Tonight, while spending some time with one of my decks, the question ran through my mind: which card best signifies the Tarot itself? In the same way we might choose a significator for ourselves or our clients, what card would be the one the Tarot would select to represent itself? I thought about this for a moment and then the image of the set of keys placed at the feet of the Hierophant came to mind. They are the very keys that open the doors to the Higher Self. Without the Hierophant, or other guides acting as an intermediary between the earthly and spiritual realms, we remain embedded within the limited understanding that the physical world is able to offer us.
The perceptions offered by our five senses can only take our awareness so far. We need a connecting passageway, or at least most of us believe we do, to access the higher understanding of our inner cosmos as well as the outer physical realm that goes further than our limited ways of perceiving can travel. The Tarot and the Hierophant are not one and the same. I don’t believe that the energy of one card can symbolize its totality. However, the Tarot has been hidden within the image of the Hierophant. It is the set of keys that have been unassumingly placed at his feet – a secret that has been hidden right before our eyes.
These are the keys that open the doors to the rest of the Major Arcana. They also have the capacity to unlock the answers we seek whenever we consult the Tarot. By engaging with the energy of the Hierophant, we develop an understanding of the limitations of the physical realm. The Hierophant points to the heavens, showing us that there is vastly more to existence than what we can immediately sense. Even within the physical realm, there is the cosmos, both inner and outer, that extends to remote distances far beyond what our immediate senses are able to perceive. The Hierophant’s hand gesture also figuratively points towards the nonphysical terrain of our mind – a reality with the same epic proportions as the cosmos our bodies inhabit.
This is the truth despite the fact that most of us generally rely almost entirely in the region of conscious thought. We have been dropped somewhere in the midst of this boundless terrain, but feel very much trapped by these limitations. We are so entirely trapped that we cannot even see the key to open the doors that is placed right before our eyes. We need a guide. The Hierophant is our guide. The Hierophant helps us to journey to places that we cannot because he has found the key that will unlock the doors.
I have run across many Tarot readers who have a very negative relationship with the Hierophant. He is disdained by many for his spiritual power and authority. He is resented for the doctrine that he upholds as well as for his connection to long held traditions that are deemed by many to be conservative and outdated. Perhaps these individuals would do well to reconsider, particularly since Tarot readers are embodying the Hierophant archetype!
When we engage with the Tarot, we are acting as that point of connection between the two realms. We are the passageway that leads to the door that opens one to new realities. By utilizing the deck of Tarot cards that gets shuffled in our hands, our circle of perception is able to extend beyond our ordinary imitations. Just like the Hierophant, this position gives Tarot readers a certain level of power and authority. We have our own doctrine and long held traditions that connect us through the cards – there is nothing about us that is inherently iconoclastic. In fact, it calls for a level of conformity to these conventions that have been passed down.
The Hierophant’s purpose is to give others access to higher states of reality – this is what we offer our clients in a Tarot reading. Like it or not, we are intimately affiliated with the Hierophant, and the cards on the table are our keys.
It is likely the image of the Pope that has traditionally appeared on the older decks, such as the Tarot de Marseille and the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, that so many readers have an issue with. Many modern deck makers have given the card a major makeover in an attempt to distance the it from its Catholic connotations, such as Kim Krans has done in her Wild Unknown Tarot deck.
Krans obliterates the pope and replaces it with the magical and mysterious raven. But if you compare the two cards you will see that they are actually both still speaking of the same energy. In the Rider-Waite-Smith card, the Pope’s raised hand acts like an antennae that will passively channel the messages received from the divine realm. Like the Pope, the raven also is passively receiving a message as it is delivered to him in an electric flash of insight. As the lightning bolt strikes the key, the raven is compelled to open its beak and deliver the divine message.
Drawing the two cards even more closely together, the bolt of light contains the same colors as the Pope’s robe. They even share similar shadow traits. The Pope can become a false guide if he becomes too attached to his power. The raven has a trickster nature and cannot ever be fully trusted to share the wisdom he transmits with a full accuracy.
If neither the Pope nor the raven can be fully trusted, how can the querent be certain that she is directly connected to the divine when she attempts to connect to it through this intermediary? How can she fully trust their revelations?
She can’t. In order to be true to herself, she must question her faith in the process and preserve a level of doubt in the message being conveyed. The querent must also learn to discover her own intuitive set of keys that will enable her to expand her awareness to the extent that the need for the intermediary can be eliminated. She already has access to her keys, but until she is able to see this for herself the intermediary will be needed.
If we take a look at the journey through the Major Arcana, we can see that the Hierophant is located still very close to the beginning of this adventure. He is an important stepping stone on our life path that helps us connect to something greater than ourselves. We are meant to use him until we grow to the point where we discover that we do not need him any longer. By exposing us to something greater than ourselves, he serves a significant purpose on the path, but he is certainly not the end of the journey. He helps us to see that we are greater than what we perceive ourselves to be. But until we discover that we have access to our own set of keys we will continue to need his guidance.
As Tarot readers, we not only can serve as that passageway, but we can also act as mentors to our clients, helping them to learn to discover their own set of keys. Every session I have with a client also serves as a lesson in the Tarot. I share my understanding. I encourage them to look into the cards themselves in order to build their own relationship with the images to increase their circle of perception. I believe that it is the responsibility of the Tarot reader to place the power back into the hands of the querent.
Shada McKenzie • the Circle and the Dot