5. The Hierophant
A hierophant is a high priest who leads religious celebrations. The ancient Greek word hierophantes is contraction of hieros (holy) and phainein (show, reveal). A hierophant is able to initiate others into experiencing the divine. This is, of course, only possible if he is connected to the divine himself, and this leads us to the meaning of the tarot card The Hierophant. It represents the person in whom the sacred marriage (Greek: hieros gamos ) has taken place. The (energetic) duality in him has merged. The Hierophant is rooted in the divine.
The title Hierophant was originally linked to the mysteries of Eleusis: an ancient Greek mystery tradition whose initiation rites were secret and still are a great mystery. Much later, this title was also applied to people in other situations and capacities. The Hierophant ended up in the tarot through the occult society The Golden Dawn.
Card number 5 of the tarot was originally called The Pope. Arthur Waite replaced The Pope for The Hierophant in his Rider-Waite-Smith deck in 1909 and almost all of the tarot decks that followed hereafter took over. However, the deeper meaning of the card has always remained the same. Even when the card was still called The Pope, it represented the person in whom the sacred marriage had taken place.
On the Pope card of the 15th century Visconti-Sforza Tarot we see three references to the holy marriage: the two raised fingers of the Pope; the Greek cross (a cross with equal arms) at the top of its staff; and the hexagonal pattern on its garment, a derivative of the hexagram – the universal symbol for the union of opposites.
The Pope, like the Papess (card number 2), wears a pontifical (papal) tiara: a triple crown. Officially, the three crowns represent the triple power of the pope: priest, teacher, and king. Esoterically, a tiara stands for mastery over body, feeling and thinking.
The Pope of the Visconti-Sforza tarot (1454)
An illustration of the sacred marriage from the alchemical Book of the Holy Trinity (15th century). Man and woman are fused into an androgynous figure. The three crowns around the belly, chest and head represent mastery over the body (the animal instincts, the lower abdomen), feelings (heart) and the mind.
An illustration from the alchemical manuscript Speculum Veritatis, which is located in the library of the Vatican.
The alchemist (left) has acquired a triple (the three crowns) kingship (mastership) over earthly matters. The triangle with the point up (the symbol for fire), with the fire in it, stands for the kundalini fire, which has purified the alchemist’s body, feeling and thinking (the three arrows), through which he has achieved this kingship. On the right we see an alchemical oven; symbol for the alchemist’s pelvis and spine, with the fire of the kundalini flowing in it. The three rings on the pipe and the three arrows on the flag represent body, feeling and thinking that are purified in the”oven”.
Charles VI tarot
The Charles VI, or Gringonneur, deck is also from the 15th century; designed for King Charles VI of France. The Pope card of this deck contains symbolism that refers to a kundalini awakening.
Two energy channels run along the left and right side of the spine. They are called ida and pingala nadi in the yoga tradition. During a kundalini awakening, these energy channels fuse at the height of the forehead. During this process the pineal gland – in the middle of our head – is activated. The two cardinals next to the Pope symbolize these two energy channels. Their crossed hands represent the fusion, just like the two keys (of the Kingdom of Heaven), which the Pope holds upright against each other.
Pope Leo VII
(pope from 936 to 939, image from 1842)
The designer of this card did not opt for the papal tiara with three crowns that was common at the time, but for one of the very first variants, which was worn until the 12th century, with only one crown. I think because this crown – even more than the tiara – emphasizes its pineal gland shape. It has also given the artist the opportunity to add a pine cone pattern to the crown.
Probably not coincidentally also, is the color of the clothing: red (clothing cardinals) and blue (clothing pope). These two colors are traditionally associated with, respectively, the male energies (heat, fire, the sun) and the female energies (coolness, water, the moon) in humans.
The two ribbons on the back of the papal crown (the so-called infulae) represent the two energy channels that activate the pineal gland during their fusion.
France 17th century
From the 17th century onwards, to reinforce the symbolism of the union of opposites, two pillars were added in the background to the Pope card, and two lower-ranking clergymen in the foreground. The left figure on the Pope card of Jacques Viéville makes, just like the Pope himself, the sign of the sacred marriage.
The so-called “Tarot anonyme de Paris” has, for that time, the most exciting version of the Pope. An enormous key is placed on his lap and reaches to the tip of his tiara. This symbolizes the awakened kundalini energy in his spine: the “key” to the Kingdom of God. Two fingers – the sign of the sacred marriage – rest on his staff. This also represents his spine. The Pope looks at a sphinx and a small pyramid next to him. A sphinx – a lion’s body with a woman’s head – symbolizes mastery over the animal instincts. The pope is wearing clothes in the colors red (male) and blue (female).
The Oswald Wirth Tarot
Oswald Wirth lowers the two pillars behind the Pope, giving the composition of the card – Pope, two pillars, and two figures in the foreground – the shape of a pentagram; the symbol for the “completed person”. On this card also, the figure on the left makes the sign of the sacred marriage with his hand.
The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot
Arthur Waite changes the name of tarot card number 5 to The Hierophant, but the image remains largely the same: a pope with tiara, two pillars and two lower-ranking clergymen. New are the elements from alchemy that refer to the sacred marriage – the union of the red king and the white queen: the color red and white of the pope’s canopy, and the roses (red) and lilies (white) on the clothing of the figures in the foreground.
The Rider-Waite-Smith Hierophant (1909)
A 17th century etching with alchemists who are working diligently in their (inner) garden. The six flowerbeds represent the first six chakras (at the sixth chakra the sacred marriage takes place). In the back stands a (kundalini) tree from which water (energy) flows to the rest of the garden. A garland of red and white roses is spiraling around the tree (the upward movement of the “kundalini serpent”). Red and white are the colors of the alchemical marriage.
A painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, entitled: Mary Nazarene (1857). Mary is visited by the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove (left). Because of this, according to the Bible, she will become pregnant with Jesus. Dante Gabriel Rossetti wants us to know that this story is a metaphor for a kundalini awakening. Maria is portrayed in an unusual way: working in the garden, caring for red roses and white lilies, like an alchemist. The watering can standing next to her is decorated with a sun (symbol of the divine), and an upward stream of water: the kundalini energy. Her long red hair (the color of fire) hangs down to her pelvis, the place where the kundalini energy is located.
The RWS Hierophant wears a blue robe under the chasuble, so that the card also contains the meaningful color combination of red-blue (male-female). The Y on the back of the two men in the foreground stands for the merger of the opposites. In the illustration from Symbola Aureae Mensae (below) we see an androgynous figure, or rebis, who holds a letter Y in one hand and makes the sign of the sacred marriage with the other hand. The RWS Hierophant is also rather androgynous: it is not immediately clear whether this is a man or a woman. Other elements that refer to the fused duality are the black and white checkered strips on the floor, and the crossed keys in the foreground.
The staff of the RWS Hierophant is much shorter than usual (see picture of Pope John Paul II, below) and rests on his / her knee. This confirms our interpretation that the staff of the Pope / Hierophant represents the spine. The triple cross at the top of the staff has the same meaning, esoterically, as the three rings on the pipe of the alchemical furnace (see above): body, feeling and thinking are purified by the kundalini fire in the spine. The three crossbars are getting shorter towards the top, so that they form a triangle with the point upwards: the symbol for the element of fire.
Pope John Paul II with staff in 1983
An engraving from Michael Maier’s Symbola Aureae Mensae (1617)
The Tarot of Château des Avenières
The Hierophant of Château des Avenières wears the crown of the Egyptian god Amun-Ra. This crown consists of a red sun disk and two raised, stylized feathers. These feathers are a variant on the universal theme of two wings: a symbol for expanded consciousness (like, for example, the caduceus).
Château des Avenières (1917)
Wall painting from the temple of Seti I in Abydos, Egypt.
The two kneeling women next to the Hierophant, like the pillars, stand for duality, which is emphasized by their different skin color. The pillars and clothing of the Hierophant are in red and blue.
The woman on the right points to the Hierophant’s staff. It is a special staff, to which a chain is attached with decorations, including Ankhs. This chain defies gravity. This symbolizes the ability of the Hierophant to initiate others, with the awakened kundalini energy in his spine (the staff). On the mural from the temple of Seti I (above) we see such an initiation, with a similar staff.
The name of the fifth card of the tarot changed a century ago from Pope to Hierophant, but the deeper meaning has always remained the same: spiritual completion.
The pentagram is a symbol that – also in the tarot – is used for the realized person. That this card has been given number 5 will therefore not be a coincidence.
Staff and triple crown – fixed attributes on this card – represent mastery over body, emotions (heart) and thinking (head).
The Hierophant is androgynous: the sacred marriage has taken place. The inner duality (the male and female energies) has melted into a unity. The outer duality (matter) has lost its grip. This is symbolized by the two humble and obliging clergymen on the card.
Engraving by Matthäus Merian from Icones Biblicae (1627). An alchemist receives divine wisdom / knowledge. One leg (pillar) of the fantasy figure stands on the water and the other on the land. They represent the polarities that have united in the alchemist. This interpretation is confirmed by the sign of the sacred marriage (left hand). All other elements of the figure – the wings, the sun, the clouds, and the rainbow, are references to the divine.
This article was published in Paravisie Magazine (juni ’19). Copyright Anne-Marie Wegh 2019
Anne-Marie Wegh is the author of the book
John the Baptist who became Jesus the Christ
Illustrations from the tarot decks, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. All rights reserved.
Foto’s Châteaux de Avenières: http://hermetism.free.fr/Avenieres