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Comparing The High Priestess and The Hierophant



This month, we will stay within the Major Arcana and discuss a pairing that I briefly mentioned last month: The High Priestess and The Hierophant. First, let’s review some terms. If you’ve read my column before, you can skip the next paragraph.

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. 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; stereotypes can be positive or negative, or an “epitome,” which is the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type; epitomes can also be positive or negative. So, 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 (or will) personally experienced these archetypes.

Besides its archetype and individual meaning, each Major Arcana card corresponds to a number, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth. By comparing these correspondences, we can learn specific details about these two cards, thus deepening our understanding of them and their messages within a reading.

We spoke about The High Priestess last month, but I will recap as we begin to explore The Hierophant and compare these two cards.

The traditional image on The High Priestess is of a woman sitting on a throne facing the viewer, often dressed in a blue robe similar to that worn by a nun or religious woman, and wearing a crown consisting of a crescent moon, representing the Maiden phase of the Goddess and waxing power; often one or both of her feet are also resting on a crescent moon. Her throne is usually flanked by two pillars, one is dark and the other light, representing the dual and polarized nature of the world. Often there is a curtain or veil behind her, representing the hidden mysteries she guards, as well as an inner focus. Some cards show a web rather than a curtain, which adds the concepts of relationships, connections, correspondences and synchronicity. In her lap is a scroll or a book, representing knowledge and wisdom, a record of truth, and a measure of time. In some decks this card is named “The Papess”; she can be interpreted as an inner version of The Hierophant, the other Major Arcana card we are looking at this month.

The traditional image on The Hierophant is of a priest or religious scholar dressed in a red robe and wearing a headpiece; 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, but there is no veil or curtain behind him because 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). 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.

Except for the color of their robes, these two cards look very similar in appearance. But they are different, and we can understand those differences by examining the ingredients of each card.

The High Priestess is the number 2 of the Major Arcana; this number represents balance, creative partnerships of all kinds, duality and polarity, tension and cooperation; it represents diplomacy, and decisions. The number 2 offers both direction and connection, and can be considered a gateway. This number offers the concept of comparison, The Line (which stretches between two points). In the Tarot, this number represents the first time the energies associated with the card appear as manifested, without yet being mixed with the influences present in the following cards.

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 High Priestess represents half of the feminine archetype, the archetype of the Feminine Mysteries. The High Priestess is the guardian of the unconscious who contains within herself the secrets of life, the mysterious unknown that women often represent (especially within cultures that value the tangible and the known), and of waiting or allowing things to manifest through stillness. She also represents duality (opposing forces that conflict, such as good and evil) and polarity (opposing forces that attract, such as yin and yang) for she is the bridge between the conscious and the subconscious.

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 High Priestess guards the knowledge she possesses, giving us an opportunity to learn how to wield it. Through tradition and culture, The Hierophant shows us the experience, skill and wisdom needed to access and use the knowledge guarded by The High Priestess.

The High Priestess corresponds with the element of Water, and thus the suit of Hearts, the color blue and the cardinal direction of West. This element represents emotions, dreams, divine love, the heart and the subconscious. Water represents purification and transformation, and being grounded in the heart rather than the intellect. Water is about inner manifestations of all kinds, as well as our connections and bonds at many levels. The element of Water usually represents a caring and sensitive nature; it can also represent dreaminess and self-delusion, or the presence of some emotional trauma and possibly a refusal to address this hurt.

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, the processes of Nature, and the things we need to stay alive and healthy. 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.

Earth and Water are passively friendly to each other. Earth is a receptacle of Water; streams, lakes and oceans are all contained in vessels of Earth; even a puddle in the middle of your lawn shows this affinity. Also, Earth can be dissolved into and combined with Water, as can many minerals of our Earth, binding together to create something new.

In astrology, The High Priestess corresponds with our Moon. The planets of our solar system revolve around our Sun. The Moon revolves around the Earth rather than the Sun, and is our Earth’s only natural satellite. The Moon is the second-brightest regularly visible celestial object in Earth’s sky after the Sun, and although it can appear a very bright white, its surface is actually dark. It is prominent in the night sky, and its regular cycle of phases cause it to appear to change shape. The Moon’s gravitational influence produces our oceans’ tides, and its current orbital distance from the Earth causes it to appear to be the same size as our. The Moon represents the archetype of dreams, instincts, and the anima. Like our Sun, the Moon is a source of illumination, but the Moon presents illumination without heat.

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.

The High Priestess is connected to cycles and illusion, instincts and dreams, all ideas rather than things that can be held in our hands. The Hierophant brings those ideas into the physical world, so that we can be awed by their beauty.

In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is connected to the creative forces in the universe. They 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 High Priestess corresponds with the Hebrew letter Gimel, the third letter in the Hebrew alphabet; this letter corresponds with the camel who is able to safely cross the desert that is Da’at, the Abyss, and thus, has the secret of life. Gimel is similar to the Aramaic word “gamla,” which means “bridge.” Gimel is a conduit or transmitter, corresponding with the throat, with walking, and with repayment or kindness. Gimel also has the power of integration, as it is able to combine two contrasting forces.

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 the word “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. Vav represents the six physical dimensions (right, left, front, back, up, and down), and it represents the phallus, the catalyst or animating essence that propels action in the physical world.

Gimel is considered archetypal motion or cosmic resistance, stirring and integrating the powers of Above and the powers of Below. Vav is the connector, the activator that brings fertility to life in the physical world.

On the Tree of Life, The High Priestess represents Path 13, running between Tiphareth (the hub of the creation process where energies harmonize and focus to illuminate and clarify), and Kether (the source, limitless possibility). Path 13 is one of the Paths that represent the highest and most abstract qualities of Deity, and of the human mind. It is the only Path on the Middle Pillar of the Tree that crosses Da’at, The Abyss which separates the top three Sephiroth from the bottom seven, representing knowledge of self, consciousness and awareness, and being able to “see.” Because Path 13 crosses Da’at, it is also the Path of the Dark Night of the Soul, when we question our beliefs; it is known as the Gate of Knowledge. This period of questioning may strip away our resources, but what is left is a clear vision of Kether, the Crown.

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 as well. 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 also one of the Paths that crosses the great Abyss, and it is known as the Gate of Royalty.

Path 13 enables us to balance and quiet the noise of the outer world so we can hear our own inner voice. Path 16 is about the initiation that happens when we bridge the gap between our higher self and our lower self. The High Priestess tests us to determine if we are ready to access the hidden information that will allow the barrier between the inner world and the outer world to disappear, and The Hierophant shows us that we must live our truth in order to defend our beliefs with wisdom and mercy, kindness and compassion, and thus be the bridge between those two worlds.

The High Priestess is the one half of the Major Arcana representation of the Sacred Feminine, the half that is about mystery, hidden knowledge and initiation. The High Priestess who successfully crosses The Abyss tells of Uniting Intelligence. She is the source of the power of The Magician, the feminine version of The Hierophant, and the Keeper of the Mysteries. The High Priestess is the Gatekeeper who determines whether we are ready to experience the Mysteries, and she is somewhat removed from everyday life, although her mind is receptive. She tells us that in order to access the Mysteries she guards, we must know our inner self and accept the messages of our Inner Voice, even if they defy analysis.

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 here, 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 The Emperor (who leads by imposing order, balance, form and structure onto his world in order to create stability) and The Hermit (who 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. 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.


About the Author:

Raushanna is a lifetime resident of New Jersey. As well as a professional Tarot Reader and Teacher, she is a practicing Wiccan (Third Degree, Sacred Mists Coven), a Usui Reiki Master/Teacher, a certified Vedic Thai-Yoga Massage Bodyworker, a 500-hr RYT Yoga Teacher specializing in chair assisted Yoga for movement disorders, and a Middle Eastern dance performer, choreographer and teacher.  Raushanna bought her first Tarot deck in 2005, and was instantly captivated by the images on the cards and the vast, deep and textured messages to be gleaned from their symbols. She loves reading about, writing about, and talking about the Tarot, and anything occult, mystical, or spiritual, as well as anything connected to the human subtle body. She has published a book, “The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding,” and is currently working on a book about the Tarot, pathworking and the Tree of Life. Raushanna documents her experiences and her daily card throws in her blog, DancingSparkles.blogspot.com, which has been in existence since 2009. She and her husband, her son and step son, and her numerous friends and large extended family can often be found on the beaches, bike paths and hiking trails of the Cape May, NJ area.

The Emerald Tablet: My 24-Day Journal to Understanding on Amazon