IIII. Pontifex Maxima - Archiereia - High Priestess (4, 2)

Magistra Pentaculi - Mistress of the Pentacle

Statu variabilis (Steadfast in changing)
Artemis, Diana; Hecate; Luna; Isis; Persephone.
1+4 = Love+Mother (Water Hexactys); 3+1 = Family+Mother (Fire Hexactys).
1+4+1 = Love+Holy+Female.
Greek Letter = Epsilon:
Exo = outside, beyond, outwards.
:I: Name: K'an = the Abyssmal. Image: Water, Rain, Moon. The Second Daughter, associated with passion, danger, repetitive bending, penetration. West in Earlier Heaven.


The High Priestess is a tall, young woman with a round, pale face and long, thick, moderately curly, platinum blond hair. She wears a long, midnight blue robe, decorated with six stars surrounding a central moon, and with flowers and fruit hanging from the borders. Her black mantle, drawn from behind, over her shoulders and up from behind her waist, is knotted in an X on her chest; her arms are bare. She looks like she might be pregnant, though we cannot be sure.

On her forehead is a silver disk with arcing serpents on each side, suggesting simultaneously crescent moons and horns; a garland of flowers is in her hair. Her right hand holds a glowing silver sistrum (sacred rattle), and her left, a golden vase, decorated on the base with pomegranates and palm leaves; its handle looks like a snake swollen with venom.

The High Priestess sits in a throne in a chariot, drawn by two horses (black on her left, white on her right). The background behind the chariot is hidden by its billowing canopy, in midnight blue with 27 stars, which is supported by two poles surmounted with silver crescent moons. The chariot emerges from a dark river which can be seen flowing behind her on either side of the canopy. The sides of the chariot are decorated with mugwort leaves. Cerberus, a three-headed black dog, sits beside her in the car.


The Shining Queen, who rules the velvet night, And nurtures nascent change, concealed from sight, Transforms and changes, wheeling light and dark, And seeks the Sun to sire the unseen spark. The watery depths bring forth the Child of Light.


The High Priestess represents the feminine components of the subconscious mind. She stands for those subconscious processes that are most hidden, those which invisibly nurture, develop, connect and relate, those which transcend duality. For, although she is a virgin priestess and represents all the eternally virgin goddesses, she is also the vehicle of hidden gestation and the First Mother in potentia, the concealed mother required to manifest the spiritual. As such she also represents the subconscious, synthetic processes of memory.

The activity of the High Priestess is symbolized by the abyssal water - impenetrably dark, infinitely deep, always mixing, flowing, seeking its own level; by yielding she is as forceful as the mighty river Ocean. Her tears are the healing dew, always striving to restore wholeness when division has gone too far.

Like the Moon, the High Priestess is steadfast in changing, for she is the principle of hidden change by cyclic growth and decline. She represents the oscillating balance of matter and spirit, for she turns her face alternately toward the earth and the sun. When she looks toward earth, she is the primary matter necessary for the manifestation of the spirit, the neutral vessel of good and evil. When she looks to the sun, she is the means of spiritual attainment, the Spiritual Bride and Mother, Sophia, the Redemptrix.

The High Priestess is pre-eminently occult, for her work is hidden. When she turns her face away, she vanishes into her own shadow (the new moon), and when she meets the sun in closest conjunction, she also hides his face - an occultation (eclipse). The High Priestess embodies the most spiritual aspects of the feminine.


The High Priestess's lunar diadem reminds us that she is Mistress of the Pentacle.

"The mythology of the moon is an object lesson in female psychology" (Jung, MC 175). In the male, the lunar psychology manifests as the anima in the subconscious, which is predominantly represented by the dark of the moon. In the female, the lunar psychology is conscious, and is predominantly represented by the light of the moon. In contrast to the sharp, discriminating light of the sun, the light of the moon merges and relates. This "lunatic" logic cloaks itself in half-darkness or the "shimmer of innocence" (Jung, MC 179, 181).

In the female, the solar psychology manifests as the animus in the subconscious, which is represented by the Sol Niger (Black Sun). The woman's mind, comprising the light of the moon (conscious) and the dark sun (unconscious), is not so extreme in dark and light as the man's, which comprises the bright sun (conscious) and the dark moon (subconscious) (Jung, MC 181). We will see that II.Empress = bright moon, III.Emperor = bright sun, IV. High Priestess = dark moon, V. High Priest = dark sun. These are the four "personalities" present when man and woman come together (von Franz 152). At the subconscious level this may become a confrontation between the Sword and Cup, for "when animus and anima meet, the animus draws his sword of power and the anima ejects her poison of illusion and seduction" (Jung, A. 15). However, all four "personalities" manifest to varying degrees in all people.

Jung (A. 13-17) claims that the anima tends to be loyal, consoling, relating, an illusionist, a seductress, ambivalent, vain, touchy, sentimental, resentful and subject to irrational moods. (See V. High Priest for common characteristics of the animus.)

Hecate is Triformis (Three-formed) or Triceps (Three-headed) because: she rules the heavens as Selene during full moon; she rules the earth as Artemis during the waxing and waning moons, which are shaped like her silver bow; she rules the underworld as Persephone during the new moon (cf. Schimmel 60). Cerberus recalls both Hecate Triceps and her underworld connections.

The moon is a mediator, like Hermes, who stands between heaven and earth, facing each in turn, and thereby showing the downward and upward paths (Jung, MC 25). She rules all the waxing and waning phenomena in the world (von Franz 149-50). The Carmina Burana (Schmeller no. 1; Harrington 379; Whicher 262) say that Luna is steadfast in her changing (statu variabilis).

From Vincenzo Cartari's Images of the Gods (1571) and a letter of Annibale Caro (1562) we have the following description of the Moon-Isis: long and abundant hair, lightly curled; on her forehead a polished object with snakes on either side and ears of corn above; a garland of wood and sunflowers or other flowers; a dress, to either her feet or her knees, very thin, and showing the colors white, yellow and red; or a shining black dress (black, white, yellow, red: the colors of the alchemical Great Work), decorated with stars and a central moon, flowers and fruits hanging from the border like tassels; bare arms; a lighted torch in her right hand and two snakes in her left; or her left hand holds a golden vase, decorated on the base with palm leaves, and with a snake-like handle, looking swollen with venom; she is in a chariot drawn by two horses, one white, one black, or drawn by a mule, or by steers with small horns and a white spot on the right flank. (Seznec 291-3) Clayton (107) displays a statue of Isis that fits this description closely, though she holds a sistrum in her right hand. Selene is often depicted in splendid robes, rising out of the stream of Ocean in her chariot pulled by shining steeds (Larousse 143); see figure in Kerenyi (197).

The numbers three, nine and 27 are sacred to the moon. The 27 stars on the canopy represent the days on which the moon is visible (27 = 3 X 9, the third power of three). (Schimmel 60, 169, 238) The moon is an attribute of Artemis, and mugwort (artemesia) is a lunar herb (OCD, s.v. Artemis; Pliny, Hist. Nat. 25.36).

The alchemists say that Virgin Diana is the First Mother and the First Matter: Prima Mater and Prima Materia, the feminine transformative substance, the redemptrix (soteira) (Case 50; Jung MC 18). She is the Spiritual Bride and Mother (Case, 51, after Waite). So she is called Mater Alchimia (Mother Alchemy), the Matter of All Things, the Matrix, Femina, Virgo (Virgin) Puella (Girl) Praegnans (Pregnant), Sophia, Luna and even Meretrix (Whore), for she is "the vessel and the matter of good and evil" (Jung, MC 18, 20, 105). Plutarch says Selene is the Mother of the Cosmos; she is impregnated by Helios, the High Priest (Jung, MC 177). As is well known, matter, mater (mother) and matrix all derive from the same Indo-European root mater-, which means mother (AHD s.vv.).

As the anima represents and personifies the elements of the collective unconscious, so Luna represents the other six planets, and her metal Silver is the sum and essence of the spirits of the other six metals (Jung, MC 176). The six stars and the moon on the High Priestess's gown represent the seven metals and the seven planets.

In many old Tarot decks the High Priestess is called the Popess, who is commonly supposed to be the legendary Pope Joan, who became Pope by masquerading as a man (an activity which is singularly appropriate to the Saturnalia/Carnival presided over by the Magician). Her deception was exposed when she miscarried during a procession, a symbol of the hidden gestation which erupts unbidden into our awareness. Moakley (72-4) has shown that the Popess, who appears in the 15th century Visconti-Sforza Tarot, is most likely Sister Manfreda, a relative of the Viscontis who was elected Popess by the Gugliemites, named for Gugliema of Bohemia (d. 1281), who was thought to be an incarnation of the Holy Spirit. In line with my interpretation of this trump, the Gugliemites thought that Gugliema would descend to earth in 1300 to inaugurate a line of Popesses to replace the Popes, and preparations were made for Popess Manfreda to celebrate Mass in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore (Rome). However, Manfreda was burned at the stake in that year and the sect was exterminated by the Inquisition.

The pomegranate, which is associated with Persephone and Demeter (see also II. Emperess), is a common symbol of the passive principle, marriage, fertility and childbirth (Biedermann s.v.; Goldsmith 200). The veil behind the Priestess in both the Rider-Waite and BOTA decks displays pomegranates and palms, which are female and male symbols, respectively (Case 52). Although palms are androgynous symbols of creation, I have given them a minor role, since they are predominantly Apollonian and solar (Biedermann s.v.; Goldsmith 21).

The descent into matter is a drug, which may be poisoning or healing, intoxicating or illuminating. Hecate sends the dog and the snake, for their bite may bring madness or the transformation of consciousness (Jung, MC 28); the gift of prophecy is often granted by a snake. The High Priestess shares her animals with her brother/husband, the High Priest. For example, both Selene and Helios are invoked as dogs (Jung, MC 146-7). Kalid (c. 700 CE) says that the stag, lion and cock are the animals of Luna and Persephone and of their male counterparts (Jung, MC 32). The snake and tiger are also lunar animals (Jung, MC 175).

Apollo and Artemis are, of course, both associated with the bow and arrow. Like Apollo, both Artemis and Hecate are called Hekebolos (Far-Darting), because they shoot from out of sight (Larousse 165, OCD, s.v.); the two gods represent the unseen operation of the subconscious mind: the sudden flash of insight, the intuitive leap. We will see (VI.Love) that Apollo and Artemis (sun and moon) are brought together in love by another far-darter, Eros, the offspring of Hermes and Aphrodite (I.Magician and II.Empress) (Jung, MC 30).

Selene and Helios represent the totality of intuitive perception, female and male, for only they of all the gods saw the abduction of Kore (Larousse 165). They bore the Horae (Hours), which represent the seasons (OCD s.vv. Selene, Horae). The moon is the mother of the sun, as well as his spouse, which means that the unconscious is pregnant with consciousness, and gives birth to it (Jung, MC 175-7).

The High Priestess has many connections with water. First, Selene was the mother of Dew (Herse, Eerse or Ersa) by Zeus (OCD s.v. Selene; Larousse 143). Also, the tears of Isis (who was identified with Selene and Demeter), which are the dew, are healing, for with them she restored Osiris to wholeness, so she is called Soteira (Redemptrix). This substance is the Aqua Vitae (Water of Life) and the Aqua Permanens (Abiding Water), which unites whatever has been severed. (Jung, MC 19-20) Isis is also a powerful sorceress, a skill she learned when she sent her serpent to lie in the path of Ra, whom she also later healed (Larousse 19).

Isis is called the Star of the Sea and represents the fruitful, rich plains of Egypt, the prima materia, which brings forth life when fertilized by Osiris, the Nile flood (Larousse 19).

According to one myth, Hecate was a daughter of Zeus and Hera who polluted herself by stealing "Hera's rouge" and attending a woman in childbirth. She was purified and reborn out of the waters of Acheron, an underworld river. Hence she oversees purification and expiations specifically, and magic and enchantments generally. (Larousse 165-6) She is a healer, especially of the effect of scorpions, snakes and fevers (Clayton 107). She brings illumination in the night, that is, from the subconscious.

The moon represents the qualities of connection and relationship that characterize the Maternal Eros (Jung, Aion 12-3), for water is cold (joining) and wet (yielding). In contrast the sun represents the qualities of discrimination and cognition that characterize the Paternal Logos (loc. cit.), for fire is hot (separating) and dry (imposing). The High Priestess and High Priest will unite their water and fire in trump VI. Love (cf. Jung, A. 111), for Sol is the "heat of the firmament" and Luna is the "aetheric moisture" (Jung, MC 113-4). Also, the moon and her light are the humidum ignis (moisture of fire) (Jung, MC 175), and Sol is hidden like a fire in the depths of Luna's water (Jung, MC 177).

The color blue is associated with Luna and she is called the Dark Water (to skoteinon hudor), who marries Sol, who is called Flowing Light (phaos rhuentes) (Jung, MC 149). Isis is also called Chemeia (The Black One), which reminds us that she is Mater Alchimia - Mother Alchemy (Jung, MC 18, 20).

The High Priestess's gown, sistrum and jug can be seen on a Roman statue of Isis (Clayton 107). The X on her chest reminds us that Hecate is the goddess of crossroads and suggests the four elements of material manifestation. The gown's representation of the night sky reminds us that Isis was sometimes identified with Nut, the Egyptian sky goddess (von Franz 51). The sistrum is an attribute of Isis as the Queen of Heaven. According to Plutarch, "The sistrum shows that whatever exists ought to be shaken and never cease from movement, but should be aroused and agitated as if it were asleep and its life quenched. ... [B]y means of movement generation frees nature." (Goldsmith 207)

The Knot of Isis, in the center of the X (Ions 70), represents the underlying unity of the four elements, the prima materia; esoterically this is identified with Light (Case 30-1), and the X cross is a monogram for LVX. The pendant ends of the Knot of Isis represent the tears of the moon, the healing dew of heaven (ros coelestis), the spirit, which is a universal agent of rejuvination and revitalization that gives life to the prima materia (Biedermann s.v. dew). Together the Dew and Cross (Ros & Crux) form a pentagram (inverted), which represents spirit uniting the four elements (cf. Crossley II, 239-40n).

The throne is a symbol of Isis (ast, Auset) (Budge 79; Larousse 19), who is often shown wearing the cow horns and solar disk of Hathor (Ions 56-60) and carrying the ankh and papyrus scepter (Ions 56).

Many European Tarot decks have Juno and Jupiter in place of the Popess and Pope (High Priestess and High Priest).

I noted previously that the Pythagorean analysis suggests that Major Arcana 2 and 3 should be the High Priestess and High Priest and that 3 and 4 should be the Empress and Emperor. Further evidence is that the Empress and Emperor are commonly shown with Orbs, which are symbols of Earthly Authority and are Pentacles in the broad sense (i.e. mandala-like disks; see OED, 1st ed. s.v.). Conversely, the High Priestess and Priest are commonly shown with Sceptres with represent Spiritual Authority (associated with Wands and Fire). There is already considerable variety in the arrangement of these four cards in the earliest records of the Tarot (Dummett 7). I've provisionally retained the Ferrara arrangement and the suit assignments of Kaplan (I.4), since this seems more consistent with a Jungian interpretation.

The reduced isopsephos also supports the Ferrara order. For H TRIMORFOS EKATH (He Trimorphos Hekate, Three-formed Hecate) we have 1732, which reduces to 2-3+7-1 = 5; for H SKOTIA SELANA (He Skotia Selana, The Dark Moon) we have 896, which reduces to 6-9+8 = 5. Both show that the High Priestess corresponds to the Pentad, which represents the eternal celestial spirit trancending the four mutable elements; the Pythagoreans call it Alteration, for it represents the impulse to ascend out of the mundane realm. (TA 32, 34-5, 41; see also the meaning of Epsilon, above, and the Fives in the Minor Arcana)

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Last updated: Sun Aug 26 14:10:01 EDT 2001