The Popess is certainly a curious figure. In fact, she derives from the legend according to which Pope John VIII was actually a woman who hid her true sex.
In medieval times, it was a legend that spread among the population with incredible speed, and became a deeply rooted figure in popular culture.
When I started studying the history of the Tarot, I was struck by the fact that this figure, which today appears almost “scandalous”, did not arouse the slightest censorship by the Ecclesiastical State, either during the High Middle Ages or during the Early Middle Ages when this figure appeared among the Tarot cards, which were printed openly without any type of prohibition regarding this card. The Ecclesiastical State was probably quite happy to let the people enjoy their traditions and superstitions as long as they did not interfere with observance of the faith.
The Popess is holding a book on her knees. This book is open, but she is looking straight ahead, emphasizing that this is the representation of a wise figure who does not have to look at the book. Instead, she is trying to encourage the querent to read it, to learn the knowledge it contains.
The depiction on the card is full of drapes, or more properly veils. The drapes of the Popess are in fact lavish and plentiful. There is a drape behind the throne on which she is sitting, and there is also a veil on her head, between her head and crown.
The Popess’s veil is the veil that covers the reality of things (in fact, we say “reality unveiled” in reference to knowledge of facts that are still hidden).
The Popess is therefore a wise figure – and also a kind one – who knows everything and who has all the tools to help us to discover the reality of facts.
You can find other articles like this in the section:
“Meaning of Tarot Cards”