On the Tree of Life, we start in Malkuth. Our job is to work our way back up to the top:
The business of the aspirant is to climb the Middle Pillar from Malkuth to Kether; and though the other Pillars must be grasped firmly as aids to equilibrium, he should in no wise cling to them. Liber DCXXXIII
We move from one Sephira to the next, adjusting as we go from side to side. There’s a shortcut, though, a superhighway right up the Middle Pillar, and that’s where we should aim to align ourselves. The imagery is that of a golden arrow, shooting straight and true:
One mounteth onto the Crown by the Moon (Da’ath/Priestess) and by the Sun (Tiphareth) and by the arrow, and by the Foundation (Yesod) and by the dark home of the stars of the black earth (Malkuth). Not otherwise may ye reach unto the Smooth Point. Liber LXV (notes added)
In other words, you have to get yourself onto the Middle Pillar to catch that arrow. You can’t get to Kether from any of the Sephiroth on the side Pillars. The Thoth Priestess holds a bow in her lap with arrows behind it to remind us of our aspiration; once we get to her path, we are almost home.
Looking a bit more closely, though we can see that it’s not only arrows that the Priestess can use; there are also Phoenix wands in her lap. It looks to me like there are six of them, a correspondence to Tiphareth, below her feet on the Middle Pillar.
The Phoenix wand was used by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in their ceremonies as a symbol of the rebirth or Osiris and also as the coming of Horus. It also appears in the Magus card, near Mercury’s uplifted right hand. Comparing The Magus to the RWS Magician, we can see that both direct the Divine energy coming down to earth from their upper right to their lower left; in The Magus, the Phoenix wand is touching his right hand, a direct connection to the supernal power of resurrection and rebirth, change and growth.
The Phoenix wands in The Priestess look to me as though they are the strings to her bow. The arrow lies on top of them and at a diagonal to show it’s a separate object, but the six wands are all in alignment and sized to fit the inside of the bow. The six Phoenix wands (ref. Tiphareth) are what powers the arrow along the Priestess’ path to Kether. That is the Priestess’ gift to us on our way up. At the moment they are concealed behind her veil, so are still on the Other Side.
She also has a gift to us on our way down, as we are born into Malkuth. Kether, above her head, is associated with the Angel Metatron, whose symbol is a ‘cube’ that includes ‘all platonic solids’, i.e. the potential for all shape, and all perfection. And there they are along the bottom of the Priestess’ card, on ‘our side’ of the Veil, broken down from one perfect but incomprehensible ideal into shapes that form our world. She gives us the ability to understand the physical world around us on more than a physical level – to see the patterns and cohesion that make it so beautiful.
There is also a sunflower in the bottom border of the Priestess card. Its intricately spiralling seeds are the classic example of the Fibonacci sequence – more mathematical perfection. And there is a pine cone, also a perfect arrangement of seeds and an ancient symbol of regeneration and rebirth. The pine cone itself resembles the pineal gland in the brain (pineal = like a pine cone) and is associated with the Third Eye, the kind of spiritual clarity and ability to look behind the veil that the Priestess offers.
One theory is that the seven moon crescents behind the Priestess’ head refer to Netzach. Both are feminine energies and it makes sense for the Moon-related Priestess at the top of the Tree of Life to be reflected via the prism of Tiphareth as the Earth-related Venus. Seven also corresponds to The Chariot, another card that brings blessings from heaven to earth, and notably, to Babalon:
This is she that hath bedecked her hair with seven stars, the seven breaths of God that move and thrill its excellence. And she hath tired her hair with seven combs, whereupon are written the seven secret names of God that are not known even of the Angels, or of the Archangels, or of the Leader of the armies of the Lord.
Is The Priestess an aspect of Babalon? Well, why not? If becoming like Babalon is a way to overcome the ego and express our True Will, then the Priestess is the aspect that is already there. Like the Eagle and the Scorpion represent dual aspects of Scorpio – in its spiritual and physical manifestation – perhaps Babalon too has an expression that emphasises the triumph of spirit once we have conquered the ego.