In the language of the Tarot this card may simply mean a woman, just as The Magician may simply signify a man.
Beyond that, The High Priestess corresponds with Monday as a day of the Week. It is not the Moon card as one might naturally expect. The Moon card correlates with the zodiac sign of Pisces and in terms of timing of events may suggest dates late February into late March.
The High Priestess may be like Circe, a scholar and a witch. She may be a reader, an artist in any medium, a writer and a teacher. She may be a herbalist or hedge-witch, a midwife or a doctor. She may be in any line of work at all, but whatever she does, yes, she studies – hence the scroll in her hand- yes, she learns from others, but above all she learns from herself, and she is ready to talk in silence, like her masculine counterpart, The Hermit, and to walk and work alone. She is recognized by HOW she does things, rather than necessarily what she does. She may be single but even if she is married and a devoted family woman, there is always the sense that she is somehow set apart.
The light is cool, silvery, perhaps remote at times though not cold.
You can see in this card various mythological references: the pomegranate of Persephone, as she wanders alone between the World and and the Underworld, and the cow horns of Hathor, goddess of the sky, of beauty, fertility, music and joy.
You see the Owl of Hekate, goddess of ghosts, keeper of the crossroads.
The owl as a totem animal is also very strongly associated with Athena but hers was a Little Owl. Hekate’s was a Barn Owl which was also associated with the Mabinogion, and the legend of a magical woman who was turned into an owl; a story which featured in a famous novel by Alan Garner, The Owl Service.
Here however, unless I am mistaken, the artist has chosen a snowy owl instead of the more usual choice of the Barn Owl aka screech owl for Hekate, The High Priestess, the tragic Blodduedd, etc.
The Owl Service
Garner was fascinated by the love triangle of Lleu Llaw Gyffes (the man cursed never to have a wife on this earth), Blodeuwedd (the woman who was magically made out of flowers for him) and Gronw Pebyr (her lover). In the Welsh tale, Blodeuwedd conspires with her lover Gronw to kill her husband Lleu, but Lleu escapes his murder, turns into an eagle and flies away, eventually to be restored to life by the magician Gwydion. Blodeuwedd’s punishment is to be turned into an owl, while Gronw is killed by Lleu with a spear that passes through him and pierces a stone.
Click Here to read more about this in The Times Literary Supplement (The site has all the usual cookie notifications)
The High Priestess may be solitary or serious, even solemn, but she is not an ascetic, any more than is the zodiac sign of Taurus, which is also associated with Hathor, the cosmic cow which carried the weight of the whole world.
When this card is drawn reversed in a reading, a female (though not necessarily female) querent may be feeling very unhappy, possibly lonely, but if it refers to a woman in the querent’s close environment, the High Priestess Reversed can warn of another woman who is not a true friend.
Proceed with respect, always, but be careful of how much you tell her.
How could anyone be a true friend, if they are bearing any hidden grudge, or want something they thinks you have, and which you are not withholding, but you cannot give it to them, even if you wanted to, any more than a cow could simply shed its horns.
In this respect, this Tarot card corresponds with an old Norse rune called Perthro or Perdhro, meaning secrets, cup, chalice, sanctuary or paddock.
It seems apt for Halloween.
People meet on the road or the path or on the bridge or on the strand, but, like The Hermit, the High Priestess accepts solitude as the price of learning and the integrity of the sanctum she serves….whatever that may mean in the case of the real life individual.
Real friends commiserate with bad news, but that is too easy to do, and the real test, the acid test is, when they rejoice in your good news.
The High Priestess watches, waits and takes counsel with herself.
The Watcher by The Well of Wyrd
She works alone with words and stones,
Disposing glyphs on graven runes,
Wyrd runs water; she must deal,
In whisperings and Fates unsealed,
Winds of fortune shape and shatter,
Time, disposing of all matters,
Is Serpentine, the ouroboros,
Endless, rolling, still coils sinuous.
Happy Samhain hauntings
Till next time 🙂