Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
These concluding lines of the first chapter of the Tao Te Ching epitomize the most fundamental meaning of The High Priestess card ~ that everything is born out of darkness. As the New Moon, the High Priestess is the gateway to understanding the most important thing in you life ~ you. Figure that out and everything else is a piece of cake.
Carl Jung echoed the Tao when he said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
What tools does The High Priestess give us to work with? First and foremost, she gives us our intuition which we tap into via the element of own moon sign. Yes, each element is intuitive, but in different ways. Water signs feel something ~ a hunch, a tug in the gut, an uninhibited instinctual response to stimuli. Fire signs become impassioned ~ emotions may flare unexpectedly, they have a fire in their belly, they feel that they can’t hold back their actions. They’re inspired. Air signs need to think about it, talk about it, figure it out logically. Earth signs weigh the practicalities. Does it defy common sense? Is it do-able? What will go wrong? Where are the pitfalls?
You may not expect from the very serious look of the High Priestess that she also represents our emotions. Donna Cunningham says in Moon Signs, The Key to Your Inner Life,
Even though this book is about the Moon, it’s really about emotions, and most of us could use some insight into this area. . .If you take a look at the biggest mistakes of your life, many of them happen when you’re not paying attention to your real feelings and needs — or worse, when you’re trying to override your gut responses and ignore your instincts. Since all these areas — feelings, needs, instincts, and responses — are connected with the Moon sign, the biggest mistakes of your life happen when you’re ignoring the Moon.
When we choose to ignore our Moon, we choose unhappiness, we forsake our most authentic self. The Moon in the chart is a soft place to fall, the most natural of expressions. It really is home. Get closely acquainted with your Moon sign. For many people, it’s so much easier to figure out than the sun sign. The Moon is who we are in our most natural state. The Sun is what we do in the world. That may be the biggest difference between western and eastern astrology as I understand it. Eastern astrology places more emphasis on the Moon (being) than the Sun (doing). Wouldn’t it be nice if, when meeting someone for the first time, instead of asking us, “What do you do?” they asked, “What makes you happy?”
I think of The High Priestess as the New Moon, the darkness that is the gateway. She wears the full and quarter moons as her crown, which gives the appearance of a bull’s horns (a reminder that the Moon is exalted ~ given great ease of expression ~ in the sign of Taurus). Taurus adds stability to the Moon’s changeability. The black and white pillars also remind me of the New and Full Moons. That symbolism is duplicated in the black and white sphinxes of The Chariot, the card of Cancer.
Although the pillars appear to be opposites, they are really various depictions of one thing. What is black without white? What is cold without heat, or yes without no? These two extremes are different representations of one and, like the yin/yang symbol, contain their opposites within them.
Another attribute of the Moon that the High Priestess represents is memory, which is symbolized by the scroll the High Priestess holds. Many tarot readers and teachers also attribute experience and law to the scroll, but what are experience and law but memory, our history, recalled or recorded?
The High Priestess and The Moon are expressions of the number 2 in numerology. Each planet has a numerological counterpart indicative of its basic meaning. Basic qualities of the number 2 are duality, partnership, and union.
When I pull the High Priestess card, I might ask myself:
- What will make me happy in this situation? Or, if reading for someone else, what would make them happy in this situation?
- What do my gut instincts tell me?
- What emotions are surfacing?
- What memories do I have of similar situations? Good? Bad?
- Have I learned from my past?
If you know your Moon sign well and honor it, you’ll tend to make decisions that you won’t regret. Get very well acquainted with yourself. Remember what Donna said, “…the biggest mistakes of your life happen when you’re ignoring the Moon.”
Note: Tao Te Ching translated by Stephen Mitchell, available online here and in bookstores.
I suggest coloring your own High Priestess card. The images from older standard decks can be found at sacredtexts.com. BOTA images can be found here. Print on heavy stock paper to the size you prefer. For amateur artists like me, colored pencils work great and give a watercolor appearance to the drawings. Here’s the BOTA card I colored.