The Hierophant, the enthroned pope with his kneeling monks, dispensing Christian justice from on high, distant and unreachable, inscrutable and impassive, and the earthly representation of the Church’s heavenly authority.
The Hierophant is one of my least favorite Tarot cards. I used to cringe whenever he would show up in a reading. I’m a witch and a queer woman and I’ve got lots of experience with people who call themselves Christian spewing hate in my direction and trying to write all kinds of laws to strip me of my basic human rights and take away all the protections and things like health insurance that I have to cover my wife. So you can understand how a Pope like figure might make me feel uncomfortable when he’s supposed to represent authority and a venerable wise teacher. The Hierophant is a symbol of authority and working within the rules of a system, he represents getting an education. He represents the political systems that oppress and marginalize me and people like me. My gut instinct is to chafe at his authority which has so often told me that I am lesser, that I’m bad, sinful, or that I’m going to hell. To me he reads as Donald Trump, Fred Phelps, Steve Bannon and their ilk. So how can I respect this guy’s authority?
It was during The Tarot Lady’s weekly Twitter Tarot Rap that someone shared this awesome insight that helped me break free of that confining interpretation. I believe it was Hilary Haggerty who said it, but I’m not positive. For me it was what I call a “Duh! Epiphany”. Something that once you’ve heard it seems so obvious that you can’t believe you didn’t realize it before. She said that Hierophant represents a positive authority figure. The people who designed the RWS tarot were Christian, and to them the Hierophant represented what was good and true, to them that was the teachings of God. And that I can understand. When you get down to it, a lot of the things that Christianity teaches are positive things when you don’t decide to mis-apply them, things like loving your neighbors and helping the poor.
In order for me to read the Hierophant in a positive light I need to look past the robes and symbols that he wears and see what the ideals are. The Hierophant is supposed to represent a trusted teacher. Maybe that’s the herbalist who custom blended some tea for my cold this weekend (slippery elm bark, marshmallow root, and so much more amazing stuff), maybe it’s the knitting teacher who helped me fix the mistake in my lace shawl, or my yoga instructor who encourages us to be present and be where we are, maybe it’s the activist who helps rally us together to protest injustice and stand up for what is right and true.
I think the card on the left, the Hierophant from Elisabeth Alba’s Everyday Witch Tarot gets it pretty right. She’s a teacher, not preaching wisdom from on high, but helping her students to work towards their highest good.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the Hierophant is always a good teacher, he definitely can still represent negative authority. But through realizing that he doesn’t have to be, I was able to move that card off my cringe list. Hooray for expanded and nuanced understandings!