Marseille Tarot 101: The Popess

Like most people who read tarot in the English-speaking world, I started with the the Waite-Smith deck. However, these days I prefer the Marseille Tarot more and more because it is straightforward and clear and not a convoluted mix of various occult disciplines and symbology as is the case with Waite-Smith (I go into more detail about my approach here).

In this series, I go through the cards of the Marseille Tarot one by one to show you how you can build up your personal interpretation for the cards so you can start reading the tarot with confidence all on your own.

A few tips before we begin

If you’re a beginner who has never read tarot cards in your life, throw out the idea that you won’t be able to understand what the Popess means. As you’ll see in a moment, you’ll only really need to use your eyes and common sense. In my experience, tarot works best when you’ve figured out your own system for interpreting the cards as I’ve described below.

If you know how to read tarot, be prepared to put that knowledge aside. In the Waite-Smith deck this card is called the High Priestess. Although a catchy name with esoteric promise, I personally think the original name speaks to an important aspect of the card. The Popess is believed to be referencing Pope Joan, a woman who reigned as pope for a number of years by hiding her gender; they only found her out when she gave birth. Quite the story, and it ties in with the meaning of the card.

Understanding the Popess card

To understand the Popess card, take a good look at the card.

Here it is:

With this in mind, fill out the following with your own keywords to describe the Popess card.



Personality traits:


Other information (movement, gender, form, etc.):

Here’s my list – feel free to add other keywords or take some out. The goal here is to make a list that accurately describes this card, but that you also personally resonate with.

Verbs/actions: read, pray, contemplate, study, learn, know

Adjectives/personality traits: secretive, silent, discreet, intuitive, mysterious

Professions: religious or spiritual leader (but not one who is overly concerned with form or offering direct guidance), witch, cunning woman, scholar, esotericist, those concerned with the written word

Other information (movement, gender, form, etc.): This card is quiet and slow, but a lot is still going on. The figure looks to the right and appears to be thinking long, deep thoughts based on wisdom, not just the knowledge she’s gotten from the open book on her lap. This card is also very much about secrets, the hidden and mystery, both of an esoteric and spiritual nature as well as within the figure herself, whose gender is not what it seems on the surface.

Once you’ve made your list, jot it down in a notebook to help you later when we start telling stories with the cards. I’ll move on to the next card soon.