Who is the High Priestess in Tarot?
The High Priestess, card number two of the Major Arcana, is one of the most iconic figures of the Tarot, depicted widely and extensively in art and culture. Most of us are familiar with the image of her, but what does the High Priestess in Tarot represent? What does she have to offer us? What does she mean when she comes up in a reading? Let’s take a look!
Our Lady Between the Pillars
In the traditional Rider-Waite Tarot, the High Priestess is a robed woman sitting between two pillars, one black the other white. Behind her a tapestry depicting pomegranates is spread, on her lap a half-revealed scroll of knowledge lays, and at her feet sits a waxing crescent moon.
Pretty unassuming, you might think, but take heed – her Power lies in what you do not immediately notice or see.
The tapestry symbolizes the thin veil between what is seen and unseen, what is conscious and subconscious, what is both masculine and feminine, as represented by a white and a black pillar, respectively. Why pomegranates on the veil? They represent purity, Truth, the Divine Feminine (more about that later) – and are also the sacred fruit of Persephone who journeyed deep into the dark depths of the Underworld of the Soul to find her own Truths.
The High Priestess is cloaked and crowned as a divine ruler, a keen adept of knowledge and of seeking beyond the veil of material and physical matter to what secrets and Truths lie beneath. She stands (or sits) at this sacred entrance of inquiry into the secret truth of things, our stolid guide to point us in the right direction. Situated on this threshold, she travels fluidly between the realms- and invites us to learn how to do the same.
The High Priestess is the teacher of sacred knowledge and hidden mysteries, and the guardian of the subconscious mind.
She compels us to enter deep into our subconscious to find the Answers we seek.
If you had to put the High Priestess in one word, it quite possibly might be this: Intuition.
The Teacher of Intuition
The High Priestess . . . she’s a total badass.
She’s self-assured, confident, full of mature authenticity – she’s what every adult woman wishes to be.
Nobody can tell her what she does and does not know – she can see right through illusions and manipulations.
As the guardian of the veil between consciousnesses, she is the keeper of sacred knowledge and the counselor of the subconscious mind – she can show us what lays just under the surface, seemingly cloaked in darkness and deep mystery, yet accessible to the practiced voyager.
The High Priestess speaks to what you already know, what you know deep down but won’t reveal to yourself just yet, or what you haven’t admitted that you know – what you don’t know you know.
There’s a lot of Knowing with her.
And what is this innate, deep-seated inner Knowing but the sturdy tug of the Intuition?
But what is the Intuition? I think Clarissa Pinkola Estés puts it best:
“Intuition is the treasure of a woman’s psyche. It is like a divining instrument and like a crystal through which one can see with uncanny interior vision. It is like a wise old woman who is with you always, who tells you exactly what the matter is, tells you exactly whether you need to go left or right. It is a form of The One Who Knows . . . the Wild Woman.” (74)
The High Priestess in Story: The Doll of Vasilisa the Wise
When I think of the High Priestess and of the importance of Intuition, I can’t help but think of the story of Vasilisa the Wise, as I learned it from Estés in her glorious, golden book Women Who Run With the Wolves from which the above excerpt is quoted.
In this story, our heroine, Vasilisa, is given a doll by her dying mother and told to keep the doll with her always, that if she should ever lose her way or need help, she should ask the doll and it will guide her.
When she becomes lost in the woods on an impossible task, she asks the doll for direction and it guides her safely on to her destination.
Each time she was tasked with the impossible, each time she was faced with some overwhelming dilemma that she could not begin to know how to solve, she asked her doll for assistance and it directed her straight.
The doll always took care of her. It looked out for her, no matter what was going on.
So what does the doll represent? Estés puts it poignantly how the doll represents one’s “. . . beginning to experience the new and dangerous-feeling numen [guiding force] of being in one’s intuitive power. Learning to develop sensitivity as regards direction to the mysterious unconscious and relying solely on one’s inner senses.” (88)
The doll gives Vasilisa the voice of inner reason, of inner knowing and inner consciousness. It is the little bird that whispers in her ear, that tells her of any hidden traps and dangers to watch out for as well as the right way to go.
The doll personifies an inner voice, “the soul-voice speaking,” that encourages one to listen to, heed, and therefore develop confidence in the veracity of one’s own intuition.
When I think of the High Priestess, I think of the silent voice of this doll that guided Vasilisa through all her troubles and turns in life’s twisting roads.
Keeper of the Intuitive Sacred Feminine
Intuition, at its very simplest form, is a sense of direction coming from within. It harkens to what is felt but not necessarily seen with our logical sight.
Pragmatic and mystical at the same time, the Intuition is an instinctual life force that endures no matter what confusion we might be going through in life.
It informs both thought and action – it is personal and inner but with the potential to work outside the self in the greater world if we heed what our inner guidance tells us to do about it.
The Divine Feminine
The Intuition is inherently of female energy, and all souls carry both male and female energies, regardless of bodily gender or sex. In the Tarot, the High Priestess represents the preeminent Wisdom of the Sacred Feminine, the wise Inner Knowing of our Innate Female Wisdom.
And so the High Priestess encourages you to trust this sacred wisdom of the divine feminine, of this Knowing that Knows, oftentimes without being able to be explained rationally. All of us have it, that “gut feeling,” that “inkling” in the pit of our stomach, that “feeling” in our bones that something is wrong, or something is right, or that we should go or not go a certain way even if we don’t know exactly where that hunch is coming from (hint – it’s coming from your Intuition!).
Thus, the High Priestess provides us with access to a profound wisdom that is entirely within each and every one of us – like Vasilisa, we have only to learn how to listen.
High Priestess Meaning & Keywords
“Your answer does not lie in thinking or rationalizing further on the problem, but on drawing upon your own Innate Wisdom Within by venturing inward and accessing your Intuition.”
“Invoke the intuitive knowledge deep within you, be still and Know.”
“Your intuition is spot-on – listen to it!”
- Inner knowing
- Intuition – Intuitive knowledge
- Inner wisdom
- “You already know”
- “Trust your Intuition”
The High Priestess Reversed
As with any reversed (and upright) card, there are many different ways to interpret it, many different nuances to pay attention to. Use your Intuition (heehee) to discern which one stands out the most to you at this moment in time – that’s probably the one that you’re meant to read right now!
Drawing the High Priestess reversed could indicate that maybe you don’t know; that maybe you don’t know all the answers.
Or she could mean that you need to allow yourself and your inner discernment more confidence – or that you’re developing it, that you’re on your way to becoming as intuitive, as perceptive, and as clear-sighted as the High Priestess herself.
Calm down – quiet yourself, be still, and listen. The answer lies inside you. It might not sound rational, it might not make sense at first, but become open to possibilities you might not have thought of with your rational mind. Listen to drums or nature sounds or guided meditation, go outside in nature, hum or chant a mantra if you must! Do what you need to do to come quiet and find her where she waits within you, at the doorway between your reality and your dreams.
Mediator of Mysteries
The High Priestess in Tarot is an enigma, a mystery not easily solved and yet known in the marrow of our bones. She tells us to look inside, to know the answers that are already there. She bids us enter an inner state of reflection, of inward-drawn meditation, and of candid self-honesty that brings to the surface the essential wisdom that was always there inside us, waiting to be needed, waiting to be searched, and finally, to be revealed.
How do you like to interpret the High Priestess in Tarot? Let me know in the comments!
Interested in a Personal Reading attuned specifically to you? Check out my offerings here!
- Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. Women Who Run With the Wolves. New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.
- Lehane, Brendan. The Enchanted World Wizards and Witches. Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1984.