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!