1. La Papesse

La Papesse or the Female Pope from Tarocchino Arlecchino

About the Card

English Name(s)

The Female Pope, The Popess, The High Priestess


  • Grand Etteilla: Card Number 8
  • Tarot de Marseille: Trump II

Image Description

The Female Pope raises two fingers on her right hand (the sign of benediction) and holds two crossed keys in her left (St. Peter’s Keys of Heaven, one red and one blue). She wears a three tiered crown with a veil, and a black mask with a red nose. Her dress has a red, yellow, and green diamond pattern and over it she wears a black and white cloak clasped with a red cross in the center of her chest. She is sitting and the toes of her blue shoes peek out from under her costume. Two black and gold discs radiate in the corners of the sky above her.

Further Notes

This card depicts Harlequin as Pope Joan. According to legend, Joan disguised herself well enough as a man to rise to the papacy. She was eventually found out in a dramatic way – one version of the story says she was revealed in a shameful public birth (you know how we women are always getting those surprise pregnancies!).

Neither the female nor the male Pope appears in the Etteilla tradition, nor in the modern Bolognese tarocchino. The Etteilla school replaced them with the significators. In later Bolognese decks, they were replaced by Moors (along with the Emperor and Empress), in some effort at political correctness.

Card Number 1 of Tarocchino Arlecchino corresponds to the female significator of the Grand Etteilla. Its keywords are Etteilla (upright) and Querent (reversed). The keywords are drawn from the alternate meanings given by Julia Orsini. The upright meaning is taken from the card art in the Grand Etteilla – it comes at the end of the Biblical days of creation sequence that starts the trumps, hence corresponds to a “day of rest.” I chose the reversed keyword as a reference to Pope Joan’s story.

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Rest, tranquility, quiet, retirement, withdrawal, private life, secret life, life of solitude, hermitage, religious life, silence, taciturnity, composure.


Imitation, disguise, image, impersonation, pseudonym, mimicry, parody, camouflage, illusion, reflection, mirroring, replica, simulacrum, counterpart, counterfeit, apocryphal.