Preachers err by trying to talk people into belief; better they reveal the radiance of their own discovery. Joseph Campbell
My health challenges, alas, have made it rather a struggle to always post on my traditional schedule. But I would not have wanted you to miss the poignant juxtaposition between last week’s High Priestess and the card I pulled this Monday morning – The Hierophant.
His personal message to me was not as involved or direct as the urgency of the High Priestess. But at the end of this article, I will share with you what he gave me.
Meantime, let’s take a more conventional look at his meaning, and what his presence this week may portend.
Speaker of Mysteries
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 negative experiences of religious rules, and the sometimes stifling differences between religion and spirituality.
And this can be valid.
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. He, like The Emperor, are very much tied to patriarchal, top down power structures.
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.
This is, as you may see, in stark contrast to the High Priestess’s encouragement for us to directly experience the Divine, with few if any human rules or interventions.
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.
Of course remember, Osiris was restored to life by the Goddess, Isis, whose crown the High Priestess wears.
In many esoteric and spiritual traditions, the initiatory practice is a ritual of ego death, 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 to a new level of consciousness, even enlightenment.
In other words, through initiation, some form of spiritual and life mastery is promised, and one is given 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.”
The Hierophant offers us an understanding of the Mysteries through formal teachings and interpretation, as opposed to how we may happen upon them, through experiencing a private catharsis. His interventions can be a hindrance, but they were, at least once upon a time, and in some traditions, meant to be protective and helpful.
Between the Worlds
As we enter the magical season of Samhain, we stand on the threshold between the worlds of the living and the dead. It is the turning of the Wheel that ends the old year, and begins the new.
What initiation are you considering? What ending is here and what will you release?
Do new 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 studious ascetic appeal to you? The Hierophant is a 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.
Thus, you may find more success at this time by following a prescribed program or by embracing a tradition. Perhaps you are being urged 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?
Ask an Expert
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 for whom might you be the wise teacher? What important, uncommon knowledge can you share, to guide others and to serve the greater good? How might you step up to be of service?
What He Might Like to Say
I would like to believe the Hierophant can support the urgent messages given to us by the High Priestess last week.
Through systematic training and commitment, he may offer us new levels of spiritual knowledge. But as many have observed of the current Roman Catholic Pope Francis, or the Dalai Lama, the Hierophant’s teachings are far more compelling when they are sourced from a radiance borne of his own experience.
I asked him, and here is what he told me:
“I am a shower of the ways. I have dedicated myself to scholarship, logic, and leadership. I interpret current events, as well as the words and experiences the ancients, so that I can transmit them to the masses and influence humanity.
“My calling is to deliver instructions for the ultimate betterment of society. Civilization on a global scale can’t be founded on each individual making up the rules as they go along. Organization is necessary if cultures are to function fairly and peacefully.
“It was not my intention to undermine the ecstatic intimacy of Divine contact. But I usually see my God as male, and when I am the leader, this has become the basic premise.
“Unlike my counterpart, the Priestess, I am deeply intertwined with the social and political status quo. Over the millennia, that has made me heavy-laden with worldly involvements and wealth that elevate me to power over, not power in cooperation with.
“But if our species is to survive, the time has come to consider the ways that amassing unshared power corrupts.
“I am often called a shepherd, and I have embraced my role as spiritual father of my people. But another term is often given to me: Pontiff. It is a word which means bridge.
“So yes, the time has come when we must recognize women in their revered, ancient roles as Priestesses, teachers, healers, and wisdom keepers. This balance must be restored or else grave peril is upon us.
Thus, I can help bridge the gap between the dying systems of the past, and new ways of a more egalitarian, sustainable, and meaningful future.”
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.