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Description and symbolism
Some frequent keywords associated with The Hierophant include:
- Education — Knowledge — Status quo — Institution
- Leadership — Discipline — Maturity — Formality
- Deception — Power — Respect — Duality
- Social convention — Belief system — Group identification
- Experience — Tradition — Naïve
In many modern packs, the Hierophant is represented with his right hand raised in what is known esoterically as the blessing or benediction, with two fingers pointing skyward and two pointing down, thus forming a bridge between Heaven and Earth reminiscent of that formed by the body of The Hanged Man. The Hierophant is thus a true “pontiff”, in that he is the builder of the bridge between deity and humanity. The Hierophant is typically male, even in decks that take a feminist view of the Tarot, such as the Motherpeace Tarot. The Heirophant was also known as "The Teacher of Wisdom."
In most iconographic depictions, the Hierophant is seen seated on a throne between two pillars symbolizing Law and Liberty or obedience and disobedience, according to different interpretations. He wears a triple crown, and the keys to Heaven are at his feet. Sometimes he is shown with worshippers, as his alternate title is the Pope or, sometimes, Jupiter. The card is also commonly known as "The High Priest," as a counterpart to "The High Priestess" (which itself is also sometimes known as "The Popess," as counterpart to "The Pope").
The papacy was not just a religious force, but was a political and military force as well. When the tarot was invented, the Pope controlled a large portion of central Italy. Renaissance culture did not question the abstract ideal of the Pope as God's human representative on Earth. In Tarot of Marseilles, he wears a red cape and a blue robe, in contrast to The Papess, who wears a blue cape and blue robe.
The more commonly encountered modern name "Hierophant" is due to Antoine Court de Gébelin. According to de Gebelin, "hierophant" was the title of the chief priest in the Eleusinian mysteries (an ancient Greek ritual).
The card stands for religion and orthodox theology. It also represents traditional education or a “Man of high social standing”. These interpretations merely scratch the surface of the card. The Pope card also represents the Biblical story of God’s creation of man and woman. He is can also associated with the Deceiver and with Power over others.
Some interpretations also suggest a link between the card and the myth of Isis and Osiris, a claim made about many cards. Some say the card corresponds to the astrological sign of Taurus, others Leo. Yet another association is with the sign Cancer. In non-Western cultures (Native American, Siberian) the Hierophant retains the role as spiritual guide, wearing here the mask of a shaman who is also the teacher of holy things. In Native America, the mythological association is with the Coyote or Trickster God, one who is a teacher, a benefactor for the spiritual student, but who is often playful or mischievous.
The Hierophant is the card representing organized religion — any organized religion. Its positive and negative aspects are those associated with that religion.
“Hierophant” literally means “the one who teaches the holy things”. Ideally, the Hierophant prepares the Querant spiritually for the adventure of life. The card also represents individuation or the point where a child starts to understand the boundaries between Self and Other, family and the community. This is the point where the individual starts constructing his or her own identity, consciously, unconsciously, or as shaped by exterior forces.
The Hierophant is usually Key 5 of the Major Arcana. Five represents the essence of things as they are, as in the word “quintessence” from the Latin words for five and for nature. It is also the number of the senses: sight, hearing, taste, feeling, and smell. The Hierophant sits on a throne straddling the world of the senses and the world of meaning.
It is related through cross sums (the sum of the digits) with Key 14: Temperance. The Hierophant presents the lessons of heaven to earth. Temperance guides the soul from this world to the underworld.
Some authorities[who?] say that the Hierophant generally represents assistance, friendship, good advice, alliances (including marriages), and religious interests. Reversed; it often refers to bad advice, lies, and persecution.
Others say that it represents the first level of understanding. When it appears in a tarot spread, it is a warning to the Querant to reexamine his or her understanding of the meaning of things; of the structure of the world; of the powers that be. Watch out for hypocrisy.
The Hierophant can also represent someone who stands out as a "pillar of the community", often a person who is respected by others and can be a source of moral authority and is socially respected. He is a group leader and/or teacher of some kind, representing and understanding his group or community, and its history, beliefs, customs and traditions. The Hierophant knows, maintains, protects, and teaches ideas, ideals and principles to other members of his specific group or community, helping them understand who they are and how they are expected to behave as members the same group.
Also, the Hierophant can represent an aware and enlightened leader, having greater awareness, wisdom, and understanding than most, who then gives teaching and guidance to others. For instance, the spiritual prophet who communicates with the divine, then shares his insight and understanding to those in his group, community or society. He is an individual who can possibly perceive things happening in situations on multiple levels. He can see clearly what is happening in a situation, on the surface (on a public or material level), below the surface (on a private or hidden level), as well as above the surface (i.e.: on a global wholistic, or spiritual level.). As well, this can refer to a person may have access to knowledge, understanding, power or influence on a number of levels,or in a number of different ways, that he can use to benefit those he serves, who are part of his specific group, tribe, or community.
When reversed, the Hierophant can represent a person, often a radical leader of some kind, who stands in opposition to the status quo or traditional beliefs or teachings, and/or is likely to take action against these. Or, it can represent someone who gives false, flawed, or unorthodox teachings. This is someone who is opposed to traditional, orthodox, or conservative values, including people such as radicals, rebels, heretics, and iconoclasts.
It can also represent someone who may be a demagogue. One who inflames belief in others, arousing passions, rooted in fear and bias, ultimately leading others towards aggressive,spiritually corrupt,unenlightened, and often violent action, as a consequence of ignorance, misperception, or a lack of understanding. This is opposed to the Hierophant's traditional role of inspiring faith,trust,& hope through communicating traditional teachings, wisdom, and beliefs, guiding others towards greater wisdom, peace, spiritual understanding, and better living.
This card, when reversed,can also represent a cult leader, false prophet, or a false teacher of any subject; someone who serves as a leader of a community or group, giving advice,guidance, or teachings that are corrupt, false, flawed, inaccurate, or socially unaccepted, morally, ethically, or spiritually. This is a person who does not increase a community's wisdom or understanding, but who in reality may only seem to do so, in the eyes of those who believe him or her; but, in reality, he or she has false or incorrect understanding and is giving corrupt,false, or incorrect advice, guidance,or teaching to others.
Summary of Meanings:
When the card is upright: A person or situation involving conservatism, conformity, and honoring traditional values. This could be someone who's a teacher, instructor, religious leader, prophet, or a group or community leader of some kind.
The Hierophant can also be someone who's a "go between" or intermediary of some kind, who's able to interact with and channel use of powerful and unseen forces, unavailable or inaccessible to the masses. He does so for the benefit of the community he serves. This can be someone who has access to, or influence and power within a number of different domains.
When the card is reversed: A person or situation involving radicalism, non conformity, rebellion, heresy, iconoclasm or demagogery; and those who embody these things. The reversed Hierophant can represent a leader of a radical group of some kind, a promoter and defender of some radical ideology that deviates from conventional teachings and beliefs.
It can represent people who may be demagogues, cult leaders, or false prophets. The reversed Hierophant can represent a "false teacher", one who doesn't have true mastery of the subject he or she teaches,or doesn't know what he or she is talking about; though, thinks he or she does, because of his or her ignorance or misperception. This can refer to one who is just a bad teacher, or one who regularly gives bad advice, bad counsel or bad guidance to others. (A person who thinks they know what they are talking about, but in reality does not.)
In Swiss Troccas decks, he is depicted as Jupiter, the Roman King of the Gods.
In the "Flemish Deck" by Vandenborre (c.1750-1760), the High Priest is replaced with Bacus (Bacchus). It shows the God of Wine with his head and waist wreathed in grape leaves. He is seated astride a tapped cask of wine while he drinks from a wine bottle in his left hand.
In the X/1999 Tarot version made by CLAMP, The Hierophant is Aoki Seiichirou.
In the Tarot of the Saints, the Hierophant is St. Peter who is also considered the first pope.
In the Mythic Tarot deck, the Hierophant is depicted as Chiron, the learned centaur.
In Popular Culture
- Dummett, Michael and Ronald Decker. History of the Occult Tarot. Duckworth, 2002.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pope (Tarot).|
- The History of the Hierophant (Pope) Card from The Hermitage.