The Hierophant: Meaning & Symbolism
Between two worn pillars sits the commanding presence of the Divine in our world. To him belongs the ancient rites and ceremonies of the High Priest, for only he truly understands their meaning. With each holy sacrament comes the blessing of the Divine, and a greater connection to the sacred spark of the Divine within. For there, silently nestled between the established pillars of tradition rests the secret knowledge of Divine experience and an inspiration revealed only through the passage of time.
Keywords: Tradition, Secret Knowledge, Institution
Correspondences: Earth, Venus, Taurus
At first glance, the Christian overtones of The Hierophant make this card an unfavorable one. Most of us, as tarot readers, do not see ourselves becoming priests, nuns, pastors, or any kind of religious leader. Some though, may find themselves high priests or high priestesses of a magical tradition. However, even when that is the case, most individuals would not choose to define themselves by The Hierophant card. Within the tarot community, The Hierophant has become synonymous with The Pope, and through the Pope, the Catholic Church, or the Church in general. This often links The Hierophant to a more abstract view of religious institutions or initiation, but what then, do the correspondences of this card share to enlighten us in our everyday journey.
The first correspondence of The Hierophant is Elemental Earth. This links the card to themes of stability, dogma, and generosity. There is also a theme of concealment, which mainly comes across through examining individual card meanings. So far, the Elemental Earth cards we’ve explored are The Magician, The Empress, and now, The Hierophant. The Magician is thought to conceal divine secrets, while The Empress is thought to conceal her outward emotions. With The Hierophant, we see a combination of these two concepts, as The Hierophant is said to conceal truths. These truths, in this context especially, relate back to that secret knowledge of The Magicican. However, some also see the inner emotions or passion of a person concealed in an effort to gain acceptance by religion or the standards of religious doctrine, which links back to The Empress.
Part of these two themes may likewise take into account The Hierophant’s correspondence to Planetary Venus. This is the sign that rules over love and sensuality, but also, moral character and culture. In The Hierophant, we see the influence of Planetary Venus quite strongly in the area of moral character as dictated by religion. Today, many people see the connection or direct impact religion has on our culture as well. Within tarot then, The Hierophant is much more than just one particular religion. This is reflected in the correspondence to Taurus, which rules over our sense of self-worth, values, emotions, and personal liberty. While it may be unpopular to say so, liberty or independence is often linked to both financial freedom, and religion. In the United States, we see freedom as divine right, for example.
Many of the other symbols within The Hierophant card reflect these correspondences. The two pillars which the Pope sits between represent Day (Prayer) and Night (Benediction). This makes the Pope a mediator, or guardian over both Day and Night. In Meditations on the Tarot the Pope is called the Guardian of Respiration. While very abstract, this links The Hierophant to the ancient role of High Priest. The papal crown and papal cross both speak to the three divine realms in which the High Priest carries out his duties of office. These realms are in turn linked to purification, illumination, and mystical union. Please don’t miss the inclusion of mystical union in that list, as it links back to marriage and the astrological sign of Taurus.
Another prominent symbol on The Hierophant tarot card are the keys, otherwise known as the keys of Peter, or keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. These are now predominately linked to the Catholic Church, and symbolize both the heavenly and earthly realms. In tarot, the keys, outside of the Rider-Waite Smith deck, are gold and silver. This maintains their original earthly and heavenly realm symbolism, while likewise expanding the definition. In Occult Tarot, the silver and gold keys can represent the subconscious and conscious mind. This is important when remembering The Hierophant conceals, or maintains a balance between day (conscious) and night (subconscious). In this way, The Hierophant echoes a societal version of the themes within The High Priestess.
The Hierophant, unlike The High Priestess, gives the sign of papal blessing or benediction. Do not confuse this with the ‘as above so below’ stance of The Magician. The benediction given by The Hierophant is meant to allude to distinction between concealed and manifest doctrine. The High Priestess does not give this sign because hers is only one form of doctrine, or that which is intuitive or concealed. The Hierophant can give both, but regulates access to this doctrine or secret knowledge. This ability to conceal knowledge from others is what is often so heavily opposed today. The access to certain knowledge should not, in the opinion of many, be concealed or held back from those that want and actively seek for it.
In fact, what makes The Hierophant negative today lies in its institutionalized downsides. The Church, as an institution is still prone to the abuse or perversion of any established institution. Those who seek higher knowledge or a sacred connection to the Divine, often overlook this fact. An institution is still an institution, and, eventually, will be prone to abuses of power. The shadow aspects of The Hierophant are particularly prone to emotional hurts or long lasting impacts on the individual, probably due to the very personal relationship the card speaks to. Venus is the ruler of moral character, and, when abused, it quite frankly hurts. There’s no way around that, it’s just a fact. However, The Hierophant is not necessarily defined by its negative or shadow side and only those said negative aspects.
When The Hierophant comes up in a tarot reading, it’s important to distinguish between negative and positive interpretations. The Hierophant offers us a glimpse into ourselves and also the Divine. An environment conducive to knowledge and rites of passage is taking shape. On a personal level, an individual is probably discovering more about their moral compass or personal guidelines in life. At times, we all need to seek out others for religious guidance. Some tarot readers will no doubt find that guidance in the religious institutions we all know. The Hierophant offers us a blessing whether or not we find a deeper knowledge in a building or in nature. For The Hierophant speaks to that divine spark within ourselves, and that will guide us to the esoteric understanding of us.