We’ll begin with the Hierophant, since he is numbered 5 in the Major Arcana.
Before we begin, I ask you to open up to the idea that the Hierophant, as other cards in the deck have, can evolve in meaning to better represent our current understanding and world view. In “Tarot, Tricksters, and Accidental Grace” in the Spring 2016 issue of the Cartomancer, I wrote at length about how card meanings change over time and how important it is for us to always look toward reflecting our evolving consciousness as we look at the cards anew. Our beloved Rider-Waite-Smith deck was created in a culture of Victorian Christian mystics and the symbols, images, and ideas represent that culture. That culture is not our culture. Some may argue that spiritual truth or wisdom is absolute and unchanging through time. I do not agree with that and see that as fundamentalism…and to be honest, fundamentalism scares me. In a Hebrew creation story, it is said that God left creation unfinished, allowing it to continue evolving and also invited humans to participate in the co-creation of the future of the universe. I say we take up that invitation and help evolve tarot to better represent what we know to be true for us in this moment, knowing that as human consciousness evolves, the cards meanings will continue to change.
Most people have issues with the Hierophant because they see him as the representation of rigid dogma and strict hierarchy. Back in the day when there weren’t many options for spiritual paths circulating in Western culture and when social order was valued very highly, it is true that ordained Church rules were created and used to control people. And sure, we can see that still in play today. However, we…by we I mean tarot readers and spiritual seekers…know now that we do have other options open to us and that maintaining order is not necessarily the main goal of spiritual wisdom. Even in Christianity today, there are some really exciting teachers who are totally pushing the bounds of what Christianity “teachers.” If you are interested, Rob Bell is one of those teachers…whose events are often protested by traditional “Christians.” That alone should be a good reason to be curious about what he is saying.
The quickest way to convey my ideas about the Hierophant, which is markedly different from most that I’ve encountered, is to share what I write about him in the companion book for the Steampunk Tarot:
5, The Hierophant
“Your every thought, every word, and every action expresses the truth of your soul.”
Core meaning: Living faith in every day life.
The name of this card comes from the word hierophany and means “the manifestation of the sacred.” Consequently, The Hierophant is one who teaches us how to live in accordance with our sacred beliefs. For those belonging to a group, community, or organized religion, there are usually teachers aplenty. For those who follow a more solitary path, they are often their own hierophant. This responsibility is often supplemented by studying sacred texts, works of art, private spiritual practices, and nature.
This card has not always been called The Hierophant. In the oldest of decks, it was titled The Pope, also known as the pontiff. The “pontiff” means “bridge.” He is the bridge between theory and practice. He creates a connection between spiritual belief and daily lives. In this image, he sits between a pile of books, representing the culmination of human spiritual understanding, and a tree, representing many things, including a living practice and the inherent knowledge of good and evil. Both the books and the tree represent roots and tradition, wisdom gained through the ages. The apple, such a mundane symbol, brings to mind many things. Students used to give apples to their teachers. Although not technically correct, many people say that Eve gave Adam an apple, leading to their self-consciousness and banishment from paradise. If you cut an apple crosswise, the center forms a pentagram, representing the four elements of the physical world under the guidance of Spirit. Our hierophant, shown here as a humble, compassionate, and wise teacher, weaves together all these notions, and more, and gives them to us as keys to open up our own understanding. With all teachings, it is up to individuals to take them into their heart and mind and to ultimately decide whether or not to envelop them into their life.
When The Hierophant comes to your reading, the most important thing is to ask yourself is how does what you believe match with what you think, say, and do. This card can represent a teacher who will help you identify your beliefs and assist you in determining how to best express those beliefs in your life.
Here’s an interesting and key question: how does what you believe match up with what you think, say, and do? How wide is the gap between what you claim to value and your actions in this life? These are the questions the Hierophant gives us.
One of the most difficult yet most important times to live our values is when we face changes. It is pretty easy to do what you think is right when things are flowing along all easy and stress free. But what do we do when faced with a challenge brought about by a change in circumstance.
If the Major cards represent large, archetypal ideas and important wisdom, the Minors show how those ideas manifest in the physical world. The Hierophant asks “what will you do when faced with [insert any change of circumstance]?
The Minor 5s give us scenarios to consider, asking us to face change that challenges our will, shakes our emotions, twists our ideas, or threatens our physical lives.
The 5 of Wands shows a natural reaction to having our will questioned: defensiveness and fighting. This shows up often in meetings, where egos (easily associated with will) take over trying to preserve their place in the pecking order. In these cases, our wills have been distracted from their original purpose. Presumably we come to a meeting in order to accomplish a task as a group, everyone on the same team trying to do the best thing. However, when our ideas are not valued as much as we think they should be or as immediately as they should be, we change our focus from accomplishing the goal of making good decisions as a group to preserving our ego. The question we can ask ourselves is: which behavior best expresses our beliefs and values? Is it really serving our spiritual value to preserve some perceived pecking order or is it to help foster a sense of community and do great work together?
The 5 of Cups calls into question how we react when faced with the knowledge that emotions and relationships are not permanent. We all know this to be true…emotions and relationships can and do change. Change is a natural part of life. Even in nature, nothing is static. How do react when faced with such a loss, the loss of dear one or even the recognition that we no longer feel the same way about someone or something? What is our guiding spiritual principle in these cases and to what extent to our actions match that principle?
The 5 of Swords gives us the opportunity to think about how we react when our ideas about what is true are challenged. Although in the card, we usually think the story is about when others take what is ours or behave unfairly or cruelly and that is one valid way, but for this study we are looking at a different facet. Sometimes we have a beloved mindset that shapes our worldview and that we believe to be true and perhaps even True…unchangeable. Is our spiritual guiding force in these cases to hold true to those ideas no matter what evidence is produced to the contrary? Think of fundamental Christians who cling to the idea that the world is only a few thousand years old. Or of early American people who thought that African Americans should be slaves. Or of people who think that gay people have an agenda to destroy America. Insert your own deeply held idea. How do you react when faced with something that challenges that idea?
The 5 of Pentacles, with its very clear depiction of spiritual life (symbolized by the church window) and human suffering asks perhaps the hardest question. What is our relationship with the Divine when life is hard, when we or our loved ones are suffering, when terrible things happen to innocent people? How do we react when things that were good, maybe even great, turn to crap?
So for me, the Hierophant is the one who helps us learn to grapple with these important situations, who helps prepare us to understand what it means to live a life of authenticity and integrity, no matter the circumstances.
And if you made it to the end of this, thank you for reading.