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Cassandra and the High Priestess

September 14, 2010
High Priestess -- Tarot of the Masters

It happened again recently — I presented an analysis of a situation and a forecast about it, and my words were misinterpreted to an amazing degree.  What happened was that someone who didn’t like what I wrote somewhere took the trouble to send me an email. But rather than present any refutation of either my facts or my logic, she just accused me of having deep animosity about something, despite other evidence to the contrary.

I’m sure this happens now and then to everyone, but it really seems to happen to me all too often, which I suspect may be due to my “birth cards” being Justice / High Priestess.  Why would that present this problem?  I think it’s due to the High Priestess, as I’ll explain here.

One way to view the High Priestess is to see her as the Oracle of the Tarot. That can be a good thing when you’re considered to be an oracle like the one at Delphi, which was routinely consulted and heeded. However, consider another famous mythical oracle: Cassandra from the Iliad, who was cursed by Apollo so that her predictions were always dismissed and disbelieved. In her case, being an oracle was not such a good thing.

Mythic characters represent human archetypes, as do the Tarot’s Major Arcana cards, so we can associate Cassandra with the High Priestess and thereby can gain some insights into the latter oracle by examining the archetype of the former.

“The Cassandra Syndrome” is a term named after this tragic prophetess of Greek myth. It has the obvious connotation of a valid warning that is disbelieved, but it has deeper psychological and social applications as well. On the one hand, it represents our unconscious imperative to issue warnings about moral or ethical violations, along with their consequences. But such warnings typically arises from the realization of a problem that no one else wants to look at, an outcome that no one wants to deal with, or a truth that no one (especially authority figures) wants to acknowledge. For example, in the 1990s Warren Buffett, who was called the “Oracle of Omaha,” repeatedly warned that the stock market surge was a bubble, earning him the title of ‘Wall Street Cassandra’.  Also, consider the following quote from H.L. Mencken: “It is hard to get a man to believe something when his livelihood depends on him believing something else.”

The most insidious part of this is that since denial is such a strong human defense mechanism against unpleasant facts, those who are affected by them stubbornly and unshakably strive to remain unaware of such facts. Instead, they ignore, misunderstand, or outright reject them – anything to avoid believing a “Cassandra prediction.”  This is the other side of the Cassandra Syndrome – the typical denial, dismissal or disdain that greets so many conclusions, warnings or predictions that people don’t want to hear.

So the High Priestess can represent two different archetypes of an Oracle – the trusted Oracle of Delphi or the distrusted Cassandra. This is an important point for us, as Tarot readers, to remember. From my experience, a person’s response to the insights and prophesies we offer depends greatly upon how s/he comes across them. When people come to us for a Tarot reading, they usually approach us as they would a trusted Oracle. In that case, they tend to believe what we say, or they are at least open to considering what we reveal.  The exception is when our predictions or advice are too hard for them to accept. But when they come across our advice or warnings without seeking them, that’s when they tend to ignore or denigrate our insights, with the exception being when our predictions or advice are in accordance with their instincts or desires.

Now, you may say that we shouldn’t force our advice on anyone, and of course that’s true. But where I have found this problematic aspect of being a “Cassandra” arise has been in one of two circumstances. First, it happens during functional discussions which occur in things like business meetings or (especially) at the home owners’ meetings for my condominium association. (In those cases, I’m not acting as an oracle per se, so I’m speaking more generally about advice and warnings here.)  In those situations, it doesn’t seem to matter how often in the past my advice has been right; they’ll still wheel in that really cool giant horse even after I tell them that it’s hollow and filled with Greek soldiers.

The other circumstance is when someone overhears something I said or reads something I have posted online. In the latter case, which is what I was referring to at the beginning of this post, I merely offered my warning on the Internet.

Anyway, I would be interested to hear about the experiences of others here. Using a very unscientific and informal survey, I have found that people whose birth cards are Justice / High Priestess usually say, “Yes! That happens to me all the time,” while for other people, this doesn’t seem to ring a bell for them.  So, do you find this happening to you a lot, and if so, what are your birth cards?  (See for an explanation of birth cards and how to calculate them.)

  1. “She was a sort of advance-agent for calamities. To know her was to know the worst. Fortunately for the gaiety of the age she lived in, no one took her very seriously. Still, it must have been fairly galling to have her turning up after every catastrophe with a conscious air of ‘perhaps another time you’ll believe what I say.'”

    “I should have wanted to kill her.”

    -Saki, The Peace Offering

    I couldn’t resist, James- everytime someone speaks about Cassandra I remember that funny quote by English author Saki 😀 (btw, the whole story is damn funny- read it if you can :)))

    In my case, as an online tarot reader, I get no feedback as an usual answer when my predictions are not liked- I know it’s that because generally, months or weeks later, I get messages like “I couldn’t believe it but you were right” or “this happened as you said” . Saying bad stuff can be harsh at first, but a good deal of people react positively when they see it was true- specially if you try to show problems in a constructive way. I think Cassandra’s punishment by Apollo was not just not to be believed, but the gloomy airs she put on:))))) (then again, she was predicting war and destruction, hopefully we won’t have to do that ;))

    Btw, I’m a Tower/Chariot- very appropiate!!!;)

    • Hi Rozonda,
      Thanks for your comments on this topic.

      Actually, I think you’re being viewed more as an Oracle of Delphi than as Cassandra since clients are coming to you for a reading, so you’re getting this sort of positive feedback, even if it IS months afterward.

      One example of my experiences: In a couple of meetings I told my Homeowners’ association that the insulation that was proposed to be put on exposed water pipes was inadequate. They said, “Oh no, the contractor says it’ll work.” It didn’t. So during the summer our “cold” water is very hot. We are now re-doing that insulation. Not really a “calamity” but an unpleasantness. And still no one has said, “Oh James, we didn’t believe you, but you were right!” Yeesh.

      By the way, I love Saki! I’ve read much of his work, but I don’t recall that particular story. (By the way — You might enjoy “The Unbearable Bassington” which is one of his few novels.)


  2. Yes James, I think you are right, at least I get that positive feedback, even if it is months afterwards-and sometimes from people who previously showed their skepticism in not a very nice way 🙂

    You know, I LOVE the Unbearable Bassington. I was very lucky to find an edition of Saki’s complete works (meaning complete, with the stories, novels and articles) many years ago.I fell in love with the novel, chock-full of epigrams and witticisms, that would have delighted Wilde himself. The edition is torn to pieces since the next edition by those publishers excluded the novels ¬¬ so I’ll be getting them for my e-reader next. A delight indeed. Hugs!!!

    • LOL. I love that phrase: “people who previously showed their skepticism in not a very nice way”

  3. frustrated artist permalink

    Hi James,
    I actually have the High Priestess as a birth card and have psychic tendencies with others. I have the cassandra affect on myself. I have problems being able to face realities and psychic visions about my own life. It’s something I do of habit but later realize it when it’s too late to change my decisions. i lately have been changing though, it’s been touch to acknowledge such things in life, so i can only imagine what would happen with others.

    In regards to readings for others, I give pretty on the money readings and people have been blown away about how things turned out. I just had a neighbor call to let me know about that impossible job in Tampa and move did actually happen. I also have noticed the in denial with certain people who I have done readings for and it can be quite frustrating, when they are totally in denial and their own family or spouse clues you in to letting you in that everything you said was right.

    Sometimes people are plainly too arrogant to do readings and think they know more than you do. Yeah, they want readings but still they know best, NOT! and then for those who don’t want readings but need one don’t acknowledge advice because they are too arrogant and want to play this cat and mouse game.

    From my experience, It’s best not worth giving readings to those kinds of people
    because they do not appreciate you and your time and you start feeling like there is something is wrong with you or your reading in the end.

    This is like channeling negative energy that are too spiritually and mentally blocked . I have noticed that these kind of people live in a lower plain of spirituality and are not willing to change and they are causing their own self-destruction in their outcome.

    With these kinds of people, it’s best to use reverse psychology instead in order not to bruise any egos in order for them to make the right choice.

    Frustrated Artist

    • Thanks for your feedback on this.
      The only time I end up giving readings to anyone who is not eager or anxious for a reading is at parties. There I sometimes get people who figure, “what the heck, I’ll just give it a shot,” even though they’re very skeptical. They can be difficult because they seem to just want to debunk what I’m doing, and they’re loathe to heed what I may say. The good thing is that I only have to spend about 5 or 10 minutes with them. 😀
      What I find happening is a more general manifestation of Cassandra in my life: giving great advice or predictions in general conversation (not as a result of a reading) that are routinely discounted because the people on the receiving end don’t want to hear it for some reason.
      I’ve come to find this to be a good interpretation of the HP reversed or the dark side of the HP: “good advice that will be ignored or discounted.”

  4. Nan Harvey permalink

    Justice & High Priestess are my birth cards also. Speaking from life in general, as I haven’t done enough Tarot readings for others to comment from that side, people take my ideas pretty seriously – sometimes even after I realize I was wrong. I tend to throw ideas out impulsively, thinking that they will be fodder for brainstorming, only to have someone take one and run with it without thinking it through. Sometimes at my work I’ll run across someone that doesn’t take my ideas or advice seriously at first, but it doesn’t happen on a regular basis.

    What is MORE likely to happen is that I ignore good advice from others. That DOES happen on a regular basis. So maybe I’m projecting the Cassandra side of the High Priestess onto others 🙂

    • Thanks Nan
      Thanks for your comments. And perhaps you’re manifesting the Delphi side of the HP instead of the Cassandra. This raises an interesting idea — that for those of us with 11/2 as our birth cards, one of our life challenges is to find a way to be more Oracle of Delphi and less Cassandra. Something to think about, so thanks for the food for thought!

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