Original Historical Hierophant
Thursday, June 1, 2017
The Hierophant Card
The Hierophant: Interpretations today
There are at least two ways of finding meaning in the figure in The Hierophant card of Tarot: (1) An authoritative religious leader of an organized religion, or (2) An historical High Priest of religious practice in an early, ancient, pre-Christian civilization.
In some Tarot decks, including the Waite and Marseilles decks, “The Hierophant” resembles a Pope dressed in a papal robe and a three-tiered papal tiara. His two fingers are raised in the sign of blessing and he is holding a three-tiered cross. There are also two pillars behind him and two crossed keys in front of two acolytes at his feet. The keys are metaphoric symbols of the keys to heaven given to St. Peter by Jesus. They represent the authority to “bind” (forbid) and “loose” (permit) behavior. The interpretation is clearly a Christian authoritarian figure such as the leader of the Catholic Church. Symbolically, this interpretation of The Hierophant represents the teaching of esoteric religious dogma and signifies one who instructs followers in the rules and regulations of acceptable behavior determined by the church, based on the principles and morals of a Christian life, or in a more inclusive view, the practices of Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or other religious traditions. In a positive sense, The Hierophant represents a wise Father-image, the leader of a community or congregation, guiding his children by acting as a go-between God and the people, who says prayers and sends blessings on their behalf.
In a reading, considering the reference to a Pope, the interpretation here is that you better know who you are in relation to God, or Goddess, Creator/Creatrix, or not at all. When you receive “The Hierophant,” this indicates someone in your life who is a teacher, a mentor, or guide, as one who instructs you in the doctrines of some religious practice or institution, such as a church, monastery, synagogue, mosque, ashram, or Temple. This could be someone who provides spiritual direction when you need help rather than psychological counseling. When the card is reversed, you might question authority and rebel against anyone trying to tell you what to do, or not to do.
One of the most well-known Popes, Pope Julius II, (1503-13) was made famous by his interactions with Michelangelo in the 16th century in their feud over how to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The Pope complained constantly about how long it was taking and Michelangelo complained that he didn’t pay him often enough. They argued over what it should look like and what biblical personages to paint, but meanwhile, the Pope was also engaging in a war with France. (He was called the “Warrior Pope.”) So, Michelangelo painted the Pope’s face on the prophet Zechariah. Ever since the church’s founder, St. Peter, was the first Pope (32-67), there have been 266 Pope’s to the present Pope Francis (2013). Today, it is hard to imagine the power the Popes had in earlier European history.
“The Hierophant, even while giving you his blessing…warns you…here are laws of order and harmony
that must be complied with, in order to achieve success and happiness.”
“Tarot and Astrology,” (Muriel Hasbrouck, Destiny Books, 1989)
Original Historical Hierophant
In another interpretation, the term Hierophant referred to the High Priest officiating in the cult of the Grecian Goddess Demeter (Ceres), located in Eleusis, Greece. The Hierophant presided over seasonal celebrations of the Greek pantheon of gods around 1500 B.C. Those were pre-Christian times, and secret rituals and sacred ceremonies were carried out by the Hierophant expressive of the agrarian earth goddess. These were called the Eleusinian Mysteries and mysterious rites were enacted in observance of Demeter, goddess of nature, and told the story about the abduction of her daughter, Persephone, by Hades, who took her to the underworld. These rituals may have been enacted as a play. Demeter’s symbol was a sheaf of wheat symbolic of the goddess of agriculture. The Hierophant may have performed secret rites that would have evoked a vision for the participants of the goddess herself. We are still reminded of Demeter today in astronomy and astrology with the asteroid named Ceres. (See my previous blog on The Hierophant, August 2010)
“The Eleusinian Mysteries were a celebration of the forces of earth…”
“The Mysteries,” (Colin Wilson, Putnam, 1978).
The Hierophant card of Tarot of Cosmic Consciousness symbolizes a teacher of nature’s mysterious and complex processes of earthly life: cell-division, exponential growth (Logarithmical Spiral), and the great mystery of life of flora and fauna (Chambered Nautilus),
evolving in a vast, interconnected living system. Life is emerging spontaneously through a process of self-organization, self-replication, self-operation and self-correction. It’s time to contemplate the question: What is life? What is consciousness? How can a tiny seed contain what it takes to grow into a huge tree? What prompts cells to divide and create more cells? What motivates a living entity? James lovelock has proposed the Gaia theory, a non-mechanistic view, “…about the tightly coupled system whose constituents are the biota and their material environment, which comprise the atmosphere, the oceans and rocks. Self-regulation of important properties such as climate and chemical composition, is seen as a consequence of this evolutionary process.” Gaia, A New Look at Life on Earth (James Lovelock, Oxford University Press, 1979)
“We urgently need to find practical ways of re-establishing our conscious
sense of connection with living nature.”
“The Rebirth of Nature,” (Rupert Sheldrake, Bantam Books, 1994)
In a reading, The Hierophant card can be viewed as someone who interprets and gives