The High Priestess is the third of the major arcana tarot cards in the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith deck based on the Latin tarot, also known as the Tarot de Marseilles. When she appears in a reading, the High Priestess has special significance for the querent.
High Priestess Symbolism
The High Priestess is the third card of the major arcana, but since the major arcana starts with The Fool at 0, her number is II (2) instead of III (3).
The High Priestess sits on a high-backed throne between two pillars, a black one labeled B to her left, and a white one labeled J to her right. A tapestry hangs behind her printed with pomegranates and dates. She wears a headpiece with a full moon and two curved crescents on it, and there is the outline of a cross across the center of her chest (over her heart chakra). In her right hand, she holds a scroll labeled "TORAH," although the "h" is concealed by her robes. Her clothing is blue and white, and at her feet, wrapped partially in her blue robe, is a crescent moon. These images are richly symbolic and offer clues as to the meaning of the card.
Placement in the Major Arcana
As a card of the major arcana, the High Priestess has special significance in readings. Therefore, when this card appears, the querent knows the information she imparts is of special significance. She appears after the Magician (I)--indicating his ability flows into greater power that becomes hers--and before the Empress (III), revealing what she has the potential to become if she walks the path of wisdom.
Number II (2)
In numerology, the number two indicates partnership, harmony, balance, and duality. This numerology is further reflected in the presence of two phases of the moon and the two pillars she sits between. In the case of the High Priestess, the number two suggests that when two come together in partnership, harmony, and balance of dual aspects (such as dark and light), they do so for the purpose of creation of new Divine energies.
The presence of the moon on her headpiece and at her feet suggests the High Priestess works in secret under the cover of moonlight. The moon is also the symbol of yin, or the Divine feminine, which is intuitive and creative.
Torah and Cross
The presence of the Torah in her lap indicates the presence of Divine teachings, although the Torah is half hidden. This suggests she has access to Divine wisdom, but it is partially hidden, so she needs to use her second sight to obtain it. The presence of the cross alongside the Torah suggests the wisdom available in multiple sources of religious texts and belief systems.
Throne, Pillars, and Tapestry
The throne upon which she sits befits her station of High Priestess. The pillars of dark and light once again reveal the balance in duality between yin and yang. They also serve, along with the tapestry, to limit access to the High Priestess, indicating only those deemed worthy may enter her chamber and benefit from her wisdom. The B and J on the pillars reference a passage in the Bible describing Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 7:21) in which the pillars are named Boaz and Jachin. Solomon's Temple was the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and the High Priestess does her work in this space, indicating she is aligned with Divinity.
The tapestry serves to conceal the High Priestess and limit access to her wisdom, allowing her to do her work in secret. The decoration with pomegranates and dates are visual reminders of the creative cycle of birth, life, death, and re-birth.
Clothing and Headdress
Her blue robe further conceals the Priestess and partially conceals one of the moons and the scroll. This reinforces the theme that the High Priestess does her work in secret. Her headdress appears to represent the stages of the moon each month, reinforcing the mysterious, feminine, yin aspects of the High Priestess.
Bringing It All Together
With all of this symbolism in mind, the High Priestess in a spread represents the Divine feminine, Divine wisdom, secret or hidden knowledge, and psychic or intuitive information. When she appears in readings, the High Priestess suggests a time of keeping your own counsel and traveling within to explore greater wisdom and knowledge. She may also suggest psychic information is available to you.
High Priestess Reversed
Reversed in a reading, the High Priestess may indicate you are listening to unwise council, you have accepted something as truth and wisdom that is not, or that you are currently traveling a path that is inauspicious.
The rich symbolism of the High Priestess serves to show you more about your current path. Her presence may suggest you keep wise council and explore Divine wisdom that is available to you.