The Papesse card probably refers to the legend of Papesse Jeanne. She is said to have been a woman, who, pretending to be a man, rose to the highest positions in the Catholic Church. Promoted to Pope during a procession, she gave birth in front of the crowd, revealing the trickery. This legend was considered authentic in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Today, the veracity of the facts is hotly disputed.
Among the symbols of the papacy are the two keys inherited from St. Peter, considered the first pope, to whom Jesus entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. The golden key refers to power over the kingdom of heaven, while the silver key indicates the Papacy's spiritual authority on earth. The first Tarot images of the Papess depicted her with a key, a sign of her papal office.
Here, the color of the key (light blue, close to silver) shows that the Papess has spiritual power over the kingdom of men. It's interesting to note that the iconography of the Papess remains unchanged despite generations and cultural differences.
Jean Noblet depicts the Papess with her tiara cut off, in fact we see only 2 of the 3 crowns of the headdress. Previous versions all showed the tiara in its entirety. Jean Noblet clearly wanted to convey a message with this particularity. We have two options :
Because in the previous card, the Bateleur himself has a truncated table with 3 by 4 legs. I think Noblet's message here is that the Papess's knowledge is incomplete. And that's why she has a book open in front of her: to learn. So Noblet's Papess, who doesn't have her key, and therefore no longer has full power over the kingdom of men, is a symbol of the search for truth and inner, not to say spiritual, knowledge. Like the Bateleur, the Papesse is in the process of becoming.
Jean Dodal takes exactly the same approach as Noblet, as he too truncates the Papess's tiara. There was a shared desire between the two craftsmen, or even a vision shared by the entire profession, to show the Papess as an incomplete figure. However, Jean Dodal added an unexpected detail : a mole on her cheek. Noblet and Dodal were no novices, and both had a freedom of thought and opinion that was quite remarkable for their time. The Papess with a mole reminds us that the character is nonetheless a woman, who can be beautiful and even seductive. We can love her for that too. A spiritual woman is certainly not an unattainable woman, a woman without desire, or an immaculate woman.
Another very interesting aspect of Dodal's version is that he calls the card "La pances", which could be translated as :
Personally, I think it's more a question of the first option, unless the master craftsman wanted to play on both words.
Later, the message of these master craftsmen was lost. Indeed, the popular Conver tarot of 1762 shows a complete Papess with the 3 crowns visible on her tiara. Then, on the Grimaud tarot engraved by Paul Marteau in 1930, you'll notice (image in introduction) that the Papess has her tiara spilling over the upper cartouche. This detail probably signifies that the Papess has superhuman or divine wisdom or power. It's clear that the original message has been totally distorted.
The Besançon tarot is a Marseille-derived tarot that originated in eastern France. It was not long into the history of the French tarot tradition that the Papess and Pope cards were replaced by less "blasphemous" characters, as the Pope figure offended Protestants, and the Papess figure was offensive to Catholics.
Juno is the most important Roman goddess. She is queen of the gods, protector of women and symbol of marriage. Needless to say, with this figure, the second trump card had lost all its original meaning.
The High Priestess card of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot is undoubtedly one of the most esoteric cards in the deck, along with the Wheel of Fortune. The mind map below offers an interpretation of the card's esoteric aspects. Note also that the character takes on a lunar dimension, which I discuss at the end of this article. In any case, with this card, the second trump card is more associated with divine wisdom and esoteric knowledge. It represents connection with the spiritual world and access to hidden secrets.
Bruno de Nys's tarot is a modern Tarot de Marseille, revised and completed. Certain details, such as the keys, the tiara and the character's relatively masculine face, do not appeal to me. I do, however, find the setting very interesting. Seeing the Papess framed by two columns, almost reclining in her library, perfectly underlines the card's dimension of inner research. The sun's rays coming through the two skylights to illuminate the face, evoke the idea that the outer dimension and concrete experience of life comes to illuminate and develop our wisdom, our inner life.
I like this card's evocation of the dichotomy in which women live : they must remain beautiful and seductive, while they remain serious and professional at work, while they are devoted to looking after their children, while they manage their home and take care of the domestic upkeep. The High Priestess parading before the men's eyes may evoke this paradox of the modern occidental woman. The character's hairiness may also show her freedom of thought and action as an eminently spiritual woman. But it has to be said that this aspect is common to all the female characters in this tarot, so in the end the "right to hair" is perhaps rendered meaningless here.
With the Mad House Tarot, we're perhaps taking a less sultry approach than the Exotic Cancer Tarot to evoking the femininity of tarot's most spiritual character. Here, the High Priestess sparingly reveals her nudity. Her voluptuous body is a far cry from the gaunt canons of beauty (which, fortunately, are now being challenged). This body may well be that of a pregnant woman, recalling the notion of gestation inherent in this card. The woman reveals herself only partially, denoting both true modesty (without provocation) and mystery, the unknown yet to be discovered and elucidated. For, to journey towards truth and inner knowledge, we must see ourselves as we are, naked as on the first day.
I like the character's multiple eyes, insisting on the lucidity and vision we must acquire. Seeking to see better, all aspects of the world and everywhere. It should be noted, however, that these multiple eyes are characteristic of all the characters in this tarot, not just this card. Pity.
The High Priestess bathing in relatively opaque water brings to mind the idea of a character plunging into the mystery and depths of her being. This practically unsearchable water may evoke the character's unconscious, his emotional interiority, as it is, of course, the element Water. In her introspection, the Papess undoubtedly evokes the development of her emotions through the quest for self-knowledge. And at the end of the Fool's Journey, particularly with the La Maison Dieu (The Tower), L'Etoile (The Star) and La lune (The Moon) cards, emotional intelligence is paramount.
Perhaps more directly and clearly than the Del Fuego Tarot's multiple eyes, the eye on the High Priestess's forehead symbolizes the 3rd eye. This eye speaks of the process of awareness, of self-knowledge. Even if this symbol comes from Eastern cultures, far removed from the Judeo-Christian tradition of the Tarot de Marseille, it's still highly relevant to the fundamental aspects of the Papesse.
As soon as you talk about interiority, people quickly make the association with the Moon. Which makes sense, of course. But the lunar star is certainly a powerful symbol, but it's also a catch-all, used in all sorts of ways. I'm not convinced about its use in the Papess card, for several reasons.
First, if the High Priestess becomes a Moon card. What happens to the Moon card ? What will its significance and symbolic dimension be ? When using a divinatory tool, it's important to avoid overlapping areas of card interpretation. In fact, it's important to avoid expressing the same symbolic aspects through cards that are nonetheless different, at the risk of providing nebulous interpretations. An essential aspect of learning tarot is being able to isolate the meaning of each card uniquely. This approach leads to greater precision and clarity, although I admit it is demanding. Waite happily mixes symbols of very different origins, the whole forming a cloud of truths conveying no clear, precise or synthetic message.
The Papesse is above all a card of introspection, research and gestation. She is a character who listens to her feelings, which is different from intuition. The Papess knows how to read between the lines of the text before her eyes. But here we're talking about lucidity based on intellectual understanding and reasoning. Intuition is immediate knowledge that goes beyond logic and reason. Intuition is a talent that is not developed until much later in the Fool's journey, at the Moon stage. Dodal calls this card "la pances", which probably means "la pensée" (the thought). So it's a question of intellectual ability.
Finally, the Torah is a book of transmission, teaching, law and revelation. The Papess's book is "Her" book, containing her own identity, of which she must be aware. The challenges are not the same. Although I have to admit that it's quite possible that the Papess is also learning the rules of the world around her, and into which she is about to journey. This book could also be a book of laws.
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