The Pages and the Priestess: Acolytes of the Mysteries

I’ve always felt that the lowly Pages have more to them than conventional wisdom assumes. They are often described as youthful students or apprentices of either sex who have yet to attain mastery of their element, and are therefore of marginal potency in the hierarchy of the tarot court. Their function has sometimes been limited to that of messenger, one of the  traditional roles of the medieval page, a go-between who may have more knowledge of the affairs of their superiors than their rank would justify. Historically, these servants were invariably male, and their training anticipated advancement to the status of squire in the service of a knight. But the Golden Dawn had the prescience to rename this card Princess as part of the esoteric “succession drama” that wedded them to the Prince and eventually installed them on the throne of the Queen.

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The Pages (I will stick with that title here) are the eleventh card in the tarot suit sequence, a number which translates by numerological reduction into Two (1+1=2), the number of the High Priestess. This connection bears more than a passing resemblance to the relationship between the Pythia, the high priestess of the Greek Temple of Apollo, commonly known as the Delphic Oracle, and the oracular assistants called prophetai, most precisely translated as “one who speaks on behalf of another person.” Eleven is also the number of Justice in the RWS system, implying a more active capacity in delivering the judgment of the gods; think of the court clerk who sometimes reads the verdict in lieu of the jury foreperson in a criminal trial.

The Pages might thus be viewed as neophytes in the service of a higher purpose rather than simply as royal underlings who clean up after their betters; they translate the messages of the gods into useful terminology, as reflected in the Golden Dawn’s characterization of them as the “Thrones of the Aces” placed about the four quadrants of space surrounding the polar axis. They are anchored to the earthly plane via the four fixed signs of the zodiac that lie at the midpoint of each quarter of the zodiac, but their heads are elevated via the Path of the Arrow on the Tree of Life, which culminates in the path of the High Priestess at the most exalted level of the spiritual heavens. They might thus be considered conduits for knowledge of the most recondite form, although this may not be readily apparent in their more mundane modes of expression where, in Byron’s memorable phase, they can have “fronts of brass, and feet of clay.” In that sense they echo the “Holy Fool,” who is wise in spite of his feckless ways.

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