The High Priestess is a powerful symbol of spirituality, mystery and the calling of spirit.
Sometimes synonymous with the moon goddess, the ancient archetypal divine feminine, the High Priestess is the queen of the night, the ruler of the subconscious realm.
She presides over the Akashic records and the hidden secrets of the universe. Entry into her temple is by invitation only, and only seekers who are serious about their journey and prove their dedication are able to come into her presence. Those that are able to look beyond the veil receive her blessings of deep intuitive insights.
The High Priestess of the Major Arcana
Like the Empress, the High Priestess is a female power card. But whereas the Empress rules over the natural, sensual and material external world, the High Priestess rules over the hidden kingdom within.
The High Priestess also combines and balances the energies of several powerful male archetypes of the Major Arcana, including the Hierophant and the Magician.
The female pope
In traditional Tarot decks, the Hierophant archetype is depicted as a character very similar to the pope of the Catholic church. The Hierophant is a powerful male archetype, a leader of organised religion and a gatekeeper of methodised wisdom.
Like the Hierophant, the Priestess is also a spiritual leader – but you will not find her in organised religion or within any formal hierarchical structure.
The Hierophant and the Priestess are both teachers. But while he presides over formal education and structured initiation, she offers her wisdom in personal and intuitive ways, sans gatekeepers or external approval. He is an external teacher; she speaks to you from within.
The female Magician
Like the masculine Magician archetype immediately preceding her in the Major Arcana, the High Priestess commands the four elements.
The main difference between the Magician and the High Priestess lies in the way they express their energies and work their magic. The Magician is displaying his skill to the world, and his is the kind of magic that is designed to create results in the tangible world. The magic of the Priestess is a much more subtle and internal form of alchemy, focused on seeking inner truth and attainment. Her magic is not directed towards anything in the external world. He is active, she is receptive.
Symbolism in the High Priestess Tarot card
Depictions of the High Priestess vary between different Tarot decks, but most of them are based on the traditional Rider-Waite Tarot deck and include its essential symbols.
The High Priestess
The High Priestess herself appears as a mysterious, shrouded figure seated on a throne in the middle of the card. She is the queen of the unconscious realm, the custodian of all inner wisdom. Her expression is serene and undecipherable. Her long flowing gown and veil in tones of moonlight add to her mystery and make her seem a little unapproachable. Her demeanour, her garb and her central placement between the two pillars in the card all make it clear that she is the ruler of the domain which you are about to enter. She is not a gatekeeper in the traditional sense – nevertheless, as her student, you must still show earnestness and dedication.
The energy of the moon is very present in the High Priestess Tarot card. It is reflected in the whitish-blue color of the Priestess’s dress, and in what is visible of the inner temple behind her. A pale full moon is also set in the diadem crowning her brow, and a crescent moon is placed at her feet.
The moon symbolizes the divine feminine, and of the dark, irrational side of our minds, the unconscious. The moon also symbolises magical possibility and hidden wisdom, as well as the dark urges and tendencies our waking minds often try to hide.
Yet another meaning of the moon is manifestation and the cyclical rhythm of creation reflecting in the waxing and waning of the moon.
In her hands, the High Priestess clasps a scroll with the word TORA inscribed on it, hinting at deep universal secrets and occult knowledge. The TORA scroll is sometimes linked to the Sefer Torah, an ancient document central to the study of the Hermetic Kabbalah.
The scroll is a powerful symbol of hidden knowledge.
The pillars of Solomon’s Temple
The High Priestess is a mysterious, shrouded woman, seated on her throne between a black and a white temple pillar. The pillars are inscribed with the letters B and J, linking them to the pillars Boaz and Jachin that stood at the entrance to the Biblical King Solomon’s Temple, also called the First Temple. Here, God’s presence dwelled within the temple’s windowless inner chamber, the Holy of Holies. Only the Priest/ess was allowed to enter.
Of course, what is being implied is that the temple of the High Priestess is the First Temple itself, and that it is only through her that we can gain access to the Holy of Holies.
Behind the High Priestess, suspended between the two temple pillars is a veil. According to the Bible, a piece of cloth separated the larger temple from the Holy of Holies in Solomon’s Temple.
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The veil represents a doorway between different world and layers of reality and is what separates the earthly realm from the ethereal.
The veil features a pattern of ripe pomegranates. In Greek mythology, pomegranates are linked to Hades and the Underworld, the cycle of life, death and rebirth, and the Eleusian Mysteries honouring Demeter and Persephone, both personifications of the divine feminine.
The background in the High Priestess card is filled with water. Her flowing robes are also reminiscent of water.
Water in the Tarot is always a sign of the subconscious, of deep and irrational feelings, of our shadow side, and also of femininity and receptivity.
Universal High Priestess Tarot card meanings
The High Priestess, no matter how or where she appears in a reading, carries universal meaning.
Intuition, inner guidance
The primary meaning of the High Priestess is intuition and internal guidance. She is the personification of the spirit within, always there to guide us and teach us when we care to listen.
The High Priestess is a very receptive and passive card – she only comes to us and speaks to us in quiet moments, when we are attentive and listening. Whenever we are too distracted by what is happening on the surface of our lives, we are unable to hear her or sense her presence. Just like the cool, mysterious rays of the moon, she evaporates in the light of consciousness and her voice is drowned out by the business and humdrum of everyday life.
The High Priestess often appears in a Tarot reading to indicate that the querent needs to listen more to their intuition, their gut instinct and internal feelings. The High Priestess if often a reminder that many of the answers and much of the validation and power we are looking for in the external world can only be found within.
The personal and collective subconscious
The High Priestess symbolises the unconscious and shadowy aspects of ourselves, as well as of humanity in general.
Only a fraction of the self falls within the light of our conscious selves – the rest is hidden and obscure. To discover and access more of ourselves, more of our power, more of our creativity, we must dive deep beneath the surface of the conscious self.
The High Priestess is a sign and a promise of the rewards that await for those that dare connect with their subconscious aspects and abilities. Often, the key to healing a particular trauma or to transcend limitations can only be reached by reaching deep below the conscious surface of your self.
Spiritual insight and exploration
The High Priestess helps you discover not only your own deepest senses of intuition, but also the presence and flow of higher power in your life.
The upright High Priestess is always an invitation to explore and reach beyond the mundane world for answers to life’s questions and mysteries. The universe we inhabit is like a great onion – you could keep peeling back layers for the rest of your life and still never get to the final truth.
The divine feminine
The High Priestess is the goddess personified. She embodies the archetypal feminine qualities and powers of receptivity, perception, mystery, magical ability and the cyclical nature and mysterious pull of the moon.
The appearance of the High Priestess in Tarot readings can often indicate that the querent should lean more into their receptive and listening side of themselves. We live in a predominantly masculine culture that places great value on outward-directed flow of energy. The High Priestess is a reminder that we need empty and receptive spaces in our lives. We need rest periods in-between bouts of activity, we need replenishment and time to mull things over.
Psychic powers, clairvoyance
The High Priestess Tarot card symbolizes clairvoyance and psychic perception.
Because the High Priestess is able to still herself completely and listen to the universe, she is able to plug her consciousness into a higher power and tap into the flow of knowledge.
When the High Priestess appears in a Tarot reading, she often functions as a reminder that our psychic awareness is growing, and that we hone and sharpen it. The appearance of the High Priestess can often be a sign of latent psychic powers just waiting to be tapped into and explored.
The High Priestess reversed
When the High Priestess Tarot card is reversed, her positive aspects and meanings may be blocked and repressed while her more negative and destructive qualities come to the fore.
Inability to hear or trust your intuition
Where the High Priestess upright represents a strong and clear sense of intuition, the High Priestess reversed is a sign of a repressed, blocked or weak sense of intuition, and of the inner voice being silenced.
When we loose connection with our gut instinct or intuition, if they repressed or dismissed for a long period of time, we eventually loose ourselves. We become unable to feel what we truly want or what is best for us in any given situation. The High Priestess reversed may be seen as a warning that this is happening to the querent. They may be finding themselves in a work environment, a relationship or in a situation where their authentic self cannot come to expression – as a result, they slowly wither and may loose their zest for life.
Repressed or disowned potential
The High Priestess card reversed can be a sign of unlived potential and repressed talents.
When the High Priestess appear upright it is an indication that we are comfortable with the hidden aspects of ourselves, or at the very least, that we are willing to explore. When reversed, the domain of the High Priestess is seen as an ominous and threatening place – a place we would rather not venture into, a place we would prefer to keep hidden, the veil untouched.
The very mystery that beckons and draws us in when the High Priestess is upright turns into threatening shadows.
The High Priestess reversed often symoolizes secrets, lies by omission and deliberate attempts at shrouding or veiling the truth.
When the High Priestess Tarot card appears reversed, it can be a sign that someone in the querent’s life is misleading them and hiding something from them. There could even be an element of gaslighting, where the querent is lead to believe that they cannot rely on their own intuition and judgement.