The term "high priest" or "high priestess" usually refers either to an individual who holds the office of ruler-priest, or to one who is the head of a religious caste.
In ancient Egypt, a high priest was the chief priest of any of the many gods revered by the Egyptians.
The priesthood in ancient Israel had a high priest who served in the Tabernacle then in the First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Illustration of a high priest in the book Storia dell' Antico e Nuovo Testamento
of Agostino Calmet
, published in 1821.
The New Testament book of Hebrews uses the term "high priest" sixteen times; in ten of those instances Jesus Christ is explicitly or implicitly identified as the office holder (e.g. Hebrews 3:1; 4:14; and 9:11). Some Old Testament texts prophesy of a priest-king (in ancient Israel, priests and royalty were distinct, with priests from the tribe of Levi and kings from the tribes of Benjamin and Judah). Christianity views Jesus Christ as fulfilling these prophecies, effectively superseding the priestly order of Levi, by acting as both eternal high priest and king according to the order of Melchizedek.
- Zechariah 6:13: "Even he shall build the temple of the LORD; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both."
- Psalm 110:2,4: "The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. ...The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek."
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Latter Day Saint sects, High Priest is also among the priesthood offices in the Melchizedek priesthood.
- The 16th-century Maya priesthood was headed by a high priest who instructed the other priests and advised the king.
- Kahuna Nui, presides over the temple or heiau. Below the Kahuna Nui are various types and ranks of priests.
- In Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, the High Priest is considered to be successor to Nichiren, through the lineage of Nikko Shonin.
- In Shinto, a high priest, called a Guji, is usually the highest ranking priest (Kannushi) in a shrine.
- In Ásatrú, the high priest is called a goði (or gyða) and is the leader of a small group of practitioners collectively referred to as a Kindred. The goði are collectively known as the goðar. Some countries use the term Allsherjargoði for national multi-kindred organizations, most notably Iceland's.
- In both the Yoruba religion and a number of its various New World sects, such as Santeria, a high priest is called a Babalawo. The term means wise man, and comes from the Yoruba language of West Africa. A female holder of the title is known as an Iyanifa.
- In Wicca, High Priest and High Priestess are the roles of the man and woman who are leading a group ritual. High Priest and High Priestess are also titles sometimes conferred on the members of a Wiccan coven when they have completed their third, or fifth year of study and practice. Sometimes called Third degree, depending on path or tradition.
- The High Priest and High Priestess are the two highest positions of leadership and administration within the Church of Satan.
Although the title is generally used in connection with a religious organization, some non-religious groups use it either mockingly or by tradition to reference high-ranking offices within the group. For example, in Royal Arch Masonry the Excellent High Priest serves as leader of the chapter. As the title is allegorical in nature, a reference to the Kohen Gadol, the position comes with no religious authority. The phrase is also often used to describe someone who is deemed to be an innovator or leader in a field of achievement. For example, an 1893 publication describes ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes as having been "the high-priest of comedy"
Libertarian talk show host and Fair Tax proponent Neil Boortz often refers to himself on air as the "High Priest of the Church of the Painful Truth".
Musician Nina Simone is often referred to as the High Priestess of Soul.
The High Priestess is the second trump or Major Arcana card in most traditional Tarot decks.
High Priestess is a psychedelic band formed in 2016.