The Hierophant

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Welcome to the Tarot Blog Hop!

An international group of tarotists (check out the master list) are all writing on the same topic and then linking to each other so that the reader can hop from one blog to the next, seeing all the permutations and facets that the topic inspired in different writers. Today’s topic, from Alison Cross of, is simply to pick a Major Arcana card and write about it. I picked the Hierophant.


The Hierophant from the Thoth Tarot by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Thoth Tarot by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

During a discussion after a Tarot Geeks meetup a few years ago, I came up with the theory that certain cards have two contradictory meanings—an exoteric or commonly known and practical interpretation, and an esoteric signification for more spiritual questions. The key here is that the two meanings are contradictory—for instance, most modern versions of the Chariot card show someone holding tight to the reins as the chargers race out of control, representing taking the reins or testing your sense of control. However, in the esoteric illustrations like those of Eliphas Levi, Oswald Wirth, A. E. Waite, and Aleister Crowley, and even going back to the Marseille deck and other historical images, no one is holding the reins—the inner meaning of the card is about releasing control and letting God move through us. I’ll go into my theory in depth in another blog post, but I wanted to share my own thoughts on the exoteric and esoteric meanings of the Hierophant.

V from the Visconti Sforza Tarot
Visconti Sforza Tarot

The Hierophant is most commonly considered to be tradition or dogma. The sharp distinction between right and wrong seen by many people in the image of the Pope can translate commonly into the advice to follow the rules, or that a rule-bound organization is involved—this is the card that tells us to pay our taxes, sign up for health insurance and make good on our student loans. It can advise us to take the established corporate job instead of pioneering our own way.

It can come up to indicate following traditional roles. In relationships, it can question how the participants involved follow the traditional gender roles—interestingly, I have seen this meaning come up the most often in same-sex relationships, in which one partner has a strong need for traditional roles to be played out in the relationship.

The Hierophant is also the card of the teacher, and often will represent a teacher or advisor to the querent. If this card comes up for someone who is in school it often signifies that a professor or academic advisor will be able to guide them in their quest.

The High Priest from the Tarot of the Old Path, by Howard Rodway, Sylvia Gainsford, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Tarot of the Old Path, by Howard Rodway, Sylvia Gainsford, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Some Hierophants, particularly those that eschew the traditional Catholic imagery, show a spiritual leader, often someone isolated in the woods. This imagery will produce a very different reading, because the lone Pagan, while perhaps following ancient traditions, no longer has the organizational structure behind him, so we lose the connotations of societally imposed standards or bureaucratic hoop-jumping.

The word Hierophant is composed of two Greek words: hieros (holy) and phainein (to show forth, reveal, or shed light on); Hierophant means to reveal that which is sacred. In almost all historical depictions he has his hand positioned with two fingers extended and two folded down: this indicates that which is revealed and that which is concealed. If this gesture catches your eye, it might mean that there are some things you need to share and some you need to continue to keep secret.

V Le Pape from the Jean Noblet Tarot
Jean Noblet Tarot

This is one of the cards that many tarotists dislike. They might be opposed to or feel oppressed by religion, or simply they don’t like the rules and structures represented by the card. Often this card is described as being full of empty ritual: that the ornate costume, sacred props and carved stone columns represent crumbling edifices of the external structure of religion no longer enlivened with the spirit of the Divine.

I have found in this card quite the opposite. Sometimes when we are engaged in our spiritual practice, whether it is daily ritual work, meditation, yoga, prayer, chanting of mantras, etc., we find that we do not feel that connection to Spirit, perhaps the initial strong connection that brought us to the practice in the first place. It seems to us that we might as well give up, discontinue our asanas or rosaries, or begin a new practice, something that promises to be deeper and stronger and easier and faster. We believe we have reached the end of our work.

The Hierophant from the Rider Waite Smith Tarot by A. E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
Rider Waite Smith Tarot by A. E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

The secret of the Hierophant is that sometimes doing the uninspired form of the ritual creates an empty vessel for the Holy Spirit to fill. It is not advising that our practice has lost its connection to Spirit, but rather encouraging us to continue chanting, or praying, or walking the sacred circle. It says, we on earth only have the ability to build the physical house of god, temple, or sacred space. The very process of doing our work on the physical plane creates in its emptiness an inviting space for Spirit to fill. It is not rule-bound dogma, but the dedication of faith.

The exoteric meaning of the Chariot is to take the reins, to take control. The esoteric meaning is to release control, and let Spirit guide us. The exoteric meaning of the Hierophant is to let go of personal desires and follow the rules of society, government or religion. The esoteric meaning is to take control of or fully engage in our spiritual practice so that our work on the physical plane, as empty as it sometimes feels, invites the Holy Spirit to fill it.



Joy Vernon has been studying and teaching energetic and esoteric modalities for more than twenty years. She is the organizer of the Denver Tarot Geeks, Denver Tarot Meetup and Denver Traditional Reiki Meetup, and she served on the faculty of Avalon Center for Druidic Studies. She is one of the psychics at Isis Books and is a Certified Professional Tarot Reader and a member of the American Tarot Association and Tarosophy Tarot Association. Joy also teaches Traditional Japanese Reiki. For information on upcoming classes or to schedule an appointment, please visit

© 2015 by Joy Vernon. All rights reserved.

Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit

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  1. A fascinating take on the Hierophant, that sometimes we need the form, even if we are finding it uninspiring, to connect with spirit at a deeper level. Reminds me of doing pujas, with a set number of days to continue the practice, come what may. Not something I’d have connected with the Hierophant, and yet it is!
    Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Joy 🙂

  2. I don’t have a problem with this card, but I don’t assign any spirtual attributions to it. For me it is about finding your context and re-assessing your relationships (on all levels). I suppose that would tie in best with the gender role aspec that you mention, though I think it is much broaser than that.

  3. a very nice article, I have always seen him as the dogmatic, orthodox catholic Pope, but I love this more gentle interpretation!

  4. That’s very interesting, Joy – thank you. I see him as representing the cultural mores – which may (or may not!) align with the Emperor’s legal bits and bobs. Sadly, so many situations where State decrees one thing and Church another. Leads to real problems for people :/
    *whispers* I find him the trickiest card lol!

  5. Love your practical and spiritual perspective on this card. In this day and age I think The Hierophant is connected to all religious and spritual paths so like you, I don’t automatically associate him with the church.

  6. Great post, Joy. I really love your balanced and very insightful take on this sometimes difficult card to parse in this age. I shall remember that reveal and conceal thing with his hands in particular. Reminds me of one of the Buddha’s meditative positions.

  7. Another column for me to print and share with my spiritual friends. Thank you for your insight.

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