THE HIGH PRIESTESS
Basic Card Symbols
Blue, white and black colors, pomegranates, the moon crown of Isis, veil, solar cross, crescent moon. Black & white lotus, pillars (B stands for Boaz, signifying negation, J stands for Jachin, meaning beginning). Scroll with the word Tora on it (either the Jewish Torah or an anagram of "Tarot," where the final letter is left unseen).
Basic Tarot Story
Continuing his journey, the Fool comes upon a beautiful and mysterious veiled lady enthroned between two pillars and illuminated by the moon. She is the opposite of the Magician, quiet where he was loquacious, still where he was in motion, sitting while he stood, shrouded in the night where he was out in the bright of day. Sensing that she is a great seer, the Fool lays out his sword, chalice, staff and pentacle before her. "The Magician showed me these, but now I'm in a quandary. There are so many things I could do with them. I can't decide."
The High Priestess doesn't speak. Instead she hands him a pair of ancient scrolls. Seating himself at her feet, the Fool puts his decision-making on hold and reads by the light of her crescent moon.
"I did not know any of this," says the Fool. The scrolls, like a secret manual, have given him insight into his new tools. "This information helps me to narrow things down, but I'm still afraid of making a wrong decision."
The words come to him then, not from without but from within: "What do your instincts tell you?" The Fool reflects on that, and that's when he knows what he should do. Decision made, he rises to leave even though he suspects that the High Priestess has more secrets she could reveal to him--like what lies behind the pomegranate curtain. Right now, however, he is focused and ready to be on his way.
Thanking the High Priestess, he heads off. But as he leaves he hears that inner voice, rising like the waters which spring and flow from beneath her throne: "We'll meet again...when you're ready to travel the most secret path of all."
Basic Tarot Meaning
Once you have an idea, you also have decisions to make. The High Priestess holds scrolls of arcane information in her arms. In addition, the moon crown on her head as well as the crescent by her foot indicates her willingness to illuminate what you otherwise might not see about a job possibility, an investment, love, career, family, etc. But you need some alone time, some quiet time to meditate and reflect.
This is what the card is all about. Seated between two pillars as between two choices, the High Priestess is not about making a decision so much as holding decision-making at bay while you take time to listen to your inner voice. She wants you to gain knowledge before you act: instinctual knowledge, supernatural knowledge, secret knowledge, self-knowledge.
The High Priestess, however, goes beyond even that for those who seek more. Behind her throne is the curtain that leads to the deepest, most esoteric knowledge; the pomegranates that decorate it remind us of Persephone, who was taken down into the land of the dead, ate its fruit and became the only goddess allowed to travel to and from that strange land. The High Priestess is our guide to all that is mysterious and mystical.
If there is a card that symbolizes the tarot reader it is the High Priestess. A woman (or man!) of psychic powers, intuition and secret knowledge. Where the Magician is about revealing, the High Priestess is about keeping things hidden behind the curtain. Where he urges the querent to verbalize what he's thinking, the High Priestess urges him to silently reflect on his feelings.
She is not only the complement to the Magician, however, but to two other majors. She is the counterpoint to the Hierophant, maintaining secret traditions and rites passed from seer to successor, rather than advocating community traditions. And she is the natural moonlight to the Hermit's manmade lantern, equally solitary and of the night, but acting as restful librarian of information rather than restless seeker of it.
If the reader feels the High Priestess stands for the querent then this is a time of solitary investigation for them or perhaps just a time to trust their instincts. Things kept secret will be revealed, either passed on to them by another or coming to them psychically by way of visions or powerful feelings. Insights may be found in crystal balls, tea leaves, dreams or conversations with spirits.
Standing for someone other than the querent, the High Priestess is usually read as a spiritual woman or medium, a teacher of archaic knowledge, librarian or just a reclusive relative who knows many family secrets. She may come across as cold, unpredictable and scary, but her instincts and insights will be uncanny.
The High Priestess if often seen as a perpetual maiden, the eternal virgin of an Athena, Diana or Vesta. But some view her as also representing a woman who might be pregnant. In such instances, the High Priestess is NOT viewed as an emblem of fertility, a "mother," but rather as a still, quiet incubator where the "idea" (child) can remain stable and protected.
"I've a new idea," says the querent--thanks to the Magician. But now there are decisions to make. What direction should one take this idea? The High Priestess not only offers illumination, revealing secret paths and hidden dangers, but also a still, quiet place between the pillars of dark and light, existence and negation, wax and wane where one can pause, see, feel and reflect on what one really wants to do with this idea.
Now that you know what you want to do, how do you make it real? The next card will discuss that...
Onto the next Tarot card, the Empress...
Back to the list of Tarot Card Meanings...
See examples of different High Priestess cards here.