Card Meaning: II The High Priestess

The High Priestess
Element: Water
Planet: Moon
Hebrew letter: Gimel, ו


  After unmanifested reality and unity consciousness of The Fool, through manifested world and focused action of The Magician we come to the duality of The High Priestess. This card is a realm of the opposites. As soon as we see the card we take a notion of black and white pillars of the temple labeled "B" and "J". A gentle reminder to the pillars of Temple of Solomon, they are the first detail that implies duality and opposition but also hidden wisdom and forbidden knowledge. Tha card number is the number two, further supporting duality and passive, feminine energies of the card. The woman on the card is sitting still, without action, seemingly pondering decisions that she is about to make. The card shows silence, passivity, power of non-action. Only when secluded from the world, can we allow our subconscious to speak to us, listen to our inner voice and recognize our spiritual power. The High Priestess stands for inner wisdom at its deepest, a wisdom that sleeps beneath myriad intrusion from everyday world. Her energies are complement to the energies of The Magician. She is passive, he is active, he is all about skill and ability while she is still, in the state of insight. Sitting between duality of the two pillars wee see that she symbols duality and simultaneously help us transcend that same duality. She is our connection between everyday consciousness and our subconscious mind where we are in intimate bond with the rest of the universe. This bridge is no easy pass, she is connection but also a guardian of unknown. There is a challenge to go deeper, beyond obvious and beyond usual daily affairs.


This card made its first appaerance around 15th century and it was originally called La Papessa (The Popess). The symbolism of the card clearly showed signs of papacy. The High Priestess worn trigregnum (papal tiara). Often she was portraited with the keys similar to those that was a traditional symbol of the papacy. In protestant countries this card had imagery of Pope Joan, a woman allegedly elected to the papacy and revealed only after giving  birth. There are also other kind of symbolism connected with this card. Some of more prominent are Isis, Virgin Mary, Junon (In Swiss decks, the Roman Queen of the Gods). Vandenborre tarot deck (Flemish deck) substitues The High Priestess with Le Espagnol Capitano Eracasse (The Spanish Captain Fracasse), after a Il Capitano, a character from Commedia dell'Arte. Maybe the most interesting depiction of The High Priestess comes from the Italian Visconti-Sforza Tarot deck where this card was called Sister Manfreda, an Umiliata nun and a relative of Visconti family who was elected Pope by the heretics from Gugliemite sect in Lombardy. She died in Milan in 1281 but her followers belived she would return on the Feast of Pentecost in the year 1300 when the male dominated papacy would end and the new era of the Spirit would emerge with a line of the female Popes. Of course, that line of thought was soon noticed by Inquisition. The sect was exterminated and Matteo Visconti put under investigation for his connection with the sect.


In readings, this card represents hidden wisdom. Pay attention on your subconscious qualities and trust your intuition. Beneath the surface there is a lot happening. Now it is important to listen your inner voice. Remember your inner strength and potential. Be patient. Sometimes it can mean that a spiritual woman will enter your life, maybe a reclusive relative who knows many family secrets. Negative aspects of this card are superficiality and outmoded ways of behaviour. In some situations when reversed all is clear and there are no secrets to ponder. Time for action.

two pillars, river, moon, hidden knowledge

  A woman is sitting between two pillars. She represents the subconscious mind, a Shekinah, female presence of the divine. Pillars are black and white, obviously pointing to their different origin. She sits between them, impartial to both of them. She is balancing opposite forces serving as a bridge between the two. The curtain behind her connects the pairs. The letters on the pillars are B and J. The B is symbolic of the number 2 falling as the second letter in the alphabet. The letter J is the 10th letter in the alphabet, in numerology, this is reduced to 1. So on the pillars we have the numbers 1 and 2. This is symbolic of male and female, the two opposites. The card itself is numbered 2, indicating its female nature. Also, "B" as Boaz and "J" as Jachin were two copper, brass or bronze pillars which stood in the porch of Solomon's Temple, the first Temple in Jerusalem. The pillars bore decorations of brass lilies, the lillies are very frequent motif in the Major Arcana. The High Priestess is holding a scroll of knowledge, but only part of it is showed, at least a part of knowledge is hidden. There are only four letters visible - TORA, suggesting Tora or maybe anagram of TAROT but one letter is still hidden. On the other hand if you read letters in the word Tora circularly you will get word tarot.  Also you can get a word rota which is a circle in Latin. The sentence “Tarot Rota Tora” means that the Tarot reveals the wheel of truth. She is sitting on a cubical block that indicates strict order in which subconscious mind puts in action orders that are formulated by conscious mind. The High Priestess is by no accident painted in sitting position. This card is about a knowledge before action. Her knowledge has inner quality, the outer quality of knowledge - religion is shown in The Hierophant card. The other counterpart of the High Priestess, The Magician is standing, performing action, while the second tarot female archetype The Empress is also sitting, emanating abundance by her presence, not the action itself. Behind the throne is the curtain with pomegranates as a decoration, part of which clearly resembles The Tree of Life. The pomegranates is reminiscence of Persephone, who was taken down into land of the dead, ate its fruit and became the only goddess allowed to travel to and from that strange land. Similary, The High Priestess is our guide to all that is mysterious and mystical. Behind the curtain we see some body of water. Probably motif that depicts vasteness and depth of the subconscious mind. Water is not contained behind the curtain, we can see that her dress is wrinkling down like a water beyond the edge of the card, informing us that subconscious mind extends its reach on other cards of Major Arcana. Also we see the crescent Moon at her feet, another clue about the nature of this card. The Moon, traditionally representing intuitive, female energies and deep subconscious realms. The Moon motif is also visible on her crown, very similar to the crown of Hathor. It is like author wanted to show all four phases of the Moon on the crown, indicating not only passage of time but also oscilation and change, cyclic repeating of events. It goes well with the presence of strong water element in the card, that also brings a feeling of change and uncertainity about the card itself. Her watery blue robe has a solar cross depicted on her chest, interesting detail symbolizing that although the Moon has deep connection with our inner world, at the end, it only reflects light given by the Sun.

She has the lunar crescent at her feet, a horned diadem on her head, with a globe in the middle place, and a large solar cross on her breast. The scroll in her hands is inscribed with the word Tora, signifying the Greater Law, the Secret Law and the second sense of the Word. It is partly covered by her mantle, to shew that some things are implied and some spoken. She is seated between the white and black pillars--J. and B.--of the mystic Temple, and the veil of the Temple is behind her: it is embroidered with palms and pomegranates. The vestments are flowing and gauzy, and the mantle suggests light--a shimmering radiance. She has been called occult Science on the threshold of the Sanctuary of Isis, but she is really the Secret Church, the House which is of God and man. She represents also the Second Marriage of the Prince who is no longer of this world; she is the spiritual Bride and Mother, the daughter of the stars and the Higher Garden of Eden. She is, in fine, the Queen of the borrowed light, but this is the light of all. She is the Moon nourished by the milk of the Supernal Mother. In a manner, she is also the Supernal Mother herself--that is to say, she is the bright reflection. It is in this sense of reflection that her truest and highest name in bolism is Shekinah--the co-habiting glory. According to Kabalism, there is a Shekinah both above and below. In the superior world it is called Binah, the Supernal Understanding which reflects to the emanations that are beneath. In the lower world it is MaIkuth--that world being, for this purpose, understood as a blessed Kingdom that with which it is made blessed being the Indwelling Glory. Mystically speaking, the Shekinah is the Spiritual Bride of the just man, and when he reads the Law she gives the Divine meaning. There are some respects in which this card is the highest and holiest of the Greater Arcana.

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, by A.E. Waite

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