Today we’ll cover the meaning of The High Priestess tarot card. This is a part of a deep dive series on the tarot.
The High Priestess is the second card of the Major Arcana. Originally the card was known as the Popess and referred to the legend of Pope Joan.
She wears the clothing of the pope on the card because the legend tells of her dressing up like a man and being elected to the position of pope.
The card was changed in the classical version to be less confusing to non-Catholics who didn’t know this story.
Understanding this history can be helpful in reading the card in its modern form.
Let’s explore the various meanings and interpretations of The High Priestess.
The classical meaning of The High Priestess can be seen in the Rider-Waite deck.
Let’s just list some of the many elements: a blue robe, a cross, the moon at her feet, the triple goddess symbol on her head, pomegranates in the background, black and white pillars with B and J, and Torah in hand.
I’m sure you can even find other details in there if you try.
The B and J stand for Boaz and Jachin. It’s a reference to the first Temple of Jerusalem. In fact, once you know that, it’s easier to see the temple veil hanging in the back.
This gives a clear separation between her and others.
For the longest time, I never realized they were pomegranates in the background. They can be taken literally since these appear at the Solomon Temple, but more likely, they were chosen to represent fertility (all the seeds).
Just noting all the elements is often a useful exercise before learning to read the cards. It gets you in the habit of looking for specific details.
Upright The High Priestess Meaning
The High Priestess meaning is one of the cards I have an easy time remembering and interpreting.
Let’s list some upright card keywords and correlate them to symbols on the card to help us remember:
- Internal Reflection
The mystery can be seen in how the veil keeps what’s happening hidden. How the priestess works will remain a mystery. She also cloaked her identity in the oldest versions of the story.
The spirituality can be seen all over the card from the cross to the Torah to the triple goddess to the temple.
I mostly read the intuition from the moon at her feet. The priestess seeks her inner voice and then answers people’s questions.
If you get in the habit of telling yourself these stories, the classical meaning of the card should be easy to remember.
Reversed The High Priestess Meaning
The most common reversed High Priestess meaning is secrecy, confusion, lost sense of self, and repression.
Reversed cards often mean the opposite of the upright meaning. If you think of the high priestess as sharing her knowledge with the masses, then keeping things secret and repressed is the opposite meaning.
It can be a bit harder to remember that the card can mean a lost sense of self or confusion in the proper context.
The High Priestess has a clear divine intuition. Her inner voice is clear, and the reversed card has her lose her sense of self. She is getting mixed signals, and it’s hard to tell which is true and which is false.
I always like to examine other, modern decks to see what can be read into their symbolism.
The reason for this is that every person will have different decks, and so it’s good to learn how to go with your gut on what you see. This is the best way to have a good interpretation for the moment.
Too many people stick to a learned reading instead of going with the flow. Remember, each reading, deck, person, position, and the question is different. Reading the cards is an art, not a science.
We’ll use a different deck for every one of these. Today’s is the Fountain Tarot. I love how this deck abstracts the images without straying too far from traditional symbolism.
Let’s start by noticing some of the clever choices.
It vastly simplifies the original by taking the same symbols and using them in multiple places.
The crescent moon at her feet has become her chair. The veil in the back has become much more prominent. The moon hat has become the moon in the sky.
Her face indicates the mysterious nature much better here. She seems to be in a pool of water.
Water tends to represent divination, which is another way to explain what the card is all about.
It’s interesting that the scroll is rolled up. We can’t tell what’s in it. She has the information to consult, but she isn’t using it just yet.
Also, we can’t see it, which is a big part of the card. The knowledge is internal to the High Priestess.
The High Priestess in Context
Context matters a lot when reading the cards. Here are some particularly strong things to look out for.
The Magician often comes paired with other cards. If the other card sets a topic like your job or finances or hobby or relationships, then the High Priestess will indicate to turn inward about it.
Listen to your inner voice. Sometimes intuition doesn’t work out, but if the High Priestess appears, it can be trusted.
As a topic marker, the High Priestess almost always sets spirituality as the topic.
Also, be on the lookout for times when it means mystery. A pairing with another card representing a person can mean that the person is enshrouded in mystery.
They are keeping information from you, but they will tell you when the time is right.
Back to the Major Arcana list.