In Defence of The Hierophant


It sometimes seems to me that The Hierophant (or whatever alternative name your deck creator has chosen) gets unfairly maligned. Somewhere along the way, someone (?who?) decided that he represented the authoritarian Church and all it’s teachings. Well yes it does, but its oh so much more than that.

The Hierophant to me is Culture. So that includes the teachings of the Church, but it also includes Christianity (there’s a difference). It includes the history of the culture we are in, for better for worse.


If it helps, think of the Hierophant as the Librarian. He is a teacher of conventional wisdom and  of everything that has gone before. He represents learning – learning to read, learning to understand, learning to discriminate with whatever text one is involved with. Because just because something is written down, doesn’t mean its true or accurate. Just because something is published, doesn’t make it academically sound. This is especially true nowadays with the interwebs, where any Tom, Dick or Harry (such as yours truly) can write any kind of nonsense and put it out for all to read.


I can’t emphasise enough how much I believe in reading and in educating oneself. Just because you discover a wonderful new idea, doesn’t mean that’s the end of the exploration.

For example, Mary Magdalene. You start off as a Catholic with questions, read The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail and suddenly you’re off on an adventure! But it really needn’t stop there – there’s St Sara, St Sara-Le-Kali, there’s Black Madonnas galore, there’s Kali, Isis, Sophia, Binah……..and then there’s taking advantage of a gullible public, there’s not quite getting the known facts accurate, because you either haven’t bothered to investigate further or because they got in the way of a cracking story!


Humans are generally lazy creatures. We like short-cuts and an easy life. However short-circuited thinking leads us to draw unsavoury conclusions such as: questions are whispered in our ear by Satan; all Muslims are potential suicide-bombers; Stephen Fry deserves to be held accountable for his blasphemy and doctors who perform abortions should be executed.

Forget what stupid Roger Waters sang, we do need an education. We need one so we can counter ridiculous ideas such as those above (I didn’t just make them up; I hear these ideas – presented as completely reasonable- all the bloody time!). We need to be able to challenge idiocy and short-sightedness on every level, and you can’t do that if you lack understanding, perspective, knowledge and empirical evidence. We need to understand the other person’s point of view too – why did they reach their conclusions? The Hierophant also represents one of my favourite definitions – cultural context. It’s not simply revisionism, it’s broader than that.  The Hierophant teaches us the cultural values of a particular time and place, but also they can point you in the right direction to understand others.


In the Greenwood Tarot, Chesca Potter replaced The Hierophant with The Ancestor, which works well. The idea is still of following received wisdom, as the Ancestor can lead you into a place where you can find berries, follow the path of the herd, read the river, forecast the weather and have your own spiritual experiences.

So please don’t grimace when you pull the Hierophant (or Pope, or Priest or whoever he’s called in your deck). His presence is a reminder that you might need to talk to someone who knows more than you do and to read around the subject.  It’s going to Dagobar to seek Yoda and it’s Gandalf re-reading the scrolls of Isildur, just to check up some important stuff he’d forgotten. Don’t ever let your past hold you back from learning. There’s so much out there.


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