We recently discussed how the cards of the major arcana undulate with opposite natures throughout. (See “Oppositional But Not Defiant: The Variable Nature Of The Major Arcana”, published Sept. 10, 2012.) An understanding of The Hierophant is perhaps best approached by thinking about opposing qualities, as well. Teacher and tyrant, dogma and belief, nonconformity and rigidity are all very diverse aspects that can be seen in the fifth triumph. The Hierophant also symbolizes two actions that can appear to be similar, but which spring from very different motivations. We’ll dub this duo as “Spirit sharing” versus proselytism. This group of opposing qualities expresses a broad spectrum of ways to approach the matter of faith.
For example, in its highest expression The Hierophant works in concert with the High Priestess, with she as the keeper of secrets and he as the revealer of hidden knowledge. In a disintegrated state, however, this card can demonstrate faith held hostage by religious regime. The most common interpretation for The Hierophant is that of traditional religious authority, but Paul Foster Case takes a different perspective, describing the forces expressed here as the link that leads from outer experience to inner enlightenment. The qualities described in The Hierophant act as a bridge between empirical knowledge and belief.
The symbolism in the Rider-Waite deck is relatively easy to grasp. The keys at the feet of the Hierophant, also known as The Pope in some decks, represent the powers of the conscious and superconscious minds. The priests signify thought and desire, and their attitude of attentive listening symbolizes inner hearing. The stone pillars embody the principle of duality, and are a reference to a connection between the Hierophant and the Priestess. Finally, the scepter contains all of the meanings of the Magician’s Wand, with particular emphasis on the channeling of Universal Light and Energy. All of these are emblematic of a connection with Higher Power and demonstrate that the Hierophant represents forces far greater than simple ecumenical authority.
In a reading intuition, inspiration and a kind of inner hearing are strongly indicated by the appearance of The Hierophant. Qualities of a person represented by this card are loyalty, generosity, serenity, sensitivity, affection and a great understanding of the needs of other people. This person loves change, new experience and meeting people. Curious and adaptable, this is someone highly energized by travel and adventure. Equipped with an unconventional nature, this person is enthusiastic and can always be counted on to think clearly in a crisis. A spiritual leader might be indicated. The ability to teach is a quality of this card. Another possible meaning is an alliance of some sort, perhaps a marriage ceremony.
Metaphysically, The Hierophant is a symbol for the moment when an event takes on more than ordinary Meaning. It also represents the practices and disciplines we use to help create a pathway for a connection with Higher Power. I’ll leave you today with this quote from Paul Case on the nature of this card. He leads into this comment with a discussion of Vav, the Hebrew letter associated with The Hierophant, and explains that Vav conveys the idea of Union. The next thing you know, he’s got the Pope doing Yoga!
“Yoga is a system of practice whereby the personal consciousness is linked to universal conscious energy. Its object is direct, first-hand experience of those phases of reality which are the basis of all religions…It is not miraculous. Rare it may be, but it is perfectly natural, and a human being who addresses himself earnestly to preparing for this kind of experience will find what he seeks. We shall find, presently, that the Hierophant in Tarot is a symbol of the mode of conscious activity which takes form in such experiences.” Paul Foster Case, from “The Tarot: A Key To The Wisdom Of The Ages”, originally published in 1947.