The Garden of Pomegranates in Pamela Colman Smith’s High Priestess Card

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Closely examine the imagery on Pamela Colman Smith’s High Preistess tarot card. It contains the proverbial Pardis Rimonim —a Garden of Pomegranates. Those familiar with 20th century esoteric literature will know this as the namesake of Israel Regardie’s legendary book on Qabalah. For context, page 9 of Regardie’s own Garden of Pomegranates reads:

“Based on the versicle in the Song of Songs, “Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates”, a book entitled Pardis Rimonim came to be written by Rabbi Moses Cordovero in the sixteenth century. By some authorities, this philosopher is considered as the greatest lamp in post-Zoharic days of that spiritual Menorah, the Qabalah, which, with so rare a grace and so profuse an irradiation of Supernal Light, illuminated the literature of the Jewish people as well as their immediate and subsequent neighbors in the diaspora…”

Here is a closeup from Pamela Colman Smith’s color lithograph of the High Priestess tarot card. Distributed by the Church of Light. c.a. 1937. Color lithography, surface polished, coarse stock. From the Cary Collection of Playing Cards via Yale University Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. 

Detail from Colman Smith’s High Priestess tarot card

Pardes Rimonim actually means Pardes-Orchard of Pomegranates. Pardes is a form of textual exegesis. Moses Cordovero (משה קורדובירו‎), also called Moshe Kordovero, is a fascinating and vital figure in Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. The Jewish Encyclopedia notes that Cordovero was,

“Rabbi of Safed and cabalist; born in 1522; died June 25, 1570. He belonged to a Spanish family, probably of Cordova, whence his name “Cordovero.” After having studied rabbinical literature under the guidance of Joseph Caro, Cordovero at the age of twenty was initiated by his brother-in-law Solomon Alḳabiẓ into the mysteries of the Cabala, in which he soon became a recognized authority. A profound thinker, and well versed in Judæo-Arabic philosophy, Cordovero devoted his activity to speculative, strictly metaphysical Cabala (and kept aloof from the wonder-working or practical Cabala which was just then being propagated at Safed by Isaac Luria, in whose, circle of followers he moved.”

So captivating was Cordovero’s notion of divinity, that the later elucidations of Baruch Spinoza likely reference Cordovero. The Encyclopedia continues:

“In a series of works…, the most important of which is that entitled “Pardes Rimmonim,” Cordovero endeavored to elucidate all the tenets of the Cabala, such as the doctrines of the sefirot, emanation, the divine names, the import and significance of the alphabet, etc. Quite original is Cordovero’s conception of the Deity set forth by him in his “Shi’ur Ḳomah.” It is surprisingly identical with that taught later by Spinoza and there can be no doubt that the Dutch philosopher alluded to Cordovero when, in answer to the question addressed to him by his friend Oldenburg on the origin of his theory, he referred to an old Jewish philosopher”

Full image of Pamela Colman Smith’s High Priestess tarot card

Of late, I’ve been closely examining the texture and detail on these original Colman Smith cards via Yale’s digital collections. There is a such a nuance and intentionality present. What else do you spot in the High Priestess card? The keen eye will note other symbols of Jewish mysticism and hermetic Qabalah like the twin pillars of Boaz and Jachin.



Bibliography:

Jacobs, J. & Broydé REMAḲ (MOSES BEN JACOB CORDOVERO). Jewish Encyclopedia (The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia). 2002-2011.

Smith, Pamela Colman. II The High Priestess. [Playing Card]. Church of Light, 0AD. https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/2003230.


Links:

Beinecke:

https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/2003230

Jewish Encyclopedia:

https://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/contribs/538

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