Inspiring Enchantment & Illumination with Tarot & Intuitive Guidance

Tarot Card of the Week – Nov. 19 – 25

The Hierophant
“All things, oh priests, are on fire . . . The eye is on fire; forms are on fire; eye-consciousness is on fire; impressions received by the eye are on fire.”
— Buddha

How interesting to pull this card for the first time since I first began writing up the card of the week in January, 2005. Just last night, several members of our Circle got together to view the video, “The Power of Myth,” the series of interviews by Bill Moyers of the late Joseph Campbell, famed comparative mythographer. In one episode, Campbell discussed at length the contrast between the shaman and the priest. I found it exciting, because it reminded me of the powerful differences between the Hierophant and the Magician.

In many Tarot decks, this fifth card of the Major Arcana is called the High Priest or the Pope. But, despite its recognizable image, Arthur Waite rejected calling this card the Pope, because he felt that it was too narrow an interpretation, specific to only the Roman Catholic faith. An ancient term that refers to the priest of the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries, the Hierophant is a speaker of mysteries, or interpreter of secret knowledge. Today, he can represent any formal religious or educational system, particularly those whose knowledge is not available to the ordinary layman, such as medicine, the law, or highly technical areas. He also may refer to the power of our social institutions, and the codification of our behavior.

Campbell notes, “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 having a personal shamanic experience.

“Joseph Campbell,” writes Belden C. Lane, professor of theological studies at Saint Louis University, “was uneasy with theology because of its penchant for codes and creeds and its abandonment of poetic language. He cited Jung’s warning that religion can easily become a defense against the experience of God.”

In her discussion of the Hierophant, Rachel Pollack notes that many in our free-spirited culture would agree. We may chafe at the idea of an institutional system serving us our mystical knowledge second-hand. But these institutions were created with good intentions and our permission. The truth is, most people believe they have neither the time, nor the inclination to personally undergo the sometimes terrifying, often life-shattering encounters with Mystery.

With this week’s Hierophant, perhaps you are in need of more discipline, structure, or the “trappings” of ceremonial power. The Hierophant offers the rewards of group experiences: spiritual groups, clubs, teams, and our social institutions. He is the one who supports, preserves and interprets the lessons of humanity into patterns and systems of behavior that serve the greater good.

You now may find more success by following a prescribed program or by bowing to tradition. We all have to rely on experts sometimes, and you may encounter someone whose credentials are impressive indeed. This may be the time to find a teacher who can guide you to a new level of expertise. Perhaps you will be given the chance to be taught the inner workings of some field of knowledge that is important to you.

The formality of rituals, groups, and institutions are important and very natural to humans. Choose wisely when to give your trust to the expert or guru, and when to follow your solitary path, finding your own way. In both cases, may your journey be Divine!

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  • November 19, 2007, 1:57 pm Copper Asetemhat Stewart

    Oh, this one is juicy and I may have to let myself be inspired by it. I’ve been blogging about “Pagans and Prophets” and feel that the prophetic function reconciles shamanic and priestly functions.

    Consider the difference between received knowledge and second-hand knowledge–received knowledge tells us how to bake a cake, whereas second-hand knowledge tells us what one looks like. Received knowledge is much more useful. It’s the old “teach a bear to fish” story, no?

    Now if this is about EXPERIENCE, then we can bake our own cake based on received instructions and eat it and have our own experience, but we usually never want to eat what comes out the other end of someone else’s direct gustatory experience. 😉

  • November 19, 2007, 3:32 pm Beth Owl's Daughter

    Copper! Not too sure about the having your cake and eating it too analogy… I’ll have to chew on it a while. (HA! I couldn’t resist…)

    But I twinkle what you’ve written on your blog about all this…

    You might find this additional tidbit from Rachel Pollack’s section on the Hierophant in her Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom an interesting jumping off point as well:

    “Still we must not think that the outer doctrine of religion serves no purpose to the seeker. Like the general education, it gives the individual a firm tradition in which to root his or her personal development. The modern Western phenomenon of a kind of eclectic mysticism, drawing inspiration from all religions, is an extremely unusual development.

    “This is based, possibly, on global awareness plus the view of religion as a psychological state divorced from science and history.

    “Thus we see religion as an experience rather than an explanation of the universe and accept that all religious experiences are valid, whatever contradictions they show on the surface.

    “While this idea opens great possibilities, many people have noted its potential shallowness.

    “The fact is, throughout the centuries, the great mystics have always spoken from deep within a tradition… In its best aspect the Hierophant (as outer doctrine) can give us a place to start in creating a personal awareness of God.”

  • November 19, 2007, 4:19 pm Copper Asetemhat Stewart

    Thanks! What I’m working on will have to surface slowly, I think, but it comes synchronously with thoughts about institutions, knowledge, hearsay, the danger or regret of wasted belief, etc… Pollack may give me something to bounce off of, though I won’t quote her without knowing the work better–but it’ll definitely help me flesh it out. For me, the card is thematically on target and may manifest as ordering and systematizing some ideas this week, but I’m sure they’ll be a little more “disestablishmentarian” than Pollack’s hierophant would like. 😉

  • November 20, 2007, 3:36 am Rena

    Hey, Beth –

    Another big bingo for this one for me.

    Sometimes the having to carry it all myself just gets too heavy and comes to a head… like lately. I recently posted to my forum on it (I wish I could share that, but it’s in Hebrew), and also sent some thoughts out to my coven, both a couple days ago – so far no response. I guess there aren’t many folks out there who’ve gotten to the point of having the magic pour in, wave after wave, for a long time and then lost it again, fallen back to where any effort at all undertaken alone seems like too much.

    Sometimes I feel like, ok, maybe I can put things back together, a bit at a time, as much as I can whenever I can, but other times there is no energy for anything.

    I was going to send this as an email rather than actually posting it, but figured if anyone can relate to it, it might be Copper, so here goes. Not that there’s anything anyone can do from over there – if any intervention would help, it would probably have to be pretty intense, exactly the kind of structure this card implies, for a while – but it hit me hard enough to want to share it… Besides, nothing like a concrete experience to flesh out your more general ponderings. Sometimes, the absence of an external structure is the soaring freedom of personal experience of mystery. Sometimes, it’s an unchecked plunge into the abyss.

  • November 21, 2007, 5:59 am Copper Asetemhat Stewart

    As Tarot, the whole comment about “structure” is much broader than a religious/spiritual context alone, so I’m sure my reaction to the figure varies depending what domain of life. I react against structure where authority seems likely to overreach–politics and religion are at the top of that heap; education is somewhere in the middle. Like HPs, this card has TWO columns and there are TWO figures before–so there’s some CHOICE in our orientation to the figure. I think what I react to is not Hierophant per se, but the RESPONSE to the figure, or the REASON for the approach. There’s too much voluntary slavery, and that’s not good for anyone.

    I think that Abyss is 1/2 the Work, though, and unavoidable. It can come within and because of institutions and teachers as much as apart from them–indeed, my primary experience of the Abyss is from within structure. I guess we get it coming and going, which might be why these figures are TAROT and MAJOR arcana to boot, no? They’re everywhere, and they’re coming….


  • November 21, 2007, 8:26 am Beth Owl's Daughter

    Rena and Copper.. regarding the Abyss ..

    You’ve both hit directly on another important piece of this! The deck I use most in my professional practice is the Osho Zen Tarot and it has one of my favorite Hierophant cards — it is called No-Thingness and is depicted simply as all black emptiness!

  • November 21, 2007, 2:56 pm Rena

    How does “No-Thingness” equate to the Hierophant? I’m not grasping that.

  • November 21, 2007, 3:40 pm Beth Owl's Daughter

    In zen, who is the teacher? Where do your spiritual lessons come from? Emptiness. To open into the abyss of not knowing is the only way to learn.

    The ultimate spiritual authority is us. And who ultimately am I? I am no-thingness.

    I imagine this is oversimplified (possibly even quite wrong), but it is a sort of delicious koan kind of thing, and I love it.