Engines roar to life on the plane’s wing, just outside my oval double-glassed window. The noise cuts into the playlist in my earbuds. The metallic whine drowns my thoughts as it grows. The stewards paint the pressurizing air of the cabin with words no one really hears; the cold square buckle clicks shut on my lap; the movies begin, the peanuts and orange juice disperse, the muffled voice of the pilot informs, the infant cries until shushed. Hours later, the grinding of brakes meets the thump of wheels on tarmac and the foreign languages on speakers cut through the chattering crowds.
“Am-ree-cain?” The hesitant shout, raised above the cacophony, is directed at me and draws my attention. There among the bright fabrics and dark faces is a sign with my name, Roman letters painstakingly drawn onto a white board. My driver is a young man with large black bird-like eyes and a shy smile. He takes me to the hostel. He waits patiently while I check in. Back in his car, settled in to the surprisingly luxurious leather passenger seat, I allow myself to review some of my notes.
“You are journalist?” he asks, his voice the soft resonance of a bamboo flute.
“You wish to see somewhere special?” He smiles as though he has a secret to divulge.
I’m not sure how to answer that. “Thank you, but I have very specific plans, and a schedule I must follow.”
“It is along the way. You see it in passing. Here.”
He turns the car sharply, headed up a narrow side road.
This is exactly what they warned me about. Don’t go off the beaten path. Don’t go near the border. Trust no one, and tell no one of your plans. There is probably not a soul in this city who would not be outraged by where I am trying to go, what I am trying to do. Now the entire assignment is endangered, because my driver is not the simple rule-follower they told me he would be.
He barely glances at the paper before nodding vigorously. “Yes, yes. I saw, I know. But you do not know, that address is blocked. You will never get into the Temple that way.”
I lay down the papers. “How many other people know where I am going?”
“Just me. She told me.”
“The High Priestess.”
The person I was until this moment, the person who received the mission, planned the trip, made all the contingencies, knew what she was doing, falls away from me like the housing of the rocket when the rocket breaks free of the Earth’s gravitational hold. I drift, now, engineless. I am completely out of control in this. He drives through neighborhoods of modern houses built atop the ruins of millennia. He parks the car in an abandoned shopping center parking lot. He takes a key from his belt and leads me into the center of the shadowy ruined mall, the script everywhere in light-less neon signs, paper posters hanging by one edge, graffiti on the glass in spray paint and other substances.
“Here,” he says cheerfully.
“Here,” I repeat.
“This is the Temple?”
The dust makes a soft settling sound.
“Well,” he says, brushing his hands together. “Time for me to go.” He takes advantage of my stunned paralysis and leaves.
Now all I need to do is wait for the machine guns, the grenades, the kidnappers. But there is nothing. I slide back against the fake brick wall. What now?
How did I get here? Not just the deserted mall, but here, in my life? I accepted the charge to write about each of the places, on Earth and in human experience, that embody the Major Arcana of the Tarot. Before that, I accepted the charge to write about the Tarot. Before that, I accepted the charge to write, at all, to be a writer; before that, I suppose, I was lost. As I am lost now. The memories and images and self-recriminations whirl in my mind until there is nothing left to think.
Only then do I hear it: a whisper, a word I have long forgotten. I leap to my feet, leaving all my gear strewn against the wall. I follow the sound of the whisper into one of the dark, empty storefronts. I stand perfectly still, to hear it better. The roof above me cracks. A beam of light falls through it. The room transforms. Circular metal clothing racks solidify into marble fountains. Cheap mirrors bend into gilded columns. The curtains dividing dressing rooms lengthen into rich tapestries, flames spring from sconces once disguised as accessories, and my imagination comes to life. This is the Temple of Solomon, the inner sanctum; it is the truth of my imagination, the deep reality beyond words. It is what I have always striven to write.
“Only when you are lost and helpless, only when you leave behind the chattering monkey of your ego, only when you have let go of all control,” says a rich voice behind me, “only then, writer, can you hear the words of Truth.”
She is veiled and robed, regal not by earthly measure but in spiritual authority. “High Priestess,” I whisper. “Here?”
“Yes, here, where I am not expected. I do not come to those who enter with the pretension of knowing. Let the brazen prophets trumpet claims of wisdom. Let the sonorous voices of scholars ring out summonses to the false temples of their pedantry. Mine is the only Truth, the truth that comes not by word but by silence. Human, you are touched with this when you face your own insignificance. Writer, you are blessed with this when you still the voices you have amassed through the years, when you release your own need to hear yourself talk, when you listen. I lead you here. I am the High Priestess, the feminine Divine. I am the Crone. I am the last word.”
The last word, and then quiet, receptivity, as the earth is receptive to the dead, to the seed. This is the gift of the High Priestess, and also the gift she demands of us; we must yield our words and sit in silence to listen. Only then can we hear the truth. Only when we turn off all the lights can we see the stars, the distant clusters of galaxies, the fireflies leading us into the woods. Only when we stop talking do we hear the words we need to say. Sit in silence, and you will find that you are in the Temple. And here, oh, the wonders, the glorious tapestries woven by servants of the gods, stories told by spirits, music made by the angels, the scent of rarest incense rising to the rafters.
Perhaps the Maiden asks, the Mother answers — and the Crone listens. The Temple is wherever you write. That is your space, your holy place. Make it so, by entering with silence, and listening.