Don’t confuse the teacher with the lesson, the ritual with the ecstasy, the transmitter of the symbol with the symbol itself.
Another visit from the Major Arcana this week, this time with a visit from The Hierophant.
With its obvious reference to the Roman Catholic pope, many people are put off by their perception of him as judgmental and inflexible, or by their own experiences of religious rules, and the sometimes stifling differences between religion and spirituality.
At the top of a complex power hierarchy (a word that shares the same root with his own name) and his astrological ties to Taurus, The Hierophant can tend towards being stubborn, even hidebound. Yet Arthur Waite rejected naming this card The Pope (as it was in previous decks), because he felt that it was too narrow an interpretation, specific to only the Roman Catholic faith.
Hierophant is an ancient term that refers to the priest of the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries. It translates as, “a speaker of mysteries,” the interpreter of secret or esoteric knowledge. He was the translator, the go-between, that offered the word of the Gods in ways the populace would obey and understand.
One of the most noticeable features of The Hierophant is his crown. In their book The Secret Language of the Tarot (a must-have, in my opinion, for all serious Tarot people), Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone note that this papal tiara consists of three gold diadems, “signifying divinely sanctioned rule over three kingdoms…” and which may also be a reference to the three initiatory degrees of Masonry. His three-tiered cross is similarly symbolic.
Certainly, there is much in this card that points to spiritual initiation. He sits between two columns that are similar to those of the High Priestess, the columns from the Temple of Solomon called Boaz and Jachin. The Amberstones point out, however, that these columns are connected to Osiris, the Egyptian God whose own death and rebirth embody the process of initiation itself.
I find it illuminating that the appearance of the Hierophant follows last week’s rare visit from the Wheel of Fortune. In many esoteric and spiritual traditions, the initiatory practice is a ritual in which, having proven a satisfactory degree of rigor and discipline according to some prescribed manner, the seeker then receives a transmission of knowledge and insight that will elevate him or her beyond the whim of chance, or the Wheel of Fate.
In other words, through initiation, some form of spiritual and life mastery is promised, and one is elevated to the status of adept. Thus, The Hierophant sits between the two columns at the entryway to the Holy of Holies, challenging and blessing the seeker.
At his feet, there are two tonsured priests kneeling, one wearing the roses of passion, devotion and the heart. The other is cloaked in the white lilies of sacrifice, intellect and purity. These are the same flower symbols we see in The Magician, which, to me, illuminate both the connection and contrast between Magician as shaman, and Hierophant as priest.
In The Power of Myth, the late, famed comparative mythographer Joseph Campbell wrote, “The priest is the socially initiated, ceremonially inducted member of a recognized religious organization, where he holds a certain rank and functions as the tenant of an office that was held by others before him; while the shaman is one who, as a consequence of a personal psychological crisis, has gained a certain power of his own.”
So The Hierophant offers us an understanding of the Mysteries through formal teachings and interpretation, as opposed to how we may come upon them, through experiencing a personal spiritual crisis.
So will The Hierophant’s teachings now guide us to transcend the Wheel of Fortune? Can he offer us new levels of spiritual knowledge? Or does he instead block our way forward, with his formal rules and rites interfering with our access to the realms of heaven?
As the season of Imbolc approaches, what initiation are you considering? What studies call to you? And how will you embrace those lessons – with the red roses of the passionate heart’s devotion? Or does the path of the disciplined, studious ascetic appeal to you? The Hierophant is the teacher who blesses both.
Could you be in need of more discipline, structure, or an ancestral lineage of wisdom? The Hierophant offers the rewards of group experiences: spiritual groups, clubs, teams, and our social institutions. He is the one who codifies, preserves, and interprets the lessons of humanity into patterns and systems of behavior that serve the greater good.
So, you may find more success at this time by following a prescribed program or by embracing a tradition. Perhaps you are being challenged to be included in a group, or led by a teacher, guide, or guru.
Also this week, pay attention to your own internal sense of right and wrong. Whose influence has determined your code of morality? Is it still relevant?
What advice is being offered this week from experts? Consider all the people you must depend on, to translate today’s complex and esoteric data into information that you need: doctors, attorneys, politicians, pundits, technical support, financial experts, and, yes, even Tarot readers.
Do you simply take their word on faith? Why or why not? Whose counsel do you seek when you are presented with complex challenges?
And to whom could you be the wise teacher? What important, uncommon knowledge can you share, to guide others and to serve the greater good?
The Hierophant does not demand blind, mindless obedience. But his can be a powerful system of belief and rules. We must choose wisely when to trust, and when to find our own way.