“When you are growing up there are two institutional places that affect you most powerfully: the church, which belongs to God, and the public library, which belongs to you. The public library is a great equaliser.”
― Keith Richards.
When the Hierophant turns up in a reading we rummage through our keywords and we arrive at spiritual teacher and tradition. While this is all good, I want to take another look at this figure from a different perspective…the institution.
The Hierophant sits quite neatly next to the Emperor.
They are part of a cluster of the first seven cards (excluding the Fool) which I term ‘interdependency’. This refers to the idea that these seven are all interdependent on each other. Another way of looking at this group would be to see that they are adapting to, and being shaped by, the physical world and yet are connected to spirit in a raw fashion, they require an interface with each other in order to exist. The two following groups of seven would be ‘independence ‘and ‘autonomy.’
If we view this first group as a childhood journey then everything is hunky dory.
That is until we meet the Emperor and Hierophant. Together they represent the state and then as many of us already know there is a strong likelihood that things could go wrong. Certainly at this juncture the state or the establishment has the power to trample roughshod over the innocence and the dreams that were forged at the Mother’s breast. I think it is also the point where our natural sixth sense is wrought from us, dumbed down into the abyss of non-existence; it belongs to the right brain and such idealism has no sway in the linear world of politics, religion and the institution. (Oddly I don’t see any of these particularly linear but contrivances based on trite observations of humankind.)
The Hierophant represents an institutionalised means for access to the sacred. Hierophant is taken from the Greek, ‘the sacred revealed.’
On our journey of personal evolution, this archetype expresses the higher mind, the inspired self but frames this expression with self-discipline and correct training. His aim is to utilise ancient techniques and thought processes to bring about spiritual transformation.
Arguably this transformation is relevant to the development of the human species as without some kind of spiritual reference point we could have very possible become close to extinction. Most certainly the life of the spirit is as valuable as the physical life. Yet, much of this is lost in the world at large and not much room is made for the mystic or visionary which this card can also signify. Rather, we see the Hierophant as a servant of the community, a holder of social values and a communicator of that which can be handed down from generation to generation.
In the days of yore.
In olden times, if anyone had a problem they would have turned to the local parish or priest and going further back to the village council or chief. The institution has a new church…hospitals, schools even prisons. The therapist falls under the domain of the institution and we as therapists of many different forms and guises must be careful that we don’t just support people or the larger community merely to maintain but to evolve and be an authority in our own right.
Despite the Hierophant’s roots being steeped in tradition he also advises us to be on the watch out for the trappings of dogmatic thinking. Here in the west where we bathe in the glow being in the so called free world where we can indulge in free speech. The Hierophant asks us to consider if this is just another misnomer, an illusion that belongs to a society that has been nurtured on lack and now doesn’t even care…dogma encases the free will in a throat throttling crush.
We are beginning to connect to an image of a Hierophant that is oppressive and has questionable motives and values.
His own power and success brings him into the domain of the Devil, tied to things that don’t really exist. The divine is as an uncharted continent and one wonders if the God we grew up with is no more than a social construct in a state of perpetual resurrection, an opiate of the masses, soma for the seeker. Capable of great terror, deep insecurities drive him towards world domination. Obstinate and stubborn, the consummate autocrat embellishes the wrathful God for his own needs.
What do we learn from this?
Growth and maturity are not just personal goals, the institution also has to be able to grow and not just from a hazardous situation but as a natural flow. The bully boy might get his moment of gleeful tyranny but what goes around, comes around. If we are lucky the Death card will show up, not necessarily bringing transformation but more a change in karma, a diversion or a new route.
Consequences follow action.
Dogma cannot dictate all the time what precisely those actions should be, but by following our inner voice and acting on it we create the opportunity for expression over repression.
What is our passion? What is that going to be in the world?