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Tarot Talk

Comparing The Emperor & The Hierophant



We have already compared The Empress and The High Priestess. This month, we will return to the Major Arcana, and compare The Emperor and The Hierophant. Before we begin breaking them down, let’s define and 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. The term refers to one of two concepts: a “stereotype” (a personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of a personality type), or an “epitome” (the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type).

Besides the symbolism in its traditional image, each Major Arcana card corresponds to a number, a specific archetype, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth. We’ve got a lot of information to talk about.

The traditional image on The Emperor is of an adult man, often at least partially clothed in armor, seated on a throne, many times with his face turned to one side, and his legs crossed, appearing similar to the number 4. We see those crossed legs elsewhere in the Majors (take a look at the image on The Hanging Man, in many ways the polar opposite of The Emperor). His throne is cubic in shape, stable and hard to tip over. The Emperor holds a scepter or some other symbol of his rank, authority, and right to rule, and sometimes holds an orb, representing the kingdom he rules over, in the other hand. Sometimes there is a shield nearby, sometimes decorated with the image of an eagle or a ram. His long beard represents his vast experience, and the barren mountains in the distance represent grit, strength and force.

The traditional image on The Hierophant is also of an adult man, this one 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 his staff of office (a phallic symbol), usually the triple cross or papal cross, in his left hand and is gesturing with his right hand, using the Christian gesture of benediction. 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, 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.

Neither The Emperor nor The Hierophant represent only a male; either can easily represent a woman or even a situation. Both figures appear to have authority, represented in part by their crowns, with The Emperor appearing more secular or even war-like in nature, and The Hierophant with more formal or even church-like surroundings. Both create rules and regulations that need conformity in order to serve, protect and nurture.

The Emperor card is numbered 4; the number 4 is about foundation being created, solidification, discipline, authority figures, self-imposed boundaries, or a too-tight focus. The number 4 adds dimension, stability, and solidity to the numbers 1, 2 and 3; this number offers the concept of depth, The Solid. Fours are stable numbers; four walls, four seasons, four corners. It takes a massive amount of energy to move them or tip them over. The Emperor is connected to the Death card, the 13th Major; in numerology, the number 13 has a connection to the number 4 (1 + 3 =4). Emperors often maintain their power through death and they receive it through succession, also connected to death.

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 has a connection to Temperance, the 14th Major Arcana (14 reduces to the number 5; 1 + 4 = 5), the card that represents the blending of opposing ideas or elements.

The number 4 and the number 5 tell of different energies or effects. The number 4 creates stability that is difficult to topple and that allows prosperity to happen. The energies of the number 5 happen when stability is in effect for too long. The number 5 adds motion to stability in an attempt to create balance and prevent stagnation.

The Emperor represents the archetype of the Father or the Hero. The archetype of the Father combines a talent for creating or initiating (as a catalyst) with an ability to oversee others, whether a biological family or a group of creative people. Although the Father has often been associated with the negative connotations of paternalism and male dominance, a true Father guides and shields those under his care, sacrificing his own desires when that sacrifice is appropriate. The Hero is a classic figure in ancient Greek and Roman literature, often portrayed as a person who must follow an increasingly difficult path of obstacles in order to become initiated into manhood. Through facing physical and internal obstacles, the Hero confronts fear and taps into his own courage; he then returns to the tribe with experiences and wisdom that are of great value to the entire group.

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 Emperor keeps the lights on and makes the trains run on time, and his authority is more on an individual level. He strives to create a world where all those under his authority can prosper. He earned his position by being responsible and likeable. The Hierophant is the bridge between knowledge and students. He uses his authority to guard traditions and encourage the conventionality that is for the good of all. He earned his position by learning a body of knowledge.

The Emperor corresponds with the element of Fire, which is hot and dry, and shapes and separates. Fire manifests as spontaneous, impulsive and energetic change. Fire corresponds with the suit of Wands from the Tarot Minor Arcana, the playing cards of Clubs, the direction of South and the color of red. Fire represents ideas, seeds being planted, growth, ambition, and passion; Fire’s energies encourage us to move forward, to experience joy and passion (including sexuality), and to take action based on divine will rather than our ego-based self.

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, offering physical shelter as well as mental and emotional pleasure. 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.

When considering elemental dignities, Fire and Earth are neutral to each other, neither supporting nor detracting.

In astrology, The Emperor represents the astrological sign of Aries, a cardinal Fire sign that is a catalyst, a person who is action oriented and who inspires others by being totally committed to his or her own vision. Aries is the first sign of the zodiac, the leader of the pack, first in line to get things going. Aries is ruled by Mars, the God of War (which is why The Emperor wears armor under his robes), bold and aggressive, and able to tap into the focus needed to take on any challenge.

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.. 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 a true-blue, loyal sign, and slow to anger; like the element of Earth, Taurus is about strength of body as well as strength of heart.

Aries is a leader who has an outer focus. Taurus is a manager who is more introspective. Both have a focus on life and creating life, but Aries is about making the flowers grow and Taurus is about managing the garden.

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 Emperor corresponds with the Hebrew letter Heh, the fifth letter in the Hebrew alphabet, representing the window that allows light or wisdom, and air or spirit, into a room. This letter also represents the sense of sight, offering the power to analyze problems and supervise his domain.

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. This letter also represents hearing, and in order to listen one must be silent, so it also represents humble submission and words of greater wisdom.

On the Tree of Life, The Emperor represents Path 15, running between Chokmah (male in the electric sense, dynamic energy, the origin of vital force and polarity) and Tiphareth (the hub of the creation process where energies harmonize and focus to illuminate and clarify), the Path of Natural Intelligence. Chokmah (Wisdom) is the second sephira on the Tree, at the top of the Pillar of Force/Expansion. It is seen as dynamic thrust, and as the Ultimate Positive, the Great Stimulator and the Great Fertilizer (one of the symbols of Chokmah is the penis). It represents dynamic male energy and is the origin of vital force and polarity. Tiphareth (Beauty) is the sixth sephira on the Tree, the second on the Pillar of Balance (the first being Kether, the Crown), and represents harmony, equilibrium, and the epitome of balance. Tiphareth is the balance between active and passive, force and form; the hub of the wheel, the Sun in the sky.

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.

Path 15 connects with Tiphareth, the hub of creation that focuses on harmony and illumination. Path 16 rises up the Pillar of Force and is about connecting to force and expansion.

The Emperor follows The Empress in the Tarot Majors; he is father to her mother and civilization to her nature. He imposes order, balance, form and structure onto her fertility and her creations. The strength of The Emperor is the stability he brings to a situation. In the best of circumstances, he is the intelligent, enthusiastic leader of an orderly, lawful, thriving family, offering his children the structure they need in their lives to help them to become responsible adults.

Like The Emperor, 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. 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.


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