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The High Priestess – Moon Dancer

The High Priestess – Moon Dancer

When last we left our intrepid adventurer, she was looking at what many consider to be the most “traditional” of Tarot decks, the Rider Waite Smith deck. Specifically, the post concerned the third of the Major Arcana, the High Priestess, Roman numeral II.

I invite you to go back to that post if you haven’t read it yet. Understanding what we saw in that card will inform the differences and similarities we will see in this next post.

The other High Priestess I’d like to explore together is in Ciro Marchetti’s Gilded Tarot Royale.

woman naked except for a starry veil. flying/dancing over water. behind her are two columns that come up out of the water. There is an enormous waning crescent moon above
Marchetti Gilded Royale

On the face of things, The Gilded High Priestess is nothing at all like the RWS’s. The Gilded HPS is clearly in motion. Where the RWS card shows a priestess veiled and mantled from head to toe, this priestess is naked except for the starry/water-spangled veil flowing around her, a silver armband, and the broad net of a gold hair ornament.

While the RWS card shows us the edge of a block on which the priestess sits, this card is the picture of ecstasy. This priestess is bent back with her face turned up, eyes closed, chest forward, arms back as in the Exalted Warrior yoga pose. One toe touches the cerulean-and-aquamarine water beneath her where the shadows of fish seem to swim. Otherwise, she flies, whether carried by her own power or by some other magic or divine force.

She still retains an object in hand, even in her ecstasy. The scroll of the RWS card has become a leather-bound book she holds in her left hand.

The pillars of the High Priestess’ temple remain, and these are reflected in the water beneath and around the main image. The pillars are the same color as one another, a sort of amalgam color of the waters, and they have something in common with the Corinthian-looking images of the RWS columns. The tops of the Gilded Royale columns, though, have what look like vacuum tubes or electric resistors on them, one dark and one light, each with a thin brass or gold circle around it atop the column.

The Gilded Tarot Royale is not only dreamlike and fanciful, but it has these moments of sort of steampunk aesthetic. Gears. Wheels. Power sources. That aesthetic comes through in these vacuum-tube column capitals.

Above the columns, at the very top of the card, is a crescent moon, waning, partly obscured by clouds wispy enough to allow some starlight through. This is not the waxing-full-waning moon of the crown of the RWS Priestess. And yet it is crowning the Gilded Royale Priestess and all that is around her. The columns, her starry veil, the waters, and of course herself, all crowned by that moon.

The water and the dominating moon do remind me of the Moon (XVIII) card. That card also has columns, and water and has a giant full moon dominating the top of the card. And it is generally read as a card about the subconscious, as, in some ways, is the High Priestess.



Where the Moon card has the dangerously changeable, alluring, delusional aspects of the moon always lurking, I do not read the High Priestess that way.

So what to make of this ecstatic dancer?

I believe the key is in her closed eyes.

More traditional images of the High Priestess/Popess give her a mantle or veil and sometimes the veil is beaded and covers her eyes, as the Dark Isis. This Dancer-Priestess veils her own eyes. She travels between the worlds, from on high to impossibly deep just as her pomegranate-veil self does.


She flies above the waters of the subconscious governed by that moon moving towards dark. The temple veil has become her own diaphanous starry veil. Or is it simply the waters of the subconscious from which she has emerged, clinging to her mantle? The book of knowledge remains with her, even in her transport, because she is its keeper.

While this deck doesn’t show the High Priestess as the still guardian, waiting for petitioners, even in the Gilded Royale She is still the interior traveler. Still the one who moves between sea and sky, with just a hint in the background that there is indeed land to return to.

Do we follow Her in Her dance? Are we overawed and reluctant to take a hand flung out with such abandon? Do we fear to wake the dancer? Can what She knows be known in the light?

Perhaps we fall from our sunlit height into the card, drawn to the Priestess as to a flame above the looming depths?

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