Don’t confuse the teacher with the lesson, the ritual with the ecstasy, the transmitter of the symbol with the symbol itself.
Our visits from the Major Arcana cards resume this week, this time with a rare visit from The Hierophant. Since Dec. 27, only two cards of the week have not been either a Major or an Ace. Clearly we are in fateful times.
With its obvious reference in the most traditional decks to the Roman Catholic pope, many people are put off by their perception of him as stodgy and inflexible, or by their own experiences of religious rules, and the sometimes stifling differences between religion and spirituality.
Certainly, with his astrological ties to Taurus, the Hierophant can occasionally be stubborn, even hidebound. Yet 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. Hierophant is an ancient term that refers to the priest of the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries. It means “a speaker of mysteries,” the interpreter of secret or esoteric knowledge.
One of the most noticeable features of the Hierophant is his crown. In their fascinating 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.
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.
At The Hierophant’s feet, there are two tonsured priests kneeling, one wearing the roses of passion, devotion and the heart, the other 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 having a personal shamanic experience.
In her discussion of the Hierophant, Rachel Pollack notes that many in our free-spirited culture might 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 typical of shamanic initiation.
So will The Hierophant’s teachings guide us to new levels of spiritual knowledge? Or does The Hierophant instead block our way, with his formal rules and rites interfering with our access to the realms of heaven? Alternately, perhaps he acts as the challenger that accompanies some kind of initiation.
This week, the New Moon arrives, bringing the lunation that will take us across the threshold from Winter to Spring. As the season of Winter departs, what is now coming to an end for you? As Spring’s rebirth awaits, what initiation must you meet? How will you embrace the lessons ahead – 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.
You may find more success at this time by following a prescribed program or by bowing to tradition. Perhaps you are being challenged to surrender in faith to a group, 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 those you rely 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.