The Tarot (Marseilles)¶
Description of the High Priestess Tarot Card¶
A woman crowned with a high mitre or tiara (her head encircled by a veil), a stole (or a solar cross) upon her breast, and the Book of Science open in her hand. She represents Science, Wisdom, or Knowledge.
Divination Meanings of The High Priestess Tarot Card¶
Science, Wisdom, Knowledge, Education.
Reversed Meanings of The High Priestess Tarot Card¶
Conceit, Ignorance, Unskilfulness, Superficial Knowledge.
The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (RWS)¶
Description of The High Priestess Tarot Card¶
The High Priestess, the Pope Joan, or Female Pontiff; early expositors have sought to term this card the Mother, or Pope’s Wife, which is opposed to the symbolism. It is sometimes held to represent the Divine Law and the Gnosis, in which case the Priestess corresponds to the idea of the Shekinah. She is the Secret Tradition and the higher sense of the instituted Mysteries.
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.1—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 Malkuth—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.
Divination Meanings of the High Priestess Tarot Card¶
Secrets, mystery, the future as yet unrevealed; the woman who interests the Querent, if male; the Querent herself, if female; silence, tenacity; mystery, wisdom, science.
Reversed Meanings of the High Priestess Tarot Card¶
Passion, moral or physical ardour, conceit, surface knowledge.
The Symbolism of the Tarot (RWS)¶
Description of The High Priestess Tarot Card¶
When I lifted the first veil and entered the outer court of the Temple of Initiation, I saw in half darkness the figure of a woman sitting on a high throne between two pillars of the temple, one white, and one black. Mystery emanated from her and was about her. Sacred symbols shone on her green dress; on her head was a golden tiara surmounted by a two-horned moon; on her knees she held two crossed keys and an open book. Between the two pillars behind the woman hung another veil all embroidered with green leaves and fruit of pomegranate.
And a voice said:
“To enter the Temple one must lift the second veil and pass between the two pillars. And to pass thus, one must obtain possession of the keys, read the book and understand the symbols. Are you able to do this?”
“I would like to be able,” I said.
Then the woman turned her face to me and looked into my eyes without speaking. And through me passed a thrill, mysterious and penetrating like a golden wave; tones vibrated in my brain, a flame was in my heart, and I understood that she spoke to me, saying without words:
“This is the Hall of Wisdom. No one can reveal it, no one can hide it. Like a flower it must grow and bloom in thy soul. If thou wouldst plant the seed of this flower in thy soul—learn to discern the real from the false. Listen only to the Voice that is soundless… Look only on that which is invisible, and remember that in thee thyself, is the Temple and the gate to it, and the mystery, and the initiation.”
Tarot of the Bohemians (Marseilles)¶
Origin of the Symbolism of The High Priestess Tarot Card¶
The 2nd Hebrew letter (Beth ב)
The Beth hieroglyphically expresses the mouth of man as the organ of speech. Speech is the production of man’s inner self. Therefore Beth expresses that inner self, central as a dwelling, to which one can retire without fear of disturbance. From this ideas arise of a Sanctuary, an inviolate abode for man and for God. But the Beth also expresses every production that emanates from this mysterious retreat, every internal activity, and from it issue ideas of Instruction, of the higher Knowledge, of Law, of Erudition, of occult Science or Kabbalah.
Beth corresponds with the number 2, and astronomically with the moon. This number has given birth to all the passive significations emanated from the Binary, hence the ideas of reflection, of Woman; applied to the Moon relatively to the Sun, and to Woman relatively to Man.
The High Priestess¶
God himself, or God the Father, reflects himself, and gives birth to God the Man, or God the Son, the negative relatively to his creator. As we have seen, man is the divine receiver, therefore this second card of the Tarot will express all the ideas of the first conceived negatively.
The first card represents a man standing; this, on the contrary, bears the figure of a seated woman.
(First idea of passivity) by the woman and by her position.
The man, endowed with all the attributes of Power, was placed in the midst of nature.
The woman is adorned with all the attributes of Authority and persuasion, and she is placed under the porch of the temple of Isis, between two columns.
Idea of a sacred dwelling, of a divine recipient.
The two columns, like the arms of the Juggler, express the Positive and the Negative.
The woman is crowned with a tiara, surmounted by the lunar crescent, she is enveloped in a transparent veil falling over her face. On her breast she bears the solar cross, and upon her knees lies an open book, which she half covers with her mantle.
This is the picture of Isis, of Nature, whose veil must not be raised before the profane. The book indicates that the doctrines of Isis are bidden; but she divulges to the magi the secrets of the true Kabbalah, and of occult science. We must admire this profound symbol.
The first card expressed Osiris in the three worlds; this second gives us the signification of Isis, the companion of Osiris—
In God it is the reflex of Osiris, the reflex of God the Father, Isis, or God the Son.
In Man it is the reflex of Adam of the absolute man: Eve, the woman, life (min).
In the Universe it is the reflex of natura naturans: it is natura naturata.
General Book of the Tarot (RWS)¶
Description of The High Priestess Tarot Card¶
The second stage in macrocosmic evolution is the polarity of the omnipotent might of Self, omnipotent possibility of the field of manifestation, universal passive richness, the Kamaduk or Most Beloved Wish-Cow of the Hindus. This macrocosmic field is the Temple of the Great Magician or Architect, in potency at least. It is the Bull, Taurus, of astrology, the house of sound, art, faith and richness. To speak truly, it is not so much sound as the principle of the soundbox, sound itself having its origin in the next step. Therefore Papus may well compare this card with the hieroglyphic meaning of the Hebrew letter Beth, which relates to “the mouth of man as the organ of speech.” But it is not “God the Son” as he says elsewhere. It might be called ‘God the Woman,’ the Divine Mother, the ‘Eternal Feminine.’ As the passive richness of the Universe awaiting him that will be able to see it and appreciate it, this principle may well be symbolised by the image of the High Priestess, sitting in an attitude of waiting, between the pillars of the Temple, B and J,1 standing for the Two, from which will spring the worlds of spirit and of matter. Being Supreme Objectivity, it is the symbol of receiving, of possessing, of cult and adoration. It symbolises womanhood in general, as the first card symbolised manhood.
Mr. Waite has restored in his images the original picture of Isis, reposing on the crescent moon, which indeed I should say must be regarded as the best representative of the goddess of Taurus, in which sign the moon is ‘exalted,’ as astrology teaches. But Isis is not so much to be regarded as representing “Science, Wisdom, Knowledge” (Mathers)—as the goddess “of Nature, whose veil must not be raised before the profane.” (Papus) and of supreme consciousness, because ‘consciousness’ is the faculty committed by Earth.
Waite calls her “Second Marriage of the Prince” and says, that in divination she stands for the querent if female. Now I should say, this cannot be altogether true, as in the horoscope the first house indicates the personal temperament, etc., for a man as well as for a female querent. So in cards the Magician must always bear the meaning of the querent personally, but if a female she will be largely influenced by the High Priestess, as this is the representative of the feminine in general and female properties. It may be true, more or less, that for a man this card represents “the woman who interests the querent” (Waite), just as on the other hand the Magician represents the man who interests the querent if this happens to be a woman.
The High Priestess symbolises constancy, fidelity, repose, stability, but also dumbness, laziness, resistance, endurance as well as passive opposition. It rules everything in connection with art and the artistic abilities, with wealth and with the masonic lodge.
Tarot Card Information Sources¶
- The Tarot by S. L. MacGregor Mathers, originally published 1888
- The Pictorial Key to the Tarot by Arthur Edward Waite, originally published 1910
- The Symbolism of the Tarot by P. D. Ouspensky, originally published 1913
- The Tarot of the Bohemians by “Papus” (Gérard Encausse), trans. by A. P. Morton, originally published 1892
- General Book of the Tarot by A. E. Thierens, originally published 1930