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Does The Hierophant Need a Makeover?

This post was written by Barbara Moore
on March 2, 2010 | Comments (29)

Yes, I know…everyone’s most favorite card, right?

Here is the image of the classic RWS Hierophant next to the image from the Tarot of the New Vision (a deck that shows the cards from behind the traditional image):


The High Priestess easily transitioned from the Popess to her current incarnation and is, consequently, one of the cards that most readers relate to. Death often gets changed to Transformation. And even when it doesn’t, many readers are quick to diminish the negative and potentially scary aspects of this card: “It really means change, not physical death!” When the 10 of Swords shows up, we try to shift our querent’s focus to the rising sun in the background.

But not so with the Hierophant. When I discuss this card with my colleagues, their reactions are generally strong and negative. It is understandable. Many of us come to tarot after having bad experiences in organized religion, and a card called The Hierophant and looking like the Pope cannot help but evoke those feelings.

This month, we’re going to discuss The Hierophant, reflect on our feelings about it, look at how our feelings may get in the way of broader concepts and appreciation, and consider if and, if so, how The Hierophant needs to evolve as a tarot archetype.

This month will be all Hierophant all the time. Stick with me. It’s going to be really interesting. I promise.

Each Tuesday and Thursday, I’ll post different images of The Hierophant also known as Key V. Some images will be more traditional and some will be variations, with different names and images. For each one, we’ll consider how it is similar or different from traditional images, whether or not it “works,” and how it might change our interpretation if it came up in a reading.

I know all my readers will play nice. Because people react so strongly, let’s all be mindful of the feelings and opinions of others. Our goal here is to share, further our understanding of ourselves, others, and this card, and to grow.

Here are some questions to get the discussion started:

  • What is your initial response when The Hierophant turns up?
  • How do you interpret it in a reading for yourself?
  • How do you interpret it in a reading for someone else?
  • Does your feeling or interpretation change if using a deck that depicts The Hierophant as something other than a pope or renames the card?
  • How does your primary reading deck or current favorite deck portray or name this card?

Reader Comments

Written By Theresa
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 8:58 am

The Hierophant all month long? Excellent concept! This is a challenging card and for me, it was one of the hardest to get comfortable with. And you are spot on – it’s because of the organized religion aspect of my upbringing. Now that I am okay with that part of my life, the Hierophant no longer seems to be the rigid patriarch that oppressed me – I see the figure as more benevolent and charitable, dispensing spiritual wisdom but maintaining a sense of order. These are qualities I aspire to myself.

Interpreting the Hierophant for others depends on what is being asked and what other cards are present – the positive qualities can be focused on but on occasion, the old stuffy uptight energy can manifest.

I tend to use the same decks all the time so the energy and name are consistent for me. When I look at other decks, I can see new ways of looking at the Hierophant – but there is always that little bit of “standard” interpretation lurking underneath.

By the way, I did purchase that deck Tarot Of The New Vision and I did not like it. As a curious Gemini, I always want to know what is going on behind the scenes – and I must say that I was disappointed by the images on that deck. Perhaps I am channeling the Hierophant by being a tad judgmental there? LOL

I can’t wait to see how this month enlightens us about the Hierophant! Great idea!

Written By Katherine
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 9:19 am

My reaction to this card depends on where it shows up in a reading. Is it a struggle against orthodoxy, or a desire to be more orthodox, to fit into society as a whole? As a society, even though I have struggled with the “Church”, there is still a need for approval from the collective, mainstream world.

Written By Tracy Spears Graber
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 9:42 am

I am not an expert reader by any means, but I have always seen the Hierophant as someone who -benevolent or not- was symbolic of a
hierarchy. No being from an organized religion, I guess that has always made me shy away from this card!
In any case, I am an illustrator myself, and I am working on my own Tarot deck…so I can’t wait to see everyone else’s interpretation of this card!

Written By Ellen Black
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 9:47 am

Interestingly, two weeks ago, I blogged about The Hierophant on my web site: http://www.9elephants.com/blog/index.php?/archives/37-Tarot%20Insight%20for%20Week%20of%2022110%20-%20The%20Hierophant.html.

I’ve always chosen to view The Hierophant as one who is capable of dispensing wisdom, and I’ve never viewed this card is a) being associated with the Pope or b) being associated only with a male figure.

I’m fine with new decks changing the the look, feel, or meaning of The Hierophant. Change is always good, but I’ve never viewed The Hierophant as being a negative card, so I’m okay continuing my work with it as I always have.

Written By Shell
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 10:44 am

When I worked with Mary K. Greer book and got Hierophant as my soul card. I was truly dismayed..over the years I’ve learned to understand the card better. I’m looking forward to learning even more from you and everyone else as we dive into the Hierophant.

Whenever I see the card, I always feel he or she depending on how people like to see The Hierophant is a bit of a trickster. The Hierophant enjoys all the adulation of their fans/followers. He/She also gives standard religious doctrine mixed with deep spiritual truth. Only the ones who are smart enough to gather the truth are gained entry to the hidden knowledge the Hierophant knows.

One of my favorite Hierophant cards comes from Merry Day Tarot. It is a joyful and vibrant version of the more dour Hierophant we often see.

Can’t wait for Thursday’s post.

Written By Barbara Moore
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 10:51 am

Ellen, I loved your post! I particularly like how you suggest using surrounding cards to shape the type of wise advisor might be present and how his/her advice might be different.

In my posts for this month, I only focused on the card itself, not how it might be influenced by other cards. This is why tarot is a lifelong journey. There is so much to think about and many ways to approach things.

It is interesting that you don’t associate the card with the Pope…to me, he looks so like the Pope that I cannot help but make the association. I hope others read your post and consider other ways to consider this card.

Thanks for sharing.

Written By Barbara Moore
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 10:54 am

I don’t have the Merry Day; I’ll have to see if I can find a copy.

I love the idea of The Hierophant as a trickster, although I’ve never him described as such before :-).

The idea of enjoying the adulation of followers is interesting and probably a characteristic, to some extent, of Hierophant characters. In contrast to the Hermit who, in my opinion, does not wish to have followers, fans, or students.

Written By Lunaea Weatherstone
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 11:00 am

I honestly have no problems with the Hierophant, in a reading for myself or for others. For me, the Hierophant is simply a spiritual teacher, someone who has deep knowledge of a particular religious or spiritual path, and who dispenses that knowledge to others. The word “authority” is key for this card — Brother David Steindl-Rast has written about the two sides of this concept, authority in the sense of being an authority (a genuine, knowledgeable source) on a particular subject — in this case, religion or spirituality — and authority in the sense of something that clamps down on free thought, in a power-over way. He said that genuine spiritual/religious authority will always welcome questions and debate. My keywords for this card, therefore, fit nicely on a bumpersticker: Question Authority. The Hierophant is the one you can go to for spiritual teaching, because he/she really does have the goods — there is authentic knowledge there. That’s the basic interpretation for me. Whether that gets any negative spin in a reading depends on the question, the situation, etc. But the basic personality of the card is positive for me.

Written By Barbara Moore
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 11:13 am

Lunaea, I love your comments about this card. A spiritual teacher with authentic knowledge would likely always encourage a questioning of authority, is how I’m reading this.

Given that premise, do we really think the image of Pope or an image that reminds so many people of a pope is the best to convey this idea? That question is really for everyone, not just Lunaea.

Written By Lunaea Weatherstone
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 11:37 am

Well, I’ll answer your question with another question: What else would you use? The tarot is symbolic, not literal, and a pope-like figure (for better or worse, depending on your point of view) is a powerful symbol for religious authority. This reminds me of an email I got from someone about the Star card in the tarot deck I made, which shows a woman leaning back against a large cross. The emailer said that the cross ruined it for her, and asked why I didn’t use a giant pentagram instead. The answer was simply because I wanted it to symbolize faith, generically, not paganism specifically. My feeling was that people who are not Christian (like me) can still understand what a cross symbolizes, and can get over whatever biases they have about present-day Christianity and just interpret the card as being about the sureness of faith. With the Hierophant, it seems that a lot of people don’t (or can’t) get over it, don’t move past the literal image to the symbolism. The only solution there is to simply choose a different deck, not one that depicts the Hierophant as a pope. But I do like the symbolism of the popish imagery, the humble acolytes with their tonsures, symbolizing a commitment to really listening to the teachings, to admitting that someone else may know more than you do about something, with that genuine authority.

Written By Barbara Moore
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 12:21 pm

Nice reply!

As for what else would I use, well, I don’t mean to wimp out, and I’m really not, but I have to save my response until later in the month.

But as for what other ideas people have, we shall see!

Written By Carie
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 1:05 pm

For me in my readings the Hierophant has always meant “they” or “them”. Any faceless instition that has authority over me. This can be a bank, school, credit card company or a church. Also a marriage can be indicated. I usually groan when it comes up and check my bank account- only to find some beanking error I have to attend to. not a positive card for me but necessary.

Written By Barbara Moore
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 1:24 pm

Any faceless institution…interesting! I don’t think I’ve read it in that way. The furthest I go with it (if not regarding spirituality or religion) is formal education. Banks or credit card companies, huh? I’m going to keep that in mind.

Carie, I hear so many people say that: “not positive but necessary” — although some don’t even think he is necessary.

Written By Leslie
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 2:09 pm

I always interpret the Hierophant as a message saying “in this situation play by the rules” don’t go outside the box, make it happen on the road most travelled. I notice the same “pope” figure is in the Death card, being walked over. In that case, the querent is advised to take the chance, make the change, go for it!

Written By Helen
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

The Hierophant often stands for tried and traditional ways, ways in which we conform to, because of upbringing or social pressures. I always like to think the Hierophant is a card that can nudge you into reassessing those values, find out for oneself what their truth is rather than blindly believe what ideas and beliefs that have been ingrained in one since birth.

I think another way to look at this card is to see the Hierophant as a card that reflects our need to understand life better, and one that relates to our inner desires to lift those conflicting needs we have to a higher level.

In readings it varies how I see this card, sometimes as aspects of the self other times as outside influences – When I designed my own Hierophant for Tarot Bella I chose to show a School Teacher sitting in a study holding a glob of the world in his hand. Above his head was a shelf of books – this is because I often see the Hierophant as one who urges you to pursue your own truth and the phrase Knowledge is Freedom comes to mind.

Written By Barbara Moore
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

Knowledge is freedom! Love it. How many people equate the Hierophant with freedom, I wonder 🙂

Written By Barbara Moore
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

Leslie, nice observation about the pope in the Death card. I like that juxtaposition quite a lot.

Written By Helen
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

@ Babs – well I think that is the problem, we see him more as a figurehead that knows more than us, knows what is best for us, but when you find out what these are, conformity and restrictions that are applied by the sysmbolism of the Hierophant, then you are informed and it is that knowledge that gives you the freedom of choice.

I could of course be talking a lode of old cods wallop! 😀

Written By Miriam
on March 3rd, 2010 @ 11:12 am

I see the Hierophant as representing traditional belief systems or teachings. For me, not being very traditional or linear, when he shows up it’s a relief and represents structure that I need and can support mine and others healing process.

Written By Corrine Kenner
on March 3rd, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

I like to go back to the original meaning of the word. Historically, a hierophant was the high priest of Eleusinian Mysteries, an ongoing ritual celebration of death and rebirth in ancient Greece. When Christianity began to spread, church leaders condemned the mysteries, but the rites continued for hundreds of years and greatly influenced early Christian teachings and practices.

Written By vic bean
on March 12th, 2010 @ 1:25 am

Not only is the Hierophant a Spiriual teacher and guide, mentor, ect, this card also represents relegion and all it’s teaching’s. We all have to live by the laws of the Universe. If we don’t then we have to learn, sooner or later! The Hierophant is also linked to Karma, what we did not learn last time around hopefully we may learn this time, or the next time. I have only touched on a couple of things here because the Hierophant, learning, and Karma are very deep and complex learning curves. The squestion here is what are we here for and what do need to exprience and learn!

Written By Gail
on March 19th, 2010 @ 9:23 am

I know many for whom I read have a negative reaction to the Hierophant. I did in the beginning for many of the same reasons. Most of the people I read for are overtly pagan, having left Abrahamic religions for one reason or another. The core reasons surround the struggle with hierarchy and control.

Even leaving that ‘church way or no way’ environment does not immediately change the gut reactions to the image of that kind of authority figure.

Over the years, my attitude towards the Hierophant has changed to the point where I find it a welcome card. To me it means spiritual authority and wisdom. A person to whom you can look for guidance and reliable help. Not someone who will do it for you or –even worse — do it to you.

I think because I’ve walked my own path and had to be my own priest to myself and others, I see the possibilities of the positive in the Hierophant. I do see ME in the Hierophant. Hopefully I and others see that as a positive. 😛

Written By Noelle
on April 19th, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

I am somewhat of a novice with reading the cards, though I’ve been fascinated with them most of my life and have always instinctively followed my intuition. I recently found out that the women in my family have been reading for generations, which helps the skeptical believer in me let go of the need for fact and allow myself to have faith in that which we can’t always see but exists… I have always felt the Universe within me, yet sometimes have allowed the negativity we find in the world to block it.

I did not grow up with religion, but a sense of spirituality, so when I found out that my birth card is the Hierophant, I was was not put off but rather curious. Having read this article and many of the reader’s interpretations of it, I am now excited to hope that my life path may be one of wisdom, with potential to guide others in a positive way.

I can see that some may wish to change the physical image of the Hierophant due to negative connotations from past experiences, and the first image that popped into my mind was the Dalai Lama. Not necessarily the exact image of the current Dalai Lama, but I believe that a representation of that figure may be more comfortable for many people in truly representing knowledge, wisdom and spirituality from a leader who encourages questions, self-exploration and self-expression.

Written By Siobhan
on May 18th, 2010 @ 5:32 am

I love the hierophant card – I have never seen it as negative, despite being in part about organised religions, which I have long moved away from; in any case they are not all bad! It is also about learning from life’s lessons and being your own authority – your own arbiter of what is right and wrong.(Of course it can also be another person outside of ourself but these days is unlikely to be an actual priest). About gaining wisdom and morality through experience. About searching for the good, honest and decent way to live. I am very tied up with the hierophant for several reasons – it has variously been my soul card or destiny card. I have always felt empowered by this not freaked out by it! It is a number 5 card and I am a number 5 person numerically speaking. I often get the number 5 pip cards and they relate back to the hierophant – how can we learn from these painful processes – how can we grow wiser from them? That is the challenge. Number 5 is restless and challenging and the hierophant encourages us to gain meaning from these things and internalise the lessons in order that we learn for our own benefit, but in turn are able to help others and give counsel (if asked!) through what we have come to know. This is what my life has ben like – before I even came to tarot; this card confirms this and helps me on my path which is I grant you sometimes difficult but ultimately fulfilling and meaningful. I might also add that I find it easier to understand than the High Priestess and I do speak as a female!

Written By Geargail Comix
on July 6th, 2010 @ 10:24 pm

The Hierophant – to me is about “honoring” those who gave their lives so that a generation can move forward at some level. (( This might sound CREWL, yet I don’t really understand the concept of WAR vs. PEACE issue at all.)) People who travel very far, and very wide will learn that there’s other Cultures out there.
… It reminds me that “HERE, if you want your LIFE to count – you must learn the Language we teach in Grade School, so you can learn to become an adult. HERE, if you want to discover what VALUE is, one must learn how numbers work. HERE, if you want to learn how to find a voice, you must learn to write your thoughts down on paper.”
… This is an interactive card, because SOMEONE in the picture doesn’t know or understand WHY a person grieves. SOMEONE in the picture doesn’t know WHY, someone is not believed because of the background one comes from.
… You have to explain to the best of your ability, this is why things happen to a certain person, and expect to be ridiculed for trying to tell the truth.
… I consider this to be the SOCIAL WELFARE WORKERS’ card, who must step in and separate families, friends and such so that there will be some peace between others.

Written By Kate
on January 30th, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

It is perhaps a little late to respond but I’d like to tell you of a reading I did for a friend who had just lost her job in hospital administration. She asked what the future held and sure enough the Hierophant turned up as an outcome. I took it to mean that she would get other opportunities in an institutional setting and sure enough she did. First she got project work in another hospital and then she entered the public service in health administration.

Written By Wendy
on April 6th, 2011 @ 8:48 am

I enjoyed this post and all the comments that went along with it.

Whenever The Hierophant shows up for me I always seem to ‘get my back up’. Why? I don’t know. I’ll have to explore that further.

I am going to enjoy getting a new perspective in the coming month.

Thank You 🙂

Written By Russell
on May 24th, 2011 @ 11:21 pm

There is definitely some interesting food for thought, here. My primary reading deck is Aleister Crowley and Lady Harris’ Thoth Tarot, which depicts the Hierophant almost as an abstraction, accompanied by and in ways regulated by a small but striking image of the High Priestess. The Hierophant generally indicates an inner spiritual guide to me, but all Trumps are usually processes in my book, so it does not fully make sense to lock down the Hierophant in such a static role. It can therefore represent a time of instruction or learning; or the process of learning, in a fundamental way.

It is the firmament on which learning stands; it is the questions and obstacles that set out the path (structure) of learning, which you must then set out on. The Hermit appears to me more of that leg of the journey where we are figuring out the answers. The Hierophant (V) is the sort of spring board that takes all of the fiery Aries energy of The Emperor (IV) and says “Now, make that work in conjunction with this very specific and sometimes vexing situation” with all the sternness and stubborness of its Taurian nature; this leads naturally, in time, to the tumultuous and inventive, sometimes divisive, approaches of The Lovers (VI).

To borrow an idea from Gundam: Endless Waltz, you could describe these three as that endless waltz of War (Emperor), Peace (Hierophant) and Revolution (Lovers). Peace has its price, of stability, law and order, sometimes at the risk of free expression, but sometimes as its very framework.

As a side note, I believe it would be interesting to explore this triplicate expression of War, Peace and Revolution in other Trump Triads.


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