Admit it, tarot readers, you get crushes on your cards. The Star is romantic. The Magician is dreamy. The Empress… a goddess. Even the Hermit has that strong, silent appeal. But the Hierophant? Not so sexy. Especially given the images I’ve chosen to represent him here. (Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velazquez, 1650, and Figure With Meat by Francis Bacon, 1954).
Called The Pope in Marseilles-style decks, this card is generally seen to represent the religious establishment and its teachings. If Tarot’s traditional Judeo-Christian references make you uncomfortable, this card is probably not your favorite. But more and more I’m warming up to him. I come from a family of educators. Education was our religion, actually. Recognizing this as the teacher card, as many do, makes the Hierophant more approachable.
When reversed, I think of this card broadly as our collective unconscious. Not just the overt teachings of a ruling class, but all of our invisible agreements that over time weave a thick fabric of directives for us to live by. Individually, that might be the Devil. Collectively, at least from one angle, it’s the Hierophant. The effect can be sinister, like in Francis Bacon’s Figure with Meat. Or it could simply be unconventional (Francis Bacon, again, I suppose).
But I’ve been known to overcomplicate things. When this card shows in my readings, the meaning is almost always surprisingly specific: a contract, a bar mitzvah, a church gathering. My challenge is being comfortable enough with clients to ask, simply, “do you go to church?” or, “What religious conventions do you embrace?”
I remind myself with regularity that it’s not a tarot reader’s job to make a message palatable. Still, I searched the decks I own — animal decks included — for a less imposing visual representation. No luck until I combed through some Pinterest accounts and found this lovely example, with the Dali Llama as the Hierophant, and a nod to Star Wars nerds at his toe.
(Also pictured are Le Pape from the Marseille deck and The Hierophant from the Thoth deck)
Seattle folks: there is still time to sign up for my classes this month. August 10th, 13th, and 27th. Come to one, two, or all three — I’d love to see you there.