Being the sixth card of Major Arcana; the Hierophant is considered as the male reverberation of the High Priestess. When the High Priestess is receptive, the Hierophant is expressive; when the High Priestess is learning, the Hierophant is teaching; yet they both stand on a bridge between the material plane and the Universe.
The Hierophant is depicted as a man in garmented in ostentatious attire. The attire (which is reminiscent of Papal vestment) is principally red; albeit variegated with white and blue colors. The right hand of the Hierophant is raised in the act of benediction; with two fingers pointing upwards and two fingers pointing down; and in his left hand he holds the Papal cross. On his head, he wears the Papal Crown and a diadem, long ends of which is draping over his shoulders. The Hierophant is sitting on a throne between two columns although these columns are different from those illustrated in the High Priestess card. On the two visible corners of the throne, the Taurus (♉) symbol is engraved. In front of the Hierophant, two figures seem to be prostrated themselves before him. In the middle of these two figures, the Papal Keys are illustrated. These two figures seem to be monks, with their heads shaved. The only visible difference between them is their robes: The figure on the right-hand side of the Hierophant wears a robe engraved with roses, whereas the other one wears a robe showing lilies on a blue background.
The symbolism of the Hierophant card is more elaborative than the previous cards; and it is the first card that contains more than one figures, suggesting that the Fool’s Journey is at a stage where he encounters other people. At this juncture, “the others” are not hostile, they might be mentors, teachers or guides; symbolized by Hierophant in this card.
The diadem worn by the Hierophant denotes his authority; whereas the Papal Crown and the Papal Cross sign that this authority is on three levels; which might be the past, present and the future; over the body, mind and the spirit or at the personal, interpersonal and transpersonal levels and so on – it is not exactly clear. In my opinion; to make an inference from the imagery of the monks, it refers to sovereignty of the Spirit over the body and the mind: One of the monks wears a robe engraved with red roses which represent love, beauty and passion; the features mainly associated with Body; whereas the one wears a blue robe with white lilies on it, representing the wisdom, purification and thoughtfulness; the features mostly related to Mind – the Hierophant clearly accounts for a clerical or spiritual authority which the monks shaved their heads, in accordance with their vows of submission.
The keys at the foot of the Hierophant are the Papal Keys; symbolizing the administrative authority of the Hierophant; standing for the connection between the Universe and the material plane. This connection is also emphasized with the act of blessing that the Hierophant performs with his right hand; his two fingers point upwards, to Heaven; whereas the other two points downwards, to Earth. The Papal Keys are also attributed with the powers to “bind and loose, absolve sins and make doctrinal judgements” (1). The symbolism of the keys also correlate with the resemblance of the throne to a door: The Hierophant, with his knowledge, is entitled to sit on the throne and become the door; and through his teachings, the students are enabled to pass through that door. The Taurus symbol on the throne does also indicate an authority; clarifying that the correlation between the authority and the knowledge made in the Hierophant card thoroughly: The authority is the knowledge, and the knowledge is the authority. The columns strengthen the idea of a gateway.
The Hierophant, before anything else, is a card of situated practice. As such, he might represent an established institution, a teacher or a priest; but it would never imply anything non-conventional. When it comes to readings, it calls for following the existing set of beliefs and conventions; in other words, adapting to status quo. It also represents learning and knowledge, albeit through a structure and under the guidance of a tutor. On a more general level, the Hierophant implies a sense of belonging or a group identity, be it religious or secular.
A person represented by the Hierophant would be wise, understanding and instructive; helping others to find their own “truths” rather than forcing a cult upon them, yet the society’s conventions would bind himself; wavering to pursue his own path to be true from time to time. In a relationship context, this card denotes a strong desire to be in a committed relationship or the conventional, traditional pattern of the existing relationship. Career-wise, this card indicates the need for alignment with the superiors at the workplace, and following the established rules; similar to the Emperor card, this card also calls for running away from risky investments and administering money conservatively.
None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.
All in all, the Hierophant calls for reverence for structure and going with the conventions as so far as they could be beneficial at some stages of personal development and growth: One might need the sense of belonging and guidance in parts of his pursuit of truth.
Click here for the Directory of Tarot Card Profiles
(1) Gauding, M. (2009). The Signs and Symbols Bible. London: Godsfield, p. 164.