Behind the Tarot Card: The High Priestess

Did you know I’m reading tarot cards during the SFWA Halloween party? This event is part of the digital offerings for the 2020 SFWA Nebula Conference and will take place on Halloween. A membership grants you access to educational videos and so much more! Check it out!

Since I’ve never written about tarot for you before, here’s a brief overview of it before I dive in. The tarot is a deck of 78 cards and, depending upon how you use them, you might treat them as a divination tool, a way to help gain insight, a tool for fictional character/plot building, or as a work of art. For the party, I’ll be pulling cards to tell a story based on your question: what you get out of it is yours to hold, examine, and enjoy.

Tarot was originally a card game (Tarocchio) played in Europe during the mid-15th century. Tarot wasn’t typically used for divinatory purposes until the late 1700s, either. Its usage coincided with the birth of modern Occultism in France. Despite this, modern tarot didn’t become popular until the 1970s, approximately sixty years after the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck was first published in 1909.

Though tarot is predominantly a Western divination tool, its popularity has birthed several editions of the deck that are not exclusively Western or gender essentialist, far surpassing its original purpose and intent.

The High Priestess

Most tarot decks contain 22 Major Arcana cards that represent a journey for the querent, from The Fool to The World or Universe card.

The High Priestess is typically the third card in the Major Arcana preceded by The Fool (0) and The Magician (I). In other decks, she’s known as The Popess. The Italian word la papessa is the same for both meanings and the Popess has been depicted as a feminine version of the religious figure in The Hierophant (V) along with his occult opposite.

Behold! This is The High Priestess card from The Fairy Tarot. She’s an unusual Major Arcana card in this deck for a few reasons. She’s a fairy who bears the pentacle on her robes, reads a book decorated with an Egyptian ankh that’s held by a frog, and is joined by peacock. I find the animal references interesting, because they’ve both been used as symbols of fertility in other contexts. Here, fertility would not mean motherhood, but the fruits of knowledge. Her blue costume, a sign of purity, incorporates a tall hat similar to the papal tiara.

I checked the rest of the cards to see if both illustrations were present; while the frog appears multiple times, this is the only time the peacock has been drawn. I’m not sure about this symbol’s meaning, but I managed to find an article about the peacock in 19th century mythology. The peacock can mean death, rebirth, and resurrection—similar to the mythical phoenix—but it can also mean pride and vanity. That’s an interesting layer to add for an archetype typically associated with the divine feminine.

For me, this card’s meaning is straightforward. The High Priestess is a reminder that the path to growth, movement, and change is through our intuition and the wisdom we’ve gained from it. She can also remind us to nurture our intuition while pointing out moments when we don’t trust ourselves.

This post was inspired by this week’s Make Art Not War theme for our collective. Follow the #makeartnotwar hashtag on Twitter and join/follow us in our creative ventures! #covengoals #folklorethursday