Keywords for the Hierophant
In the image on this card, we see the Hierophant seated on his throne in the center of two pillars. He wears long, red flowing robes and an ornate gold crown. Like the Emperor, he sits on a stone throne, although the Hierophant’s is much more elaborately decorated and embellished.
In some decks, this card is known as the Pope, a reference to the head of the Catholic Church. The Rider-Waite name of the Hierophant is a reference to the high priest of the Eleusinian Mysteries of the Ancient Greek world.
At the Hierophant’s feet, we see two initiates seated on the floor, bowing to their leader’s higher authority. The initiate on the left wears a blue robe covered in white lilies, a reference to the qualities of reason, logic, and conscious mind, as we saw earlier in the garden of the Magician. On the left, the second adherent wears a white robe covered in red roses, which once again, refers to our desires, will, and subconsciousness.
Both followers here wear a yellow yoke, symbolizing their adherence and submission to the higher authority of the Hierophant. In esoteric terms, the Hierophant represents our Higher Self, God, or the spirit of the Universe. The attire of the initiates indicates that we must submit our personal desires and attachment to what we consider to be true.
The Hierophant Interpretation
When the Hierophant comes up in a tarot reading, it often means submission to some kind of authority. This is often a higher authority than we see in the Emperor. Instead, the authority we are being asked to adhere to in the Hierophant is on a larger, societal level, often in the context of religion or higher education.
This relates to a second, related meaning of the Hierophant: it indicates receiving an education in a certain code of ethics, morality, or even theoretical practices and doctrines. It involves the development of the self within the context of larger societal norms and expectations.
This has the purpose of giving us a context within which to situate our lived experience, and allows us to integrate the diverse contents of our day to day happenings within a larger framework of understanding.
As a result, when this card comes up, it can also refer to the qualities of conformity and obedience which may be present here. The Hierophant is not only an education in a particular worldview, but it also represents our adherence to its creed, and submission to the dictates of such a comprehensive perspective.
Consequently, the Hierophant often speaks to the sacrifice of our own desires or needs in the service of the culture at large. This can clearly serve a positive purpose for both ourselves and the larger community of which we are a part.
However, the Hierophant can at times also indicate the danger inherent in handing over our powers of critical thought to something outside of ourselves. At times, this card asks us to question how we have outsourced our own inner authority and knowing, and allowed forces outside of ourselves to dominate or control us.
Sometimes, especially when reversed, the Hierophant asks us to look at our codes of ethics, to examine our system of moral reasoning, in order to make wiser decisions about how to proceed in our lives.