Welcome to the third in an ongoing series of entries studying the trumps of the Tarot deck and how characters and situations in fiction relate to those trumps. My first entry regarded Agent Dana Scully as the Fool, and the second entry looked at Agent Dale Cooper as the Magician. Today we go a little farther afield both in the manner of fiction presented and the role of the character herself, with Galadriel, from the Lord of the Rings, also known as the Lady of Light.
Not going to lie, this post was a tricky one; there were very few good candidates that readily sprang to mind, and while the High Priestess is important, in some ways she doesn’t have the higher visibility of some of the later trumps. After a lot of consideration, I thought that Galadriel was probably the best choice, but I could still be swayed in another direction.
For those not aware of Galadriel’s history beyond the Lord of the Rings trilogy (both film and book), her involvement in the central conflict of the War of the Ring dates way back, to when Sauron posed as Annatar, the loremaster who taught the craft of the Rings. She was suspicious of Annatar from the beginning, and was one of the three elves chosen to bear the rings of the elves when Sauron attacked.
Here we begin to see the parallels between Galadriel and the Priestess. In the Tarot, the Priestess represents the guardian between two worlds, standing before the gate between of our world and the great mystery beyond. Galadriel fits the bill when she used the power of her own ring to make Lórien an otherworldly refuge, holding the line between the world of Sauron and the world of the elves. In fact, we also see her in this role when the Fellowship arrives, standing as guardian between the world of light which she occupies and the world of the dark which the Fellowship has just exited (the Mines of Moria) – but we’ll get to that in a bit.
The High Priestess represents wisdom, serenity, knowledge and understanding, as well as spiritual enlightenment and inner illumination, divine knowledge and wisdom. She has a deep, intuitive understanding of the Universe and uses this knowledge to teach rather than to try to control others. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s basically what we see when the Fellowship reaches Caras Galadhon, after emerging from the Mines of Moria. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “the Lady of the Light” appears so closely after they escape the darkness and the Balrog. Here she uses her power of telepathy to test each member of the fellowship, determining the power of their resolve. Yes, even here she serves as a gatekeeper, ready to prevent them from passing through should one of them fail the test.
Interestingly, she is also tested when Frodo Baggins offered to give her the One Ring. She feels the full power of the temptation, hinting at what she could have become, but knowing that its corrupting influence would make her “great and terrible”, and recalling the ambitions that had once brought her to Middle-earth, she ends up refusing the ring. She offers each of the fellowship gifts as symbols of faith, hope, resignation and goodwill; resignation being the most important, as she is preparing to pass from Middle-earth.
She has one last role to play in the War of the Ring: it is she who helps Gandalf return to strength after his ordeal with the Balrog, clothing him in white as an annunciation of his new role as head of the Istari, almost literally becoming the arbiter between dark and light.
That brings us to the one other manner in which Galadriel fulfills the role of the High Priestess. If you look at the card, you’ll notice the Letters B and J on the pillars. These stand for Boaz and Jachin, and are pillars from King Solomon’s Temple. Boaz (the black pillar) is roughly translated as “completion” and Jachin (the white pillar) is “begin.” Thus, the high priestess sits between the end and the beginning. So, too, did Galadriel sit between both. She was present when Sauron revealed his true nature, and is present at the closing of Sauron’s age.
On a personal note, Galadriel has always resonated with me. I first read the trilogy when I was very young, still in elementary school, in fact, and Galadriel caught my attention even then. I’m not even sure why I like her so much, though I suspect it has something to do with the combination of kindness, strength, and vulnerability that I like to see in characters. She’s also somewhat unusual in that she’s a woman of authority in an older work of high fantasy, especially one that doesn’t devolve into some form of pandering. Of course, also looking at her as a gatekeeper between two worlds, it makes even more sense that I like her, as I’ve always been fascinated by characters in this role.
I’m going to try to stick to a regular schedule for this feature from now on, and have created an ongoing list at the top of the page. Please feel free to make suggestions for each of the trumps; this isn’t going to be an easy process!