The Hierophant – Tarot card meaning

The Hierophant

Taurus, which is ruled by Venus

Le Pape

Keywords: tradition, organized religion, spirituality, initiator, mystery tradition, the Great Work


The Hierophant is a great religious teacher. Traditionally, he is said to represent religious tradition and ancient wisdom. He is the opposite of a rebellious spirit. He wants to preserve the order of society. He is the archetype of orthodoxy. He encourages you to obey the orders of the elders, to listen to the wisdom of tradition. 

In the Waite-Smith version, he sits on his throne between the Pillars of Severity and Mercy just as in the High Priestess. The keys at his feet are the keys to the Heavenly Kingdom. 

In his left hand, he holds the triple cross, otherwise known as the papal cross, a symbol of the Pope. His right hand is held in the same manner as Baphomet:


Since Baphomet is a symbol of the esoteric, these two gestures represent the distinction between the esoteric and exoteric dimensions of religion. 

In Matthew 13, Jesus discusses the difference between the esoteric or “hidden” mysteries of religion understood by the few and the exoteric meanings understood for the masses:

10 Then the disciples came and asked him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.

These “secrets of heaven” are what the Hierophant means with his gesture mimicking that of Baphomet, long known as an esoteric or occult gesture.

Thus, the Hierophant is a symbol of the exoteric and the High Priestess a symbol of the esoteric.

Waite describes the Hierophant as the summa totius theologiæ, or “Summary of Theology,” taken from Aquinas’ famous work expounding the entire theology of the Catholic faith.

Waite says, moreover:

As such, he is the channel of grace belonging to the world of institution as distinct from that of Nature, and he is the leader of salvation for the human race at large. He is the order and the head of the recognized hierarchy, which is the reflection of another and greater hierarchic order; but it may so happen that the pontiff forgets the significance of this his symbolic state and acts as if he contained within his proper measures all that his sign signifies or his symbol seeks to shew forth. 

In other words, the Hierophant is a symbol of a worldly or human hierarchy of exoteric religion designed for the salvation of humanity. However, crucially, this hierarchy is only a human-made stand-in for a greater hierarchy, the Divine Hierarchy of Neoplatonic Christianity, and thus, as a lower, human emanation, is liable to be fallible and “forgetful” of the significance of this symbolism.

That is to say, why the Hierophant is a rigid symbolic expression of the Divine, he is inevitably just a man and can sometimes, through pride and vanity, overshadow the greater hierarchy he stands for. This is Waite’s way of saying that the Catholic Church, while noble in purpose, is ultimately just an artificial institution and cannot supercede the esoteric validation of the High Priestess, though, when functioning properly, can be helping for guiding the masses to their salvation.

The Thoth Tarot

Hierophant Thoth

Ruled by Taurus, which is ruled by Venus.

In the Hebrew alphabet, the Hierophant refers to the letter Vau, which means a Nail. We thus see 9 nails at the top of the card which forms the architectural support of the card.

The Hierophant is seated on a throne of a Bull and is surrounded by Elephants, which serve as symbols of the groundedness and heaviness of Taurus.

For Crowley, this Hierophant is definitely not the traditional Pope figure of other decks.

In each corner are four Cherubs, inhuman beasts of heaven, representing the “principle business…of all magical work,” which is uniting the microcosm (human consciousness) with the macrocosm (Divine consciousness). Accordingly, the Cherubs correspond to the classic four beasts of the Zodiac (seen in the Rider-Waite-Smith World card): Lion, Bull, Eagle, Man/Angel.

Before the Hierophant, who Crowley calls “The Manifestor of the Mystery,” is a diaphonus six-pointed star or hexagram, which represents the macrocosm. Within it, in the center of the card, is a pentagram with a dancing child, representing Crowley’s new Aeon of Horus, the Child of Osiris who has supplanted the Dying Gods of ancient times and who has ushered in a new spiritual epoch.

The woman holding the sword in the front represents the Scarlet Woman, the same woman we see in XI, Lust, who is the feminine complement to the masculine energy of the Sun. As a “Manifestor,” Crowley’s Hierophant functions to Initiate Seekers into mystery traditions like Thelema.

Behind the Heirophant’s head is the symbolism of the snake and the dove, which is the same symbolism we see in Crowley’s Trump XVI, The Tower. It refers to the dualism between the positive and negative dimensions of the Divine (presumably).

The Bull of the Taurus is the strongest form of Earth. The ruler of Taurus, Venus, is represented by the woman in front of the Hierophant. 

In Taurus the Moon is exalted and the Moon’s influence is seen in both the woman and the nine nails, which correspond to the Ninth Sphere in the Tree of Life, Yesod, ruled by the Moon. 

Strangely, Crowley says that there is something “sinister” to this card, referencing the legend of Pasiphaë, who was cursed to lust after a bull.

The three circles of the Wand represent for Crowley the three Aeons of our history, the Aeons of Isis, Osiris, and now Horus. The color symbolizes Saturn, the Lord of Time. Finally, Crowley points out that the Hierophant’s rhythms operate on a scale of 2,000 years. 


Leave a Reply