Some thoughts on the High Priestess


I discovered a key that's crucial for understanding what's being symbolized in the High Priestess. The bottom line—the yellow crescent symbolizes the astral region or astral light. It is the intermediary between the material and the spiritual and is symbolized by the moon. Waite makes a statement that confuses everything: "She is the Moon nourished by the milk of the Supernal Mother." This makes it sound like the HP herself represents the moon; but it actually means, I believe, that the symbolism of the image represents the moon being nourished by the Supernal Mother (the HP). In the Pictorial Key Waite says: "In a manner, she is also the Supernal Mother herself. . ." And notice the fluid running over the yellow crescent has a "milky" appearance.

I ran across something in Levi that's interesting. It's from his The History of Magic, beginning on p. 174. Here's the whole paragraph for context:

"We read in the Acts of the Apostles that St. Paul at Ephesus collected all the books which treated of things curious and burnt them in public. The reference is no doubt to the old Göetic texts, or works of necromancy. The loss is regrettable assuredly, since even from the memorials of error there may shine some rays of truth, while information may consequently be derived which will prove precious to science. It is a matter of general knowledge that at the advent of Christ Jesus the oracles were silenced everywhere, and a voice went wailing over the sea, crying: "Great Pan is dead." A pagan writer, who takes exception to the report, declares on his own part that the oracles did not cease, but in a little while no one was found to consult them. The rectification is valuable, for such an attempted justification is more conclusive than the pretended calumny [i.e. the false accusation that 'Pan is dead']. Much the same thing should be said concerning the works of wonder, which fell into contempt in the presence of real miracles. As a fact, if the higher laws of Nature are obedient to true moral superiority, miracles become supernatural like the virtues which produce them. This theory detracts nothing from the power of God, while the fact that the Astral Light is obedient to the superior Light of Grace signifies in reality for us that the old serpent of allegory places its vanquished head beneath the foot of the Queen of Heaven."​

This reveals a few things. 1) He compares the Queen of Heaven with the "Light of Grace"; 2) At least here, he seems to acknowledge the superiority of the Light of Grace over the Astral Light, which he refers to figuratively as "the old serpent." [This may be a reference to Genesis 3:13-15]; 3) He describes the serpent (astral light) as allegorically vanquished [defeated]; Waite's symbolism can be taken in a similar vein though he tempers it with kindness—though the moon's in a position of subjection, it's still "nourished."

I found another interesting reference in Waite's paper The Tarot and the Rosy Cross, c. 1910:

"As the Shekinah in transcendence she manifests in the vestures of a High Priestess keeping the Path of Ghimel, because she is religion in attainment. The Book of the Secret Doctrine is in her hands, and it lies open on her knees, seeing that she is Divine Law wherein is the process of attainment. She is clothed with the sun, and this signifies that she is the Moon in astronomical symbolism, being also the Queen of Heaven."​

It can be seen that Waite did see the HP as lunar, at least in a higher symbolic sense. She has moon symbolism on her crown; however, it's whitish while the other crescent is yellow. Her lunar character is also symbolized in Waite's description of her as the "bright refection"; the light which she reflects is the "light of all," contrasted with the yellow light of the sun reflected by the astral moon. She bears the solar cross on her breast symbolizing the "sun" with which she's clothed, referred to by Waite above; it's white to show the light with which she's clothed does not come from the sun of the earth.