By Sarah Taylor
According to numerology, 2012 is the ‘Year of The Hierophant': 2 + 0 + 1 + 2 = 5, The Hierophant being the fifth card in the tarot’s major arcana. Like his feminine counterpart The High Priestess, The Hierophant sits enthroned between two pillars. Unlike The High Priestess, who inhabits the space between the physical and the spiritual, the pillars in The Hierophant represent the physical world — more specifically, a world of discipline and formal observance.
The Hierophant card draws significantly upon Roman Catholic symbolism, notably the Papal Cross in The Hierophant’s left hand, the triple crown on his head, and the cross-keys at his feet. His right hand is giving the benediction. It is the most overtly religious of all the tarot cards in the Rider-Waite Smith deck — which strikes me as a little odd, given that many of the other cards (The Magician and The Chariot, for example) are esoteric in nature — tarot itself being an esoteric art.
Therefore, if we take the surface interpretation of The Hierophant, we might focus on the idea of organised religion, or adherence to doctrine of one form or another. Seen in this way, The Hierophant signifies spiritual discipline — one that is seated in the collective, given that the church is community-based. His authority also has its origins in the collective, conferred on him as it is by a man-made structure that deems him God’s representative on Earth. Whereas The High Priestess is self-appointed and answerable to no-one but spirit, The Hierophant is appointed by rule of law and is answerable not only to spirit, but to the Church as well.
The Catholic Church is currently fighting a battle to save its image in the eyes of many people in the modern world — although this battle has been fought over hundreds of years in one form or another: The Pardoner’s Tale, one of The Canterbury Tales written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th Century, paints a damning picture of a ‘pardoner’ who extorts money from those who wish to atone for sins against Rome and God:
Of avarice and of such cursedness
Is all my preaching, for to make them free
To give their pence, and namely unto me.
For mine intent is not but for to win,
And nothing for correction of sin.
Therefore, it can prove challenging to look past negative associations and see the card as a positive indictment of devotion, dedication, and the situating of oneself in something that is greater than the individual and which transcends ego. But that association is there for me when I am able to look at the card objectively.
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