Oh, The Hierophant. Sometimes known as The Pope, and ruled by the sign of Taurus, The Hierophant is who we encounter once we’ve left our audience with The Emperor. Where The Emperor represents the formal power wielded by government and institutions, The Hierophant takes us into the realm of ecclesiastical or religious authority. The Hierophant, enshrined on his throne and holding his scepter, represents our interactions with religious institutions, dogma, theology, and morality — especially as those things are used to keep us in line or to urge us to conformity.
In the Rider-Waite Tarot, The Hierophant represents the power of institutions, of tradition, of How Things Should Be Done. He has this in common with The Emperor, but wields his power from the realm of spiritual authority rather than earthly authority. The Hierophant’s energy is fixed — he is in some ways the immovable object, and he is stalwart in what he feels is Right and Moral. There is a stubbornness, an entrenchment, to The Hierophant’s energy that can make him both an invaluable ally and a formidable foe.
Who is The Hierophant?
The Hierophant can represent formal religious or ecclesiastical authority, and the power of those institutions. He operates not from the personal power of The Empress, nor from the formal social power of The Emperor, but from the power that seems to be divinely bestowed. The Hierophant’s power derives not from his personal charisma but from the idea that he has been chosen, called, or elected by a Higher Power. When he makes a declaration, it carries the gravitas of having come from On High. The Hierophant can also represent that ways in which these institutions become bloated, rigid, and even empty. More positively, he can represent long-standing traditions, ideologies, and morality. As you might imagine, this can be double-edged!
When The Hierophant appears in a reading, he typically signifies the the querent will in come ways be interacting with religious or ecclesiastical institutions. This can mean physical institutions such as religious orders, churches/synogogues/mosques, and religious communities. On a more metaphorical level, The Hierophant can indicate the need to interface with ideas about morality, questions of belief, and issues of dogma and moral authority. It can also mean that forces of tradition — so ideas about marriage, family, and what is Right, Good, or True — are at the forefront. I sometimes see The Hierophant as indicating that the querent will be entering into a marriage or otherwise formalizing a relationship or situation. He can also show up when the querent is about to undertake new religious learning, whether on their own or through a formal course of study such as going to seminary.
On a more macro level, The Hierophant indicates that the situation at the heart of a reading carries deep spiritual import, or that it concerns not just the present circumstances but larger issues of social norms, morality, and tradition. The Hierophant calls on the querent to examine the dominant social narrative of How Things Should Be Done, or to examine what they have been told about what they are supposed to want and how they are supposed to live. In this way, The Hierophant can sometimes bring a heavy and even oppressive energy to a reading, especially for querents who tend to be less inclined to conform to societal expectations!
This energy of The Hierophant as the guardian of traditions is what underlies one of the more interesting re-interpretations of this card that I’ve seen — that of The Hierophant as Tradition/Juno in The Goddess Tarot by Kris Waldherr. Come back tomorrow to look at this card in detail!