Continuing this week with our Tarot Tuesday series, we pick up again with the Heirophant. In some decks, the Hierophant may be called the High Priest or the Pope, as he is the male counterpart to the High Priestess. But where the High Priestess showed how to find the divine within ourselves, the Heirophant wants us to seek it outwardly in an organized group of people.
The Heirophant sits enthroned in a red robe between two aged, stone pillars—similar to the black and white pillars on either side of the High Priestess. But unlike the pillars of Joachim and Boaz on the High Priestess card that represent duality, the Heirophant’s are the pillars of tradition. Like the Magician, the Heirophant holds up his right hand toward the divine, but whereas the Magician symbolized bringing that creative energy down to earth, the Heirophant raises a hand in benediction, radiating holy energy among the people.
A theme of trinity is repeated subtly throughout this card: the three crosses on the Heirophant’s vestments, the three layers of his gold crown, and the three bars of his triple-crossed scepter. Besides the Christian Trinity of God’s incarnations as Father, Son and Holy Ghost, these three’s also refer to the three worlds that the Heirophant mediates between. These three worlds can be seen as Hell, Earth and Heaven; the profane, the mundane and the divine; the Lower, Middle and Upper Worlds of shamanism; or the subconscious, conscious and superconscious of Western psychology. Any and all of these interpretations are valid.
The two crossed keys at the foot of the Heirophant’s throne represent the keys to unlocking the secrets of consciousness. The keys to the known and unknown worlds lie at the feet of the Heirophant. That’s why two initiates kneel before him, eager to be initiated into the traditions the Heirophant preserves.
Associated with the sign of Taurus, the Heirophant represents tradition, conformity and organized religion. Like the Bull of Taurus that’s stubbornly set in its ways, the Heirophant adheres to traditional norms and customs. He’s dedicated to preserving the knowledge that’s been passed down through history, and he’s not keen on innovations or progress. As such, the Heirophant often stands for traditionalist authorities and institutions that are resistant to change.
In general, the Heirophant is about joining a group to benefit from the structure and knowledge of that group. It could represent joining a religion, initiation into a mystical path, or just signing up for a Meetup group that you’re interested in. The Heirophant can symbolize something as basic as a gym membership, since that’s all about joining an existing organization with resources and knowledge to help you achieve certain goals.
When the Heirophant appears in readings, it’s usually an indication that conventional approaches are your best bet and that it’s not time to reinvent with the wheel with wild or risky approaches. Going through existing channels and processes for achieving your goal or solving your problem is favored now. You should not bother thinking outside of the box or avoiding orthodox solutions to your problem.
As a challenge card, the Heirophant could represent an individual or institution that opposes your will because it goes against tradition or the way things have always been done. An oppressive religious environment, a suffocating office culture, or a really strict household can all be examples of a challenging Heirophant.
But the Heirophant can also represent an internal challenge pushing for self-improvement in the direction of your ideals. The Heirophant could be urging you to sign up for that gym membership, join that book club, or otherwise commit to being the kind of person you want to be. As a personal challenge, the Heirophant urges us to align our actions with our ideals. Yes, that might include religious rules that you believe you should follow, but it’s not restricted to religious ideals. Consider how your lifestyle is not aligned with who you really are, or who you want to be. For example, if you really believe in animal rights but you still eat meat, the Heirophant could represent that nagging voice in your head that wants you to go vegetarian. When the Heirophant comes up as an internal challenge, it’s time to review all those New Year’s resolutions that you flaked on, and re-commit to changing your lifestyle to suit your beliefs.
In reverse, the Heirophant represents restriction, dogmatic religious suppression or threats to the status quo. A reversed Heirophant means idealism is running roughshod over practicality. Religious zealots, overbearing parents, or dogmatic traditionalists are all examples of a reversed Heirophant.
Upon reaching the self-mastery of the Emperor, the Fool on his divine journey has now reached the Heirophant—a teacher who can guide him through traditional wisdom. The Magician showed the Fool a glimpse of what was possible, but did not actively guide him beyond that revelation. The High Priestess taught the Fool to look inward to the silence within to determine how to use his power. From there, the Fool achieved the fertile creativity of the Empress, generating abundance. That abundance brought him power as the Emperor, giving him authority and a newfound mastery over himself and others. Now, the Heirophant can take him to the next level by imparting the knowledge that’s been passed down through the ages.
The Heirophant, or the High Priest, is all about turning to a teacher, mentor or guru who can initiate you deeper into the mysteries than you could ever go alone, as well as formalizing your path with an organization with a sense of group identity.