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The other side of the High Priestess

February 20, 2014

There are no “good” cards or “bad” cards; they all have a spectrum of meaning.  Here are some thoughts about negative aspects of a card that is typically seen as being positive. 

The High Priestess is not actually one of the cards that is so vividly seen as either a “good card” or a “bad card,” but it is one for which we typically have more of a positive impression than not.  Considering also its numerological implications of duality, I thought it would be a good one to examine from both sides.

Interpretations for this card cover a broad spectrum, including areas such as psychic and oracular visions, passivity and withdrawal from activity, the mysterious aspects of femininity, duality, and repressed sexuality.  And in most of its interpretations, we can ask, “Is this a good thing or a bad thing?”


Psychic vision

The High Priestess represents occult or arcane knowledge, i.e., wisdom that is beyond expression or that cannot be understood directly with your rational mind—things like clairvoyance, precognition, and mediumship. On the other hand, its association with the Moon may imply insanity, and the problem is that it can be hard to tell the difference between that and psychic phenomenon.  In fact, that is one implication of this card: that there is a blurry line between the two.  For example, many people with psychic vision are thought to be crazy (especially in childhood), so they suppress or hide their gift, thinking it to be a curse.  Also, there are crazy people who claim to be psychic.  Generally, I would find this card to indicate the psychic or intuitive side of that scale, but it can beg the question, or at least indicate that other people are asking it.

The Oracle:

The High Priestess represents the archetype of the Oracle.  Unfortunately, many famous oracular predictions have been more self-fulfilling than prophetic, which raises the question of destiny and whether prophesies foretell the future or are a catalyst for it. (They may, of course, be a little of both.) For example, take the story of Oedipus and the prophesy that sealed his doom.  Oedipus’s father attempted to thwart a prediction that his son would grow up to “murder his father and marry his mother” by leaving the infant to die on a mountainside. But Oedipus was rescued and raised by other people, ignorant of his origins.  Years later, upon his return to Thebes, he unwittingly met and killed his father, and subsequently met and wed his mother, things he would not have done had he known who they were.  (The story is much more complex than that, of course, but that should give you an idea.)  Thus the prophesy was fulfilled due to steps taken to thwart it.  Another famous case is that of Macbeth, who was set upon his ruinous career by a prediction that tragically came true only because he had heard it.

In myths, there are basically two archetypes of Oracles—the trusted ones (such as the Oracle of Delphi) or those that are distrusted, the most famous of which is Cassandra, the ignored and maligned Trojan prophetess of the Iliad.  That latter case illustrates a dark side of this card and might cause us to wonder sometimes if this oracular aspect of the High Priestess is a good thing or a bad thing.  If we see the High Priestess card this way, it can indicate someone whose advice, speculations, or predictions are misunderstood or disregarded.  This happens often because people tend to react with denial, dismissal or disdain when they encounter predictions they don’t want to hear. 

The mysterious feminine:

In her book Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack says, “The High Priestess … represents a deeper, more subtle aspect of the female; that of the dark, the mysterious, and the hidden.”  Similarly, in The Complete Book of Tarot Reversals, Mary K. Greer says this card can indicate that “someone … may be acting mysteriously, cool and aloof.”  This card’s astrological association with the Moon furthers that interpretation of mystery and darkness, things that can scare or put off many of us. This is also the part of women that straight men often find so problematic in their relationships with them (as opposed to the sensual feminine represented by the Empress, which they are so drawn to)—hidden or unspoken motivations, the use of innuendo and implications rather than straight-forward statements, and passive-aggressive behavior.  Thus, if this card comes up with regards to a relationship, it can indicate those sorts of problems. Alternatively, it may say that someone is misinterpreting your quiet, reserved nature, and they think that you are unfriendly, standoffish, or unapproachable.


In ancient Rome, the priestesses of the goddess Vesta were called Vestal Virgins. Thus, this card has connotations of virginity and purity. However, along with those characteristics, the High Priestess (as well as the Hierophant) can indicate repressed or denied sexuality, and it may also include the negative connotations of a wallflower or a proverbial old maid.


With its connotations of intuitive insight, the High Priestess may indicate the solitude necessary for meditation and introspection. A negative implication associated with that, however, is that of loneliness or even some level of social anxiety disorder.


This card represents passivity, as opposed to activity (often associated with the Magician).  Neither of those, however, are good or bad in and of themselves; there is a time and a place for each.  Certainly there is value in a temporary withdrawal into quietude which brings respite from the hustle of activity typical of our modern life. With such introspection and soul-searching, we may find a great deal of insightful wisdom.  However, a problem for the High Priestess arises when it involves an inability to initiate or carry out actions inspired by those insights. It is also problematic when passivity turns into lethargy or apathy.  In addition, this card can indicate a non-confrontational response, which may be good sometimes, but in the wrong circumstances it can lead to being walked all over.


So we see that this card is filled with qualities and interpretations for which we may ask, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” The various answers to that question lead to a balanced view of the positive and negative aspects of this card.


You can find more blog posts about the other side of the cards listed here:


  1. Thanks for this! The High Priestess has been on my mind lately as well. So many different ways to see her. There is a lot of depth here.

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