opposites as a concept; she is also one in a pair of opposites herself. She represents the Feminine principle of receptivity, which is the other half to the Magician’s Masculine principle of activity.
If the Fool symbolizes the unconscious mind, the Magician and the High Priestess together symbolize the awakening of consciousness through the recognition of binary opposites. By himself, the Magician is nothing but an idea. The moment this idea crystallizes in the mind of a person, it’s opposite or negation is immediately generated as well. Thus, the moment the Magician comes into existence, so too does the Priestess. The number one is immediately followed by the number two. In fact, without two as a reference point, one is meaningless. It is essentially indistinguishable from zero. The Priestess’ place as the second (numbered) card in the Major Arcana is thus very significant, further illustrating the concept of binary opposites.
So, paradoxically, the High Priestess simultaneously represents binary opposition as a whole concept, as well as one half of a single binary opposition. In her role as half, she signifies the Female principle of receptivity, as was stated above. While traditional and outdated gender roles suggest that women are supposed to be passive and men active, the Tarot’s gender roles are based on concepts that transcend earthly reality. In today’s society, it is largely accepted that men and women can possess the traits that used to be reserved for just one or the other. Women can be tough, and men sensitive, to use a generic example. The Tarot does not play the game of gender politics. It’s uses of male and female are symbolic, and not necessarily to be taken literally. As far as the Tarot is concerned, the opposites of light and activity are associated with male, and dark and passivity with female, only because it makes the most sense to do so. Humans, being creatures that can only understand the world through opposites, naturally are keenly aware of the fact that within their own species there exists a duality similar to that which they perceived in the world at large. Light was giving in nature, while dark was receiving. Or the Sky was giving with its rain and rays and sunshine, while the Earth was receiving of those things. Based on the functions of their reproductive organs and nothing else, men were associated with the former, and women with the latter.*** It was only through generations upon generations of social constructs based upon this idea that traditional gender roles came to be.
This is why the Magician is pictured as a man, and the High Priestess a woman. It’s as simple as that. The point of the progression of the Major Arcana is to ultimately reconcile these opposites, to bring back the unity that supposedly existed prior to binary opposition. It implies that even if you are the manliest of men, in order to be whole you have to incorporate so-called female characteristics, or your anima, into your personality, and vice-versa. We see this in the Hermit. He is a man, but he has harnessed the energy of the High Priestess. He is passive and meditative, despite being a man. Or look at Strength. We see a woman embodying the principles of action.
The High Priestess has connections with many other cards. The Hermit was already mentioned; she shines with the inner light of the Moon, and the Hermit has captured that aspect with his lantern. His wisdom doesn’t run as deep as hers, but he’s closer by far than any other card. If we consider the Hermit to be Odin, the Scandinavian god of Wisdom, the High Priestess can be his wife, Frigg. Odin was said to obsessively search for wisdom, often disguising himself as an old man wandering about the wilderness. He was the wisest of all. It was said in the Edda,**** however, that his wife Frigg was wiser still. She knew everything in the world, past, present, and future, but she would not divulge this information, even to her husband. Sound familiar? The Hermit might represent the archetype of the Wise One, but the High Priestess is Wisdom itself.
Her relationship with the Magician has also been discussed; together they literally represent two halves of what makes a human personality. She is the passivity to his activity. The passive/active dichotomy is the most fundamental of the binary opposites.***** Every other opposite we can think of boils down to this, hence the Magician’s and Priestess’ places as one and two of the Major Arcana. She has a similarly binary relationship with the Hierophant. She represents the secret inner, individual spirituality, while he represents the external, shared spirituality of the masses. In fact, in many decks, the High Priestess appears to be more closely related to the Hierophant than to the Magician (in the TdM, for example, she is called the Popess, and the Hierophant is the Pope).
Alternatively, we could look at the Female aspect, and subdivide it in two. Then we get the Empress and the High Priestess, or the light and dark aspects of Woman. If you are familiar with Sumerian myth, you’d recognize the Empress in Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, and the Priestess in her sister Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld. Perhaps more familiar are Isis and Nephthys of Egyptian myth.
This brings to the surface a rather scary aspect of the High Priestess: a Goddess of the Underworld. Many people don’t associate her with this type of darkness, but it is an aspect of her nonetheless. Darkness is darkness, after all. It might hide you from what may be hunting you, but it also hides the hunter. She protects you and terrifies you, all at once. Which brings me to the final correlation I’ll make in this post: the Moon. This is a natural association, considering all of the lunar symbolism of the Priestess card and her astrological association with the moon, but it deserves some thought beyond the obvious. Behind the Priestess, hanging between the pillars of light and dark, is a veil. What is behind that veil? We can’t see for sure, but we catch a glimpse of the waters of the subconscious. Well, that card of confusion and terror, the landscape of the Moon, is what waits behind the Priestess. For all the peacefulness we see on the surface, there is the pure darkness of uncertainty underneath; this is the other side of the coin of passivity represented by the Priestess. As I’ve discussed in my post about the Moon, it’s not hopeless, and it is a necessary part of the journey. But that doesn’t make it any less scary, and while the Priestess is generally considered to be benevolent, if somewhat stoic and mysterious, she hides a much darker aspect than we might realize at first glance. This is precisely why she withholds her wisdom from us until we’ve experienced the rest of the cards. If we gazed behind her veil and saw the landscape of the Moon so early in our journey, it would destroy our sanity, like a Lovecraftian horror materializing before our eyes. We are just not prepared for that yet.
Luckily, in her infinite wisdom, the High Priestess does spare us from such a nightmare. She puts up the veil, and diverts our attention from it with her secret scroll. We’re meant to think that the scroll holds all of the secrets. She knows better, just as she knows that we’ll see the real secrets behind the veil in due time.
When I go to the Tarot for divinatory purposes, I believe it is with the High Priestess that I am communicating. The cards are the mediators, moved by the invisible hands of the archetypes represented in the pack by the Hermit and the Magician. But they only move the cards according the the Priestess’ direction. And I am but the Fool, sitting on the other side of the spiritual divide, awaiting her cryptic advice.
*The driving force behind the dissolution of Chaos into Order is one of the great mysteries of all time. Most myths and religions give credit to some kind of deity for the creation of the world, but no one can seem to figure out what created the deity (or the deities that created it, or the forces that birthed them, etc. etc….). Creation myths are early mankind’s attempt to figure out where we came from, and how the world got to be the place it is today. Of course, there are no answers to these questions, only an endless regression – a chicken or the egg type of conundrum, if you will.
**The imagery described in this post is almost entirely based on the RWS version of the High Priestess. This card is not the most extreme departure from tradition to be found in the RWS, but it is different. I chose it because, while the basic symbolism is the same in most versions, the RWS Priestess is the most vivid in its depiction.
***While this was generally true of the ancient world, it was by no means universal. For example, ancient Egyptians believed the Sky was a female, and the Earth male.
****The Edda by Icelandic poet and politician Snorri Sturluson was written in the 1200s, a couple hundred years or so after the majority of Scandinavia had converted to Christianity, as a textbook on poetic form and subject matter. It is commonly called the Prose Edda to distinguish it from the so-called Elder or Poetic Edda, which is an anonymously compiled collection of mythic poetry. Many of the stories relayed in the two works coincide with each other, and together they contain the majority of the known Norse canon of myths.
*****Actually, the active/passive dichotomy can be further reduced to positive/negative. There is nothing more basic than this pair of opposites. However, I refrain from using them here because they have certain connotations, especially the word ‘negative’. Most people assume negative means bad. Of course this isn’t true, but I don’t use them anyway, because the last thing I need is some clown giving me crap for calling all women negative.