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The High Priestess Meaning – Smith-Waite Centennial

Today I pulled The High Priestess as our Card of the Day free tarot reading, so the Major Arcana cards are back! Wise and self-assured in her mysteries, The High Priestess is the counterpart to The Hierophant card. And while she was originally called The Papess, he was called The Pope.

But unlike The Hierophant, who represents organized, institutional approaches to knowledge, The High Priestess is not so hierarchical. She asks you to trust in your own intuition and unlock secrets with the power of your own spirit. In this way, she is the perfect card for witches—and for anyone who takes their own approach to ritual, study, and self-care through self-discovery.

The High Priestess tarot card pictured with a wooden crescent moon to emphasize its meaning. Detailed card image description in the body text of this article.

The High Priestess card in the Smith-Waite Centennial tarot deck

In my go-to version of the iconic Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck, the Centennial edition, we see The High Priestess sitting between two pillars. One is black, marked B, while the other is white, marked J. These columns represent the Biblical pillars of the Temple of Solomon, called Boaz and Jachin. And unlike some other Major Arcana or Trump cards in the tarot, the artist Pamela Colman Smith departed significantly from the traditional playing card variations when she created her version as The High Priestess. These pillars don't appear in previous tarot decks. And Smith may have been motivated by the pillars' use in freemasonry to include them in her occultist tarot.

In any case, between the two pillars hangs a colourful tapestry with pomegranates and palm leaves. The pomegranates may remind tarot readers of Eve, whose forbidden fruit is pomegranate instead of apple in some tellings. Along with the pillars, the tapestry connotes arcane mysteries. While The Hierophant represents a path to knowledge through institutional, hierarchical teachings, the symbols of The High Priestess card are more about mysticism—a direct connection to the divine through meditation, personal ritual, and introspection. 

And indeed, there are more mystical elements to this card. The High Priestess figure, like The Hierophant, sits straight forward, facing us with bold confidence. But unlike her masculine counterpart, she is alone, without disciples. She wears a horned crown reminiscent of Ancient Egypt instead of the Papal tiara, and a crescent moon sits at her feet.

Both the crescent moon and the tapestry behind the figure suggest hidden knowledge, and The High Priestess guards secrets that she doesn't necessarily reveal. Her blue robes flow like water, and they always remind me of the Virgin Mary in their colour and shape. In the figure's hands, she holds a scroll labelled "TORA," reflecting divine teachings that are perhaps older and less literally understood than the more New Testament symbols of The Hierophant.

I mentioned last week that the Two of Swords is my favourite tarot card. But I can't resist adding that The High Priestess is a close second! In my philosophy background and my pleasure reading, I've always been drawn to the tradition of mysticism. And as a practicing witch and tarot reader, I'm all about the wisdom-through-experience approach that this card represents!

Looking inward for personal growth

Today's tarot card reminds you that secrets and privacy can be an important part of our spiritual or philosophical growth. While The Hierophant card invited you to enrich your knowledge by turning to traditional teachings, The High Priestess asks you to look inward. There's another side to knowledge that comes from personal experience. Whether you believe in divinity, spirits, or just the power of your own mind, you can gain new perspectives by finding your own meanings in life.

Meditation, personal ritual, and writing are just some facets of the private study that The High Priestess represents. See if you can tap into them today to strengthen your connection with gods, spirits, or yourself—wherever you feel that your power in life comes from.

The power of secrets and privacy

The second takeaway from today's free tarot reading is a reminder that secrets are okay. We live in an extremely public world. These days, we have the ability to share our thoughts and experiences in real-time with vast audiences. And we also have the great blessing of gaining knowledge through these myriad first-person accounts.

But at the same time, we face a lot of pressure to perform online. It's difficult to get a job, keep informed, or just stay in touch with loved ones if you don't participate to some degree in this collective openness. The High Priestess reminds you that it's okay to switch off. She encourages you to maintain a rich inner life and cultivate your personal relationships with the powers that inspire you.

Importantly, this card doesn't shame you for sharing or for being as open as you want in your life. But it does remind you that you have the right to control what you share and what you hold back. You're not a hypocrite for keeping some things private and some things public. And the only person with the right to decide what you keep hidden and what you reveal is you.

S.M.

Tarot readings are a social and collaborative experience. As a tarot reader, I work with you to interpret the cards to see how they answer your questions and how they resonate with your individual experience. But a good tarot reading can also help you deepen your meditation, ritual, or self-care routines—whether you identify as a witch, an atheist, or religious. If you'd like to book a reading to help gain some perspective that you can explore in your personal practice, the traditional tarot spreads below are a great place to start.