Esoteric Tarot Course

Lesson 3

Supplies you will need:


  • 78 Card Deck of your choice (required)
  •  Your Tarot Journal (required)
  •  “The Tarot Trumps and the Holy Grail,” by Margaret Starbird (buy if you can afford it)
  •  “Tarot Journeys,” by Yasmine Galenorn (buy if you can afford it)
  •  “Tarot in Ten Minutes” by RT Kaser (buy if you can afford it)

2-The High Priestess

The High Priestess is the next card we encounter. You will also finds decks where this card is called Papess, or female pope. This card was perhaps the least acceptable Tarot figure to the Christian establishment, since the latter was dedicated to the idea that ecclesiastical authority was for men only. Clerical pressure forced French card painters to change the Papess to the Goddess Juno in eighteenth-century packs. A Belgian pack even changed her into a man, called the Spaniard. Most modern decks give her the title of “High Priestess”. Christian orthodoxy insisted that there never was, and never could be, a female pope. Some Gnostic texts tell us that the first “pope” was not St. Peter, but St. Mary Magdalene, who received spiritual authority directly from Jesus after the Oriental custom of cross-sexual transmission – male to female, or vice versa. Jesus loved Mary Magdalene above all his other followers, he called her Apostle to the Apostles, and the Woman Who Knew the All. He said she would rule all other disciples in his future Kingdom of Light. “There was no grace that He refused her, nor any mark of affection that He withheld from her.” He gave to her, not to Peter, the power of the keys of heaven. Peter angrily tried to force the secret from her. The Gospel of Mary said Levi had to rebuke Peter for his violent attack on Mary. In the Pistis Sophia, Mary said, “Peter makes me hesitate; I am afraid of him, because he hates the female race.

Some early Christian fathers recognized a spiritual authority vested in Mary Magdalene, which was erased by later church historians, who decided she a simple harlot. Origen said she was, on the contrary, “the mother of us all,” as a male pope was supposed to be a spiritual father to the whole flock. Origen gave Mary Magdalene the title of Ecclesia, “the Church” which was applied to the Virgin Mary as well. Many believed him. Mary’s fame waxed. During the seventh century, an old Roman temple of the Goddess was renamed Santa Maria Maggiore, and dedicated to Mary Magdalene as the foundress of women’s ecclesiastical orders, especially teaching orders, and the combined male-and-female “double monasteries” that flourished before the tenth century.

In Margaret Starbird’s “The Tarot Trumps and the Holy Grail” it states that the Cathars of Southern France encouraged women preachers, following the tradition of Mary Magdalene, who according to strong Gnostic traditions, was a supreme teacher of the Christian “Way” – the Way of the heart. If you have this book read the section entitled “The Papess” starting on page 24.

Go to your journal now and start a new page with the word THE HIGH PRIESTESS at the top. Beside the word THE HIGH PRIESTESS, write the number 2. Take the High Priestess card out and look at it. Even try to step inside the card and see if the High Priestess has anything to say to you. What do you see on this card? See if any of the following are on the card: color, figures (both human and animal), shapes, landscape, vegetation, heavenly bodies and symbols.

Now in your journal write down what this card is showing you. Be sure to do this before continuing with the lesson. You may be surprised just how in tune you are.


As we look at this card we see a female sitting on a throne between two pillars. She is very serene-faced. Her robe is blue. She holds on her lap, only partially exposed, the Torah. At her feet we find a crescent moon and the full and crescent moon on her crown. A cross is on her breast. There is a veil of pomegranates and palms behind her.

The black pillar is Boas, the negative life principal, and the white is Joachin, the positive life principal. These are the pillars on Solomon’s Temple. The scroll on her lap is the Torah, meaning the Greater or Secret Law. This is partly hidden by her mantle; She wears the horned diadem on her head. The veil behind her is covered with pomegranates and palms.

On the pillars we find letters. On the black pillar is the letter B, Boaz, and a letter J, Joachin, on the white pillar. According to Freemasons, Boaz is more accurately translated as Strength and Joachin as Wisdom. In Esoteric Freemasonry the Middle Pillar is called the Pillar of Jehovah or Yod Heh Vau Heh though, it is also referred to as the Pillar of Balance. According to Waite and the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn the High Priestess herself represents the Middle Pillar which forms a balance point between the other two pillars which he also calls the Pillars of Strength and Wisdom presumably after his own Masonic initiations. They also refer to the Cabala, when they are sometimes known as Severity and Mercy. Waite and Smith used these pillars in RWS presumably to make these associations. They form a gate through which the adept passes to enter the sanctuary of the High Priestess.

The blue of the High Priestess’s robe does indicate water, the element that represents the deep emotions and intuition.

Her scroll is the Torah, an indication of the Jewish Mystics’ Cabala. This is truth, half hidden, half exposed to your view.

The moon at her feet is another universal symbol — the representation of things hidden, though here is a waxing crescent, warning of the dangers of releasing higher knowledge to those unprepared to handle it. The full and crescent moons on her crown represent the power and ability of your own intuition. Through your third eye (the High Priestess), you can know more than what’s visible to your other two. The High Priestess represents the lesson of psychic development at its beginning stages. Her crown is the crown of Isis, showing the triplicity of the moon’s force: waxing, full and waning as the cycle renews itself.

The cross she wears on her breast is symbolic of the four elements – Fire, Earth, Air, and Water – held in balance.

The veil of pomegranates and palms behind her represents the world of the unseen and the mystery of “what’s behind the veil.”


deep creativity

hidden knowledge

the esoteric mysteries

card of artists, poets and creativity

the deeper side of intuition

mystery, secrets



hidden malice

too much concentration on things unrevealed

deep mystery


questing for false wisdom

over intellectualization


shallow thinking

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GUIDED MEDITATION: If you have the book, “Tarot Journeys” by Yasmine Galenorn read the Meditation for The High Priestess starting on page 43. This is an excellent book and brimming over with insights. Notice to that it suggest using this meditation any time you need to reinforce your intuition, or on the full moon.

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Let’s Play a Game

Take out The Fool, The Magician, and The High Priestess. Set the rest of your deck aside. Shuffle these cards. Fan them out in front of you keeping them face down. I want you to pick one up. Don’t peek at the card. Feel this card’s energy. Feeling energy is like when you are outside and the sun is shining bright. You feel the warmth. Then if a cloud passes between you and the sun you get a different feeling. That is feeling the energy. You would be able to tell the difference even with your eyes closed and you know exactly what is happening. What energy do you feel coming from the card in your hand? Now turn it over. Were you right? Don’t worry if you missed it. Just keep on playing and you will learn the feeling of these cards.

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Reading The Tarot

Now I would like to talk about getting ready for a reading. It is a good idea to ask for guidance and clarity before starting a reading. I ask this of the Divine Godhead. You may want to meditate or balance your charkas first. This is entirely up to you, but you do need in some way to open yourself up. You can use candles or crystals. Anything that says ok I’m ready to receive a message.

5-Card “Tune-In” Reading

In this lesson we are going to do a 5-card Tune-In reading. This is similar to the 3-card reading we did in the last lesson. We are just adding two card positions. These are obstacle- something in your way or holding you back, and advice-the solution to your problem, advice on how to solve the issue. Your lay out will look like this.






I want you to now try this layout. Remember to shuffle and riffle so you will have the cards all mixed up. As you are shuffling be sure to tune in. If you’re reading for yourself, you may ask to be shown what you are dealing with right now. Or if you are reading for someone else, think about tuning into him or her. Now lay the cards out starting with card 1 to your left. The first card is the past; it can be recent or distant past. This is what has gotten this person into this situation. Card two is present. This is what is happening right now in this person’s life. Now card three, this is obstacle. This is what is holding them back. Maybe something they are dealing with right now. Next is card four, advice. This is telling how to get through their obstacle. Card three and four are connected. You may have to look for the connection. So card four is advice on how to proceed, what they should do or the solution to that obstacle. Then card five is the future, the same as a 3-card reading. It’s the outcome of present events if everything continues to go the way they are right now. Remember the cards are not set in stone. I like to think of the cards as a warning system. This is what is going to happen if things stay the same. So there is never a bad reading. It’s like when your mother told you not to touch something hot. If you touched it you got burned. That doesn’t mean you mother’s advice was bad. It means you chose to get burned.

Tarot In Ten Minutes

Now it’s time to get out your “Tarot in Ten Minutes”. Let’s do reading #4 When Will I Know on page 43. We will be using a basic 3-card spread for this reading.

We will use The Major Arcana 1-10. Go ahead and take out these cards and put the others aside. Now go ahead and do this reading. If you have not gotten this book yet let us know and we will try to help you out.

After you have completed this do the Extra Credit on page 46. This is a quick way to get a time reading.


1. Tell me about your first impressions with the High Priestess. Did she have anything to say to you? How close were your impressions to the standard meanings?

2. Tell me your experience during the game. Were you able to tell which card you were holding most of the time?

3. Who is someone you feel is represented by the High Priestess.

4. When you do a reading, are you stuck with what the cards say the outcome will be? Why or why not?

5. In a 5 Card Tune-In Reading, which card position gives us advice?

6. Can the cards give us a time frame?

Email your answers to: with Tarot 3 Answers in the subject line.

The High Priestess Spread

This spread is for helping to know the intuitive mind, the deep, deep ocean below.

Shuffle the deck and lay out the cards as above.

Cards 1, 2, and 3 represent the deepest ocean of the unconscious mind, and can represent dreams you’ve had recently, synchronicity and coincidences, inner wisdom, and/or symbols and themes current in your life. There is no order to these, and no judgments are made here; these things just are. Rely on your intuition for these cards especially.

Cards 4 and 5 are nearer to the surface, though still under it; you are more conscious of these currents, but their roots are deep.

Card 4: This is the shadow aspect of things, the dark.

Card 5: This is the light aspect of things, to balance the dark. Cards 4 and 5 should be in balance and harmony; if they are not, take it as a sign that some work may be needed towards that.

Card 6: This card is at the surface of the water, where the unconscious and conscious meet; this is how all the previous cards relate to events in your life.

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Read this article on the High Priestess Card and answer the following questions (by Sophie2U):

1. What Goddess or feminine archetype does the High Priestess represent?

2. What are the pillars that she sits between and their meaning?

3. How is the High Priestess able to balance these polarities?

4. What are the symbols that stick out for you in this card?

5. What are the interpretations of the High Priestess card, including reversed?

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Text of article above in case it ever disappears from online:


By Cal Garrison

Before we analyze The High Priestess, I want to mention that out of all the cards in the deck, she is probably the hardest one interpret. The fact that she is primarily a spiritual archetype makes it more of a chore to understand what bearing she might have in a real time reading, for real people with real problems. Her presence is difficult to translate in mundane terms if you don’t have a lot of experience as a card reader.

In the Rider-Waite Deck, The High Priestess appears in full regalia,seated between two pillars. They are the Pillars of Wisdom. One of them is black and the other white. On the Tree of Life these two pillars support the base of what Crowley refers to as, ‘The Supernal Triangle’ — but anyone who has made even a cursory study of ‘The Tree’ knows that a third pillar forms a direct pathway to the center of the base — and that pillar belongs to The High Priestess.

Inscribed on the dark pillar we see the letter ‘B’ — a ‘J’ is etched on the white one. These letters are emblems for duality. If the pillars represent the polarities of light and darkness, we can assume that The High Priestess is an intermediary whose central position gives her the power to balance and neutralize any form those opposites might take. How do we know this? The cross on her Heart Chakra is the key. Adjacent to those letters,the cross indicates that it is via the Christ Consciousness in her heart center that light and darkness merge to become one and the same thing.

Her headdress is a lunar, and therefore feminine symbol. We see the waxing and waning crescents buttressing the full lunar orb in the center of her crown. The power of the female isn’t something anyone can contest here — it is an open statement that causes us to wonder what it is about the female energies that have so much significance on the path to enlightenment.

The Torah in her hand, held so close to the Second Chakra tells us that her primary relationship is the one that she has with divine wisdom.This book contains all the hidden mysteries and the High Priestess is the keeper of those mysteries, the woman who knows all. But what she truly understands is how to integrate those secrets with the wisdom of the heart— and she is able to let all of it come into manifestation as oneness because it is through the power of her own female force that everything achieves balance and unity. Being whole and complete within her self, The High Priestess sources unity and is an emblem for it.

Draped behind her we see a curtain. The curtain is ‘The Veil’ that separates the world of form from the higher dimensional levels. Pomegranates decorate the veil. Long known to be symbols for fertility and creativity,the pomegranates represent the heavily seeded womb of creation. The High Priestess guards this veil. You have to pass her and move through the pillars of wisdom to see what lies beyond it. No one can become privy to any of those secrets until they reach her level of attainment.

At her feet we see a large lunar crescent facing upward. Another feminine image, it speaks to the idea that she is firmly grounded in the female frequency,that which is formless and ever changing. It is a sign that her all knowingness is rooted in her receptivity, or her willingness to allow that which exists as Truth to reveal it self in stages the same way that the Moon exposes its full face gradually from cycle to cycle.

The wide open crescent is empty, waiting to be filled, indicating that she holds no preconceived notions about what the Truth might be. This aspect of the card is significant. It is as if The High Priestess is telling us that before we can be ‘all knowing’ we have to know nothing, and permit life and experience to teach us in their own way, if we wish to transmutethe Karmic patterns we were born with.


When The High Priestess comes up in a reading, in its upright positionit is an indication that the querent is inwardly balanced and has a completeunderstanding of whatever their situation involves. They don’t need any moreinformation because they are aligned with their inner wisdom and able tomove gracefully between the dark and the light. If they can maintain thatposition, and continue to remain in touch with what their real emotionalneeds are, the Truth will expand their consciousness and set them free tomove on to the next level.

At times The High Priestess appears in a layout to remind the querentthat what’s going on is an ‘inside job’ and that their issues will only beresolved if and when they are dealt with from within. It’s placement in thespread will tell the reader whether the person they are talking to is alreadybalanced, or if it’s a question of achieving that balance. Either way, whenthe card is upright it’s an indication that the querent is in touch withthe Truth, or on their way to it.

To read cards well it’s important to be able to address each individualin a language that they can understand. Telling a naive, inexperienced20-year-old, who’s obsessed with whether or not her boyfriend is cheatingon her that she needs to go within, is quite different than telling a mature,spiritually oriented person the same thing. But the High Priestess can showup any time, for any of the people you interpret for — and the tricklies in being able to explain her presence in simple terms, without patronizingthe querent or talking over their heads.

With a naive 20-year-old it’s sometimes sufficient to say that itwould help them to spend more time alone and perhaps talk to them about thevirtues of looking at what their real feelings are. You could also say that,’The High Priestess in you knows what your true worth is. If your boyfriendis unfaithful it’s quite possible that he can’t even see who you are. Whatyou need to ask your self is whether or not you need to be wasting your timewith someone who has no reverence for you as a female.’

Even though the Priestess archetype has been purged of her sexualaspect over the centuries, it is a well known fact all of the vestal virginswere the guardians of the sexual mysteries. It is because of this that TheHigh Priestess can also address the deeper aspects of human sexuality. Forsome people her presence in a spread will underscore the need to do moreresearch in that area. In a reading for a male or a female it is often thecase that she is there to tell them that their research will involve connectingin a full and balanced way with their female aspect. If you’re reading for a man and the High Priestess appears it’s quite possible that he is about to meet his ideal mate. If the querent is a female, The High Priestess maybe telling her to connect with her own feminine wisdom and perfection.

When this card shows up in its reversed position it indicates that the querent is totally out of touch with their true emotional wants and needs. Disconnected from their own Truth, it is quite possible that they have either lost it or replaced it with some form of dogma — The High Priestess can be very dogmatic when she’s reversed. She can also be manipulative. When feminine energy expresses negatively its innate creativity becomes distorted and/or misdirected. This can include a misuse of sexual energy. The querent could be abstaining from sex for all the wrong reasons and thereby blocking the life force — or they could be using sex manipulatively, as a toolto serve the needs of the ego. Either way, they are removed from the Truth, and the only advice you can give them is to look at them selves and findtheir way back to it. Reclaiming their Truth will involve some serious soul searching. If they can accept what you say and go within they will return to balance.

At this point in time, as the Divine Feminine slowly reemerges as a force in the collective consciousness, The High Priestess is an excellent card to meditate on for anyone who wishes to connect with the deeper reaches of their female aspect. After 13,000 years of patriarchy we are just beginning to understand the power of the female and this image is a visual manifestation of what that power is all about. The idea that we are all whole and complete within ourselves and that it is through receptivity rather than assertion and control that we will find our way back to the Source is still new tous. But The High Priestess is alive and well — her Truth is eternal— and her image could very well turn out to be a valuable touchstone for all of us.

About Cal Garrison

Cal is a writer with four books to her credit. ‘The Old Girls’Book of Spells’, ‘The Old Girls’ Book of Dreams’, andher latest book, ‘Witch On the Go’ were published by RedWheel/WeiserPress and are available in bookstores or on In addition to herown work, she also writes for Slim Spurling. Her first book with Slim,‘Slim Spurling’s Universe’ is being followed up by their secondbook together which, with any luck, will be out in 2008—2009.

A professional astrologer with 35 years experience Cal has cast over6000 charts and is one of the best in her field. She is also an expert onthe Tarot. When she’s not running the Spirit of Ma’at office, or workingon her books, Cal spends her time doing in depth astrology and tarot readingsfor people all over the country.

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