Tuesday, 19 August 2014

That Hierophant Chap

The Hierophant can be a tricksy fellow. He often comes up when people talk about a card they dislike or find hard to relate to. I've had an issue with this card myself (particularly this depiction) so wanted to look deeper. Even spellchecker isn't keen. In many decks Arcanum Five is The Pope, which can invite all kinds of associations depending on where you stand in a religious sense, and in the Rider Waite Smith, he still looks all stiff and proper.

We see him raised above a couple of acolytes, bestowing a blessing of sorts. He wears the fancy crown while they are bareheaded. I think it's this appearance of control that people don't like. As someone who has forever questioned authority, that's where my own hackles rise. Do I want to learn the lessons this person has for me? He doesn't look as though he'd listen to me, he'd just spout doctrine.

However, Waite and others did away with the stronger aspects of someone who is the conduit between the populace and God, and renamed him as one who interprets secret knowledge. Now that's more accessible....to a point. In this image though, he still looks rather aloof and in charge of those secrets. Many meanings tell of him standing for conformity, education, rules, society and belief systems. Sounds dull, doesn't he? Even when various meanings go on to speak of the learning of more spiritual things, I can't imagine this fellow and I having much in common. I once read that he could be thought of as the diligent deputy head master working hard behind the scenes, while the headmaster himself (The Emperor?) claims all the glory. Necessary but still dull.

Recently I was studying every little detail in this card and was drawn to his neat feet. Immediately he and I connected in a way we hadn't before. I thought his rather delicate looking slippers would be perfect for a little after service soft shoe shuffle with a glass of sherry. I was musing on these nifty tootsies the other night, when I was reminded of Hercule Poirot's 'mincing, rapid gait'. That's it! That's my Hierophant! Agatha Christie's little Belgian detective.

There are times when we need to turn to someone who knows more than us in a given area. Poirot certainly (and not without vanity) leaves us in no doubt of his knowledge.....but.....he is always hungry for more, and encourages us to share that hunger and enthusiasm. To me the crossed keys beneath The Hierophant signify what is locked as well as what can be opened with the right tools (Poirot's 'little grey cells'). 

We can't expect to know everything, or trust implicitly what a teacher tells us. We can though, use the keys to find out for ourselves. We can open up the past and take what we need from tradition; or open a new door and choose to take (and make) a fresh path.

Perhaps The Hierophant isn't as controlling as first thought? Things can only control us if we give them the power to do so. I often see the number Five as containing both a challenge and the solution for dealing with it. Here then, when I see The Hierophant and begin to tense, I can grab the keys of choice and make my own decisions.

.....and maybe enjoy a soft shoe shuffle with a glass of sherry ...

'Til next time,


The Original Rider Waite Tarot Deck, A E Waite, Pamela Coleman Smith


  1. At first I had difficulties with the Hierophant too But thanks to other depictions of this card I came to understand the teacher in him. Now I find him everywhere: in various books, article blogs,TV documentaries and of course in knowledgeable people. I like the depiction of the Shadowscapes a lot

  2. Oh, the beautiful Shadowscapes will be my next purchase!

  3. Yeah The Hierophant has always been kind of prickly to interpret for me too... I've always kind of read him as "Someone lost in their role or duty of an institution or tradition", they've squelched their own individuality, personality, humanity and compassion... and have 'become' their office. Definitely not a fun person to be around... though we certainly run into that type in real life from time to time. :)

  4. I can relate to him being a total 'jobsworth' Jopsy. This particular depiction has given me those feelings. I think that's why I love working with a variety of decks so I can see and feel other interpretations, such as the Shadowscapes mentioned above. Also the Wild Unknown Tarot, which has an image simply of a crow and a key. The crow, being carrion, is hungry and will take the key. To use...or not to... Thank you so much for visiting and commenting, it's been a loooong time!

  5. Poirot - il est trop vrai! Seriously though, awesome comparison. You've inspired me to meditate with my own Hierophant (easy now spellchecker!) and find out who he is to me. Also, the piece you wrote about the number 5 was really interesting - I love the idea that it contains both the challenge and the solution. Navigating a challenge using the negotiation of 2 and the synthesis of 3, I see how the solution becomes the offspring of that challenge. This is the versatility of the 5, the element of change. Thank you Margo for another excellent post, rich in food for thought, as always. :D

  6. I love this! I can absolutely see this chap shuffling off for a sherry after the sermon :) Perhaps that's when he imparts the truest wisdom.

    The Shadowscapes Tarot gave me a different view of this card - it's a wise old tree. This makes me think of someone we go to to discover more about our roots. It doesn't mean we have to stick to these moving forwards, following rigid traditions ...it's more about having a sense of our ancestry and where we've come from.

    You can see the card here: http://www.shadowscapes.com/Tarot/cards.php?suit=0&card=5