The High Priestess card is one of the most symbolically-rich cards in the entire deck of Tarot cards, and garners more questions about symbolism than just about any other card.
One of the most popular questions is “What are the fruits pictured on the tapestry behind the High Priestess?”
Commonly mistaken for bunches of grapes, the fruits which are pictured on the tapestry behind the High Priestess, are pomegranates.
The simple answer is that pomegranate symbolism throughout history represents female fertility and feminine power. These ancient red fruits also represent beauty and eternal life in multiple cultures and traditions. Pomegranates are commonly associated with the Greek goddess, Aphrodite.
But is the decoding the meaning of the High Priestess’ pomegranates really that simple?
Historical interpretations of pomegranate symbolism are actually much more varied than just “fertility” and “female power”.
One very famous ancient Greek reference to pomegranates is found in the story of Hades and Persephone: Hades tricked Persephone to return to the Underworld by deceitfully convincing her to eat 7 pomegranate seeds. (Interestingly, there are also a total of 7 pomegranates pictured on the High Priestess card.)
This ancient Greek legend is hardly one of “female fertility” or “feminine power.”
If one pays attention to this significantly darker Hades and Persephone reference, then the alternate concepts of temptation and deception should also be considered when interpreting pomegranate symbolism. These same concepts of temptation and deception are also echoed in some ancient Christian symbology, where the pomegranate is sometimes regarded as the original Biblical forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden — instead of the better-known apple.
Not all alternative pomegranate interpretations are quite so dark. It is also said that ancient priests of the First Temple in Biblical Israel bore symbolic depictions of pomegranates inside their robes. Their belief was that pomegranates symbolized learning, wisdom and good-deeds. This correlation of pomegranates with ancient religious leaders is especially notable given the priestly class of the woman pictured on the High Priestess card.
Clearly, pomegranates meant many different things to different cultures. So whose cultural reference should we pay attention to when interpreting this important symbolic element of the High Priestess card?
The answer is all of the above.
Most Tarot readers today regard the pomegranate symbol on the High Priestess card to be a symbol of fertility, beauty, femininity and female-power. But the additional references to temptation and deception, or learning and wisdom may also apply in some specific readings, and can make for more nuanced Tarot readings depending on the question or issue at hand.
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