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Meaning of the Tarot card The Hierophant

Description and Symbolism

Some frequent keywords are:

Education ----- Knowledge ----- Status quo ----- Institution

Conservadorism ----- Discipline ----- Maturity ----- Formality

Social convention ----- Belief system ----- Group identification

Conformity ----- Experience ----- Moral values ----- Tradition

Coletivity ----- Orthodoxy ----- Obedience to the rules

In many modern packs, the Hierophant raises his right hand in what is known Esoterically as the Blessing, with two fingers pointing skyward and two pointing down, thus forming a bridge between heaven and earth reminiscent of that formed by the body of The Hanged Man. The Pope is thus a true "pontiff", in that he is the builder of the bridge between God and humans. In most designs, the Hierophant is seen seated on a throne between two pillars symbolizing law and liberty or obedience and disobedience, according to different interpretations. He wears the triple crown, and the keys to heaven are at his feet.


Often referred to in older decks as "The Pope", and occasionally as "Jupiter". The papacy was not just a religious force, but was a political and military force as well. When the tarot was invented, the Pope controlled a large portion of central Italy, and allied himself opportunistically with rival kingdoms in order to secure political advantage. Renaissance culture did not question the abstract ideal of the Pope as God's human representative on Earth. The more commonly encountered modern name "Hierophant" is due to Antoine Court de Gébelin, and was the title of a chief priest in the Eleusinian mysteries (an ancient Greek priest who interpreted sacred mysteries), and is usually regarded as the spiritual counterpart of the temporal Emperor card.


The card stands for religion and orthodox theology, as well as representing traditional education and conventional moral standards, the "Man of high social standing". These interpretations merely scratch the surface of the card, however. The Pope card also represents the Biblical story of God's creation of man and woman. Some interpretations also suggest a link between the card and the myth of Isis and Osiris - a claim made about many cards. Some say the card corresponds to the astrological sign of Taurus; others Sagittarius or Leo. The Hierophant is the card representing organized religion - any religion. It's positive aspects are about the positive aspects of the relevant religion. It's negative aspects are the over crystallization of rituals, formulas and mind strangling beliefs. For example - many religions state: no drugs. No treatment for cancer, no antibiotics for disease, no painkillers for an operation. This can be life denying. "Hierophant" literally means "the one who teaches the holy things." Ideally, the Hierophant prepares the Querant spiritually for the adventure of life. It also represents individuation; the point where the child starts to understand the boundaries between the self and the other; family and the community, me and thee. And the point where the individual starts constructing their own identity - consciously, unconsciously, or as shaped by exterior forces. Works of Sigmund Freud and Michel Foucault explores these forces. The Hierophant is Key 5 of the Major Arcana. Five represents the essence of things as they are - consider the word "quintessence" from the Latin words for five and nature. It is also the number of the senses; sight, hearing, taste, feeling, smell. The Hierophant stands athwart the world of the senses and the world of meaning. It is related through cross sums (the sum of the digits) with Key 14: Temperance. The Hierophant presents the lessons of heaven to earth; Temperance guides the soul from this world to the underworld. Some authorities say that the Hierophant generally represents assistance, friendship, good advice, alliances (including marriages), and religious interests. Reversed; it often refers to bad advice, lies, and persecution. Others say that it represents the first level of understanding. When it appears in a tarot spread, it is a warning to the Querant to reexamine his or her understanding of the meaning of things; of the structure of the world; of the powers that be. Watch out for hypocrisy. The negative aspect of The Hierophant is well illustrated by the myth of Procrustes. Procrustes was a man (or a monster) living in the mountains of Greece back in mythic times. He would invite weary travelers to come into his home, wash the dust off their feet, have a meal, and allow them to lie down on his bed. If they were too big for his bed, he'd cut them to size; if they were to small; he'd stretch them to fit. At last, Theseus came through those mountains and accepted Procrustes's seemingly kind offer. When Procrustes tried to cut him to fit, Theseus at last slew him, making the road safe. In this way, the Hierophant is like Freud's superconscious. It shapes us, sometimes brutally. Sometimes, this shaping is necessary for us to become who we are. Sometimes, it's merely the replication of historic cruelties. Freud opined that the superconscious is the internalization of the parents. The Hierophant may represent the parents, living in the Querant. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck explicitly connects the Hierophant with the Ten of Swords. The dead man laying face down on the beach, penetrated by ten swords, has his hand in the same position of blessing as the Hierophant. Perhaps hinting that the artist believed that the path of the Hierophant leads to ultimately to death; a sanctified death, but death none the less.

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