A Feminist Tarot: The High Priestess

In the story I was told to weave together the Major Arcana, this card is the point where the Fool, having been shown all manner of potential by the Magician, sees the High Priestess and asks for advice.  The High Priestess doesn’t give answers, however, as much as she gives directions for finding inner illumination.

If there is a contrast in opposites to be seen in the pairing of the two cards, I think it’s more valuable and enlightening to depict the difference as objective versus subjective guidance.  The Magician takes what is and shows what could be, and doesn’t delve too far into questions of should or should not.  The High Priestess tells the seeker to stop looking at all the possibilities until they’ve thought about their motives and motivations.  The Magician talks about hows and whens, the High Priestess deals with whys and what ifs.

While you might expect that, in a feminist tarot, the male and female roles would be reversed, I think it’s counterproductive to automatically reject anything which has been traditionally associated with the feminine.  That said, it’s certainly time to reject the idea that there is anything inherently special about the kind of insight or wisdom held by women.  There is nothing harmful in depicting women in the role of mystic or spiritual guide, but there’s nothing beneficial in depicting mysticism and spiritual guidance as something naturally or predominantly mastered by women.

The High Priestess card simply points us towards intuition and inner reflection, and potentially towards a person who can guide and instruct that process.  But as much as we should take care not to reflexively choose a man to fill the role of Magician when and if we need a mentor or motivator, so should we not assume that all women who claim great intuition and vision are naturally gifted and suitable guides.  The idea that women, by nature, possess certain strengths or abilities is benevolent sexism at work.  It also leads us to devalue women who fill the role of Magician because, in doing so, they are not fully embracing their “natural” role as High Priestess.

If there is a caution I would place on either card, it’s that we should always question our willingness to trust expected stereotypes.  Not only are we too often unaware that we operate with such biases, even when we are aware we too often fail to recognize the extent to which we act on them.


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