Back to our roots – reinterpreting The Hierophant

What even is a ‘Hierophant’?

This is a question I’ve been asked a few times now. Well, to quote from Wikipedia:

A hierophant is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy.

A hierophant is an interpreter of sacred mysteries and arcane principles.

In the Rider Waite Tarot deck and similar decks, “The Hierophant” […] represents conformity to social standards, or a deference to the established social moral order.

Hmm. What can we deduce from this? Two things:

1. Don’t look up tarot card meanings on Wikipedia. Because there is no one way to define a tarot card and when people present their interpretations, it’s nice to have a little discussion/exploration of how they got there, rather than a single sentence.

2. It’s time to reinvent The Hierophant. So many people struggle with this card, it’s really time we took a look at how it can be interpreted in modern readings with/for people who don’t identify with the papal or religious connotations so often presented.

Religion does not play a large role in my life.

I don’t knowingly enter (much less be ‘gathered into’) a holy place, I am not part of any congregation, and I don’t subscribe to the doctrines of any pope-like ‘leader’. So to me, read according to the brief ideas suggested above, The Hierophant becomes a card of oppressive ideologies which have no bearing on my life.

So what do I make of The Hierophant when she pops up in my readings?

It’s about roots. About knowing where we’ve come from.

Yes, this can mean tradition, but that doesn’t have to be bad. The world spins forwards, but it’s so important to know what happened yesterday, last week, last year, last century. The world got to where it is today by going through changes – it’s okay to understand these changes. It is worthwhile to hear the stories of the past and learn from the successes, failures and experiences of our predecessors.

The Hierophant tarot card from the Shadowscapes Tarot, showing an old, bent tree with autumnal-coloured leaves and the face of an old man. He or she holds a walking stick with a lamp at the top and the card draws you in as if it's storytime.
Hierophant tarot card Shadowscapes

The Hierophant, from the Shadowscapes Tarot by Stephanie Piu Mun Law (surely one of The Lord of The Rings‘ Ents?)

Instead of thinking of The Hierophant as a stuffy, religious figure, imagine that they are one of your heroes.

Who do you admire? Who has had an incredible life that inspires you? Who has made a difference, or seen incredible (or awful) things?

It’s time to listen.

When survivors tell of their time in concentration camps

When you read the autobiography of a social activist

When your grandparents tell you about growing up with no money

When you see an exhibition about the suffrage movement

When you take a night class in social history

…these are all expressions of The Hierophant.

Images of The Hierophant vary, but one symbol many have in common is a key:

the hierophant tarot cards from four different decks, each showing a key somewhere within the image
The Hierophant tarot card

That’s significant. (Of course!) A key suggests unlocking, opening a door, a box, something intriguing.

Look for the key when you draw this card – the thing that will help you unlock your dilemma. It might be a person, a book, a story buried deep in your memory.

Instead of thinking ‘ugh – oppressive’ when The Hierophant comes up in your readings, think ‘what can this person teach me? What lessons can I learn?’ Or try ‘what do I need to know about the past to better understand the here and now?’

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  1. Eli says:

    This is a really beautiful reinterpretation of the hierophant: the ancestors, the voices of history. I’m looking forward to seeing her in my readings now. The cawing rook with lightning in the Wild Unknown suggests an interestingly mobile sort of history: stories that can fly where they’re needed, histories that can be reinterpreted according to the circumstances, as well as conveying a definite sense of urgent immediacy.

    • Beth says:

      Totally. I love the Wild Unknown version – the rook reminds me of the one-eyed all-seeing crow in Game of Thrones… This one feels like a scarier version of The Hierophant, where you have no choice but to hear this powerful message from the past.

  2. Dahlia says:

    I love the concept of reimagining classic tarot interpretations and the hierophant is certainly one I’ve struggled with. I love the idea of viewing the hierophant as a hero/heroine figure. Also, what is the name of that circular deck, it is gorgeous!!!

  3. Marianne says:

    I love this! Helping us make peace with The Hierophant is one of my pet projects – the pope hangover can be so rigid, exclusive, and oppressive, but I think in its many modern forms, this card can also remind us that tradition in the material realm can connect us with the divine, with god, the universe, whatever you call it. Hierophant high five!

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