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  • Writer's pictureMaegan Clearwood

2 - high priestess

Updated: May 9, 2021

2 - high priestess

power-from-within, eros, interconnection, inherent value

"In a world built on power-over, we must remake the world." -- Starhawk

erotic powers within and with

Power-from-within and -with are hard work. They cannot be enacted passively, like power-over (see emperor card), but instead require intent and active manifestation. We absorb power-over ideologies in classrooms, consumerist culture, mainstream news and narratives; power-from-within and -with must be learned out of and against these power-over systems. Within and with are therefore always acts of resistance, even in their smallest and quietest forms: to invoke Starhawk, they are grounded in the domain of spirit, or immanent value, rather than violence, which is the domain of power-over; to invoke adrienne maree brown, they are fractal (see sun card), establishing patterns at the small-scale that reverberate to the large-scale; to invoke Audre Lorde, they are affective, embodied, and deeply erotic.

Lorde, in “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” is speaking not of “the pornographic,” which is the realm of distorted, weaponized sexuality; she invokes an erotic that is affective, relational, intuitive, and always accessible to us, should we be so brave as to tap into it. This erotic functions in two ways. The first is achieved through “self-connection,” or from-within: “the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythm, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea” (4). It is the practice of listening to one’s body, intuition, and desires – not through the values system of capitalism, which considers such endeavors a threat to productivity, but through the simple, small pleasures that feed our soul.

According to Lorde, we are indoctrinated in the systems of domination (or power-over) that gaslight us into disvaluing our own intuition, severing us from any form of intimacy with the self. She speaks from an explicitly feminist perspective -- “the erotic offers a well of replenishing and provocative force to the woman who does not fear its revelation, nor succumb to the belief that sensation is enough” (1) – but I read Lorde’s erotic as expanding beyond the gender binary, offering a source of power for anyone who is “queer, marginalized, living in the shadows, or on the edge of acceptance” (Snow 16). Lorde’s erotic is, then, is a form of queer magick (see moon card). Indeed, most witches I know (granted, I almost exclusively traverse in queer witchy spaces) first found themselves drawn to non-institutional forms of spirituality because they craved empowerment: faced with a world that devalues our very existence, we need to find ways to re-value ourselves. Erotic power, with and from-within, offers alternative, infinite possibilities for asserting queer value, even while we are being crushed beneath the devaluing forces of power-over. A queer witch, then, is:

One that sees the world itself as a living being, made up of dynamic aspects, a world where one thing shape-shifts into another, where there are no solid separations and no simple causes and effects. In such a world, all things have inherent value, because all things are beings, aware in ways we can only imagine, interrelated in patterns too complex to ever be more than partially described. We do not have to earn value. Immanent value cannot be rated or compared. No one, nothing, can have more of it than another. Nor can we lose it. For we are, ourselves, the living body of the sacred (Starhawk 15).

Witchcraft is a practice of noticing, and then transforming from within, the interconnectedness between power-from-within (self) and power-with (others, beings, world). For many witches, particularly those practicing from the margins, identifying and cultivating power-from-within is magick enough. As Cassandra Snow notes in Queering Your Craft: Witchcraft from the Margins: “Magick is a skill. Magick is a love song to yourself and the world around you. Magick is internal, external, and beyond even that. Most of all though, magick is your right, and responsibility—as a human living on this Earth… The living of your life (your way) is a magickal act.” Healing from the wounds of capitalist, heteropatriarchal violence is an unending and cyclical process, and it is the most radical -- "from the root," to use Angela Davis' definition -- magick that a witch can perform, not only because it is an act of resistance, but because seemingly small acts reverberate.

The witch operates in fractals: “infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales” (brown 51). adrienne maree brown describes the “structural echo” that comprises our universe, spirals of natural shapes that ripple outward from plants and bodies to rivers and galaxies. brown imagines a world built on intimacy and intentionality: “we must create patterns that cycle upwards” (59), including, perhaps starting with, patterns from within. Building a bookcase and writing a poem are acts of magick because they require listening to what feels good; they enact on the smallest of scales a world that honors immanent value in all. To be a witch is to know that “self” and “other” are fundamentally interrelated: to transform self, therefore, is to transform other in infinitesimal but immeasurable and very real ways.

tarot as power-from-within

My greatest power-from-within tool is the Tarot, which I discovered, as do so many queer witches, in the aftermath of personal trauma. In the early months of 2018, two fantastically, almost absurdly comedic Towers fell around me (see hermit card and tower card), both of which radically exploded parts of myself that I had previously assumed to be fact. Seemingly new aspects of my identity had emerged after a lifetime of dormancy -- what else was waiting to be found, just below the surface?

here’s what I’ve found so far: hairy legs, anarchism, bisexuality, a belief in spirit/spirituality, pedagogy, a distinctly jewish habit of asking questions, chosen family, chosen and newly found ancestors, adhd, playwriting – and, especially, a beautiful ashkenazi woman greeting me in the mirror every morning

Tarot, as I practice it, is dialogue with one’s subconscious, mediated by archetypes and symbolism. It is a creative practice powered by the reader’s intuition, such that no card can hold truly universal meaning: my relationship with The Empress is shaped by poetry, past tarot readings in which the card appeared, my relationship with femininity, my relationship with my mother, what I had for lunch – the most elevated meaning of a tarot card is its most specific to the reader.

Tarot did not give me new sense of identity, nor did it heal me, but it did give me tools to reconnect with that “deeply born” knowledge only accessible by me (Lorde 4). With each pull of a card, I was asked to converse with parts of me that are otherwise dismissed from mundane life: my generative self with the Magician, my wounded self with the Tower, my higher self with Judgement -- selves that do not conform with the politeness and positivity I was raised to perform. I haven’t the philosophical expertise to make any claims about the existence of a “true self,” sacred, inherent, and buried beneath the violent ideologies that we are taught to believe. I do know that, in excavating my own feelings and memories through the tarot, I have discovered a deep-down, kinder self that deserves more care than I had previously thought to offer. In this way, tarot is an exercise of listening to and honoring one’s “immanent value,” or spirit, a sacredness that does not to be earned, or proven, or protected, but is always within – sometimes buried very deeply within, but it is always there.

In Coven space, we call forth our deeply born knowledges, our powers-from-within, through tarot, but also a brilliant kaleidoscope of other witchy tools: journaling, affirmations, astrology, crystals, ancestral magicks, spellcrafting, lunar rituals, herbal healing, poetry, music… Each exercise asks us to engage with an intuitive self-connection that is not welcome in academic and work spaces. The Coven offers an affirmation and valuation of personhood. Each of us is spirit. Each of us has a “a well of replenishing and provocative force” of erotic, from-within power – we just need to dig, perhaps deeply, to find it. We have found that it is easier to do that digging when in the company of a generous Coven.

intuitive tarot ritual

i created this ritual for the fall Coven as both an introduction to tarot reading and an exercise of intuitive empowerment. it was subsequently adapted into a participatory element of the fall COVEN-19 Samhain ritual.

ingredients: a tarot deck (or this website); a journal and writing implement

1. draw a tarot card. make sure that the card features a prominent living being; if not, redraw.

2. ask the following questions of the card. free-write your answers. don't overthink it. just write what feels right.

What part of this image strikes you first?

What is the figure doing?

What are they thinking?

What happened before?

What is missing from this image?

What does this world smell like? Sound like? Fell like (temperature)?

There is a number on this card: what does it mean to you?

There are words on this card: what do they mean to you?

What direction is the figure facing?

What or whom are they looking at?

What might happen after?

What does this image make you feel?

What would you ask this figure?

What would they say back?

What message does this card have for you?

3. congratulations! you have officially read a tarot card, using nothing but an oft-ignored inner voice to guide your way.

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