Understanding the Hierophant

The Major Arcana card associated with my Zodiac sign, Taurus, is the Hierophant. Quite honestly, I’ve always had trouble relating to it. In the Rider-Waite-Smith (RWS) deck, the de facto standard for many Tarot readers, the card shows a cold figure that, to me, conjures up images of organized religion and stifling tradition. The key words associated with the Hierophant include “Preference for outer forms of religion, the ritual, the creed, the ceremony. The importance of social approval; the need to conform to society.1 Hmmmm… come to think of it, maybe that is me.

Anyway, a lot of decks present the Hierophant as a very stern and imposing5 - The Hierophant figure. The picture to the right is from the RWS deck. Not a very friendly looking guy, is he? No wonder I can’t relate to him. Even my favourite deck, the Robin Wood Tarot, shows the Hierophant as a stiff religious figure, something I wouldn’t have expected in a Wiccan-inspired deck. Another deck, The Witches Tarot, which is also Wiccan-inspired, has a much more palatable Hierophant card (retitled The High Priest). (Sorry, no picture. We still haven’t got a new scanner. 😡 ) The card shows an older man, with a long white beard and hair, lowering an athame into a chalice held by female hands. Here the High Priest draws in and directs energy. He is more a teacher here, and less about upholding static traditions. In fact, in Wiccan rituals it is usually the High Priestess who lowers the athame into the chalice held by the High Priest. And interesting reversal of roles, which says a lot about the meaning of this card.

There is a new Tarot deck currently being created by a fabulous artist name Joanna Powell Colbert. I discovered her work through the covers of SageWoman magazine. Although only a few cards of the Gaian Tarot are complete, she has already captured so much of what I want, and need, to see in a pagan and Goddess-inspired Tarot deck. And I am extremely eager to see how she presents the Hierophant card, since that is often a make-or-break image for me when it comes to choosing a new deck. Well, my hopes are high after a recent entry in her journal: Gaian Tarot Artist’s Journal: The Hierophant and Me. I think Ms. Colbert is going to capture the mystery aspect I so long to see, along with the feeling of this figure being a teacher and inspiration to others. I think these are attributes I would like to have too.

1. Gray, Eden. Complete Guide to the Tarot, A. New York: Bantam Books, 1972.