Day 286: The High Priestess


The High Priestess in the Universal Rider-Waite, Hanson Roberts, and Robin Wood decks.

In cards highly influenced by the Rider-Waite deck, the High Priestess is found robed in Isis’s pale blue and white colors, seated between the black and white pillars of Boaz and Jachin, and in front of a tapestry bearing pomegranates (which are arranged in a tree-of-life pattern).  All this stands before a vast, calm body of water, which can be seen through the gaps between the pillars and tapestry.  The High Priestess has a moon at her feet, and is crowned with Isis’s headdress.  She also holds in her lap a scroll labeled “Tora”.

This card necessarily contrasts the Magician.  The Magician’s card was all about light and active passion for life, especially given the dominance of red roses and his red robe.  Where the Magician actively communicates his divine knowledge, as shown by his open display of his tools and him standing in a very open position, the Priestess largely stays silent.  She too has a white inner robe to show her purity of purpose, but her outer robe is the pale blue of spirituality and emotions.  She is passively sitting and her robes further close around her.  The information she holds, the Tora scroll, is half-hidden within her robes, too, and the scroll itself is still unopened.  I like to think that this means the Priestess’s wisdom can’t be broken into words and can’t be treated metaphorically.  Her wisdom is so profound that it can only be felt.  If we try to communicate it, our utterings become meaningless.  We learn the Priestess’s lessons not through channeled instruction, but through quiet intuition.

The Priestess’s spiritual reception is echoed through her surroundings, much like the Magician’s meaning is echoed by his bower of flowers.  A large, calm body of water reflects her stillness and the depth of her quiet wisdom, and the pomegranates on the tapestry behind her reflect her feminine mystery and a deep spirituality.  The black and white pillars that flank the Priestess are supposed to be Boaz and Jachin, the columns that stood at the entrance to Solomon’s Temple.  This temple housed the Ark of the Covenant, which contained all divine wisdom within.  This effectively makes the Priestess herself the temple.  I, however, like to think of the pillars more as a yin-yang symbol.  They represent the divine duality that permeates everything and is the source of all magic.  They are also a reminder that every situation contains the seeds of its opposite.

Rider-Waite’s High Priestess has an awful lot of Judeo-Christian symbols on it (not the least of which being the enormous cross on Isis’s chest), so Robin Wood paganized the card in her deck.  As with her Magician, her High Priestess is an avatar of the divine, and so shows a woman with dark hair and blue eyes, which signifies that she embodies the dark and light aspects of the divine and the balance between them.  Her robe is a fluid ombre combination of all the Goddess colors, for she is all Goddesses in one.  Her shoulders are maidenly white, then flow into Mother Earth green, then the light blue of feminine spirituality, and then finally the deep Indigo of Crone energy, mystery, and magic.  She wears a waning-moon crown to show her wisdom, and a pentacle around her neck to show she keeps the secret knowledge.  Like the Magician, she is naked beneath her robe to show she is free and unashamed.  She holds a crystal ball in her right hand as a symbol of mystic knowledge that can only come from within, and the spherical shape further highlights the feminine, intuitive knowledge that scrying provides.  Her left hand holds and open book, black to show it contains deep wisdom.  She freely offers this information to us, but we must come close to read and experience the magic along with her.

Whereas Robin Wood’s Magician card was full of light from the lit black and white candles behind him (and apparently indoors, for those candles are burning steadily), the High Priestess card is dark.  It shows an outdoors nighttime scene with a full moon partially shrouded by clouds.  The darkness also relates to the intuitive wisdom of the Priestess, and the full moon shows that her knowledge is at its fullest, and it is obscured to show that her’s is a hidden mystery.  Like the Magician, she has pillars of black and white divine duality behind her, but these are live trees just in bud.  This shows that for all the fullness the High Priestess offers, it is still just the surface.  She has unlimited potential for growth behind her.

Again, the major symbols in this card are enumerated below:

1.  Moons.

  • In the Tarot, these are usually symbols of feminine power and mystery, and Pagan readers also associate them with Goddess energy.  They are also symbols of cycles, mystery, hidden power, and the passage of time.

2.  Water. 

  • The amount of still water behind the Priestess in the Rider-Waite cards shows how all the energies she brings are strongly rooted in water’s feminine receptivity.

3.  Pomegranates.

  • This fruit is a strongly feminine symbol, and it is particularly associated with feminine sexuality.  There’s the obvious correlation of Persephone biting into a pomegranate, which forced her to accept Hades, but there’s also the fact that it is a fairly voluptuous fruit, filled with a life-giving juice in the middle of a dry desert.  It’s quite breast-like.  Even the arrangement of its seeds within resemble functioning breast tissue in anatomy.  Pomegranates are also a major symbol of spirituality.  Kabbalists, for example, sometimes describe spiritual paradise as an orchard of pomegranates, and this connotation in this card is highlighted by the fruit being arranged in a tree-of-life pattern.

4.  Black and White Pillars.

  • I prefer to think of these as representing the divine polarity that the Lady holds in balance and from which all energy flows.

5.  Hidden Scroll.

  • The scroll is half-hidden in the Priestess’s robes.  I like to think this means that the Priestess holds a vast amount of spiritual wisdom, but that it can’t be entirely accessed through typical book learning.  You’ve got to trust and experience it in your heart for yourself.

KEYWORDS: Staying nonactive, accessing the unconscious, seeing the potential, sensing the mystery, inner wisdom, intuition, stillness, profound experience, hidden teachings.

When you have a situation that requires your intuition, try this mediation.  Before you begin, contemplate your situation thoroughly.  Then close your eyes and take several deep breaths.  Imagine that you stand before a great clear pool.  This is the pool of your own internal wisdom.  Beside the pool is a magical chalice.  Fill the cup and drink deeply of the waters.  Ask what it is you should do in the situation.  Listen for an answer–and then follow it.

Daily Practice
Keep the High Priestess card with you, or alternatively, place it on your altar.  For the duration of the day, maintain awareness of your hunches and intuitive perceptions.  Follow your intuition today and see where it leads you.  Release yourself into the vast supportive net of the universe, and know in your bones that nature always supports you.  You are always connected to the people, places, and things of this world in ways you can never fully, consciously know.

For what it’s worth, the card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book The New Tarot Handbook, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Around the Tarot in 78 Days. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website,


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