Who preaches the gospel that lifts your heart? Whose voice reminds you of the big picture? Who among your teachers, elders and authorities possess both wisdom and generosity? The Hierophant - number 5 in the major arcana - represents the archetype of spiritual leadership. The etymology of “hierophant” means ‘bringer to light of sacred things.’ This is my year card this year, and it’s also my life card. When you get a double whammy like that; a year card and life card happening together, it suggests you are in for a year deepening your greatest gifts and learning some big lessons about your struggles. I’ve come to love the hierophant. This card has lessons that are useful at many levels; how we encounter this archetype in the world, how and when we embody these qualities, what role does this archetype play in our lives?
The Gatekeeper -
Hierophant imagery often includes keys. Sometimes the hierophant is holding a key, sometimes keys are pictured at the bottom of the image crossed like an ‘X’. The reference is that the hierophant is a gatekeeper, standing between the invisible realms of spirit and the congregation, the people. In the most optimal expression, the gates - metaphorically, the heart - is open, allowing the hierophant to be a conduit for the “river of light” (ie knowledge, spirit, message) to flow from the ethers onto the page, the crowd, the classroom, or to the friend across the table. Our modern day hierophants often fill the roles of teacher, mission-based-organization leader, activist, writer. I see hierophants in the witches, brujas, radical faith leaders and wise elders whose voices are coming forward from all corners, reminding us that we have a responsibility for healing ourselves and the world from broken and oppressive systems. Hierophants have a gift for inspiring those around them. When the gates are flung wide and the hierophant has an open heart, they are able to deliver nurturance that feeds the soul and reminds people that we are connected to each other and the bigger picture. The hierophant helps us see how that which is beyond ourselves - the movement, the mission, the spirit - calls each of us, touches us, needs us. The hierophant uplifts and consoles, reminds us of what matters most.
But sometimes, the hierophant shuts down. They pull those gates closed and lock up. Over the years I’ve noticed that the biggest soul work for the hierophant type is an inclination toward withholding. Hierophants tend to have followers. Whether it’s on Instagram or live and in-person, hierophants give something that people want. More often than not, that ‘something’ is the very stuff of the hierophant’s soul. By nature, this is a role of service that requires near-constant giving, though it appears from the outside to have many of the same perks enjoyed by the emperor; status, influence, visionary gifts and sometimes even material security. But even with those benefits, the hierophant can (and probably will) ask “at the end of the day, what’s left for me after all this giving?” Exhaustion, loneliness, martyrdom, scarcity and/or burn out can lead the hierophant to close the gates. Sometimes, closing the gates becomes a self protective habit. What exactly the hierophant withholds can vary - love, kindness, trust, resources, to name a few - but the results are often the same.
Classic Hierophant struggles:
In a traditional deck, the hierophant is pictured as - and sometimes called - ‘The Pope.’ When I was a teenager just starting to learn tarot, this card made me want to throw my deck out the window. As a hierophant life card person, I didn’t want to see the pitfalls that can come with this role. The hierophant can be a rigid, self-righteous, religious authoritarian, someone who deeply believes in and upholds our current oppressive systems. To me, this is the expression of a hierophant who has been behind closed gates for too long. If you get the hierophant in a reading, especially if it’s reversed, it can be a nudge to check in about your ego, your sense of moral superiority and whether you are holding positions of power with integrity.
The hierophant has a pair (or shadow) card, as do all of the major arcana. When you explore major arcana cards in their pairs, it illuminates layers and elements that clarify the cards and support deeper understanding. If you are feeling like teenage Tara, and want to throw the hierophant out the window right now, and maybe the rest of the cards with it, Temperance offers an olive branch or a song that’s like, “it’s gonna be ok.” Temperance offers balance.
Of all the images I’ve seen of temperance, I really appreciate the Collective Tarot. This deck shows us temperance as a baker. Since classic temperance counsels patience, moderation, balance, I can’t think of a better example than making a beautiful bread. The ingredients are simple. The process is everything. Tempering steel has the same mantra; “the process is everything.” To improve the hardness and elasticity of steel, it’s heated in a forge then plunged into cold water. The heat of the forge and the cold water have the capacity to cancel each other out, but used carefully, in balance, they create a stronger metal.
The hierophant benefits from remembering to have patience. Urgency is a tiny devil that will make you crazy if you let it. When hierophant remembers that the process is everything, they become stronger and more flexible. And tastier, and better looking, for that matter.
Reciprocity as Balance
The lesson I am taking most to heart from temperance these days is understanding that “reciprocity” means ‘relationships in balance’. In her beautiful book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall-Kimmerer combines indigenous wisdom and biology to talk about reciprocity. The earth needs us, she argues, just as we need her. How would we act, what would we change, if we operated as though we believed that the earth loves us back? Everything changes when we stop seeing ourselves as responsible for “creating balance in our lives” like a juggling act, and start seeing ourselves in reciprocal relationships that give and receive. I’m including here our human and non-human, spirit and material, relationships. Hierophants are just as responsible for tending the channel of receiving as they are for the channel of giving. This might mean some vulnerability; getting clear about what they need and asking for it.
In my own life, getting real about this process is including a wide range of attention. I’m learning where and when I need to ask for more money, more hands-on help, an opportunity to be listened to and loved outside of my role as a teacher. I’m noticing the ways and hows of tending my non-human relationships, and learning what reciprocity looks like there. When I slip out of reciprocity, I end up feeling like garbage and acting like a jerk.
Image from Cristy C. Road's badass new deck, Next World Tarot
Breaking the Mold:
In a role of service, hierophants are defined as givers. In a role of power, hierophants are defined as receivers. Neither of these perspectives model reciprocity. In fact, much of how hierophants operate in modern life is still shaped by a historical western role of spiritual leadership that values hierarchy, not reciprocity. And this needs to change. We need spiritual and inspirational leaders who are thriving. Who have open hearts. All of us need to recognize patterns that set hierophants apart from community and figure out ways to bring them/ourselves back in.
If you are working with the hierophant card and this all seems a little vague, here are six questions to ask yourself:
Am I feeling self protective or defensive right now in relationship to my work?
Am I feeling like a martyr, burned out, or like I’ll never get what I need?
Can I slow down? Can I moderate what I’m giving?
What relationships (human and non-human) help me feel loved and valued and at ease? Do I spend enough time in these relationships?
What activities, on my own or with others, bring me back into to the flow and joy of my purpose?
What do I need to do, offer, or ask for in order to feel reciprocity with my loved ones, human community, work, and non-human relationships?
As this hierophant year kicks off, I am already stepping into new territory on my path of work. I’m feeling called to big new projects, new and deep expressions of my spiritual leadership. It’s exciting. I feel humble and grateful that I get to offer myself this way. I’m hoping that with dedication to the balancing forces of temperance, I’ll manage to stay in that magical alignment where spirit can flow through me, and I can trust there will always be enough left. I’m putting my faith in the vision that there is actually a never ending feedback loop of reciprocal love and material support. All I need to do is keep the gates open. And if you are a hierophant, let’s remember to turn to each other with the reminders, “you are not alone” and “process is everything.”
Image from The Wildwood Tarot
Share your stories! I'd love to hear from you. And if you'd like to schedule a reading with me, contact me here