What lies beneath
In its simplest sense, the High Priestess represents the unconscious. Bearing symbols such as the moon, the sea, columns of light and shadow, this is about inner wisdom, that which we understand on an intuitive level, but don’t (or aren’t able to) access regularly.
The High Priestess sits at the shadowy gateway between your conscious, everyday mind, and all that lies beneath. There is so much down there, it can be hard to make sense of it all. Ancestral knowledge, passed down through blood or culture. Lessons learned unconsciously in childhood. Socialisation. Trauma (both our own, and that which we inherit). Forgotten wisdom, connection to nature, spirit and lunar cycles. The knowledge of body and soul. The knowledge of what lies beyond. Though we aren’t always able to access this information, our bodies remember. Our souls remember. And we carry all of it within us.
Of course, it’s practical and necessary to have a boundary between what sits in the subconscious, and what our conscious mind is dealing with. Without it, we’d find it very hard to get on with our day-to-day lives, engage with people, get things done. There’s all kinds of weird shit down there, and most of the time it just wouldn’t be helpful to have it splurging up on the surface.
But sometimes, we do have to pay attention to the shadows and the mystery and the subconscious. Sometimes, that’s exactly where we’ll find the answers we need, or the challenges we need to face in order to move forwards. (In this sense, I think of the High Priestess as a representation of the tarot itself.)
How do we access this information? How do we make sense of it? That, of course, is up to each of us. When called to do so, when we know, deep down, that it’s time to look within, it is important to go gently, with compassion and respect.
Advice from the High Priestess
The High Priestess represents a calling to ‘go deep’. It can come up when you are looking outside of yourself for answers, encouraging you to go within, instead.
Unafraid of the shadows, the High Priestess very often shows up to gently encourage you to look towards what is uncomfortable. So often, our fears are what stand in the way of really knowing ourselves, and it is through confronting our fears that we experience the richest kind of learning.
If you see the High Priestess in your reading, it may be calling you to confront something in your own shadow, or something you have buried deep and hidden away. For many of us, this can be uncomfortable, even painful. If we are dealing with trauma and it is unsafe to ‘go there’, then the High Priestess can also point towards therapy.
The High Priestess may be calling you on a spiritual journey. It can encourage you to take a break from the bustle of everyday life, and to take some time out. An archetype of passivity and stillness, the High Priestess advocates a non-rational, non-dynamic approach to your situation: allowing yourself peace and quiet, meditating or daydreaming, calming your butterfly mind to allow space for a different kind of knowledge to come through.
If it feels appropriate, honour the High Priestess as an aspect of your self, honour her guardianship of your subconscious, and honour the profundity of this work, perhaps with a ritual, a prayer, or by creating an altar. It is not always easy or comfortable to do this work, but your journey will be worth it. Be careful with yourself, but don’t shy away. Be kind to yourself, remembering that kindness can mean holding your own hand and shining light into darkness.
Key words and concepts
- The answer is within you
- Listening to / trusting your intuition and feelings
- Looking beneath the surface / exploring your subconscious
- Getting therapy or accessing self-help resources
- Exploring or studying spirituality
- Taking a non-rational approach
- Knowing something you can’t explain
- Stillness, quiet, passivity, meditation
- A witch, shaman, psychic, or ‘wise woman’ figure
- Lunar cycles
- Spellwork and ritual
Some common symbols
- The moon (intuition)
- Water, especially still water (emotion)
- A veil (a division between worlds, or layers of consciousness)
- Scripture or text (wisdom, learning)
- A temple (a place of spiritual devotion)
- Blue and purple colours (serenity, spirituality, peace)