The term "hierophany" appears frequently in the works of the religious historian Mircea Eliade as an alternative to the more restrictive term "theophany" (an appearance of a god).
Eliade argues that religion is based on a sharp distinction between the sacred (God, gods, mythical ancestors, etc.) and the profane. According to Eliade, for traditional man, myths describe "breakthroughs of the sacred (or the 'supernatural') into the World" – that is, hierophanies.
In the hierophanies recorded in myth, the sacred appears in the form of ideal models (the actions and commandments of gods, heroes, etc.). By manifesting itself as ideal models, the sacred gives the world value, direction, and purpose: "The manifestation of the sacred ontologically founds the world". According to this view, all things need to imitate or conform to the sacred models established by hierophanies in order to have true reality: to traditional man, things "acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality".