2. The High Priestess

Our collection of second-tier Tarot resources weigh in on the High Priestess as follows:

96ar02Stephan Hoeller relates The High Priestess to the 13th path of the Kabbalistic tree of life and emphasizes her position of balance and equilibrium–positioned as she is between the two pillars of “light” and “darkness” (as portrayed in the RWS Tarot) and between “mercy” and “severity” on the tree of life.   He also writes:

“…from her cloak she draws the book of the sacred law.  She is the intuitively feminine virginal guardian of the temple of the mysteries, the enigmatic mistress of the night, whose blue cloak covers and reveals the nature of sacred nocturnal journeys” (100).

Amber Jayanti also points to this “in-between-ness”, referring to it as neutrality.   But whereas Stephan Hoeller’s mention of “the sacred law” and “the temple” might indicate that she is guardian of the tradition, Jayanti portrays her in a manner that suggests her role or function is more psychological and, in some respects, personal:

“The priestess represents complete neutrality . . . Her scroll suggests that she carries a record of all that’s occurred to you and the human race.  The receptivity of the priestess is your personal subconscious and the collective unconscious rolled into one” (Tarot for Dummies 78).

Joan Bunning writes in a similar vein, but nonetheless invokes the Divine:

“The High Priestess is the guardian of the unconscious.  She sits in front of the thin veil of unawareness which is all that separates us from our inner landscape.  She contains within herself the secrets of these realms and offers us the silent invitation, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ “

D. P. Ouspenski, who describes The High Priestess as addressing him, verbally, records among other things, these words which also suggest a revelation of sorts, but not one that can be written down:

“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” (Symbolism of the Tarot).


Ouspensky’s admonition to “listen only to the Voice that is soundless” is consistent both with Bunning’s “silent invitation” and, as we will see, below with Tomberg’s description of gnosis as a kind of hearing or listening that does not involve the perception of sounds.

Finally, A. E. Waite, not unlike Tomberg– at least in his initial description –reminds us that an understanding of revelation, gnosis, and tradition is central to this Arcanum:

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” (The Pictorial Key to the Tarot 10).

Such are the general impressions gleaned from our second-tier authors regarding The High Priestess–impressions which seem quite compatible with Tomberg’s Meditations on the TarotTomberg is somewhat unique, however, in that his understanding of The High Priestess emphasizes  tradition (and the importance of extending the tradition), on the one hand, while simultaneously stressing the possibility– indeed the necessity –of a direct experience of the Divine, on the other (albeit one which is, nonetheless, informed by the tradition).

Additional second and third tier materials may be added from time to time…  Click here for the primary study guide on the High Priestess…

preview 02. The High Priestesssmall3.1 The Empress

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