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Comparing The Hierophant & The Devil



Let’s look at an interesting pairing this month, and compare The Hierophant with The Devil. Not everyone is comfortable examining at The Devil, but there are interesting similarities between these two cards. First, let’s review some terms. If you’ve read my column before, you can skip the next two paragraphs.

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; or an “epitome,” which is the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type. Both can be positive or negative. 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 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.

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 but without the veil or curtain behind him, as The Hierophant represents revealed knowledge rather than hidden knowledge. He is usually holding a triple cross 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), in his left, telling us he chooses spirituality over earthly pleasures. 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 traditional image on The Devil is of a horned creature, sometimes with cloven hooves and the legs of a goat or the wings of a bat. Often The Devil is seated on a tall, square shaped throne, symbolizing the material world nature of his energies, and he may be gesturing in a manner similar to the image on The Magician, with one arm pointing upward and the other pointing downward. Unlike The Magician, he holds his torch in the downward-facing arm, illuminating Earth rather than channeling the Divine. Often there are a man and a woman standing at his feet, usually bound by ropes or chains to The Devil’s throne and sometimes surrounded by flames. Often the image contains a reversed pentagram, symbolizing the glorification of the passions of Fire and bodily pleasures of Earth over the higher good of Spirit. However, there are interesting and informative variations to the traditional image to be found. The Legacy of the Divine Devil is handsome and tells of the seductive allure of superficial beauty and attractiveness. The Llewellyn Welsh Devil is called The Horned One, and is more about life and the pleasures found its natural state, without the interference of technology and the pain, suffering and bondage seen in the more traditional images.

There are striking similarities in the traditional images of these two cards. Both show a larger figure with two smaller figures. Both main figures are holding an implement of authority (The Hierophant holds a three-tiered cross and The Devil holds a torch), and both gesture with their free hand (The Hierophant with two fingers closed and The Devil with an open hand). Both images display dominance, power and strength, with The Hierophant ruling ideologies and being seen as holding a high and mighty office supported by dogma and faith, and The Devil seated on his high throne before two figures who have willingly surrendered their ability to choose freedom.

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 Devil represents the archetype of the Libido and Psychic Energy. Yes, The Devil is often connected to sex, but actually he is more about our struggles with all of our physical world drives and needs, not just sexual needs. Humans are born with a basic need to grow and learn. We are also born with a resistance to change and a fear of the unknown. In the best of situations the growth and resistance balance each other out, but that does not always happen. The Devil is the representation or metaphor for all of those forces, both inner and outer, that strive to derail us from growing and learning, and encourage us to give in to inertia and the distractions of physical-world pleasures. The Devil is the archetype of all those primal and selfish traits that we attempt to tame as we grow up and take our place in a functioning community; these traits may be successfully repressed, but they don’t go away.

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 Devil is numbered 15, representing personal magnetism and a material focus. In numerology, the number 15 reduces to the number 6, which is about balance, polarity, and the connecting energy of “distance between.” The number 6 card of the Major Arcana is The Lovers; The Devil, who can bring fear and isolation, can be considered the perversion of the energies of The Lovers card, which brings love and connectedness. The number 15 has a material focus, and it can represent charisma and the ability to effectively use magick.

The Hierophant is related to Temperance, the number 14 card of the Majors (1 + 4 = 5) which tells of the balance that comes through having a good understanding of extremes. The Devil can be seen as the response to Temperance, the card he follows in the Major Arcana, as The Devil uses his charisma to convince us that extremes offer more pleasure.

Both The Hierophant and The Devil correspond 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. And of course, the element of Earth is about our physical bodies and our senses, and all the pleasures we can get from them.

In astrology, The Hierophant represents the astrological sign of Taurus, a Fixed Earth sign which is all about reward and reliability. 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 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 Devil corresponds with Capricorn, a Cardinal Earth sign ruled by Saturn and having a material focus. Capricorn people are stable, hard-working, practical, methodical, and ambitious, never losing sight of goals regardless of how many obstacles or distractions are in the way. They are also a bit and rigid, and they will stick to their beliefs despite convincing evidence to the contrary. More than anything else they enjoy power, respect, and authority, and they are willing to toe the line for as long as it takes to achieve those goals for achievement matters most.

Both of these are Earth signs, however each sign approaches its element in a different way. Fixed Earth is about going deeper and pursuing the full realization of what has already been initiated. Thus, The Hierophant is about constructing a tradition that makes an idea solid and lasting. Cardinal Earth is the instigator who gets things started and attracts those who can be convinced to support what has begun. The Devil has a natural and enticing authority because he is the master of the physical plane.

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 Hierophant corresponds with the Hebrew letter Vav or Vau, the sixth letter in the Hebrew alphabet representing the nail or hook, the instrument which secures or holds something in place. 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), it is through The Hierophant that knowledge is transferred from one person or group to another. The Devil corresponds with the Hebrew letter Ayin, the 16th letter in the Hebrew alphabet, a letter of manifestation; this letter corresponds with the eye and the ability to see as well as hear, understand and obey. Thus it is known as the “path of discernment,” discerning our animal nature and understanding that we can choose to embrace it, or deny it.

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, which crosses the Abyss and is known as the Gate of Royalty, 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.

The Devil represents Path 26, running between Hod, the lower end of the Pillar of Form (which provides analysis and communication) and Tiphareth (the hub of the creation process where energies harmonize and focus to illuminate and clarify). Hod represents instinct, logical analysis, and knowledge without wisdom or the influence of ethics, and Tiphareth reminds us that who we are is more important than what we do. Tiphareth is located just below Da’ath; Da’ath is connected to the Dark Night of the Soul, and in order to cross Da’ath we must choose to move beyond the harmony of Tiphareth. The Devil and Path 26 test us and challenge us to submerge the physical in order to learn difficult lessons and experience higher consciousness.

A bit of trivia: The Devil could be an add-on card. Robert M. Place, in Alchemy and the Tarot, states that there was no Devil card in the very early hand-painted decks. The earliest Devil card he found was in the Tarot of Ferrara, circa 1465. In any event, fewer Devil cards have survived from the older Tarot decks than any other card. Perhaps the cards were deliberately destroyed, so they could not show up in a reading.

The Hierophant represents masculine spirituality, the solar aspects of the soul, rather than the lunar aspects of The High Priestess. The Hierophant opens his book and shares his knowledge and traditions, sending them out into the sunlight. Because his persona is public, The Hierophant must practice what he preaches, no matter how difficult that is. The Hierophant represents the spirit of the Divine on Earth, and the potential of joining our higher self and our lower self, bringing the upliftment of the soul and providing the link or bridge between the outer experience and the inner illumination. He is the revealer of sacred things because he understands that to teach is also to learn.

The Devil is the archetype of all those primal and selfish traits that we attempt to tame as we mature and take our place in a functioning community, traits we may successfully repress, but they still hide in the darkness of our unconscious. The Devil also tells of being caught up in the effects of the physical senses, often to the point of being bound or addicted to those things. On the other hand, The Devil is the convenient scapegoat blamed for any excesses of the physical world. After all, physical enjoyment is somehow seen by many as an estrangement from God, and how nice it is to have The Devil around to blame for our own weaknesses. The Devil’s true power rests in illusion. In the traditional image of this card, the two figures standing before The Devil at first appear chained in place, but actually those chains are only loosely looped around them. They have become convinced that they cannot escape, that there are no alternatives. This is the power of The Devil, and once we realize that we have alternatives, the chains fall away.


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