Discussion: The Hierophant

Our Fool has, by this point, been inundated with ideas and mysteries about the universe and his place within it. From the Magician who seems able to bend reality to his will, to the High Priestess whose secret Knowledge knows no limits, to a nurturing mother Empress and stern, authoritarian Emperor, whose balanced but opposing views and priorities build the foundation of an Empire, our protagonist is beset by new concepts and perspectives. Confused and troubled, he heads to a house of worship.

The Hierophant is a difficult card for me, personally, to identify with and interpret. I have a bit of a history with organized religion, and so the image of the Catholic priest or Pope bears some connotations that are not necessarily negative, but not altogether positive either. I imagine, though, that this is the case with many people—Christianity is, after all, the largest religious group in the United States—so at least I’m not alone in my struggle to understand this card.

The Hierophant

V The Hierophant from the Rider-Waite-Smith Taroth

The word hierophant is defined by the World English Dictionary as a person who interprets and explains esoteric mysteries. This definition on its own does not include any reference to any singular religion, dogma, or practice, and it is this definition which we must keep in mind when interpreting this card. The Hierophant of the Tarot is an interpreter, a guide whose knowledge of the Divine places him in a position to offer counsel and wisdom to those who seek it. He provides a map, by which the lost can learn their position and seek to find a Path. In the real world, this person could be almost anyone, really—a preacher or priest, a guru, a teacher… even a boss or mentor at work. My wife would likely consider her yoga instructor to be a hierophant, in a way.

This card goes much further than simply representing a guide or counsellor, though. This card is about a teacher of philosophies; the Hierophant provides not only the map, but the compass as well. With only one tool or the other, the seeker may well be able to find his way or at least approximate his position, but with both, the job is much easier; less treacherous.

The Hierophant is associated with the sign of Taurus, an earth sign. This can be viewed as the Hierophant bringing the Mysteries of the Divine “down to Earth,” through interpretation and understanding. He is commonly depicted with one hand raised in a sign of blessing, with the other hand pointing downward toward the Earth (this posture is frequently seen on other cards as well, including The Magician and The Devil). This arm position is sometimes read as a “bridge” between the Divine and the Mundane—when we consider the other cards in which we see this pose, the connotation becomes much more apparent.

Often, the Hierophant is shown blessing two (or more) congregants or acolytes. Not only does this drive home the idea of the Hierophant as a spiritual leader, but also as the leader of a community. This card does not favor individuality of thought or action. Rather, this is a card about coming together with others to share in something greater than the Self. This can be a celebration, or ritual, or the realization of a tradition—any activity or event that pulls people together. This card can often be read to indicate some sort of community involvement.

The Fool, now in possession of a kind of “road map” for the rest of his Journey, departs once more, a little more confident in his understanding of the world, and a little less naïve about his place in the Universe.

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