A hierophant (Ancient Greek: ἱεροφάντης) is a person who brings religious congregants into the presence of that which is deemed holy. The word comes from Ancient Greece, where it was constructed from the combination ofta hiera, “the holy,” and phainein, “to show.” In Attica it was the title of the chief priest at the Eleusinian Mysteries. A hierophant is an interpreter of sacred mysteries and arcane principles.
In the Rider Waite Tarot deck and similar decks, “The Hierophant” (sometimes called “The Pope”) is one of the twenty-two trump cards comprising the “Major Arcana“, and represents conformity to social standards, or a deference to the established social moral order. As the guide towards knowledge, insight, and wisdom, in a tarot reading it might, for example, represent a priest, scholar, therapist, or teacher although these individuals are more definitively represented by the Hermit, or suggested by the traits attributed to the King of Cups. “He symbolizing all things that are righteous and sacred on the manifest side. As such, he is the channel of grace belonging to the world of institution as distinct from that of Nature, and he is the leader of salvation for the human race at large. He is the order and the head of the recognized hierarchy, which is the reflection of another and greater hierarchic order, but it may so happen that the pontiff forgets the significance of this, his symbolic state and acts as if he contained within his proper measures all that his sign signifies or his symbol seeks to shew forth. He is not, as it has been thought, philosophy — except on the theological side; he is not inspiration; and he is not religion; although he is a mode of its expression.”
The Hierophant is represented by a religious figure, sitting within a formal church environment. He is wearing three elaborate vestments of his office that represent the three worlds. The crown he is wearing has three tiers to. His right hand is raised in benediction, the same hand the Magician has raised. While the Magician was taking raw power from the Universe and manifesting it on the material plane, the Hierophant channels that power through society (as in the religions of the world). The triple sceptre is another symbol of his dominion over the three worlds. The crossed keys represent a balance between the conscious and subconscious minds and unlock the mysteries. Before him kneel two initiates. The Hierophant’s task is to bring the two initiates into the church so that they can take up their appointed roles. This symbolises entry into all types of institutions where there is a shared group identity. These could include schools, clubs, teams, companies and societies.
The Hierophant is very conventional and this Tarot card suggests that you have a desire to follow due process and to stay within the conventional bounds of what is typically an orthodox approach. Instead of being innovative, you will need to adapt to the existing set of beliefs and systems that are already in place. You will need to do what is expected of you. The appearance of the Hierophant in a Tarot reading indicates that this is certainly not a time to challenge the status quo!
In his focus on sharing knowledge through an institution, the Hierophant represents education and the pursuit of knowledge. This Tarot card can indicate a period of increased studying and learning, through formal mechanisms. You seek to understand a field of study that has been widely explored and documented, and so you may go to a well-known or established teacher to find out more.
The Hierophant Tarot card represents an institutionalised means for accessing the sacred and is the carrier and transmitter of ancient wisdom and religious teaching. He represents a link between us and the Divine and, for this reason, he is often referred to as the Pope. The role of the Pope is traditionally that of the mediator between God and mankind. As such, the Hierophant represents the spiritual teacher who helps us come into contact with the Divine. Unlike the Magician, who simply points the way, the Hierophant is a trusted guide, one who will take us by the hand and lead us to our spiritual goal. He represents a gateway to a higher consciousness reached in a ritualised manner. He teaches that which can be learned by word and example.
All things that are righteous and sacred come with the Hierophant Tarot card – marriage, alliance, captivity, servitude, mercy and goodness, inner conscience and outer conscience.
The Hierophant reversed indicates that you are feeling restricted or constrained by structure and rules, and as a result, you have lost a lot of flexibility and control in your life. You have a strong desire to go against the grain and break free from convention. You may be tempted to go about your business in an unorthodox manner, to do something that is out of character or against social norms. The Hierophant reversed is about breaking the rules and challenging the status quo. You no longer accept the rigid structures, tradition and dogma surrounding you, and now seek out opportunities to rebel and retaliate. You want to challenge ideas and concepts that you once thought of as written in stone.
The reversed Hierophant is about questioning tradition and asking yourself whether what you are doing is really the right thing by you. You may have been running on automatic so far and following the crowd but now you realise that perhaps things are not the way they seem and changes need to be made.
In this way, the Hierophant reversed is like a rebellious teenager or young adult who begins to question society and participate in political activities. There may be a run-in with authorities or conflict with a parent or authoritative figure.
The Hierophant can also represent a person who is in a leadership role or position of authority. He may indicate a religious leader, a father figure, or even a boss at work. When the Hierophant is reversed, you may find that this person is ruling with an iron fist, forcing others to conform and abide by the rules, afraid to step out and do something different or challenge the status quo. If this person is ‘in charge’ then you may have little choice but to follow.