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Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Hierophant, The High Priestess, and The Hermit

Please join me in welcoming Helen Howell with another of her insightful, delightful "rambles" about the Tarot cards!

by Helen Howell

The Hierophant, The High Priestess and The Hermit. . . it sounds like I'm about to tell a joke doesn't it! But I'm not. Instead I was going to initially ramble on about the Hierophant, but the more I thought about this card, the more I thought about its connection in various ways to the other two cards: The High Priestess and The Hermit. Especially The Hermit, as both The Hierophant  and The Hermit are 'Teacher Cards' of the deck.

The Hierophant is often seen as a mentor of spiritual guidance. The depiction of Le Pape shows him with the power of the church behind him. This power is an established one, and so the Hierophant becomes an image of tradition, representing those tried and tested ways. Certainly in the Marseille type decks where he is presented as the Pope, it does seem to symbolism how the people of the time looked to the church for guidance. The church had the power and with that came control.

From one of our more modern decks -- The Deviant Moon -- The Hierophant image serves to illustrate that sometimes people were more than ready to hand over their own responsibility and be the doll in the pocket of the church.

The Hierophant, therefore, can be seen to have special powers through the ceremonies of the church. These could be considered to be mystical, and if not that, then spiritual. As depicted as part of the hierarchy of the religious system, he then becomes the link to a higher authority/knowledge/the man upstairs.

This image does sort of tie him in with the High Priestess, who turns within in order to hear the messages of the higher-self.

Another Link that draws The Hierophant and The High Priestess together is within the RWS deck. Both these two cards have pillars that flank the figures. Although Waite tells us that the pillars in The Hierophant's image are not the same as the HP's, and of course they are not. Hers are black and white and his are grey. But if we look at the symbolism of the colours then there is a similarity.

She sits between two opposites, black and white, a symbol of the duality that exists within. He sits between two grey columns, symbolising the harmonising of opposites (black mixed with white make grey). The Hierophant is a symbol of bringing the spiritual down to the physical and manifesting it into everyday life, whereas The HP doesn't reveal outwardly those secrets she discovers. The connection I see between these two is one of a spiritual nature, although our Hierophant represents the exoteric aspects of spiritual/religion and she the esoteric.

But what of the Hierophant and the Hermit -- not forgetting of course that they are both 'Teacher Cards' within the deck?

Well, it's obvious that The Hierophant teaches us the spiritual beliefs or principals in an outer way. He is very often depicted as carrying the 3 cross sceptre, a symbol of creative power over the three worlds of the divine, spiritual and material. In other words, he brings the spiritual down to the material.

The Hermit on the other hand is depicted as a wise old man who lights the way for us with a lantern. His reclusiveness becomes a representation for us of inner awareness. He shows us that wisdom can be gained through introspection and meditation – he is the Teacher who offers us the advice we need in that inner quest for finding a meaning to life. The Hermit stands upon a mountain top indicating that he has managed to reach a height of awareness.

Here we see the contrast and the similarity between The Hierophant and The Hermit – the contrast of Outer spirituality and Inner spirituality, just as we do with The Hierophant and The High Priestess.

The Hierophant is our tangible link to spirituality if you like, where as both The High Priestess and The Hermit are the link to self awareness that brings us closer to our spiritual self.

I think it worth remembering though that more and more in modern decks the Hierophant is changing his image and not necessarily suggesting anymore that one should follow the rules and regulations that have been set down, blindly. Rather, he becomes a symbol of knowledge and a seeker of truth, for it is in knowledge that one is set free. This too becomes another link to The Hermit who quietly examines what he knows in order to see if it is really what he believes it to be.

Now perhaps when I hold The Hierophant in my hand I will not think of him in isolation, but rather as just one small part of a much bigger triangle.

  • Original Rider Waite -By A E Waite & Pamela Colman-Smith 
Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
  • Deviant Moon Tarot by Patrick Valenza Published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.
  • Le Tarot De Marseille ~ Fournier Naipes Heraclio Fournier, S.A.
  • Tarot Bella by Helen Howell (unfinished deck)


  1. I pulled the Hierophant, the Hermit and the High Priestess in my draw on 7/14/14 and was looking for an explanation of the significance - still learning and playing with Tarot. This column provided true insight and I am very grateful!

  2. Hullo Cyndiperkins I'm glad you found the post useful. ^_^

  3. I pulled Heirophant, High Priestess and Hermit together. Question was...am I the woman in my friends dream that handed him the green arrow head?

    I wanted to send my new friend a green arrow head...because it was significant to me...but didn't...because I thought he would not understand. He told me days later...that he had a dream some time ago...that a woman came to him in a white buckskin dress and placed a green arrow head in his hand as a gift that she said he is not using.
    Freaky!! So I sent it and beaded it into a necklace which he is wearing.

    So...my question was...am I the woman in the dream that handed my friend the green arrow head?


  4. When you put these three cards together in a line, what do you see? I see the Hermit who faces the HP and the Hierophant. Now the Hermit is a card that can symbolise for us that inner quest for meaning. He looks toward first the High Priestess, which could symbolise her psychic abilities - do you think this card could represent for you, your desire to project mentally to him an understanding of what a green arrow head would mean?

    The HP stands between both the Hierophant and the Hermit. The Hierophant again may symbolise here the desire to understand the spiritual. If you're the HP in this little threesome, then perhaps what the cards are saying is that you wish to project your true feelings about wanting to give him the arrow head. So is the woman you in his dreams? - Maybe you did manage to get the message through after all.

    When you next get a set of cards that you don’t know how to interpret, look at how the cards interact with each other, who is facing who, what element of that card comes forward to represent an answer to your question, how do these cards work together in order to answer that question. Remember each of the cards have diverse meanings, but first and foremost make sure you learn the traditional meanings - they will always stand you in good stead.

    Hope that helps.


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~ Zanna