The Hierophant is similar to the Emperor in that he represents social structures and rules. While the Emperor is fatherhood, physical protection, and government, the Hierophant speaks more to religion, spirituality, and ideology. So there is overlap in social pressure and expectations, but they are certainly two different pieces of the same pie. Rachel Pollack in Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom draws our attention to the separation of church and state.
The Hierophant can represent social education within a spiritual, religious, or ideological tradition. While this tradition is supposed to represent that which is larger than us (God, the collective unconscious, the universe — whatever you call it), this education takes place within human institutions, which means there is always the possibility for corruption, error, and less-than-good intentions. I think Huzska’s depiction of the Hierophant does a good job of showing his humanness.
The High Priestess, on the other hand, is an inner connection with the spiritual / unconscious. Her flaw, however, is in failing to connect with the outside world. A balance must be struck between following the doctrine taught by others and listening to one’s own inner voice of intuition.
The Hierophant can also represent one way of balancing, or attempting to balance, the duality of the Magician and of the High Priestess. This doesn’t inherently have to represent a religion with a figurehead. It can also represent a spiritual tradition that doesn’t necessarily ask for obedience: like tarot. Tarot has a long history, a few different schools of thought (regarding, for example, divination or reversals), and it offers a path to enlightenment for those who wish to practice it.
I like how the Animal Wisdom Tarot says that the bull can represent sacred knowledge passed though generations “through custom, ritual, symbol, myth, and beliefs.” This, to me, is the most beautiful thing about the Hierophant. Dogma is rigid, but a rich symbolic history of our beliefs can be a pillar for us.
As I stated in my last exploration of the Hierophant:
This card can also represent conformity/convention or deception, which can be thought of a few different ways:
- A deception. A covering up of one’s true self in order to conform to better fit in.
- A deception. A covering up of knowledge or information because you might think it best. This assumes you know what is best and can decide that for others. (Or the opposite, someone trying to hide something from you and deciding they know what is best for you.)
- Conformity. Authoritative orthodoxy. Institutional and cultural expectations. Persecution or punishment for failure to conform.
The pillars represent the strength of the Hierophant’s philosophy. But pillars are man-made and can crumble like the Tower. This card may urge us to pay heed to the balance between our belief system and the truths we hold and openness to new ideas. To not be afraid to question how we came about some of our ideas. A rigid and dogmatic approach to life or to others is a refusal to understand the social location of others. Or perhaps we are feeling punished or persecuted by a “hierophant” in our lives: an institution, social pressures, religion.
Shadows of this card include gullibility or complete surrender of personal responsibility to a dogma. The opposite / reversal could be independent, original thought or it could also be an unwillingness to receive the help or support of a spiritual, religious, or ideological tradition when it could be a positive force.
If I were to assign an element to the Hierophant, it would be earth. He doesn’t represent passion or drive, intellectual thought, or emotions. He represents a doctrine or tradition outside of ourselves.
This morning as I ate breakfast, I watched a documentary on the liberation of Dachau and cried the entire time. That is the most horrible, soul crushing side of the Hierophant. Blind obedience to unspeakably evil ideology. The light and dark of this card are no small matter; the Hierophant can create Wholeness or he can tear apart humanity.