The High Priest & The Magician
For many, the religious overtones of The Hierophant make the card a difficult one to tolerate. Today, we’re often quick to criticize or point out the flaws in our religious leaders. Some religions, are even so new, that we must face harsh criticism of the founders we once looked up to. While we are often quick to embrace religious truth, we’re not so fond of religious structures. The Church, as a functioning group, has seen a rise in criticism today. So, what, if anything, can we learn about The Hierophant? Is this card relevant today, and if so, how do we interpret its tough symbolism?
When taking into account the role of The Hierophant today, we must first recognize all forms of The Hierophant. In the Rider-Waite Smith deck, The Hierophant is depicted or associated with the Pope, the Supreme Pontiff. But, not all decks are created equal in this regard. Pagan themed decks often showcase the best sides of The Hierophant, relabeling the card The High Priest. Other decks even get a little creative, like the Book of Shadows Tarot, and in the As Above deck, relabel The Hierophant as the Book of Shadows. Clearly the card isn’t linked only to Christian themes, but rather, the structure of religion, that secret knowledge gained only by the established group.
One of the reasons this is hard to see in The Hierophant specifically, has to do with the archetypes involved. Remember how The Magician had a wide array of archetypes? Well, The Hierophant actually embraces one of those archetypes, that of the Priest. The Priest archetype, being linked more often to The Magician, leaves The Hierophant to often being seen as redundant, and therefore ignored. However, a quick analysis of the numerology associated with The Hierophant highlights the connections involved. As Key 5, there are very few numbers that can go into The Hierophant to break it down. Really, the only concrete possibility is 1+4, or 2+3. In this, we can see two interesting concepts embodied by The Hierophant.
Taking a look at The Magician mixed with the energy of The Emperor, we start to see the more traditional understanding of The Hierophant himself. This is Willpower + Structure to create Tradition. Currently, many of us have a difficult time connecting to the idea of tradition. However, in the past, this Rite of Passage was extremely important, especially to young men. Considering how The Hierophant is seen as a predominately male card today, this is understandable. Young men, when they directed their effort toward the structure of society, found themselves privileged with newfound knowledge and authority. This was often a religious experience, a divine blessing or approval of themselves as individuals even within the society to which they now belonged.
To contrast this, we can also look at The High Priestess mixed with the energy of The Empress, especially for females. This is Intuition + Creativity to create Religious Expression. We see this today in a very subtle often overlooked way. When examining who truly seeks out their religious institutions or structures, it is often women, not men. Those who go to church can comprehend this in the number of complaints women have focused on getting their husband to church. Why is this? If the religious structure is built exclusively for men, we should see more men eager to go, right? And yet, we see the exact opposite of this. Women are expressive, creative, and intuitive, and it takes their influence to truly make The Hierophant a servant of his community.
Combining both Religious Expression and Tradition, we start to truly grasp The Hierophant free of a gender embodiment. What’s interesting is that by linking The Hierophant to Religious Expression and Tradition, we, more often than not, get a religious institution. This is very important to understand in the debate surrounding The Hierophant. Does The Hierophant embody the religious doctrine itself, or the institution that teaches said doctrine? How one answers this question is important in interpreting The Hierophant. For me personally, I see The Hierophant as the embodiment of the religious teaching or doctrine, rather than the structured institution.
Within Christianity, there is no longer that much debate surrounding institutionalized instruction. The Church is God’s divine presence on Earth, and as such, only those blessed by the Church are able to give God’s sacraments to the people. However, this was not always so. In the past, some people believed that each individual had a sort of divine blessing, a spark of the divine within them. This spark, allowed them to assume the role of priest or priestess to their community, if necessary. Today, the people who believe they do not need an institutionalized Church, are often called Esoteric Christians. I just so happen to be one now. To me, this makes The Hierophant of the utmost importance to understand in a traditional context.
The Hierophant is often linked to the Priest archetype because it is the Priest that also communes with the Divine. In ancient times, communing with the Divine was seen as a specialized skill. Many today still believe this to be true, and understandably so. The Priest archetype is a direct channel between the conscious and the subconscious. In other words, the Priest can manifest the spiritual into everyday experience. Now, compare that to the Pope. Go back a few centuries, and take a look at the role the Pope played within Christianity. It was the Pope that was said to commune with God, and as such, bridge the gap between our everyday world with that of the Divine.
This is often not a popular interpretation of The Hierophant, and I understand that. But, the Priest archetype shows us the better half of The Hierophant. We can all connect to the religious leaders of our community, even if it is just us within ourselves. All of us, have the capacity to commune with the Divine. What makes The Hierophant special is just the idealized view over time as an embodiment. The Hierophant, as High Priest or even High Priestess, is nothing more than the Divine doctrine of our religious practice. This is the doctrine we gain through experience and time, a knowledge that is shared despite being unable to be fully expressed by any one person. The Hierophant is complex, and so much more than a institution. The Hierophant is us. All of us.