The card of sensate knowing, indirect power, silence, intuition, independence, and mystical experience, the High Priestess represents the sovereign unknowability of the yin principle. She is the autonomous feminine — beholden to none — who guards the Holy of Holies and the most arcane of all mysteries. She is represented by the materiality of the Moon, which casts no light of its own but reflects the light of the Sun, thereby illuminating the unseen. The High Priestess is the light of the dark and the rhythm of the tides. She is shadow and interplay.
Traditional representations of this card generally feature the High Priestess’ veil as a prominent symbol. In the Thoth deck, she is seated on a white throne behind an intersecting net of lunar light. In the Rider-Waite, the High Priestess is seated before the entrance to Solomon’s Temple (the First Temple built on Mount Zion), between the two columns marked for Boaz and Jachin (Severity and Mercy). Behind her, pomegranates are arranged in the positions of the Sephiroth in the Tree of Life (I’ve written on the history of the Tarot here). This is in accordance with II Chronicles 3:16 which states: “And he made chains, as in the oracle, and put them on the heads of the pillars; and made an hundred pomegranates, and put them on the chains,” but with the added Qabbalistic twist of the pomegranates’ positions as Sephiroth in the Tree of Life.
The pomegranate is traditionally a symbol for both Persephone and her abduction, as well as the fall of man from the Garden of Eden (as there were never any apples in the “Middle East”). Thus, in both Ancient Greek and Islamo-Judeo-Christian traditions, the pomegranate is a gateway fruit between Good and Evil, between the living and the dead, between the known and the unknown.
The symbol of the veil has been theorized extensively by the philosophers Jacques Derrida and Hélène Cixous in their co-authored text Veils, as a symbolic, detachable hymen — almost like the feminine equivalent to Freud’s Phallus. Here, the symbolism is in keeping with the pomegranate, as once the hymen is penetrated, once the veil is torn, both duality and unity are thereby born — the one and the two — and there is no going back. The High Priestess represents the sacred, the holy, the secret, the apocryphal, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. She represents both bookends of life, before birth and after death, about which we cannot know but only sense.
The scroll that she holds is traditionally marked “Tora.” A reference to the Hebrew word “Torah,” meaning teaching, doctrine, or instruction — but not Law! — the High Priestess is associated with holy women, Tarot readers, oracles, psychoanalysts, healers, librarians, nuns, strippers, and prostitutes — all of whom are sacred. Which is to say, the High Priestess is associated with all those who work at, and care for, the fringe or underbelly of society. She rules that which goes unseen: the non-apparent.
Dali has painted her gorgeously. Using a crisp cerulean as the predominant color of the card, the High Priestess stands between two columns under an arch. Robed in hues of blue, she wears the traditional crescent Moon crown and holds a scroll. Muted carmine and tangerine flank her on either side, issuing from the mouth of a purple profile on the left and dripping down the back and side of the stone cat at her feet. The cat, too, symbolizes the mysteries, a bridge between light and dark, between the known and the unknown, between the urbane and the primitive, echoing the symbolic associations of the veil and of the pomegranate. Her expression is at once exalted and forlorn as she gazes out of the frame.
When you pull the High Priestess in a social position, look for someone in your environment who knows more than might be surmised. This is someone that you must actively seek out, and the quality of her/his response will be entirely premised on the quality of your question. If she symbolizes you or your situation, look to the themes of healing, learning, feminism, or the magickal arts. The High Priestess is autonomous and prudent. She is also safe and unafraid in the most fearsome and occluded realms of the psyche.
Finally, do not be confused by the High Priestess’ title, as she is more closely allied with the Magician and Hermit (both mystics and outlaws) than the High Priest (alternately the Hierophant or the Pope), who is her social inversion or opposite.
**While all manner of comments are welcomed, any further information pertaining to art history, symbolism, myth, cultural reverberations, and Tarot card meanings that traverse decks or lend especial light to the Universal Dali deck, specifically, are actively sought and encouraged. I’m not using a book for these descriptions, so I may miss a reference that bears mention in relation to a card. If you know something, please share it!
Conversely, I actively negate the astrological significations of the Trump cards within the Universal Dali deck in favor of the more traditional Thoth. My plan is to tackle the astrological significations of the Universal Dali Trumps and their overt divergence from all norms in one article… after having described each card. That’s a ways off. ;)