What a weird dude this must be! When I first saw the name, I was basically saying “ewww!” in my head. What is this guy whose name sounds like a variation on “elephant?” Hardly the moniker for someone with authority and power; sounded more like a herd animal. Not that I don’t like elephants (they are wondrously intelligent creatures), but that “….phant” thing!
I noticed right off from the first set of tarot cards I bought (Robin Wood deck), that he was this pope character with an impassive expression and air of stiff authority, all encapsulated in heavy crimson and gold cloak and a really high mitre cap. Two little tonsured altar boys were praying before him. Heavy stone pillars on either side. Real heavy, the whole thing.
And on top of all that, I was raised Catholic and definitely rebelled against that dogma (although the Church did change from Latin to English services and included folk music masses before I left the fold). So now I get my tarot deck and see this guy!
It was definitely difficult at first, but that’s often true I’ve found for readers who are coming from a space of having rejected their early Christian upbringing in order to explore the forbidden areas of the “occult” and work with Tarot to begin with. Sort of ironic that the traditional symbolism in the trumps/Major Arcana cards is heavily Christian due to the Renaissance origins of the cards. And yet they are now used for “divination,” which is forbidden by the Church. Oh, my!
So, how to read this card without being unduly influenced by my distaste for the dogma, sexism, and general authoritarian approach of the Catholic Church?
First, thank the Goddess/God for other decks and mythologies. 🙂 I can use my Wildwood or Witches or Shadowscapes tarot decks and avoid the “pope” thing altogether in favor of pagan elders or other alternative wisdom sources. Whew! That’s better, but it’s also a cop out in some respects.
Let’s face this pope thing head on, shall we? At the moment, I can just think of the current pope, Francis, and be really happy with the Hierophant in him. He’s a cool pope and a very good person, seems like. But let’s take a look at the actual archetype, which was originally called “Pope/Pape.”
Historically, of course, the pope was the Western fulfillment of the ultimate priestly dude who held the “infallible” wisdom of the True Church within his mind and heart to pass on to the ignorant populace who could not read the sacred scriptures themselves. The fact that the popes were very human men with ambitions and faults of their own was often kept under wraps, especially in modern times.
With the advent of the occult societies in England at the turn of the 20th century, the Tarot was given a new role as the carrier of a broader set of archetypes, with the ancient Greek Hierophant taking the place of the Pope/Pape label in the Major Arcana lineup (but still the same Christian symbolism on the Rider-Waite-Smith card—not sure what Waite and Colman-Smith were looking for here).
So what does the word mean? Well, according to Wikipedia:
A hierophant (Ancient Greek: ἱεροφάντης) is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy.
Ah-ha! The high priest, then (I like that “presence of the holy” thing). But wait, that makes him the male counterpart to the High Priestess (card #2 in the tarot Major Arcana). Interesting. We usually think of the Magician and High Priestess as a pair (masculine/active vs. feminine/passive), but maybe not. The Hierophant as the visible manifestation of the hidden knowledge that the High Priestess is the actual gateway to. External vs. internal spiritual authority. I like this idea. Also interesting that the “inner knowing” is in the second position in this sequence, and that the “outer knowledge/authority” of the Hierophant is not dealt with until we’ve been introduced to mother/empress and father/emperor authority figures.
So, the inner knowing (High Priestess) comes first and is then shaped and challenged by external influences (The Hierophant), it seems. Fascinating. Our original pre-birth knowing is shaped by our mother, father, and then God as presented by the church or other ritual belief organization we grow up with.
Now I see how the Hierophant fits into the scheme of belief and self-discovery that is the Major Arcana of the Tarot. He is, like all the other cards, a way station on the way to self-knowing, as Plato would put it. He is not the end or the ultimate wisdom (he’s only at number 5 of 21), but he provides a way for us to expand beyond the simple wisdom of mother, father, and clan to a community of fellow believers who use the same structure to understand the Divine.
The only catch is that for the Hierophant, the Divine is often “out there” beyond ourselves, and it is further along in the journey of the tarot trumps that we find the end of the cycle at the beginning, the World and the Fool together, and understand that the High Priestess was right all along. The truth was in our own dreams. 🙂
Outposts in the Tarot Universe
Just for fun, and a bit of wisdom thrown in, do check out my friend, Karen Sealey, over at the Pure and Blessed Way. She’s given a nice insight into her professional tarot reading world.
And for your own High Priestess essence, the mellow insights of James Wells, reporting as he is on some really cool inner workshops at the Earth Dreaming retreat.