I am coming out of a weekend full of tarot medicine. I gathered with a wonderful group of gentle souls to teach Tarot 201: Diving Deeper, spent Sunday afternoon doing readings at Sacred Circles in Gloucester, MA, and had the opportunity to meet Casey Zabala, designer of the Wanderer's Tarot, at Hauswitch. After such wonderful immersion and so many expansive conversations about tarot, I find myself wanting to talk about what used to be one of my least favorite cards, and one I've come to greatly appreciate: The Hierophant.
In the Fool's Journey analysis of the Major Arcana, the Hierophant represents formal education and existing societal structures. This notion, within our current zeitgeist, can carry some rather negative connotations: support of the status quo and structures that continue to promote inequality. It's seen as the seat of traditional values, with the implication of being judeo-Christian centric, homophobic, sexist, racist, etc. Seen through this lens, it's not surprising that we have a negative first reaction to the Hierophant, especially when tarot is being studied in spheres that are looking to promote inclusion, intersectional feminism, alternative spirituality, and so forth.
In the Motherpeace Tarot, which I absolutely love, we see the Hierophant standing on a pedestal. In the Motherpeace Tarot Guidebook, Karen Vogel states, "the Hierophant has stolen his power from those around him. [...] He is trying to disguise the underlying biases in his teachings." She describes him as "the agent of conventional morality." This is absolutely not a criticism of this deck's interpretation of the Hierophant. In the context of the creation of this deck, this interpretation makes perfect sense. This is a trailblazing feminist deck conceived in the late 1970s. The Motherpeace deck goes beyond white, middle class feminism, and explores the sacred feminine across cultures. It remains one of the most powerful decks for the exploration of the feminine divine, but while their portrayal of the Hierophant makes sense, there is value in peeling back more layers.
The Hierophant is linked to the story of Chiron in Greek mythology. Chiron was an immortal centaur, known for his superior wisdom and healing ability. He was shot with a poisoned arrow by Heracles, embodying the archetype of the Wounded Healer. Since he was immortal, the poison did not kill him, but he spent the rest of his days in constant pain. He was a healer to others but never able to heal himself from the poison, until he renounced his immortality. The Wounded Healer is a powerful archetype that appears in many cultures. In many initiatory paths, for example, a wound is seen as the catalyst. The wound bestows knowledge that pushes one towards growth that could not happen otherwise. There is a lengthy discussion to be had about this notion unto itself, but this energy is part of the Hierophant card. However, this is just one of the many layers worth exploring.
When we think about how old the tarot is, it clues us in to the notion that the Hierophant wasn't intended to represent the dark side of tradition. We can see this in some modern decks, where this card has been replaced with the High Priest. This starts to approach the deep message and medicine of the Hierophant.
In the Wanderer's Tarot, Casey summarizes the Hierophant as "Spiritual Law." This makes an important distinction between societal law and established norm, versus a law that exists outside human construction. The law of Spirit governs nature, and is uninfluenced by the whims of humankind. And when we spend time with the visual representation of the Hierophant in this deck, we get to what I consider to be the deepest meaning of this card. In this representation of the Hierophant, we see a figure with breasts standing on a platform. They have bees flying around their head, symbolizing the pollination of ideas. They pull back a curtain to reveal a spiraling vortex.
Hierophant means "revealer or interpreter of mysteries." The spiral is an ancient symbol that is linked to the sacred feminine, and to many metaphysical schools of thought. Spirals represent energy, life force, the flow of life, and the mysteries. The Hierophant pulls back this curtain, inviting us to explore these mysteries.
The Hierophant is the keeper of traditions and culture, and as such, is a link to ancestral knowledge. They encourage gathering and community, for the pursuit of higher truth, and the honoring of those who came before us. Even within the very traditional imagery of the Smith-Waite deck, we get a hint of this: the crossed set of keys at the bottom of the card. The Hierophant is an invitation to unlock knowledge. Being linked to Taurus, the energy of the Hierophant is self-substantiation.
It has been a long and convoluted path to get to this relationship to the Hierophant card. There is no wrong interpretation of Tarot, and even if this interpretation does not resonate for you (or perhaps not yet), I hope it can be at least a suggestion of a new lens for analysis.