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Monday, June 7, 2010

A Journey through My Tarot Decks: The Hierophant

In this series of posts, I plan to discuss all of the Tarot cards in order, using a different deck for each card.

This week's card is The Hierophant (Trump 5) from the Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot, designed by Aleister Crowley and painted by Lady Frieda Harris.

Crowley writes that The Hierophant "is the principal business, the essential, of all magical work; the uniting of the microcosm with the macrocosm."

I've always had a bit of a dislike for The Hierophant, so it is interesting to me that Crowley also writes: "Though the face of the Hierophant appears benignant and smiling. . . it is hard to deny that in the expression of the initiator is something mysterious, even sinister. He seems to be enjoying a very secret joke at somebody's expense. There is a distinctly sadistic aspect to this card. . ." (Yes, I realize this is Aleister Crowley I'm talking about here.)

Symbols mentioned by Crowley in his Book of Thoth include:
* Nine nails at the top of the card: reference to the Hebrew letter Vau, meaning a Nail
* Elephants surrounding throne: elephants are of the nature of Taurus
* Bull on which Hierophant is sitting: Taurus
* Pentagram representing dancing male child: the law of the new Aeon of the Child Horus
* Woman/girl with a sword: the Scarlet Woman in the hierarchy of the new Aeon; also represents Venus, ruler of Taurus
* Snake and dove: a reference to a verse in the Book of the Law
* Dark blue background: starry night of Nuit, from whose womb all phenomena are born
* Four beasts or Kerubs in corners: Bull Kerub is Taurus/Earth in its strongest and most balanced form
* Wand with three interlaced rings: the three Aeons of Isis, Osiris, and Horus with their interlocking magical formula

In his book The Thoth Companion, Michael Osiris Snuffin writes that The Hierophant is "a glyph of the three Thelemic Aeons. . . the initiator of the Mysteries" who "receives the force and wisdom of Chokmah and organizes and distributes it unto Chesed." Snuffin points out:
* The Hierophant is bearded, symbolic of maturity and paternal power
* His crown is the Crown of Osiris
* The crown and robe are red-orange, the color of Taurus in Atziluth
* The left hand makes the sign of esotericism and blessing
* The three figures on the card represent the three Aeons: the Hierophant is Osiris, the woman is Isis, and the child is Horus
* The child Horus has a sandal strap on his right foot, the symbol of the fifth Power of the Sphinx, to Go (the four powers of the Sphinx are to Know, to Will, to Dare, and to Keep Silent).

Snuffin tells us that The Hierophant is "an initiating priest and enlightened teacher." In a reading, the card represents instruction and exoteric knowledge. Endurance, patience, and physical labor are also characteristics of this card, qualities associated with the bull of Taurus. (Snuffin)

Reversed, The Hierophant can suggest false knowledge and mistaken beliefs, rigid religious or spiritual dogma, an unwillingness to learn or apply what has been learned, laziness, inertia, and resistance to change.

In Keywords for the Crowley Tarot, Hajo Banzhaf and Brigitte Theler write that The Hierophant often refers to trust, search for truth, experience of meaning, power of conviction, virtue, expansion of consciousness, and strength of faith. It also cautions against arrogant self-complacency and a dogmatic know-it-all attitude.

In Tarot, Mirror of the Soul, Gerd Ziegler offers the following suggestions based on The Hierophant: "Involve yourself with the teachings of spiritual masters. Seek the presence of a master or teacher. Involve yourself in groups for personal growth. Be honest, open and receptive in these groups. Pay attention to the instructions of your heart."

About the Deck: The Thoth deck was a joint project between Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) and Lady Frieda Harris (1877-1962), wife of a member of the British Parliament. Crowley wrote and sketched; Harris painted. The process took them several years. According to James Wasserman, author of Instructions for Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot Deck, Harris often painted the same card as many as eight times in an effort to produce the finest possible deck.


  1. Out of all the Hierophants, this Thoth one does seem the most "mystical." This image of him does not portray a man who would counsel but rather one that would take you deeper and further into the realm of spirituality and all that that may mean.

    When I did my interview with this deck the Hierophant came up in the position of "what are your strengths" and the one line that stands out and I think applies well to this Hierophant was "I open your eyes to the fact that we are in union spiritually with the universe." Crowley's Hierophant seems to me to really get this message over.

    I enjoyed reading your post and I found the information very helpful in my further understanding of this card.

  2. Darn it! Now you've made me want to get my hands on the Book of Thoth *and* the Thoth Companion, like I need another tarot book ;)

    Maybe you could do a series of Thoth posts, like Helen's Walk Through The Waite series? It's a fascinating deck and getting a different point of view is always interesting and helpful.

    p.s. Nice makeover, ladies!

  3. Yes, my birth card is The Hierophant and while there is something mystical about him I can really identify with this card because I have been a Stage Magician for 40 years now AND behind all the mystery of stage magic is deception.

    But it occurred to me that, upon deeper introspection...the deeper and deeper into the search for the "real self", the search for truth, I must consider the Reversed meanings of the card and notice that the search for truth begins with the awareness for self deception. What is it I don't like to see or hear about me? And why is that?

    What do you think?

    Aurora, CO

  4. Wonderful comments!

    Helen, I think you're absolutely right that Crowley's Hierophant shows the union between temporal and spiritual within ourselves.

    Submerina, I have found the Book of Thoth to be essential in understanding what Crowley intended (or may have intended?) to show in his cards, and out of all the Thoth-related books, Snuffin's seems to focus on what Crowley intended rather than superimposing his own interpretations on the cards.

    Mark - yes! I think we do need to acknowledge our "shadow side" (as perhaps represented by the reversed card meanings) -- or at least explore that side in order to understand ourselves more fully.


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~ Zanna