The Hierophant

The Hierophant / The Monkey Puzzle Tree The Hierophant ( the word simply means "priest" in ancient Greek) represents moral law, rules and dealing with authority. The Oxford Dictionary defines the Hierophant as the "official expounder of sacred mysteries or religious ceremonies, especially in ancient Greece". And therein lies the problem. Genuine spirituality is all to often superseded by a dogmatic "official view" once the spiritual system becomes "official".

The Hierophant contrasts with the Priestess, who represents intuitive wisdom, and also with the Emperor. Both the Hierophant and the Emperor represent fatherhood, but while the Emperor is worldly the Hierophant is spiritual. I have to admit I was a bit stumped (excuse the pun) for a tree to represent the Hierophant. Certainly as far as the "dealing with authority" mentioned above is concerned, tree folklore doesn't have much to say about claiming benefits or getting a tax disc for the car, or the thousand and one other interactions with authority which are a feature of modern life.

If things are not properly balanced, this card can indicate material prosperity but spiritual poverty. Remember that the word "wealth" does not have the same meaning as "being rich". "Wealth" is about quality of life, which can be high on a small budget or low on a big one. Also, remember that authority and dogma occur in all sorts of situations including family structures. You may have got into a situation where expectations have been placed on you by the family but the expectations may be unfairly onerous or limiting. You are expected to behave in a particular way because that is how you have always behaved and people don't like change; they like the predictability of things carrying on as normal and people staying how they have always been. Trouble is you may have grown or moved on from that.

Whatever the situation an exchange of ideas may be needed to clear the decks and make people aware that your ideas are not necessarily what they expect, and this communication may require travel. Again, because of the dogmatic obstacles being placed in your way, you may question the value of what you are doing. However, these obstacles can be overcome with a strong injection of clarity and purpose.

The Hierophant is ruled by Taurus the Bull or its Indian equivalent, the Elephants) and so the zodiacal sign for Taurus is shown at the top left of the card, while at the top right, we have the fifth letter of the Hebrew alefbet, Hei. This, again, does not agree with the Crowley / Harris deck for reasons explained in the notes to the Fool. The hierophant also represents the new age of Horus, which follows on from the aeons of Osiris and Isis.

There is some pressure these days to simplify English spelling, so that perhapd the "ph" in "Hierophant" would be replaced with an "f". In my opinion, this would lose the embedded meaning entirely. The "Hiero" part of the word relates to the priesthood, hence we have "Hieroglyphics" and the "hieratic" scripts used by the priests in antiquity (see our article on Hieroglyphics, and Hieratic, Demotic and Coptic scripts. CLICK HERE). The "phant" part of the word is from the Greek letter "phi" which relates to communication. An interesting related word is "sycophant", which the Oxford Dictionary defines as a "flatterer, parasitic person". Again the "phant" part relates to communication but the "syco" part is from the word for figs. In ancient times fig trafficking was as significant (and as illegal) as, say, narcotics or contraband trafficking is today. The "sycophant" was the individual who communicated to the authorities the whereabouts of the traffickers, and thus ingratiated himself and was rewarded by the authorities (Greek: sycophantes = informer).

Individual cards generally have both positive and negative aspects. Many readers use reversals but I don’t as I find the idea of reversals a bit artificial. I prefer to decide on the interpretation of a particular card within the context of the overall reading. However, sometimes cards appear not in a purely positive of negative aspect but to send a warning, or a caution against future events or a course of action. For this reason I eventually settled for the Monkey Puzzle tree to represent the Hierophant, as its convoluted branches seem reminiscent of red tape. This is not to gainsay the spiritual nature of the Hierophant, but it points to a warning against the dogma and convoluted logic which often passes itself off as spiritual.

The Monkey Puzzle tree is very attractive and distinct, which tends to convey the positive nature of the Hierophant, comfort and wise advice. The Hierophant is a teacher and you could imagine students working or relaxing under its branches. Paradoxically the branches of the Monkey Puzzle tree also convey the so-called “reversed” meaning of the card, bewilderment, confusion and bad advice. And also, of course, the empty dogma of the "spiritual establishment" which genuine spirituality sometimes degenerates into.


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