5. The Hierophant: Those who came before us

It is likely that learning Tarot is the first time you’ve heard the word ‘hierophant’. What even is that? My spellchecker doesn’t even think it’s a word. According to Wikipedia, hierophant is a word from Ancient Greece meaning a kind of chief priest or religious leader. It is most associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, so when I say priest, it’s not originally in a Christian context. However in many Tarot decks, this card is named The Pope, so there is no one religion to tie him to.

Guala Tarocco Piemontese

So far, the impression we get of The Hierophant is that he’s maybe a little stuffy, and certainly traditional. But he is also a wise teacher. Let’s look at the cards:

Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch. 

In many of these depictions, he has his right hand raised and the position of his finger reminds us of The Magician: As above, so below. He’s also holding a papal cross, showing his authority as a religious leader. You might also notice in some of these images he has a pair of crossed keys. These are the keys to the gate of heaven. It’s a lot of arcane imagery. What stands out to me, is that he seems to be mediating between two people in front of him. He’s teaching them, or helping to resolve a dispute maybe. He is clearly well respected, and it makes me think of the people in our lives who are maybe older, maybe not with us anymore, people who taught us when we needed guidance.

Remember, we’re on the Fool’s Journey. we’ve seen the Fool realise his potential as the Magician, introspect as The High Priestess, be nurtured by The Empress, and establish boundaries with The Emperor. He can’t learn everything on his own, and he needs a teacher to guide him for a while before he sets off to discover who he really is.

Many of us have had negative experiences with authority, whether a cruel teacher, or being shunned by a religious congregation. But let’s abstract this meaning out to be ‘those who have come before us’.

If you’re part of the LGBT+ movement, look to the wisdom of those who rioted at Stonewall. If you’re a woman, look to the endurance of the Suffragettes. Maybe you have a grandparent who taught you how to bake a cake, or a teacher who introduced you to a new book. What can you learn from those who came before you? Listen to your ancestors, whether biological or not.

If they’re still around, The Hierophant tells you to talk to them, to ask them questions. If they have since passed, find remnants of who they were and what they had to tell the world. Books, letters, belongings. Maybe you can look into geneology, or learn about the history of the area you live in, or were born in. If you were born somewhere your bio ancestors did not come from, also look into their lives, if you can find out. Again, it doesn’t have to be about biology, but anything you feel a connection to.

I learned about a beautiful word today: hiraeth. It is a Welsh word, and has no English translation. It means a combination of yearning, homesickness, and longing for a time in the past. It’s a nostalgic grief for somewhere you can’t return to. Maybe the people who made that place home are gone. Maybe it only exists in your memories. If you pull The Hierophant, let him help you to unlock those places by reminding you to connect to the past, in any way you can. And use that wisdom to guide you forward.

Who are your ancestors? What did they think, and what can you learn from them?

My personal connection to this card is that it is one of my birth cards. Birth cards are quite fun, as everyone has two and they can give you some guidance at any time in your life. All you have to do is add up the numbers in your birthday. As an example, say you were born on the 13th November 1991. 13 + 11 + 19 + 91 = 134. Then you would do 1 + 3 + 4 which equals 8. The 8th card is Strength. To find your other birth card, you just expand 8 out into 1 and 7 so your second card would be 17, The Star.

If one of my birth cards is number 5, The Hierophant, my other one is 14, Temperance. Strength, Temperance, and The Star are all wonderful cards that I will be covering soon, so feel free to subscribe using the sidebar on the right if you’d like to follow me on the Fool’s Journey. Next time, we’ll be learning all about The Lovers.

4. The Emperor: Leaders and Tyrants

I, like many people, find The Emperor a little difficult to relate to. With his stern face and cold stone throne, he’s a little intimidating. But if you have ever been in a leadership position, such as a manager, or if you have had to deal with someone in a position of authority, The Emperor has some useful advice for you.

Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Upper left: Sasuraibito, Upper right: Star Spinner, Lower left: This Might Hurt, Lower Right: Modern Witch



That cross he is holding in most of the depictions is an ankh. It’s an ancient Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol that represents the concept of life. It’s like our lives are at his mercy. He clearly has a lot of power. In some of these images, he even holds the whole world in his hand. And the ram imagery makes us think of the Aries zodiac sign. Aries is ruled by the planet Mars, named for the Roman God of War. His Greek counterpart is Ares and there’s an interesting difference between the two: where Mars was loved and admired by the Romans, the Greeks kind of… hated Ares.

Let’s start with Mars. Mars tried to use his power to promote peace, associated with the period of Pax Romana. Let’s not sugarcoat his story though, he wasn’t exactly a good guy. The story of Romulus and Remus, and Rhea Silvia is brutal and violent. But when we compare him to Ares, his Greek equivalent, Mars was celebrated, and we did name a planet and a month after him.

In comparison, Ares is told once by his father Zeus that he is ‘the god most hateful to him’. He constantly causes destruction, and has children named ‘fear’, ‘terror’, and ‘discord’. Where Mars is more of a leader figure, Ares is a complete tyrant.


So, The Emperor is a leader, an authority. He prefers structure, rules, and order. if you are Autistic, you’ll know how important structure can be. But if you’ve ever had a boss on a power trip, you know how limiting rules can be. We have all seen these ideals used for good, and for bad. Right now is a perfect time to be thinking about this.

This year, 2020 is the year of The Emperor. You can figure the current year’s card out by adding up the numbers in the year: 2 + 0 + 2 + 0 = 4. The Emperor is card number 4. Think about how we can use structure and rules to help us this year. Wearing a mask, keeping your distance from others, these are ways The Emperor asks us to promote peace and wellbeing at this time.

How can the qualities of The Emperor be used negatively? Poor leadership from politicians, police brutality and oppression. Wielding power over others, rather than using your power for the good of all. Like the Emperor with his ankh, there are people in this world who hold others’ lives in their hands. Whether enacting oppressive welfare policies, or literally being able to control if someone lives or dies, the power of The Emperor is often abused.

The Emperor also asks us to have good boundaries. The number 4 represents stability and foundations. Don’t let other people walk all over you. Whether they’re an authority figure or not, we are Emperors of our own lives, and we have the right to make decisions under our own initiative. If you see a misuse of power and it’s safe for you to do so, speak up. If you pull The Emperor card, consider where you can make positive changes in your community, or in your life to celebrate good Emperors, and bring down tyrannical ones. Remember to defend your boundaries against toxic people.

If you’re a manager and you’d like to learn how to be a great leader like the ideal Emperor, I really recommend the blog Ask A Manager. You can also go there to get advice if you’re dealing with bad management, so I hope it helps someone out there.

3. The Empress: Mother Earth

NSFW warning: female nudity in this post.

On August 7th 1908, a workman found this figurine while excavating a Paleolithic site near the village of Willendorf in Austria:

Venus of Willendorf, Naturhistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

The figurine was about 11cm tall, carved from limestone, and coloured with red ochre. The limestone wasn’t from the same area that the figurine was discovered. It was named the Venus of Willendorf, but it was carved much, much longer ago than the Goddess Venus, or Aphrodite was worshipped. It is estimated to have been carved more than 30,000 years ago, sometime between 30,000 and 22,000 BCE.

It is thought that the Venus of Willendorf could have been carved to represent fertility, as it has somewhat exaggerated sexual characteristics. But a more interesting idea is that perhaps the artist was a Paleolithic woman carving a representation of herself. In the journal article Self-Representation in Upper Paleolithic Female Figurines by
LeRoy McDermott, we see an interesting comparison of what the Venus figurine looks like from above, compared to what a pregnant person might see when they look down at their own body:

venus and pregnant woman
Top: 6 months pregnant woman, bottom: Venus of Willendorf from above. Current Anthropology
Vol. 37, No. 2, page 240

This idea of self-representation allows us to wonder if rather than being simply an object for reproduction, perhaps the paleolithic woman had the agency to simply be curious about her own body, and create something artistic from it.

Another figurative carving whose original meaning is largely unknown is the Sheela na gig. They depict a woman displaying her genitals in an almost mocking way:

12th century sheela na gig, Herefordshire, England

She doesn’t have any visible breasts, so perhaps it is not an erotic carving. There are many theories of why these sculptures exist, from representing a Pagan Goddess, to a protection against evil, or maybe a warning against lust. If you are interested, you can find Sheela na gigs on churches and cathedrals across Europe, especially Ireland and the UK.

What can we learn from The Empress?

Upper left: Sasuraibito, Upper right: Star Spinner, Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Lower left: This Might Hurt, Lower right: Modern Witch

When thinking about what The Empress means, I like the idea that she has this agency and freedom to be proud of her own body. In a world where many people are taught to be ashamed or embarrassed about their bodies, The Empress reminds us to nurture ourselves, the way a mother might. Not everyone has a mother like this, but that’s okay. In season 2, episode 3 of Root Lock radio, Weston introduces us to a form of Psychotherapy called Internal Family Systems. Put simply, it is a method of taking all those parts of yourself that you hear inside your head, and making sure that they are giving you helpful messages, rather than criticising you. It can help you to heal from trauma, and be more in tune with your own self.

How might an inner mother, or nurturer look? You don’t have to identify as female to have this inner nurturing figure. Looking at the depictions of the Empress above, we see she has a dress of pomegranates. We saw that with The High Priestess, and it can represent fertility. But fertility doesn’t just have to mean having babies. Not everyone can, or wants to reproduce, and that is valid. Fertility can also be of the mind, of the imagination. You can produce art, or books, or grow herbs. Any idea or opinion you have is you producing something.

The Empress is a very earthy and grounded character, and I sometimes see her as Mother Earth. She is usually depicted with wheat growing around her, which evokes thoughts of the Greek Goddess Demeter. She rules the harvest and agriculture. The Empress has a crown with 12 stars, each representing a month of the year. In this way, she can represent cycles: the seasons, the year, life and death and rebirth. Many people resent these cycles, as they grow older, as they lose loved ones. How can you honour these cycles in your life? Remember that death makes the ground fertile so that life can arise again.

I think possibly the first thing you notice when you see The Empress though, is the female symbol in a heart-shaped rock. That’s the symbol of Venus (Aphrodite in Greek mythology), the Goddess of Love. The Goddess that the Venus of Willendorf is named for. And I think most of all, The Empress tells us to love ourselves, our friends and family, and the world around us, the way that she, as Mother Earth loves and nurtures the whole planet. So when you pull this card, fill your day with compassion for yourself and others, and let that inner mother take care of you.

What is your inner Empress like? Is she free and proud like the Sheela na gig, or more grounded and earthy?

Rose Quartz

2. The High Priestess: Thin Places

The Secret Commonwealth. If you have read Philip Pullman’s Book of Dust series, you might recognise that name.  To see where Pullman got his inspiration from, we will have to go back in time to over 300 years ago.

In 1691, minister of Aberfoyle, Rev. Robert Kirk wrote of a land of fairies, or sith (pronounced shee) in his book The Secret Commonwealth. Rev Kirk believed he had met mythological creatures such as elves and fairies, and there’s no better place for such meetings as Scotland, where the veil between our world and the ‘other world’ is thin. Whether this other world is heaven, the underworld, or the land of the fairies, it is thought to be mysterious and you only tend to stumble upon it by accident.

One of the most famous Thin Places is the Isle of Iona. Before it was known for Columba’s arrival in the year 563, some theorise that this island was named Innis nan Druidhneach, which means Isle of the Druids. Druids were pre-christian priests, philosophers, lawmakers, and teachers. There isn’t much known about them, since there was a concerted effort by early Christians to wipe indigenous religion out, but there is no doubt that the idea of a veil between worlds has been a potent one for potentially thousands of years. The previous leader of the modern-day Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, Philip Carr-Gomm has in fact written about the Isle as a sacred location. The Celts thought that the veil was thinnest at Samhainn (pronounced saw-in), a Gaelic festival day beginning at sunset on the 31st October until sunset on the 1st of November.

Druids in England: Two Druids walking in the English countryside, 18th-century engraving.

So what does The High Priestess have to do with Thin Places? Let’s have a look at her depiction in a few different decks:


In most of these depictions, you can see a pomegranate patterned veil behind The High Priestess. She is the guardian of the veil between our world and some other world. I see The High Priestess as telling us that there is always more to a situation, always more to learn. She is holding some kind of scroll but we can’t see what is written on it.

Along with the two opposite-coloured pillars next to the High Priestess, the veil teaches us an interesting lesson. There is more than one side to a story. The High Priestess is asking us to understand that there is nuance in every situation. The veil is the gap between what you know, and reality.

Learn the difference between your own feelings, and how others may perceive the same situation. You can’t have all the answers, and being humble and accepting that is a step towards better communication. Using this method can help you to step beyond the veil, and learn a different perspective. Be receptive to new knowledge even if it doesn’t immediately align with what you think.

In a way, The High Priestess is like The Magician, but she is focused inwards, rather than outwards. She deals with what we think and feel, rather than what we do. If you pull this card, take a moment to step back and see if there is anything you’ve missed, something you have misunderstood. Although some people focus on the gender duality between The Magician and The High Priestess, or The Empress and The Emperor, others do not see that as useful, as there are aspects of femininity and masculinity in all people, regardless of gender.

I thought it would be fun to mention some of the mythological characters that The High Priestess is associated with, as her card has some rich imagery that evokes legends you may have heard of.

Persephone: There is a myth that the Goddess of the springtime, flowers, and vegetation, also became the Goddess of the Underworld when she was kidnapped by Hades. Hades tricked her into eating some pomegranate seeds from his realm and so Persephone became bound to the Underworld for a third of the year. It is said that because she is gone from the world above during the winter, that is why we don’t have vegetation and flowers during those months

Pope Joan: The High Priestess card used to be known as The Popess, and there is a legend that during the Middle Ages, a woman managed to become Pope by pretending to be a man. The ruse was unfortunately up when she inconveniently gave birth during a procession.

Isis/Hathor: The High Priestess’ headdress resembles that of Hathor, and Isis’ role helping the dead enter the afterlife is somewhat similar to the story of Persephone. Both of these  Goddesses are also seen as a manifestation of the divine feminine.

Artemis: The moon evokes thoughts of Artemis, Greek Goddess of the hunt, the moon, and protector of girls. She famously turned Actaeon, a hunter, into a stag when he was caught peeping on her while she was bathing. As he ran away, his dogs chased him and tore him to pieces.



1. The Magician: Bending Lightning

The Magician as seen in five different decks: Rider-Waite-Smith, Sasuraibito, Star Spinner, This Might Hurt, and Modern Witch.

Have you ever seen the TV shows Avatar: The Last Airbender or Legend of Korra? The first thing I think about when I see the typical Magician card is lightning bending. In the Avatar series, many of the characters can ‘bend’ or manipulate one or more of the four classical elements, earth, water, air and fire. Lightning bending is an advanced form of firebending, and it looks very much like The Magician when lightning is redirected through the fingertips. Here’s what it looks like:

Mako from The Legend of Korra redirecting lightning.

If done correctly, it is a very powerful technique, but as you can imagine, if you make a mistake, it could be deadly. It takes a lot of self-discipline and confidence to even attempt to pull off lightning redirection.

The Magician tells us that we have all the tools we need to create what we want. Instead of getting more, achieving more, take time to work with what you’ve got. Make something real out of the possibilities in front of you. The Magician asks us to be resourceful- look at the table in front of him (RWS), he has an item resembling each classical element:

  • The wand- fire
  • The cup- water
  • The sword- air
  • The pentacle- earth

These are the four suits of the Minor Arcana, the 56 cards remaining after we complete the Fool’s Journey of the Major Arcana.

The Magician is also surrounded by flowers, representing creation and cultivation. Ask yourself, what in your life would you like to cultivate? Is there anything you are procrastinating about? If the lightning bender hesitates in using their power, they could be seriously hurt. Don’t let that energy stagnate in your body.

If The Magician doesn’t use that energy within him, he could become depressed or panicked. If you pull this card, be like The Magician and manifest what you want from life, in any way you can. If you look above the Magician’s head you see an infinity symbol. You may have to squint, but he is also wearing an Ouroboros as a belt. The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol originating in Egypt, and depicts a snake eating its own tail. Both of these symbols represent unlimited potential.


I know it is so much easier said than done, but take a moment to think about your own potential, what you have the power to do right now. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, or as impressive as bending lightning, but give yourself that agency to create positive change.

Let’s look a little deeper at the symbolism of this card. There is a phrase commonly associated with The Magician:

‘As above, so below’

This phrase comes from The Hermetica, a set of texts from the 2nd century. It means that what happens in one level of reality, happens in another. Think microcosm and macrocosm. If you zoom in enough, the microscopic world begins to resemble outer space. In the novel Lord of the Flies, a small group of schoolboys begin to form a society not too different from the warring world around them. Microcosm reflecting macrocosm.

How does this idea manifest in your own life? Have you ever noticed that when your surroundings are messy, it’s harder to clear your mind? Or how parliamentary debates sometimes devolve into squabbling that resembles family in-fighting? It can be good mindfulness practice to try to notice things like this. Everything can be put into perspective, and patterns often emerge. How could you use this to better understand yourself and the world?

Just as a fun extra, while I was writing this, I came across this piece of art of Rick from Rick and Morty as The Magician. He’s a great example of this archetype, as he is always creating something out of the world around him.

Source: https://spinetrick.tumblr.com/post/155079785765/the-magician-thanks-beta-19-for-giving-me-the

Let me know what you think of The Magician!

0. The Fool: Beginner’s Mind


The Fool from five different decks, The classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck in the middle, and then from top left to bottom right, Sasuraibito, Star Spinner, This Might hurt, and Modern Witch.

Have you ever heard of the term Shoshin (初心) from Zen Buddhism?

Shoshin means beginner’s mind, and it means being open-minded, eager and not having any preconceptions. Even when you are an expert in your field, having this attitude can be really helpful. Many of us have had an experience of introducing someone to a game we love, or we are stuck on something really hard, and the newbie gets it right away. Beginner’s luck, we say, almost derisively.

When you have been learning something for a long time, you start to notice patterns, and you learn what works best. This can cause you to become a bit closed-minded, unwilling to entertain anything outside of your expectations. James Clear explains this idea really well in this blog post.

So what the Fool reminds us to do, is pretend that we’re beginners again. Try anything. Surrender to the unknown, and see that there is potential for more than just the particular set of options that you have learned so far.

Let’s take a closer look at the RWS Fool. Mysteriously, he is the card numbered 0 in the deck. This means that The Fool doesn’t really have a particular spot in the Fool’s Journey. He can fit in between any of the other cards. The 0 also makes us think of infinity; he has infinite potential.

The first thing we notice when we look at the imagery is that The Fool looks like he is about to step off of a cliff. We don’t know how high the cliff is, and we don’t know if he can stop himself in time. The Fool asks us to take a leap into the unknown.

We notice that he is carrying a bindle and a white rose. The white rose symbolises innocence or freedom, and the bindle is probably carrying all the most important things that the Fool needs on his journey. So he’s not exactly unprepared, but he doesn’t know what lies ahead. There is a small dog following The Fool. This could symbolise faith and trust.

Out of all of the decks I photographed above, I least prefer the Star Spinner version. I feel that the Fool looks too contemplative in this version. An important thing to remember is that everyone sees the cards differently, and the Star Spinner Fool certainly shows a fair amount of innocence and kindness.

The Sasuraibito Fool portrays perfectly another aspect of the Fool that I admire. He really does not care what anyone else thinks. He doesn’t have to follow anyone else’s rules, and even if he is mocked or derided by others, he is self-confident and liberated. He’s answering the call and taking a chance.

When we first see The Fool, we might be the ones who make fun of him and think he is stupid, but that attitude is exactly what this card asks us to cast off. Be kind and open-minded, don’t worry about what other people think of you, and go for it.

Think about when you have had the Fool’s carefree attitude. Could it work for you now? Some people never want to behave like the Fool, but he does have a lot to teach us. What do you think?

The Fool’s Journey

If you are interested in learning Tarot, I recommend getting a notebook to take notes of anything that stands out to you when learning about the cards.

Some foundational facts about the Tarot before we get started:

A typical deck of Tarot cards consists of 78 cards. 22 of these cards are known as The Major Arcana. The remaining 56 are known as The Minor Arcana.

Today, we will be introducing The Major Arcana, which encompasses what is often known as ‘The Fool’s Journey’. When you pull a Major Arcana card, they tend to represent big events in life. They have grand names like The Magician, Wheel of Fortune, Death.

When you pull a Minor Arcana card, they represent smaller, more mundane moments in life, and are categorised into 4 suits, typically Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles. They go from Ace to 10, and then have four Court cards: Page, Knight, Queen, and King.

This might seem a little complicated just now but I promise it will make sense soon. For now, let’s look at the Fool’s Journey as portrayed in the Rider-Waite-Smith deck:

0. The Fool, 1. The Magician, 2. The High Priestess, 3. The Empress, 4. The Emperor, 5. The Hierophant, 6. The Lovers, 7. The Chariot, 8. Strength, 9. The Hermit, 10. Wheel of Fortune, 11. Justice, 12. The Hanged Man, 13. Death, 14. Temperance, 15. The Devil, 16. The Tower, 17. The Star, 18. The Moon, 19. The Sun, 20. Judgement, 21. The World

We start with the Fool, who is card 0. The rest of the cards are numbered from 1 to 21. Each of these 21 cards represents a stage in the Fool’s journey, their life. These stages may seem a little esoteric and hard to relate to- how many of us can relate to being an Emperor or Empress? But if we look at the broader symbolism of these archetypes, we can embody their positive values in our life, and learn to recognise when we are displaying their more negative characteristics.

Of course, we don’t all take this journey from start to finish, we can bounce around, redo certain stages. We each have unique experiences, but I think when we learn about the meanings of these cards we can relate them to our lives. Especially if we use a more modern deck.

Are there any cards here that pop out to you? Anything you’re drawn to? Take a note of it if so, and take a look at my next post, where I will be exploring the 0th card of the Tarot, The Fool.

Why Tarot?

A lot of people hear the word ‘Tarot’ and immediately think ‘I don’t believe in stuff like that.’

It’s pretty normal to have that initial response, but I hope that I can convince you to approach it from a more open-minded perspective.

I don’t believe in fortune-telling. I don’t think that there is a spirit inside the cards, or a demon manipulating them somewhere, giving me mysterious messages. I don’t believe that I can ask the cards ‘does he love me’, or that I will pull the Death card and die in 7 days.

I use Tarot as a secular practice for introspection, for mindfulness, for creative work, and more. There’s a really good Tarot reader and teacher named Weston who is a practicing psychotherapist. I’m not saying you should forgo therapy and book a Tarot reading instead of course. But in a time and place where it’s so hard to get any kind of help anyway, I hope you’ll give it a chance and see how it goes.

Here’s why I think Tarot is a great resource for many people:

The cards embody clear emotions and themes, and you can pick a deck you feel connected to. You can also just pick a deck because you enjoy the art. There are so many to choose from, and the Indie Tarot Deck industry is pretty huge. You can support creators who have similar values to you. But even if you just pick the typical Rider-Waite-Smith deck, definitely take time to read about the life of Pamela Colman-Smith!

Tarot allows you to look inwards. Only some of your feelings make it to your conscious mind. There is always something hidden deeper, that we struggle to access. Tarot gives you access to these emotions, and can help give you a sense of clarity. You can change your perspective. If someone reads Tarot for you, they can help to remove some subjectivity that may be holding you back when approaching an issue. Tarot gives you a basis from which to work from. It starts the conversation, and can break a rigid narrative.

Tarot can also stop you from overthinking or struggling with the paradox of choice. The cards’ meanings can vary from person to person, but each card is still fairly limited in meaning, so it keeps you tethered. Your mind is less likely to go flying through all the possibilities.

It can be a comforting routine, especially if you pull a card daily, and take time to meditate or think on its meaning in your life. It can be part of a mindfulness or gratitude practice. Many Tarot cards help you to see the good in the bad, to take useful lessons out of hard times.

It links to your creativity and imagination. This makes it fun as well as useful, and you could even use Tarot to help you write or create your own art. They’re visual, which helps a lot of people think, but even if you’re not a visual person, they have interesting names and meanings, and cards are also very tactile and pleasing to handle.

If you are someone who struggles with your emotions, if you are Autistic and for instance experience alexithymia, if you have ADHD and struggle to keep your mind in one place, or if you suffer from anxiety or depression and often find yourself experiencing a negative mindset, please consider following along me with my Tarot journey. And if you’re happy to share, I’d love to hear your perspective.