Structuring with the Hierophant
78 Miles of Mystery: Mile 5
It’s mile 5 of 78 Miles of Mystery, and climbing in to the passenger seat for this mile of the road trip is the Hierophant, Key 5 of the Tarot, and the 6th card of the Major Arcana. Where his counterpart, the High Priestess, brought us serene, feminine wisdom, the Hierophant embodies a conventional, masculine energy. He’ll tell us exactly where we’re going, and it’s not our place to question why. Neither will he tolerate suggestions of a detour. As the Hierophant grabs the map, we simply need to trust in his process and absorb the knowledge he’ll impart.
With a church backdrop, the Hierophant takes on the form of a religious figure. He wears three vestments, one for each world. His crown also has three tiers, with a ‘W’ on top. In his left hand he holds a triple sceptre while his right is raised in benediction. At his feet, two monks kneel. The left wears a robe with red roses, the monk on the right, a blue robe with white lilies. Between them lies a pair of crossed keys. Two pillars flank the Hierophant, but unlike the High Priestess, there's no veil hiding the backdrop.
What the Hierophant Portrays:
The Hierophant is the card of conformity. When it appears, it generally indicates a need to stay within the borders of convention. It’s not a time for innovation when the Hierophant pops up, instead, it’s best to colour between the lines and do what’s expected of you.
Beyond this advice to follow established structure, the Hierophant can indicate involvement in a ceremony or ritual—a practice linked to a structured religion. It may be that this tradition needs to be honoured in order for the seeker to find their way, or to even consider creating traditions of their own if they don’t identify with a specific religious practice.
Institutions and how they bring value to our lives is an overriding theme with this card. It indicates the need to conform, so for a seeker with a free-spirited mind, this can be a stifling message. Where group membership is concerned, for some, it can prove an engaging, informative exchange, but for others, a restrictive, soul-sucking experience. If the Hierophant’s presence in a reading raises conflict for the seeker, they need to lean into their intuition to decide whether tradition and institute, or freedom of expression is the best course of action.
Despite the undertones of this card, the Hierophant isn’t all about religion. The institute aspect of this card is key to getting the best out of the hierophant, by considering what groups, or joint way of thinking will serve best and encourage further learning. This can take many forms; a gym, to improve physical health and confidence, a college setting, where becoming a student expands and enriches the mind. It can even be something as simple as joining a ‘bitch ‘n stitch’ group to welcome in more human connection alongside creativity!
Because the Hierophant also represents the pursuit of knowledge, mentorship and learning are often on the horizon when it appears. It could be that the Hierophant manifests as a teacher, or mentor, or that the seeker takes on new studies, or becomes a mentor themselves. With the Hierophant’s preference for structure, the environment for these studies will likely be a formal one, as opposed to an online class you choose to take in your sweats while munching through snacks. If the Hierophant appears as a person, they’ll likely be a counsellor, psychotherapist, or a spiritual mentor. They’ll bring much wisdom and richness, and the seeker will emerge from their care with new skills.
Where the High Priestess embodies a mysterious vibe, the Hierophant is far more straight-forward. To access the sacred, it directs us towards institution and structure—down-to earth vehicles when compared to the subconscious mind we must access to gain wisdom from the High Priestess. Yet, mirroring his counterpart, the Hierophant does act as a conduit between us and the Divine, and this is why the card is often referred to as the Pope; the connection between God and mankind. Therefore, he takes the form of a spiritual mentor who physically steers us in the right direction. If you recall how the Magician points with his right hand to show us the way, the Hierophant takes it further by actually grasping our hand. He leads to higher consciousness through ritual and/or convention.
The Hierophant in Fiction:
Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings, Albus Dumbledore from Harry Potter, Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (one of my favourite Hierophant figures!) Yoda from Star Wards, and Jiminy Cricket from Pinocchio all reflect the wise counsel of the Hierophant, and how he works from a place of convention and structure.
A Closer Look:
In some decks, the Hierophant is known as the High Priest or the Pope. This lends an air of organised religion to the card, and puts many readers off—this one included. I cringed away from this card when I first began tarot studies. I had a Roman Catholic upbringing, and the teachings used in the convent school I attended drove me away from the practice by the time I was a teenager. Discovering a card in the deck that smacked of religious dogma almost had me yanking it out of the deck entirely. However, I’m glad to say, despite my aversion, once I got to grips with it, I now appreciate this card, and no longer grimace when it appears.
When you simply glance at the Hierophant, the air of containment and structure is obvious. The Hierophant sits between two pillars. (There are many interpretations of their meaning; severity versus mercy, obedience versus disobedience, law versus freedom.) He holds a rigid, sombre pose. The monks with matching bald spots kneel quietly. We don’t see their expressions, but they’re similarly dressed, an equal distance apart, and holding the exact same pose. Even the keys placed between them neatly occupy a centre point. There’s no imbalance or randomness here; everything is where it belongs.
Consider how this reflects the order of ritual. With any prayer or practice, there’ll be a definite beginning, middle and end; an order that can’t be broken. While some baulk against the idea of ritual, (and with the Hierophant we can’t help but think of religious ritual) take a moment to consider all the rituals or habits you carry out daily. If you can mindfully focus on your movements throughout the day, you may be surprised to discover how many ‘rituals’ you complete on autopilot. For example, consider the routine involved in leaving your home. Watch yourself as you move through the steps. On the occasion where a step falls in an different place, say, for example, your keys were not where you usually leave them and that automatic grab for the bunch leaves you empty handed, you may suddenly find yourself feeling like your day has already faltered. The order of these rituals forms an important foundation for your day. Without them, we’d feel scattered. How does this concept now reflect in your understanding of the Hierophant?
Taking a deeper dive into the imagery of this card, let’s first examine the Hierophant’s clothes. The three distinct layers are said to each represent a different world. His outer red cloak represents the element of Earth and the zodiac signs of Taurus and Venus, reflecting the physical, tangible world—the conscious.
The white accents on his vestments mirror purity of thought and action, so the subconscious.
The blue robe peeking out at the neck and feet mirror transcendence. With the exception of the seas and sky, blue is the rarest colour in nature, and in medieval art, the crystal lapis lazuli was often crushed to create a blue pigment. Being such a costly stone, it reflected purity and and preciousness, which is why Mother Mary is typically depicted in blue clothes—just like the High Priestess. The blue therefore represents the connection to divinity, what we can call the superconscious.
Three layers also appear in the Hierophant’s crown, said to represent the papal tiara (a crown with three layers). The papal tiara reflects authority over the spiritual and secular, so mirrors how the Hierophant bridges mankind and divinity. The black ‘w’ sitting on top is the Hebrew letter ‘Vav’ which means ‘hook’ or ‘nail’; perhaps an indication the Hierophant is securely tapped into his connection with the divine?
Unlike the High Priestess card, the grey pillars here contain nothing between them. This reflects how the Hierophant freely gives of knowledge, he hides nothing behind a veil. Debate surrounds the motifs on the pillars, with opinions ranging between phallic symbols, a uterus, and even pine cones or acorns. I’ll leave you to intuit what it represents to you, but it seems almost counter-intuitive to have such an ambiguous symbol on this card when the Hierophant is all for open knowledge and zero randomness!
Below the Hierophant’s feet, the red carpet contains black and white checkers. Echoes of the High Priestess appear here, with the themes of duality; masculine/feminine, day/night, passive/aggressive, heart/mind, intuition/logic etc.
The crossed keys reflect St Peter, and the Keys to Heaven, but again with a view to duality, they can also represent the conscious/subconscious mind, or even heaven/hell.
The monks are the initiates, the students, kneeling at the Hierophant’s feet in readiness to learn. With roses representing love and passion, and lilies reflecting pure thought, it suggests a coming together of desire and thought; the drive to be fulfilled.
The Hierophant in Motion:
To get an idea of the Hierophant in motion, let’s look at an instance where you might draw the Hierophant in a reading related to career. The appearance of this card would indicate the need to conform to company rules, operate within the expected framework, and flow with the company culture. It would not be the time to challenge superiors, or try something radical within your processes.
To progress within a career, a recommended course of action would be to align with superiors and work within the expected boundaries. For many, the prospect of such a rigid structure may chafe, but the Hierophant stands on a foundation of tradition, so bucking against those traditions is likely to backfire. Forming alliances and developing solid relationships with colleagues, especially those who can help with development would be a wise move. And, with the Hierophant representing a mentor, it would benefit the seeker to identify who that mentor could be and approach them for support.
In a money-related query, the appearance of the Hierophant would suggest seeking professional advice, being conservative with investments, and avoiding and form of high-risk financial behaviour.
In essence, the Hierophant represents a conservative, mature mentality. There’s no room for drama, high emotion, or recklessness. Instead, it’s time to hit the brakes, to operate with structure and wisdom. It all sounds very adult, right? But sometimes, we need that conventionalism in order to succeed.
Despite his solemness, the Hierophant’s not a total party-pooper. He likes to get down and boogie every so often. Here’s a few tracks you might find him shaking his booty to when no-one’s watching. (Available links take you to Spotify)
Guru, by Alanis Morissette
I started young, I was enthralled by your agape. As a student, I kept going. Color me captured. Disillusioned enough, needed your guidance, and so I turned over to you to lead me home. And then I said, Guru teacher, Guruji I bow to you, humbled by your knowledgeable education. Guruji I bow to the divine in you, please consider me your utmost humble student.
Conventional Wisdom by Built to Spill
Some things never change, Nothings gonna change that, Some things you can't explain, Like why we're all embracing conventional wisdom in a world that's just so unconventional Made you turn around, But you never expected to see that, That's what makes that sound That you never expect to hear
There goes my hero, Watch him as he goes, There goes my hero, He's ordinary.
Kudos, my hero, Leavin' all the mess, You know my hero, The one that's on.
Never Let You Go by Colbie Caillat
If we find that our vision is blinded, we should slow down and maybe we'll find it. Every heart just needs a little time to grow. If you go through a little bit of hard times, you should know that to fix it it'll take time. Baby hold on before we start to lose control.
The Hierophant in Creativity:
With all its conventionalism and structure, the Hierophant strains against the essence of creativity, yet we do need organisation and framework if we want to work efficiently. Consider where you use structure in your creative processes. What foundations do you lie when starting a new project? For example, as an author, I’ll decide the genre of my book, what will be driving the characters, and the overall themes of the story. I’ll then estimate a publishing date, and note the services I’ll need around that time; cover design, formatting, editing etc., and book these services. Once I have these structures in place, the Hierophant can vamoose so I can write with unstructured, wild abandon.
In terms of the Hierophant’s theme of institution, consider next your creative tribe. Whether your community is online or a group of like-minded people you meet or work with, regular engagement with these ‘institutions’ can keep us motivated, supported, and inspired. Think back to when you began your creative journey. If you stepped out alone, but soon forged connections with other artists, how did that change you? Did you engage with a mentor? How did that grow your skills?
Where the Empress, the Fool and the Magician bring an expansive, fertile, and often courageous energy to creativity, the Hierophant works in the background. He may be quiet back there, but there’s no denying his presence is vital if we want to build upon a strong base.
Symbolism for the Hierophant:
5: A number of change, instability, and conflict. Reflected in the Hierophant it indicates a need to change tactics to avoid instability and conflict by conforming.
Pillars: Stability, foundation.
Three layered crown: Authority over the spiritual and secular, the bridge between mankind and divinity.
‘W’: The Hebrew letter ‘Vav’ which means ‘hook’ or ‘nail’.
Triple sceptre: Ecclesiastical authority.
Red robes: The element of Earth and the zodiac sign of Taurus. The physical, tangible world = the conscious.
White accents on robes: Purity of thought and action = the subconscious.
Blue Robes: Transcendence and the connection to divinity = the superconscious.
Monks: Acolytes seeking wisdom from a higher knowledge.
Red Roses: Passion and love.
White Lilies: Pure thought.
Crossed Keys: The Keys to heaven, a representation of conscious versus subconscious mind, heaven and earth.
Chequered Pattern: Duality as reflected in the High Priestess card. Masculine/feminine, day/night, passive/aggressive, heart/mind, intuition/logic.
Red Carpet: A foundation of love and passion for his calling.
The grounded element of Earth and the stubborn, yet dependable nature of Taurus reflects the Hierophant. Venus also rules this card, representing the ideals of love, harmony, and union.
Structuring with the Hierophant; a tarot spread.
Using the Hierophant as a focal point, shuffle and draw while thinking about the questions. Journal your thoughts, or take a photo so you can refer back to the reading at a later date.
Where does conflict lie at this time?
Where should I conform?
What tradition would benefit me?
What area of my life needs guidance?
What will help me to structure?
A message from the Hierophant
Do I enjoy or push against convention in my life?
Where do I appreciate structure?
Where do I dislike structure?
What learning would benefit me right now?
Who do I admire in my field of work? How might I emulate them?
When did I last conform against my will? What was the outcome?
Who represents the Hierophant in my life?
The Hierophant Reversed:
March to the beat of your own drum is the message of the Hierophant reversed. Instead of conforming, it’s time to do your own thing. Whether it be a tradition, work practice, or religious/spiritual ritual, something doesn’t sit right with you when the Hierophant is reversed, so the message is to take matters into your own hands and shape the situation to your own preferences. A little of the upright Hierophant’s conventionalism remains, however, so don’t get too crazy!
Reversed, the Hierophant also asks you to reflect on where others may be herding your thoughts or actions for their own gain. Consider any cult-like influences, where conformity holds negative and harmful connotations. Examine your belief system, question obedience, and listen to gut instinct.
Overall, the best way to interpret the reversed Hierophant is to take an unorthodox approach to the situation. Ignore the rules and expectations. Colour outside the lines and see what takes shape.
The Hierophant reversed journal prompts:
Where does conformity chafe with me right now?
How can I change this?
What tradition in my life needs a thorough shake-up?
What might I do in its place?
What is my belief system?
Do I live that system with joy, or does it bring me discomfort?
Invite the Hierophant into your life for the next few days. See if you can find its conventional, structured nature in music, lyrics, poetry, books, art. TV/Movie characters or well known people. What about those around you? Who amongst your friends/family/colleagues embodies Hierophant energy? Where would structured Hierophant energy benefit your life—and what might change with it?
If you journal, write about your experience. Discovering your own personal associations is a fantastic way to connect with the themes of any card, so if a connection clicks, keep note of it. Associating a card with a person, song, or character forges a solid understanding that has personal meaning, and works way better than simply rote learning the meanings. The main thing is to enjoy the process.
Now that we’re 6 cards in, how does the Hierophant impact the Fool’s journey? The Fool has been dealing with energies of structure and stability for this and the previous leg of his journey, a far cry from the wild abandon he enjoyed when he took that cliff leap at mile zero. How does Hierophant energy benefit him right now? He’s matured since that first leap, so is he ready for mentoring? Does he need to form his own spiritual foundation to cope with the challenges ahead?
If you’re looking for guidance on journaling you can check out the post here. Likewise, for recommended books on tarot, hop to the Resources section where all the books are linked for easy access to Amazon.
The Lovers joins us next, bringing harmony and passion to the journey. Time to tune into Love.FM! Until then, enjoy journeying with the Hierophant. Let me know how you bond. I’d love to hear associations you make, especially when they’re pop-culture based. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to chat!
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