5. The Hierophant

The wisdom of ages

We all have ancestry. We all carry within us ancient – and recent – wisdom that is passed down to us through many different ways. The Hierophant represents that wisdom.

Typically showing a Pope-like figure, this card, along with its bewildering name, can be confusing. The overtly Christian symbology shown in many tarot decks has meant that it is often associated with religious doctrine, study and teaching, and whilst this may be one possible interpretation, the Hierophant’s meaning is far more wide-ranging than that. It’s meaning will differ from person to person, as we each uncover our unique heritage and ancestry.

I’m talking about race ancestry. Cultural ancestry. Blood ancestry. And the ancestry we each have that comes from the identities we hold. Whoever we are, whatever our identities, there are folks who came before us and who created the paths we now walk. We carry their struggles and their stories within ourselves. We carry their spirituality, an understanding of the symbols they honoured, a recognition of the rhythms that shaped their lives. We can’t always see or access that knowledge, but it’s there.

In the Wild Unknown Tarot, Kim Krans depicted a raven, holding a key. Stephanie Pig-Mun Law, in the Shadowscapes Tarot, shows us a wizened, bent old tree. The Collective Tarot shows a woman instructing a feminist group in gynaecological self-examination. Wisdom can be passed on in many different ways.

The Hierophant is the knowledge in you, and it is also you, as a holder of that knowledge. It is all of the potential in you for passing that knowledge on. It is you as a student, accessing this knowledge, and it is you as a teacher, imparting it. It can also represent elders and ancestors who are teaching you.

The card is concerned with spiritual initiation, and usually depicts a figure who can be seen as a translator of arcane, mysterious, religious or spiritual teachings – a conduit between god/s and man, between the otherworld, and this one. In this sense, it is a little like the High Priestess. Unlike the High Priestess, though, the knowledge held within belongs to a specific heritage. It has been passed down to you along certain lines.

Advice from the Hierophant

The Hierophant shows up to encourage you to get to know your ancestors. The folks whose blood flows in your veins, and the folks who you claim as ancestors, as witch, trans woman, Black man, or whatever identity you hold. Who came before you? Who paved the road you now walk? How might you learn about or honour these people?

An obvious interpretation of the Hierophant is that it is suggesting geneology: researching your family tree. Think about the identities you hold and the folks who came before. A person of Irish heritage researching the Ogham is learning about the language that shaped their land. A woman joining a trans history group is discovering a lineage of oppression, resistance and survival that is inherent in her own life.

The Hierophant celebrates all of this wisdom, but its focus is particularly on the spiritual. Researching your Apache or Celtic or Yoruba heritage means not only learning about your ancestors’ lives, but discovering more about their spiritual practices, their religions and rituals, their festivals and symbols. Digging into your history as a member of the queer or trans community should involve exploring the ways your forgoers created spiritual paths, how they built and held faith, how they supported each other, celebrated and mourned. If you identify as a witch, try to find out more about the history of healers, the folklore and the magical stories they may have told. And so on.

And all of this wisdom is really worth something in the unique way you, a new person forging a new path, will translate and communicate it. This card can therefore be encouraging you to teach, or facilitate, or write, or blog. To not only learn, but to understand how these teachings and lessons play out in your own life now, and in those of others who share your heritage.

The Hierophant can also represent your initiation onto a spiritual path. Converting to Islam. Stepping into Paganism. Becoming ordained as a priest. Building an altar or committing to following the Wheel of the Year. Any significant milestone in your spiritual life is the Hierophant’s domain, and it reminds you that you have the support of everyone that came before you. The energy of your ancestors lives in you, but you are not constrained by their lessons. It is now up to you to forge the path ahead – your path.

Key words and concepts

  • Ancestry
  • Connecting to your past
  • Honouring your ancestors
  • Family history research (where family can be genetic or chosen)
  • Talking with elders
  • Initiation into a religious or spiritual community or path
  • A new start, spiritually
  • Spiritual wisdom or teachings
  • Religious or spiritual study
  • Becoming a teacher or mentor
  • Reaching a milestone in any kind of study

Some common symbols

  • Key (initiation, unlocking secret wisdom)
  • Pope-like figure (a conduit between worlds, a translator)
  • A teacher (passing on of wisdom)