Futhark Village

Tarot for Rune Lovers – The High Priestess

The High Priestess represents the divine feminine, which some might say would line up with ᛒ and ᚨ (Berkano and Ansuz), but I don’t think that is a good comparison. ᛒ (Berkano) is about women’s mysteries, but the strong association with motherhood is not a good match for this card. Similarly, ᚨ (Ansuz) is a Rune of divine wisdom, but it is a very masculine Rune associated with Odin. The High Priestess represents the one who works in the darkness to create the light.

Another way to look at The High Priestess is that she is the card of intuition. There isn’t really a Rune of intuition in this way. The closest is the insight of ᛊ (Sowilo), but Sowilo is a Rune of light and The High Priestess is a card of darkness. The closest Rune to the subtlety of The High Priestess is  ᛚ (Laguz), the water rune, but Laguz lacks the association with divinity or knowledge. 

There isn’t even a goddess in Norse Mythology who really lines up with this archetype. Frigga is the quintessential mother, who knows the whole future but will never reveal it. Freya, Idunn, and Eir are skilled in magic, but not known for their intuition. Sif, Gerda, and Sigyn are not well-defined within the mythology, given that we only have the men’s mysteries written down by Snorri Sturlusson, so we don’t have any evidence whether they fit this card. Skadhi and Freya are too aggressive. 

I suppose Hel would come closest: she is soft-spoken but commanding, subtle, and by some interpretations exactly where she wants to be in her land of the dead. We don’t know anything about Hel having great intuition, or knowing her role in the coming Ragnarok, though it is possible those are aspects to her which were not written down. 

But of course The High Priestess isn’t a goddess: The High Priestess is the volva who speaks the Eddic poem The Voluspa. When Odin needs wisdom of what is to come, he awakens a dead prophet from her grave and asks her what his dark dreams mean. She is literally a high priestess, even after her death.

The Fool’s Journey

Another way to look at The High Priestess is as Odin’s quest for magic, which he learned from two sources. He learned Galdr by hanging himself from the branches of Yggdrasil, a sacrifice of himself to himself, until The Runes were revealed to him. But he learned Seithr from Freya, Vanir goddess of Sex, Magic, and War. Freya herself is not very much like The High Priestess, but her interaction with Odin in this story is. 

A note here because there are diverging versions of the mythology on Odin’s relationship with Freya: The High Priestess is only about Odin’s relationship with magic, not any sex or romance he may or may not have had with the Vanir goddess. The Empress (next card) is the card of wife and mother, and doesn’t refer to Freya almost at all. 

The High Priestess is a card of divination, which I have seen associated with ᚨ, ᛇ, ᛉ, or ᛈ (Ansuz, Eiwaz, Algiz, or Perthro). In each of the tarot decks above, a different method of divination is shown: A petition for tarot, a scrying bowl, and a crystal ball in the Darkwood, Wildwood, and Everyday Tarot decks above. 

The Sensual Tarot and the Sexual Tarot take similar but opposite approaches to The High Priestess. The Sensual Tarot, on the left, shows the altar from The Magician in front of her on her left. The Sexual Tarot, on the right, is holding the book and the keys of The Hierophant. In the Waite-Smith deck, these two roles are assigned to male characters, so it is interesting to me that these two more recent decks reclaim the roles with The High Priestess. 

The Lord of the Rings Tarot and The Giants’ Tarot both show The High Priestess with a sword. It is notable that both of these decks assign a character from its respective mythology to the role: The Lord of the Rings Tarot has Eowyn, princess of Rohan and slayer of The Witch King. The Giants’ Tarot has Angrboda, wife of Loki and mother of Fenris, Jormundgandr, and Hel. Both are fiercely loyal women. Both are constrained by their station from working directly to protect those they care about. The High Priestess is a card of working in indirect ways to bring about your desired outcome.

Anti-Semitism in the Golden Dawn

Despite the fact that the symbolism of this card doesn’t show up in the Norse mythos which has survived into the 21st century, there is one unfortunate way in which The High Priestess card lines up with 20th century use of The Runes: anti-semitism. Just as runes show up in Nazi uniforms and flags, we see hints of anti-semitism in the symbols on the Tarot.

If you look at the Waite-Smith representation of The High Priestess, you will see two pillars, labeled B and J (Boaz and Jachin). Those two pillars represent two pillars of The World Tree from Jewish Kabala (which has nothing to do with Yggdrasil). You see, the anti-semitism in the early 20th century did not say that the Jewish people were bad because they were lesser. They said that the magick used by the Jewish people was powerful, and that they needed to be stopped from using it. 

The appropriation of Kabala by The Golden Dawn, most of whom either were or had been raised Christian, is a subtle but no less dangerous form of anti-semitism than that of Guido von List and his ilk. 

Just like most modern workers with The Runes, most Tarot readers are not anti-semitic, but it is important to note that the Solomonic symbolism in The Golden Dawn’s teachings, showing up in most Tarot decks, is just as tarnished as The Runes are by The Armanen Futhark.