Let’s have a look at the Major Arcana today. Given that we’re still in the watery sign of Cancer, I’ve chosen to look at the High Priestess, which is linked astrologically to the Moon, the ruler of Cancer.
When we think of the High Priestess, we think of mystery, the unconscious, wisdom, intuition, inner guides – all of which come under the auspices of the Moon. In many depictions of the Priestess, we see a crescent Moon – something new starting to grow deep in the unconscious, that we may not be fully aware of at a conscious level, the New Moon representing unrealized potential. That depth of feeling feeds into all of the cards associated with the sign of Cancer.
Traditional depictions of the High Priestess show her sitting between two pillars, often – but not always – black and white, symbolizing her role as bringing together opposites. Margarete Petersen has followed tradition, in her own way – we have two pillars, one bearing a red flash of fire – a wand perhaps, while the other holds a blue sword; the two Yang symbols. Below her is a cup, above her the earthy Pentagram – the two Yin symbols. So like the Magician she has access to all the elements, but here it’s more about drawing on the intuitive, ‘feminine’ lunar energy. Through the Moon’s rulership of Cancer, the cardinal water sign, we see the links between the formlessness of water and the shapeless unconscious.
No curtain or veil here, but we do see water in the background, symbolizing the unknown – the mystery. We also see the full and dark moon on either side, as well as a crescent moon to bring in the triple aspect of the goddess.
The light and dark moons make me think of opposites and of duality – and of course the High Priestess carries the number 2 in the Major Arcana. Light and dark, black and white (the colours of the two pillars in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, for instance), hot and cold, yin and yang…
The High Priestess represents our intuition, something long linked with the Moon – the need to trust our instincts, to look inwards for answers, rather than to the outer world. Instead of a scroll, Margarete Petersen has chosen to depict an open shell containing a pearl to represent the unconscious, the place of secrets. To uncover these pearls of wisdom we have to reach within; we have to learn to listen to our intuition in order to unearth the truth.
Margarete Petersen Tarot, AGM-URANIA, 2004.