The story goes that a public sinner was excommunicated and forbidden entry to the church. He took his woes to God. “They won’t let me in, Lord, because I am a sinner.”
“What are you complaining about?” said God. “They won’t let Me in either.”
~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel
In this, THE most holy week of the Christian faith, who should come calling, but The Hierophant? It also happens to be the beginning of Passover, and on Saturday, we have a total lunar eclipse that is also the ending of a 19-year eclipse cycle.
With its obvious reference in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck to the Roman Catholic Pope, many people are put off by their perception of The Hierophant as stodgy and inflexible, or by their own experiences of the sometimes stifling differences between religion and spirituality.
Some decks have attempted to make him less orthodox, turning him into a story-teller, a shaman, or a kind of alternative Magician.
I have no problem with that. Certainly, with his astrological ties to Taurus, The Hierophant can occasionally be stubborn, even hidebound.
But, despite its recognizable image, Arthur Waite rejected calling this card The Pope, because he felt it was too narrow an interpretation.
Instead, hierophant was the name given to the priest of the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece and it translates to “speaker of mysteries.” Although the secrets of the Mysteries are long lost to us, we do know it was said that whoever participated in the Eleusinian Mysteries no longer feared death.
Thus, The Hierophant, in whatever guise your deck portrays him (for yes, he is usually male), offers profound knowledge of life and death. He stands for tradition and heritage in these matters, as opposed to the more private, mystical experience of The High Priestess.
At his feet are the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, as well as two priests kneeling, one wearing the roses of passion, devotion and the heart, the other cloaked in the white lilies of sacrifice, intellect and purity.
The Dying and Resurrected God
And speaking of the High Priestess, his throne is between two columns that may remind us of hers. But, according to Tarot experts Ruth Ann and Wald Amberstone, his columns are connected to Osiris, the Egyptian God whose own death and resurrection embody the process of initiation itself.
Historian Dr. Ralph Monday writes, “Every culture that is examined, whether ancient or modern, has the concept of a dying and resurrected God. The manifestation takes many forms and is as primal as the unconscious recognition of the deep spiritual meaning grafted onto the Vernal Equinox…”
Thus the Hierophant is a gatekeeper, instructor, and guide for the initiate. And in impeccable timing we will see the modern version of his teachings about the nature of Divinity reenacted for millions of the faithful this very week.
Please note: he is not, himself, the sacrificial, rebirthed God-form. He is the teacher and translator of those Mysteries.
The Hierophant’s institutional lineage, time-tested interpretation, and formal structures offer spiritual secrets or esoteric knowledge revolving around humankind’s most fundamental questions of life, death, and rebirth.
In today’s world, he can represent any formal religious or educational system. His are the rules of etiquette, good conduct, and right behavior, so necessary if societal interactions are to flow peaceably.
He also may represent professional skills and expertise, particularly those that require many years of formal study, like medicine, law, and technology.
Still Reeling and Feeling that Uranus-Pluto Face-off
The Hierophant also symbolizes the power of our social institutions, and the codification of our morality and behavior. What issues around these matters might be coming up for you this week?
As you may know, the final exact square between revolutionary Uranus (in Aries) vs. death and transformation Pluto (in Capricorn) hit last week. This years-long showdown has been one of the most powerfully defining periods in hundreds of years, and we are going to be feeling its impact for a long, long time.
The two are still only a degree or so apart. Plus, other important planets are continuing to travel through the zone of their influence, thus amplifying and specifying their impact.
One of the most obvious manifestations of this showdown has been the extreme testing of our most entrenched social structures and institutions. The pillars of societal control and commerce — money, government, and religious systems, to name a few — have all been pushed to the breaking point.
As a result, we are seeing crazy volatility in financial markets (with more to come), chaos and confusion around basic issues of morality, fomenting revolution and defiance of government controls (with accompanying hard line responses). Cracks in the foundations of Church and State are showing everywhere.
But Wait! There’s More!
There is a Full Moon Saturday, which will also bring a total lunar eclipse. It’s in the sign of Libra and will be opposing Uranus and squaring Pluto, which means those radical restructuring energies will be stirred up and swirling. It is also the third eclipse in a series of four (called a tetrad) so-called “Blood Moons.”
Astrologer Penny Thornton writes, “It is a term that conjures up some scary images…Pastor John Hagee in his book about this tetrad, Four Blood Moons: Something is about to Change, refers to the biblical predictions of the moon turning to blood before the “End Times,” and he makes particular reference to Israel’s role in these apocalyptical events, citing past blood moons that have coincided with turning points in Israel’s history.
“Clearly, the Middle East is in turmoil and there are plenty of situations that could escalate into something even nastier, but I’m not expecting the world to end over the Easter weekend.
“Nonetheless, with Pluto and Uranus in close aspect to Saturday’s total lunar eclipse, we should all remind ourselves that actions have consequences. It is a time to demonstrate restraint not force.”
Which brings us back to this visit from The Hierophant.
The Cult of Me
As our cultural icons either crumble or else double-down into even more recalcitrant control, there is a temptation to throw out all the rules.
To escape the rigor mortis of these dying systems, why not just start making stuff up? And if no one else wants to follow, so what? Why can’t I just do my own thing?
While we may resent the idea of a hierarchical system that proscribes right and wrong, or that apportions our mystical knowledge, these institutions were created with good intentions, as well as with our permission.
The truth is, most people have neither the time, nor the inclination to directly undergo the intensity of personal encounters with Mystery, or to puzzle out from scratch every ethical question that comes along.
And as our global village’s population gets more dense and stressed, our societal laws need to reflect our interconnectivity and agreeable interdependence. Harmony is not a solo act.
Like the word pontiff, which means bridge, and which is often used as a description for the Pope, today’s wisdom keepers, teachers, and initiators are bridging the gap between the dying systems of the past, and new ways of a more egalitarian, sustainable, and meaningful future.
So perhaps it is time to increase your emphasis on spiritual discipline, structure, or investigate an ancestral lineage of wisdom. What teachings are calling to you?
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.
If you are a spiritual or knowledge seeker, you might find more success by following a prescribed program or by embracing a tradition. Perhaps a formal initiation lies ahead, wherein you are challenged to surrender in faith to a teacher or guide.
Also this week, pay attention to the advice offered from experts. Consider those you rely on, to translate esoteric data into information that you can use: doctors, attorneys, politicians, pundits, technical support, financial experts, and even Tarot readers.
Do you simply take their word on faith? Why or why not? Whose counsel can you seek, especially if you are dealing with complex challenges?
The Hierophant does not demand blind, mindless obedience. But we are in trouble when we ignore the wisdom of our elders. We all need to rely on those whose understanding is greater than our own.
Systems of belief and rules can be powerful, for good or for ill. We must choose wisely when to trust, and when to find our own way. By whom or what do you calibrate your moral compass?