In this depiction the high priestess sits between two pillars which speak to us of dualities, a key theme with two cards.
“Passivity allows the unconscious to emerge. Only through withdrawal from outer involvement can we allow the inner voice of vision and psychic forces to speak to us, it is precisely to avoid this inner voice that many people never rest from action and movement. Our society, based completely on outer achievement, fosters a terror of the unconscious, yet without its wisdom we can never fully know ourselves or the world.”
– Rachel Pollack
This is a card that speaks to us of passivity, but passivbity with a purpose, an active stillness. To reverse the card, and thus the meaning, we can see how unhelpful passivity might be. But we all need a change to pause and reconnect with our inner self. It is here that we can feel our feelings, listen to our intuition and realign with our true selves.
The high priestess speaks to us of the dark, the mysterious and the hidden. She is reflective, enigmatic, solitary and serene. She sits in her power, confident in herself, supported by the power of the moon.
The Pagan Cats High Priestess is the controversial black cat. She sits between two curtains, one white, one black and there is our first duality. Her paws appear to be resting on a religious or ritualistic document, a sign she is in control of the spiritual or magical, appropriately given her status as high priestess.
This version is very similar to that of the RWS deck so I’m going to unpick that black cat a bit more. They are contrary symbols, in some cultures good luck, in others bad luck and even within the same place there are conflicting beliefs. They have been associated with witchcraft and the devil and in norse mythology, Freya, queen of the Valkyries, drove a chariot pulled by black cats.
The penguin guide to the superstitions of Britain and Ireland confirms that the beliefs around black cats are confused. One example is that on a british ship, one black cat is lucky but two are unlucky. This is captured well in a quote from Percy Shaw Jeffrey in his 1923 book about Whitby folklore:
“[31 May 1797] Saw three black cats last night so did not go to market today fearing some evil, but it turned out well as Betty was taken with spasms and might have died had I not stayed at home and she is the best milker of all I have, this omen for ill brought nought but good.”
Perhaps this is a sign that we should listen to our gut and that what first seems awful may actually turn out for the best. I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where that’s happened. How we react to seeming setbacks may also be a factor here.
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A white tiger gazes off to the left, a crystal ball in front of her and the black sky behind, punctuated by a crescent moon. I once read that in tarot if a character is looking to the left they are looking at the past and if they are looking to the right they are looking to the future. With this in mind, we can see a nuanced high priestess in the wild unknown. Where the pagan cats and lumina tarot have characters facing forwards, this tiger is looking to the past. And the past does strongly inform who we are, our subconscious desires and motivations and all of this in turn shapes our future. This may be a card that is asking you to look back, perhaps to childhood, to see how your emotions today have been influenced by your early years. We all have ‘core wounds’, those things that we tend to overreact to – mine being invalidation and dismissal – and knowing these and understanding them can really help you to understand your reactions and feelings today.
The tiger seems regal, thoughtful and serene. She seems confident and whilst thoughtful, she is not clutching the crystal ball in an obsessive, need to know and need to know now kind of grip. She knows the answers will come when they will come. And she knows that when they come it will be the right time for them to come. Are you as sure as she is? Are you pushing yourself too hard to listen to your subconscious? As frustrating as it can be, it doesn’t work like that. The harder you push, the further away you get. Open your mind, use tools like tarot and meditation but don’t stand there demanding answers.
“She does not strain herself to explain the mystery – instead, she immerses herself completely in that mystery.”
– Carrie Mallon
The touch of colour in the crystal ball accentuates the black and white of the card, the duality and the yin and yang of the meaning.
Study your wisdom within
Note, the artist of this deck changed the image between versions of the Lumina tarot. The other version has an older woman, reflected through the vertical axis, holding a staff in her hand which forms an echo of the pillars from RWS. Above her the moon is depicted and around it, the iconic dotwork of this deck shows intertwined crescent moons.
By turning inwards rather than looking outside yourself for answers, you will find what you need. The veil of illusion will move aside and you’ll be admitted into a world that not everyone is allowed to enter.
The horns or headdress pictured here suggests a receptive nature, ready and waiting to receive the messages from the gods and goddesses. This is echoed by the same crescent shape of her necklace and the crescent of the moon.
We also have the high priestess literally reflected. As well as seeing this as her inner and outer selves we may see it as looking from a different perspective.
The use of purple seems important to me. Symbolically it has been used to represent wealth, wisdom, creativity, devotion and peace. It has also been used to represent mystery and magic. It is said to be calming and uplifting and to invoke feelings of spirituality.
Bourn Creative says that:
“Purple is associated spirituality, the sacred, higher self, passion, third eye, fulfillment, and vitality. Purple helps align oneself with the whole of the universe.”
A spider sits in a web against a dark blue sky, again a crescent moon is present. Immediately, on seeing the spider and knowing that the high priestess speaks of a feminine energy, I was put in mind of Sharon Blackie and her book If Women Rose Rooted:
“Women are spinners and weavers, we are the ones who spin the threads and weave them into meaning and pattern. Like silkworms, we create those threads out of our own substance, pulling the strong, fine fibres out of our own hearts and wombs. It’s time to make some new threads; time to strengthen the frayed wild edges of our own being and then weave ourselves back into the fabric of our culture.”
Taz Thornton was the second author my mind went to. She writes about facing fears, using the spider as an example and lets face it fears are such a powerful part of our sub/unconscious.
“If you are afraid of spiders, try to remember when you first learned that fear, then work out what, exactly, you believe you are afraid of… Is it the swift movement? Would they still be scary if they moved at a snail’s pace? Is it the legs? Who else do you know with legs? Are they scary? What would a spider have to do to make friends with you? What if they started delivering your favourite treats, or spinning lovely words for you to wake up to in the morning?”
Their hunting approaches have resulted in the spider symbolising patience and persistence, and combined with their 8 eyes, perhaps the spider is here to remind you to pay more attention to the details or to look closer to what it is that is on your mind.
Linking back to the idea of active passivity, perhaps this card has shown up to remind you of the value of getting out of your head and using your hands. I don’t know about you but for me answers and guidance often come when I’m doing something else, in particular something creative that is using my hands whether that’s drawing, painting, knitting, playing with clay, cooking or whatever it is that works for you.
Cats, and of course tigers, with their ability to see in the dark, are often though to have a gift of prophecy, of clairvoyance or a psychic ability. We can also feel into this idea as we think of the high priestess looking inwards, into the darkness that is our subconscious.
Tigers also show us some of the contradictory nature of twos with adults described as “solitary but social”:
“Solitary-but-social animals forage separately, but some individuals sleep in the same location or share nests. The home ranges of females usually overlap, whereas those of males do not. Males usually do not associate with other males, and male offspring are usually evicted upon maturity.”
Their excellent eyesight, great sense of smell and their silent stealth allow them to move through the night, or our inner realms, with ease, with confidence and without startling what it is we are seeking. We’ve all been there, there’s something in your mind that you’re trying to put your finger on, whether it’s a word or a niggling feeling, and the more you seek it out, the harder it is to find. That is where the tiger energy comes in – use her skills to creep up on whatever it is without scaring it away.
Another creature, the thylacine, has been called the Tazmanian tiger and whilst it isn’t actually a feline (it’s a marsupial), it’s interesting to consider it here. The keyword on the oracle card is wisdom, and inner wisdom and self knowledge is exactly what the high priestess is about. As a scapegoat, they induce fear and hatred due to a lack of understanding and this can be the case when we relate to ourselves. How often have you felt anger towards yourself because of something you haven’t taken time to unpick. Perhaps an example would help me to explain myself; when I feel vulnerable, my mind goes straight to a well used internal record I have that tells me I am stupid and horrible and fat and worthless. But if I take this feeling and wonder why I’m feeling vulnerable, I can start to treat myself a little more compassionately.
“The High Priestess, as guardian of the subconscious, is as mysterious as the moon.”
– Little Red Tarot
The moon features as its own tarot card so I’m not going to go into too much detail here, instead I’ve listed some of the key words that will help us to understand it:
unconscious * dreams * the inner self * emotions * feelings * intuition *feminine * cycles * water * imagination * reflection * soul * creation * compassion * mother * moodiness * subconscious * creativity * nurturing * divination
Most of the moons on these cards are cresent moons which indicate receptivity, being open to messages and the word crescent derives from crescere, meaning to grow. Take the lessons you learn from turning inwards and use them to further develop yourself.