Tarot 101, My Way – Major Acana: The Priestess and The Empress

Stacking these up a bit, but I’m afraid if I sleep on this I’ll lose the inspiration.

Here we have two dramatically different expressions of the feminine archetype. The Priestess has her head to the sky while the feet of the Empress are firmly rooted in the earth. The Priestess is virginal – even crystalline – in her purity; she commands respect and demands accountability, while the Empress is more casual and sensual – she is often shown as pregnant. The path to the Priestess is a stern one, while that to the Empress is strewn with flowers. The Priestess is friend to the Moon and privy to the night and darkness, while the Empress knows only sunshine and gentle rain. The Priestess can be alarmingly fickle; the Empress exemplifies harmony. One is an enigma awash in mystique, the other an open book and seemingly soft-hearted (don’t be fooled). Here it is in simple human terms: Is your partner uncharacteristically meditative and seemingly distant? The Priestess may have clocked in. Is he or she the very soul of charm? That’s the Empress. The cards around them in a reading will hint at why.

The Major Arcana: Trump 2 – the High Priestess


Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Change, alteration, increase and decrease, fluctuation (whether for good or evil is again shown by cards connected with it).”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Secrets, mystery, the future as yet unrevealed; silence, tenacity, mystery, wisdom, science.”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“. . . change, alteration, increase and decrease, fluctuation. There is, however, a liability to be led away by enthusiasm; one may become “moon-struck” unless careful balance is maintained.”


I agree with Waite that this is essentially a card of “hidden knowledge,” information that the seeker is not yet privileged to know; this exclusion is symbolized by the veil between the two columns behind the High Priestess. The ideas of “change, alteration, increase and decrease, fluctuation” are all connected to its association with the Moon and its monthly variations. This is one of two cards that convey the secretive and often illusory quality of lunar light (the other being the Moon card itself), and the implication is that something is not necessarily what it appears to be but won’t remain unchanged long enough to be properly identified. In either case, there may be a surprise in store, but those of the High Priestess are less likely to be unpleasant than are those of the Moon. She is of a higher order of spiritual consciousness and clarity of vision, untainted by the nebulous and potentially calamitous distortions of the Moon. The High Priestess epitomizes all of the inward-turning qualities that encourage “moon-struck” seekers after enlightenment to keep trying to “sneak a peek” beneath the veil: silence, secrecy, mystery, subtlety, complexity, intimations of occult wisdom and the like.

More of my thoughts on the Priestess can be found at this link:


The Major Arcana: Trump 3 – the Empress


Golden Dawn “Liber T” (S.L. Mathers):

“Beauty, happiness, pleasure, success, also luxury and sometimes dissipation, but only with very evil cards.”

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (A.E. Waite):

“Fruitfulness, action, initiative, length of days; also difficulty, doubt, ignorance,”

The Book of Thoth (Aleister Crowley):

“Love, beauty, happiness, pleasure, success, completion, good fortune, graciousness, elegance, luxury, idleness, dissipation, debauchery, friendship, gentleness, delight.”


Most of the qualities assigned to this card can be traced to its association with astrological Venus in its highest and lowest forms, as alluded to in Crowley’s observation. Venus is known as the “Lesser Benefic” in traditional astrology, second only to Jupiter in imparting good fortune; however, its finer qualities can be corrupted by excess. As to the Empress herself, fertility (or more properly, fecundity) is her signature mode of expression, giving rise to the sensually implicit assumptions made about her. The Empress reflects the reign of natural law, whereas her counterpart, the Emperor, personifies civil or administrative law. She is emphatically more of an “Earth Mother” type than an administrator. She is often depicted as noticeably pregnant, suggesting the creative issue of that quickened fecundity approaching birth. One esoteric association of the Empress worth noting is its connection to the Hebrew word for “door;” the birth canal can be seen as a type of “door” by which something new enters the world. In that sense, the Empress can be seen as a positive agent for growth and development. She well deserves her reputation for excelling in the ways of love and money.

Click here for additional observations:


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