The Hierophant and The Empress

The Hierophant, Lotus Tarot. A haughty looking white man lounges on a golden throne in luxurious red robes, He wears a golden crown and holds a golden scepter. Two people are at his feet wearing robes, One with roses and one with lilies. He sits between two pillars, Two keys are crossed over his head.
The Hierophant, Lotus Tarot

The Hierophant is one of those cards that has a less-than-rosy reputation.

Or at least, a lot of people don’t like seeing it come up in readings, and there are a few reasons. We must remember that all archetypes have neutral, negative, and positive aspects. They simply exist. It is our interactions with these roles and states of being that determines the outcome. But first and foremost with The Hierophant, we must reconcile that while this archetype is neutral at its heart like any other, it currently plays a role in our world that is, at best alienating and at worse, the smiling face of what some might call evil.

For many folks, the Hierophant is just difficult to relate to, and they have a reasonably hard time merely understanding the definition of the card.

It seems to speak to abstract roles of power in hierarchical structures, which – let’s be real – not many people experience, or want to, in their personal lives, as the role by nature is isolated. For others, the archetype is triggering, as it is often seen by folks as a classic depiction of a leader of patriarchal forms of religion, and so it opens the floodgates to all the issues that come up around fundamentalist, dogmatic institutions, class structure, colonization, and the suppression of many to the benefit of few.

In many ways, this archetype is much crueler than The Devil card, because at least in card 15, we know who we’re dealing with. With the Hierophant, we are led to believe that they speak on behalf of God, so of course, we should not only believe them but do what they say.

The Hierophant Tarot Card from the Pamela Colman Smith Waite Deck.
The Hierophant, Smith Waite Tarot

So, let’s start at the bottom and work our way up with this card. Let’s start with it’s worst traits and seek to find what is redeemable, what is needed in the Hierophant. He is on the Fool’s Journey, and he must be reconciled.

The majority of the real-world examples we have of this archetype – AKA The God-King or King/Priest – from the last 5000-ish years are not positive.

Men (almost exclusively) in positions of power, subverting the Word of God and our individual experiences of spirituality. Why? To command large groups of people into providing them with their own base desires. Or, the desires of the Kings, Emperors, Presidents, Dictators they serve. Riches, sex, monuments, social standing, life-long flex, whatever.

The standard tools we see used by The Heirophant in its current form are racism, fascism, paranoia, alienation, and xenophobia. They are wielded against the populace like a yoke around cattle, steering us where they want, reaping the political rewards.

Many generations of people have come to see this archetype as something cynical and manipulative, the open hand of the oppressor. In many ways, this archetype is much crueler than The Devil card. At least in card 15, we know who we’re dealing with. With the Hierophant, we are led to believe that they speak on behalf of God. So of course, we should not only believe them but do what they say.

The most crucial element of The Hierophant is the effect it has on the physical world.

This card does not act in the abstract, it wants real-world results and evidence of its dominion. The civilizations that have been crushed, the histories lost, the treasures destroyed at the hands of the patriachy are numberless. This force has warped and rent the known world and continues to do so today. This archetype has been, and currently is, one of the primary images or faces of this assault.

 The Hierophant, Golden Dawn Magical Tarot. A man in red robes sits on top of a bull, holding a crook in one hand and a rosicrusian flag in the other.
 The Hierophant, Golden Dawn Magical Tarot

Further, people in power often use the trappings of religion to sway the masses to act or stay passive. Even further, after wearing the costume of the Priest, these leaders often begin to conflate themselves with holy people and holy power.

All humans have in themselves some element that urges towards this dogmatic, dictatorial, behavior.

The standard tools we see used by this character in its current form are racism, fascism, paranoia, alienation, and xenophobia, wielded against the populace like a yoke around cattle, steering us (all of us) in the directions they want, and reaping the political and financial rewards.

And while the vast majority of humans to do this (at least in recorded history) seem to be lighter-skinned and male-identifying, this is a part of human psychology.

All humans have some elements in themselves that urge towards this dogmatic, dictatorial, behavior, or at least in our current state of evolution, we all understand it.

If The Hierophant card comes up in a reading with other intimations of unenlightened behavior or tendencies…

…there may be issues with the person seeing themselves as above or separate from the people around them. They may hold themselves to a different standard than other people, excusing themselves from getting their hands dirty, especially when it comes to working or contributing to group projects. They may have grand visions but actually rely on secret resources, usually in the form of other people doing the heavy lifting, paying the bills, or writing their speeches, potentially stealing from weaker sources.

There is also a hard or negative tendency in this card to stand rigidly on dogma and traditions that support current power structures. They may even be outright manipulative and conflate and mix their goals and aesthetics with mythical, mystical, religious, spiritual, or metaphysical imagery, comparing their aims to the will of the Gods – to the purpose of manipulating people into a belief and ultimately a behavior or action on the physical plane. And the more people, the better. The Hierophant is only interested in the masses, and massive movements, not individuals, and their individual exceptions.

However, not only do I feel The Hierophant is redeemable, I think it is needed for human evolution, on both the personal and species levels.

Remember, our last card was The Emperor, with their Holy Vision. But sitting on the couch feeling really passionate about a great idea, versus actually going through the arduous steps to see the thing come to life, are two very different states of being. Without the patience, conviction, and certainty of The Hierophant, we will have a hard time manifesting anything of real impact in our lives. And accomplishing goals larger than ourselves, projects that require other people to help us, requires that we learn how to sit “in our seat of power,” stay passionate about our vision or mission, and learn to work with people in communion.

To help ourselves in an attempt to find something worthy in The Hierophant, let’s look at another card that supports this figure, related through astrology – The Empress.

The Empress, Pamela Colman Smith Waite Tarot. A blond light skinned femme sits on a comfy seat with lots of pillows. She is surrounded by golden grains, evergreen trees A blue stream runs behind her. She wears a crown of stars, a white robe with a pattern of red pomegranates, and holds a small golden scepter. At her feet is a shield with the symbol for Venus.
 The Empress, Smith Waite Tarot

Can you imagine waking up every day and threatening a plant with damnation if it doesn’t grow “correctly” or immediately? The Empress cannot.

The Hierophant is ruled by the sign Taurus. This sign is governed by the planet Venus, which rules The Empress Card. Looking at The Hierophant through the lens of The Empress instantly tames and softens the intentions and habits of this archetype, breaking free from a paradigm centered around hierarchy and ownership to a world view that is nurturing and inclusive.

The Empress sits solidly in the real world, confident in Her ability to continuously produce tangibles miracles.

She knows and trusts the systems of Mother Earth, and simply supports and tends, rather than dominating and demanding the Earth do Her bidding. Can you imagine waking up every day and threatening a plant with damnation if it doesn’t grow “correctly” or immediately? The Empress cannot, and She doesn’t need to. She knows Goddess (Source, Universe, etc.) is/are the plants, and their process is the unfolding of the Miracle of Life. 

However, She doesn’t ignore the process and its needs. She exercises Her “dominion” through service to the environment and its needs. Think of a dedicated gardener, giving the plants everything they could want to be their best selves. Remember, we see clean water and golden grains in Her card. She is providing for us before we even ask.

The Empress, World Spirit Tarot. A dark-skinned femme lounges in a relaxed position on a couch. She holds a lotus blossom, She is surrounded by fruits, veggies, and other symbols of abundance. A serpent winds around a branch in the tree above her.
The Empress, World Spirit Tarot

When we act with the future in mind, and the health and well-being of all beings and environments involved, we are often in alignment with those natural systems that are holding us.

A river flows behind Her, continuously watering the land. Cypresses stand tall and sturdy in a row, ever-green. And She is surrounded on all sides by golden fields of grain, their seed-heavy heads bobbing in the sunlight. Her whole demeanor is relaxed, casual, and open. A far cry from the stiff, guarded, and rigid depiction of The Hierophant. 

When we act from this place, we humans are capable of creating awesome things on Earth.

And these personal/collective actions are to the benefit of all humankind, and not to the detriment of people, animals, or all the other natural systems. In fact, there’s good evidence that when we act with the future in mind, and the health and well-being of all beings and environments involved, we are often in alignment with those natural systems that are holding us.

Dealing with other people from the viewpoint of The Empress calls on us to have an open-handed attitude, and not a controlling or paranoid worldview. We understand the natural ebb and flow of the resources we are working with. Applying this to ourselves, we can see The Hierophant as the part of ourselves that knows how to pull in the opposing forces in our own mind, heart, will and physical body and press towards healthy goals, like a gardener, tending a wild and lively garden. How to decide that we have a right to create our own version of a good life. How to say yes and no to the average highs and lows of life. And how to be patient and play the long game.

Die Kaiserin (The Empress), Tarot of the Old Path
Die Kaiserin (The Empress), Tarot of the Old Path

When the Hierophant card comes up in a reading where you see other progressive, healthy behaviors…

…this card represents a person who has learned how to “serve” their dreams instead of chasing them with a big stick. Even more, those dreams will be in alignment for the greatest benefit to the masses. A person who wants to make sure that everyone they work with on a project is recognized, well-fed, well-equipped, and well-rested. They want to get their hands dirty, but also know how to delegate. They are patient, loving and accepting, like a gardener tending newly planted seeds.

And you can trust them, and their Word. When they claim “miracles,” you know it’s going to be true. But they also will probably be willing to teach people how to create their own wonders. This is a person who can move mountains. The right mountains.

The Empress, Afro-Brazilian Tarot
The Empress, Afro-Brazilian Tarot

While studying Tarot, I like to create rituals, spells, and meditations to help me sync up with the information. You may find the following tools and meditations helpful to you as you develop a relationship with these cards.

Mineral World Helpers:
Emerald, Copper, Rose Quartz, Chrysocolla, Malachite

Plant World Helpers:
You can work with these plants however you want to; as food (those that are edible), incense, body oils, or just placed on your altar.
Rose, Jasmine, Cypress, Oak, Rowan

Animal World Helpers:
Bulls, Oxen, Buffalo, Cows, Bison, Auroch, Dove, Salmon, Deer, Rabbit

***Meditations For Working With The Hierophant***
(Work with the meditations that speak to you, leave what doesn’t.)

What is to be a leader?
What is it to serve?
What is the difference between supporting and controlling?
What is religious power?
What feelings are brought up by that phrase?
Where do I feel that in my body?
What is my access and/or exposure to religious power?
In what ways can religious power be harmful, dangerous or otherwise negative?
In what ways can religious power be healing, helpful, or otherwise positive?
How is religious power expressed in my personal life?
How could I embody this type of energy?
What could I do with this type of energy?


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