Redeeming The Hierophant

Top: Dreaming Way Hierophant, Rider Waite Hierophant, Shadowscapes Hierophant. Bottom: Wildwood Ancestor, Aquarian Tarot Hierophant, Wooden Tarot Hierophant.

Top: Dreaming Way Hierophant, Rider Waite Hierophant, Shadowscapes Hierophant. Bottom: Wildwood Ancestor, Aquarian Tarot Hierophant, Wooden Tarot Hierophant.

Such a polarising card, The Hierophant. In fact, polarising could be the wrong word, since its opponents seem myriad and defenders very few! Almost universally disliked might be more appropriate. Stuffy, conservative, oppressively masculine, disciplinarian, tyrannical, overly traditional, restrictive, limiting... These are only a few of the charges often levelled at this card, and when we look at The Hierophant in its historical context, it's hard to disagree. 

Le Pape from the Pierre Madenie 1709 restored Tarot de Marseille

Le Pape from the Pierre Madenie 1709 restored Tarot de Marseille

The Hierophant in modern tarot grew from The Pope of the Marseille Tarot. It was Waite who threw off the overtly church-y title and made it the figure most of us know today, although even with a new name, the Rider Waite system still associates him with "the 'outer way' of church and dogma" (Pollack, 53). Unsurprisingly, this card's association with religious doctrine and Renaissance political power-playing doesn't do much to endear it to the modern reader! 

Apart from the creepy priest/oppressive father figure sort of vibe, The Hierophant signifies education (mean maths teacher?), conformity and orthodoxy (boring!), doctrine (stupid rules!), traditions (but wait, I'm an original thinker!), and patriarchy (don't even get me started). What's not to like, right?!

So, I get it. It can be an ugly pill to swallow, and one that feels like it's going to force itself down your throat whether you want it or not! It's tough to fly in the face of all that tradition (and indeed, would The Hierophant want us to?), but I think there's a possibility here to see the same old stuff from a new perspective. Beneath the papal undergarments, there are opportunities for us to connect with the divine, with our ancestors, and with a long tradition of wisdom that shouldn't be ignored. I'm calling for a Hierophant do-over!

The Direct Line

In the Catholic tradition, The Pope is God's representative here on earth, and in the modern tarot, The Hierophant isn't much different. He's the guy with all the answers, and the one who makes the rules. He's the direct line to the Big Cheese, a conduit for divine grace and wisdom down here on the earthly plane.

Most of us modern seekers, however, know that the Divine doesn't always call the boss's number. We don't need to go through an old guy in a tall hat to connect with god or spirit or the universe or whatever you want to call it. So in that sense, I can see that The Hierophant's privileged position as God's rep is a bit presumptuous and annoying. But! If you'll let me stretch that metaphor, sometimes we just can't summon up the right change for the holy pay phone.

What about those times when we feel cut off from the universe? To whom can we turn when that spirit part of ourselves feels remote, unreachable? Alone? The Magician might tell us to start a new creative project. The High Priestess to go into meditation. The Empress to bring it in for a hug. The Emperor to get back to work. But The Hierophant? He picks up the phone on our behalf and puts us back in touch. Having the numinous on speed dial is his superpower.

They're Called Traditions For a Reason

In practical terms, how does that work? There are a number of forms that lifeline to the cosmos might take, but ultimately, what The Hierophant offers is tradition. When you don't know how to call your power by its name, when you can't see past the separateness into the big everything, traditions and rituals are there for you. These practices, whatever they be in your school of thought, generally become traditions for a reason. I.e., because they work. 

There's no denying that some circumstances demand original, innovative thinking, and for that reason, we can all be glad that the deck contains such out-of-the-box thinkers as The Fool or the Page of Wands. Sometimes, though, conforming to a set of tried and tested prescriptions is just what the doctor ordered. 

Indeed, look at the tarot itself. Although it has undergone countless mutations in the last five hundred years, and countless more of those in the last thirty, the structure, the logic, the tarot-ness of the tarot prevails. We know the difference between an oracle deck, a deck of playing cards, and a tarot deck. Whatever the artwork or philosophy, something of the tarot's internal integrity - that Hierophant quality - remains unchanged. It is within the bounds of that rich tradition that we all get to play!

Your Personal Hierophant

Like all things tarot, the deepest connections come when traditional ideas are placed in personally meaningful contexts. Forget about oppressive old men in tall hats. I've focused on The Hierophant in some of the deck reviews I've done, and you'll see it takes many forms - nature gods, Turkish goddesses, and even sassy felines - which draw out the nuance of this card and its relationship to our spiritual lives. But, even in its most traditional, mitre-wearing incarnation, there are valuable and supportive energies available in The Hierophant. So, where is that energy in your life? 

Look to your teachers, mentors, gurus, sacred texts, predecessors, ancestors, priestesses. Call your grandma, if you can.  Ask, "What does this mean?" "What do I do now?" "I've made a huge mistake and I don't know how to fix it!" and let those tried and tested pathways be your guide. Much like calling your grandma, there's no guarantee you won't get a little tough love for your sins, but you'll get some good advice, too. That's the function of The Hierophant. 

So, how do you feel about this tricky fellow? Love it? Hate it? Don't mind it in the right circumstances? Share your thoughts in the comments!