The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn. --Marcus Tullius Cicero
When I do readings for other Tarot enthusiasts, I find it absolutely fascinating which cards they react against, which they are drawn to, and which they need. More often than not, the Hierophant inspires strong reactions in people. Most people dislike the Hierophant intensely. Hierophant was actually an Ancient Greek priest, "who interpreted sacred mysteries, especially the priest of the Eleusinian mysteries". And later is became known as "an interpreter of sacred mysteries or arcane knowledge." And then funnily, the image on the Hierophant is the Pope, raising his right hand in benediction.
Number five of the Major Arcana, a number often associated with chaos, or rather adventure or action, the Hierophant has a different feel all together. As you play with Tarot, lay out the five of every suit and the fives of the Major Arcana (Some talk about the XIV as another five, while others include the Devil XV) and place all the five cards in a row. Their theme is one of upset. One numerology article I read, which I absolutely think is right on the money, associates Five with freedom, and the process of how we handle our own freedom. The reaction most people have to the Hierophant is a loss of freedom. This is why I love the quote my Marcus Cicero--our own reactions against authority and institutions is the exact obstacle that blocks us from our growth within those institutions.
The interpretations of the Hierophant run the gamut, often reflecting the Tarot reader's own relationships with authority and institutions. One thing most of us agree on is that the dominant themes of the Hierophant are hierarchies and institutions (the Church/organized religion, Higher Education, the government, even the institution of marriage), traditions and the rules. There is more here, though, because of the traditions of the Hierophant as "having the ear" of God, or receiving arcane wisdom and esoteric knowledge. I sometimes see this card as being a pathway to a spiritual opening. There is a distinctly spiritual aspect to this card, and it often gets lost in the swirl of our own preconceived notions of the Church and authority in the Church. And so, this card often challenges the reader to set aside his or her own feelings about the Church.
The symbols in this card help us find some deeper understanding of the card. Hand held high in benediction, which is a blessing, a prayer for Divine help, and spiritual guidance. (Interestingly, the Hierophant again appears on the Death card (XIII) where he is pleading with Death on behalf of a mother and child.) Two fingers up, two down, this is the bridge of heaven and earth. We see this on the Magician as the gesture of pointing to Earth and holding his staff up to heaven. On this card, the Pope is blessing two initiates, recognizable by their distinction hair and matching robes, so the Hierophant is also the teacher. He holds a triple cross, which is a traditional staff of the Pope. Again, the two pillars appear on a Major Arcana card--the High Priestess, the Moon, Justice and the Death card (some people see the people on the Devil and the Lovers as pillars as well). When we see these similar symbols, we make connections, and so these pillars have come to represent Justice and Liberty for some people, or the place we cross into another realm of spiritual understanding. At the feet of the Hierophant are two keys crossed representing the key to knowledge. He holds them. He hands them out. Or maybe you must come through him to find those keys.
Again, so much of this interpretation is subjection to our own bias or acceptance of Church. Even my language in this article could change the interpretation, for example, I could use the word dogma here and change the entire meaning of the interpretation, or I could use the word knowledge. When I read for people, I often have a feeling of the card's meaning, but I will lead with a question like, "What is your relationship to the Church, or to your religion of origin?" Because this card is often about that relationship.
So, how do I interpret this card? Many many many ways. If I was meditating with the Hierophant, I would concentrate on spiritual seeking and the pathway of wisdom and knowledge. I focus on the teachers on my spiritual journey, my Reiki teacher, my Tarot friends, my Crystal Teacher, my spiritual mentors. I actually focus on my daily self-care and the rituals of my spiritual work--cleansing the space, strengthening my EMF, grounding, meditation, salt baths, and meditation/prayer time. I think there is a strong undercurrent of ritual in this card. I sometimes advise my clients to begin a daily spiritual practice when they pull this card. Treat their spiritual opening with reverence and ritual. For readings about love, I often refer to marriage often since this card is about Institutions and societally acceptable forms of love. For those about work, I often talk about the Institution of the job, and wrestling with the authority at work. For questions about one's spiritual path, I often recommend returning to a Church.
The depth of this card is limitless, but one strong element is that this card represents the metaphysical and esoteric knowledge (Arcana means hidden knowledge) available all around us, even in those traditions and religions we dismissed in our rebellious youth if we are willing to look deeper, beyond the scandals and bullshit political dogma perpetuated, to see the spiritual truth. Can we use all our institutions as spiritual teachers? What is part of the spiritual teaching we need is to learn to follow the path laid out in front of us and take direction from all people? Or rather, what if our spiritual lesson is to turn our will and life over to the care of God? And follow direction from a spiritual teacher is our first step in that process?
A great affirmation for this card might be:
I trust in the authority of the Divine and find spiritual lessons in all my experience.
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