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.

Published by Iona Grant

I am a writer who focuses on secular tarot, mindfulness and mental health. I read the cards for introspection, not fortune-telling. Tarot cards embody clear emotions and themes, and allow you to view a situation from new perspectives. I love that tarot exercises your creativity and imagination, and helps to prevent overthinking. I also do social media marketing for charities, and I am developing my skills in copywriting and content creation.

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