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The Meaning of
"The Hierophant" Tarot Card

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What is the inverted meaning of
"The Hierophant"?

The Meaning of "The Hierophant"
Tarot Card

The Symbolism of The Hierophant

The beautiful imagery of the tarot draws from multiple religions and belief systems. It's common to see visual references to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs,Greek myths, astrology, Hinduism, pre-Christian paganism, and classical Judeo-Christian symbology.

But the Heirophant card is somewhat different; It's the one card in the entire deck which seems overtly Roman Catholic in its influences.

In some tarot decks, this card is called "The Pope", and judging from the symbolism here, it's easy to see why:

... the Heirophant card is somewhat different. It's the one card in the entire deck which seems overtly Roman Catholic in its influences

On The Hierophant tarot card we see a leader of the clergy seated on a throne between two great columns of a cathedral. The Hierophant holds a traditional papal cross in his right hand, which is an emblem for the office of the Pope in ecclesiastical heraldry. His crown resemles the three layered triregnum worn by popes since the 8th century.

In front of the Heirophant's throne sit two crossed keys. In papal heraldry this symbol is known as The Keys of Heaven and is emblematic of the keys of Saint Peter, which are described in the Gospel of Matthew. It is the emblem used to this day by the Papacy.

In addition to the Hierophant's cross and crown, the concept of the Roman Catholic Trinity is repeated in symbolic triples throughout the card:

The Hierophant's left hand has three fingers raised; His robes have three vertical crucifixes emblazoned down the front. And of course there are three people represented on the card.

When it comes to the representation of people on most tarot cards, the artwork is generally non-specific about who the images are referring to — but not here. It's hard to ignore the obvious references at work in The Hierophant card. While the final interpretation is up to you, the visual reference is very specific. If the Hierophant card isn't referencing concept of the Papacy, the card certainly paints an image of someone extremely "pope-like".

Even with its clear papal imagery however, the reference is usually not taken literally. In contrast to the direct depiction, the conceptual meaning of the card is more broad, referencing organized religion or the bureaucracy and rigidity of any structured belief system, regulatory authority or codex of laws.

What is represented here is the formality and stiffness of the Church, not so much the beliefs or tenets of the religion.

NOTE: Observant tarot readers will notice that the composition of visual elements on The Hierophant is very similar to the composition of The High Priestess tarot card. Some tarot decks even refer to The Hierophant as The High Priest, which makes the connection even clearer. Both cards feature a high-level leader of the clergy, seated between two great columns. But where the High Priestess represents withdrawn power and a more secretive path, the Hierophant represents organized and structured belief, or as A.E. Waite put it, "The ruling power of external religion."

How to Interpret The Hierophant

The Hierophant features some of the most traditionally religious imagery of the entire tarot deck — but that doesn't mean its message is religious.

The message of this pope-like figure is to seek a conventional, "by the book" or tried and true approach. While conventions may seem dated or restictive, there are times when the traditional-approach is best approach.

... the Hierophant is a gentle reminder that the reason many traditions exist, is becasuse they happen to work.

If someone is presented with an out of the box or original way of doing something, the appearance of the Hierophant is a gentle reminder that the reason many traditions exist, is becasuse they happen to work.

If the card references a past event in your tarot spread, the appearance of The Hierophant may point to a time when traditions and customs were followed, or were particularly important.

Generally speaking, The Hierophant is a positive card — indicating that there is a positive and productive way forward, but it might not be the free or unrestricted way we're hoping for.

There are times to walk the path of tradition and conservatism, and there are times to ignore those things and try bold new approaches. When The Hierophant shows up in a reading, the former is indicated; It's time to tap into the traditional wisdom that's been passed down to you.

The Hierophant Inverted

The simplest explanation of the reversed Hierophant is that it represents a break from tradition.

But like all simple explanations, the subtleties are what's interesting: In this case, the inverted Hierophant card can be either positive or negative. When pointing to a current or future event, the card can been seen either as a recommendation or a warning.

The card points to creative solutions, original thinking and taking smart risks. It also indicates a conscious break from rules and regulations.

The Heirophant in its reversed position indicates an unconventional solution, or an "out of the box" approach. The card points to creative solutions, original thinking and taking smart risks. It also indicates a conscious break from rules and regulations.

The question remains however, as to whether such an approach is being recommended or subtely warned against by the apeparance of The Hierophant in a reading. Simply put, the card simply represents that a break from tradition is indicated — but offers little insight into whether such an approach will ultimately bear fruit.

Another possible interpretation of the inverted Hierophant card is that someone is feeling particularly restrained or suffocated by rules and regulations. These may be work-related restrictions, legal restrictions, or the restrictions which exist in a relationship.

If the surrounding cards in your tarot spread don't offer sufficient clues, draw a claryifying card for additional insight.

Common Symbols Found On the Hierophant Card

Tarot cards often use a language of symbols to convey hints about the meaning of the card. The Hierophant makes use of at least four common, repeating Tarot symbols. Each of these common symbols can add additional layers of meaning to the card.

The symbols which appear on the Hierophant card are:

  • Roses

    Roses symbolism appears on the Hierophant card:

    Roses are among of the most important symbols in the classic Rider-Waite Tarot deck. What can sometimes make interpreting roses difficult, is that there are a few different types of roses which make an appearance on different cards. Each of these different types can carry a distinct meaning.

    NOTE: The roses which appear on the vestments of the clergyman on the left in the Hierophant card serve as a reflection of the lillies worn by the clergyman to his right. This symbolic separation of passion from purity, and male from female, at the feet of the Hierophant, suggests a structure and control of classical gender roles..

    Read more about the symbolism of "Roses" in Tarot  

  • Lilies

    Lilies symbolism appears on the Hierophant card:

    White lily flowers are used frequently in the classic Rider Waite imagery on many different cards. They mean positive thinking, innocence, clarity and focus. Lilies are also considered to represent a distinctly female force, or the "Yin" in the Yin Yang. In traditional European symbolism, the pure white lily is also linked to virginity, the Virgin Mary and anything that is both sacred and pure.

    Read more about the symbolism of "Lilies" in Tarot  

  • Pillars

    Pillars symbolism appears on the Hierophant card:

    The placement of a centrally positioned, figure, seated between two great pillars is an important recurring visual theme in the imagery of Tarot. Even though each specific set of pillars may have its own meaning, in general terms the pillars symbolize grand philosophical concepts which support the decisions or the thoughts of the figure seated between them. Their role and status in life is held up by great pillars of philosophical thought and belief.

    Read more about the symbolism of "Pillars" in Tarot  

  • Grey skies

    Grey skies symbolism appears on the Hierophant card:

    Sky colors in Tarot imagery often hide small hints as to the card's meaning. Grey-colored skies generally point to a level of variability. This overcast or grey colored sky is not entirely foreboding, nor very good.

    Read more about the symbolism of "Grey skies" in Tarot  

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