artist Ciro Marchetti

Tarot Talk

May, 2017


(The Tower Tarot Card from the artist Ciro Marchetti**

This month, we will stay with the Major Arcana, and talk about The Hierophant, one of the three Major Arcana cards that refer to traits of the Sacred Masculine. Before we begin breaking down The Hierophant, let’s remind ourselves of some terms.

There are 22 Major Arcana cards in a Tarot deck, with numbers from 0 to 21; the Majors usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues, archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives. An archetype (pronounced “ark eh type”) is a generic, idealized model of a person, an object, or a concept which can be copied, patterned, or imitated. In psychology, an archetype is a model of a person, a personality, or a behavior. In the analysis of personality, the term archetype often refers to one of two concepts: a “stereotype” (a personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of a personality type; for instance, “girls make good cooks” is a stereotype), or an “epitome” (the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type; for example, Venus is said to be the epitome of feminine beauty). Archetypes present personality traits that are common enough to be known by us all, through images (rather than words) that contain symbolism that connects with our subconscious in a universal manner. Each of us can understand the symbolism of archetypes and connect with that symbolism because each of us has personally experienced (or will experience) these archetypes.

Besides the symbolism in its traditional image, each Major Arcana card corresponds to a number, an archetype, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth.

The traditional image on The Hierophant is of a priest or religious scholar; indeed in some decks this card is named The Pope. He is often shown seated on a throne between two pillars, similar to The High Priestess card except there is no veil or curtain behind him, as The Hierophant represents revealed knowledge rather than hidden knowledge. He is often holding a staff in his left hand and is gesturing with his right hand, using the Christian gesture of benediction with two fingers pointing up and two fingers pointing down (telling us he is the bridge between the spiritual and the earthly). Traditionally, the right hand is seen as pure (with the left hand having dark baggage); this is why our Hierophant offers benediction with his right hand, and holds his staff of office (a phallic symbol), usually the triple cross or papal cross, in his left, telling us he chooses spirituality over earthly pleasures. Other images show him holding a book or scroll, also similar to The High Priestess card except the book or scroll is held facing the viewer, again reminding us that he offers revealed knowledge. Often there are two keys in front of him, and sometimes there are two supplicants; both the keys and the supplicants look similar at first glance, but they are different (similar to the two dogs and the two towers traditionally found on The Moon card), reminding us that what we see on the surface or at a quick glance is not all there is to know, and telling us that there is more than one way to understand the teachings of The Hierophant.

The Hierophant card is numbered 5. The number 5 is about hard lessons; its energies erupt beyond the order imposed by the number 4, toppling over the stability inherent in the number 4. This number offers the concept of Motion to prevent stability from becoming stagnation. The number 5 tells us to take time to mourn and then move on, to find a silver lining, to defend our position. These energies can be versatile and resourceful, lively and exciting, as well as boastful, irritable, too strict, or indicating a Jack of all trades but master of none.

The Hierophant represents the archetype of the Religious Teacher. Teaching is the art of communicating knowledge, experience, skill, and wisdom to others. Offering instruction of any kind can manifest through parental guidance, business apprenticeship, or by instruction in spirituality, ethics or kindness. Teachers do more than just teach; they pass on wisdom and refine their students’ character. Traditionally The Hierophant works with a group and is responsible for teaching spiritual and ethical culture and traditions to that group, but he can also mentor individuals.

The Hierophant corresponds with the element of Earth, and thus the suit of Diamonds, the color green and the cardinal direction of North. The element of Earth represents the actual physical outcome of our efforts, the cake that is made by gathering ingredients and following a recipe. Earth represents everything physical, all of the processes of Nature, and the things we need to stay alive and healthy; these energies are stable and very slow to change. Earth represents wealth, which brings us not only physical shelter but also mental and emotional pleasure. Earth also offers a spiritual grounding that is very necessary in our day-to-day life. This element represents diligence and an interest in quality rather than quantity; it can also represent greed and avarice, and the lack of an ability to be aware of resources or to access resources.

In astrology, The Hierophant represents the astrological sign of Taurus, the second sign of the zodiac, which is all about reward. Physical pleasures, material goods, and soothing surroundings are all important to a Taurus. The good life in all its guises is heaven on Earth to those born under this sign. Taurus is a fixed sign, and it represents steady persistence sometimes seen as stubbornness. Taurus is symbolized by the Bull, and Bulls are among the most practical and reliable members of the zodiac, happy to plod along slowly but surely toward a goal. Taurus is ruled by Venus, the Goddess of Love, Beauty and Pleasure, which is why harmony and beauty are a huge part of this sign’s personality. Taurus is a true-blue, loyal sign as well, and slow to anger; like the element of Earth, Taurus is about strength of body as well as strength of heart.

In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is connected to the creative forces in the universe. These creative forces express themselves on three levels: one level is archetypical and runs from the first to the ninth letter; the second level is one of manifestation and runs from the tenth to the eighteenth letter, and the third is a cosmic level and runs from the nineteenth to the twenty-second letter. The Hierophant corresponds with the Hebrew letter Vav or Vau, the sixth letter in the Hebrew alphabet, representing the nail, the instrument which secures something or the hook that holds something. In Hebrew, the letter Vav is used as a connector, and thus it is also translated as “and.” Besides holding a tradition in place (the way a nail holds a picture to a wall), The Hierophant is also a bridge or connector; it is through The Hierophant that knowledge is transferred from one place to another.

On the Tree of Life, The Hierophant represents Path 16, running between Chesed (the place where forms and structures are stabilized and nurtured), and Chokmah (dynamic male energy, the origin of vital force and polarity). The 16th Path runs vertically up the Pillar of Force, and is entirely about the energies of the Sacred Masculine. It teaches us about using authority with humility, and using knowledge and wisdom to guide ourself and others to the Mysteries. There is a noble intention connected to the 16th Path, but there are responsibilities connected to it. The 16th Path assists us to uplift our soul by knowing what we believe and what we don’t believe. Interestingly enough, the 16th Path is one of the Paths that crosses the great Abyss, and it is known as the Gate of Royalty.

The Hierophant is an archetype of Spirit (with The Emperor as archetype of the Sacred Masculine, The Empress as archetype of the Sacred Feminine, and all three representing the supernal triad) that reminds us of the value of tradition, ritual and ceremony, and conforming to the rules and traditions with the aim of presenting the highest good of the group. There is duty to be found in this card, as well as morality, and a suggestion that tradition should not be accepted blindly, for there is a level of attainment unique to the individual to be had from within a spiritual practice.

Like all positions of authority, this one contains danger. The Hierophant gone amok manifests as filled with a desire to manipulate or abuse his students. A reversed Hierophant can end up more concerned with recognition than with imparting knowledge, or he can take on an overbearing attitude that is more about imposing control than imparting wisdom. A reversed Hierophant can manifest an inability to allow his students to move on or to become Teachers themselves, choosing to maintain control over each student’s development of mind, body, and skills at all costs. Any religious or political fundamentalist in our world who imposes his own version of law and order on his or her people is manifesting the reversed Hierophant.

Faith is the Legacy Tarot version of The Hierophant. The image on this card is a representation of four of the most mainstream religions in the world, each of them in an attitude of prayer, with a column of golden light connecting them all. This connection is the focus of the Legacy Faith card. We do need to remember that this very connection can be hugely beneficial, or it can be judgmental, terrorizing and murderous.

The Llewellyn Welsh Hierophant is Taleisin, the powerful bard of myth, and the card represents authority and orthodox behavior. The Llewellyn Welsh Hierophant is an advocate of tradition and instruction, initiation and spiritual systems or culture. Reversed, he is warning me of fanaticism and of the danger of conforming for the wrong reasons.

Like The Emperor (who leads by imposing order, balance, form and structure onto his world in order to create stability for those looking to him for protection) and The Hermit (who provides visionary guidance achieved through an acceptance of situations that enable us to abandon the ego and teaches us that through our own struggles and suffering, we can learn to have compassion for others and find the spiritual within the world), The Hierophant also leads. He is our conscience, our mentor, our counselor; he brings us advice and guidance through a deep understanding of tradition and culture, “tried-and-true” methods for coping with life. He is the keeper of those traditions, tasked with keeping them intact and yet assisting each of us to personalize those traditions in a way that resonates for us.

More importantly, The Hierophant not only encourages us to learn about our beliefs, cultures and traditions, but he also encourages us to practice them, to live them. The practice of spiritual traditions itself is indeed one of the nails that hold that tradition in place!


**This year we will be featuring the art of Ciro Marchetti as part of Tarot Talk.  You can view his work and Decks at