Sacred Symbols

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Symbolism in the Hierophant Tarot Card

The Hierophant is usually deemed Trump 5 in the Tarot. Hierophant means revealer of sacred things. While The Emperor is earthly, secular and governmental authority, The Hierophant is religious, spiritual and sacred authority. This archetype embodies cultural traditions, moral dictates, religious teachings, orthodoxy and philosophical or ethical mandates.

Phrases and Keywords: Tradition; Exoteric Religion; Formal Education; Religious Authority; Right and Wrong Wrangling; Dogma; Ethical Standards; Social Mores; Morality; Philosophy; Doctrine; Canon; Spiritual Beliefs; Revered Teachings; “Shoulds”; Orthodoxy


In his book The Pictorial Key to Tarot, Arthur Edward Waite says that The Hierophant “is the ruling power of external religion…exoteric orthodox doctrine…the outer side of life which lead to the doctrine.” However, in The Tarot: a Key to the Wisdom of the Ages, Paul Foster Case disagrees with Waite, noting “On the contrary, he is the pontifex, the ‘bridge-maker’ who provides a connecting link between outer experience and interior illumination.”

Interestingly, Paul Huson points out that “As the Pontifex, the pope is the interpreter of the mysteries of the unseen, whether religious or what today we would call scientific. It may seem counterintuitive to some, but we should really include research scientists under this trump, as they are today’s interpreters of the mysteries of the microcosm and macrocosm.” (Mystical Origins of the Tarot).

Gray Pillars – Gray connects to the second Sephirah on the Tree of Life, Chokmah (Wisdom). Case further elaborates saying “gray is the tint resulting from equal mixture of any two complementary colors. Since color complements are also opposites, gray stands for the perfect balance of all pairs of opposites, and this is the practical aspect of Wisdom, the second Sephirah”.

Two Pillars – Unlike The High Priestess (Trump 2), there is no veil connecting the two pillars behind The Hierophant. While The High Priestess conceals feminine knowledge behind her pillars and within (esoteric), the empty space between The Hierophant’s pillars indicates open knowledge freely disseminated (exoteric).

Symbols on Pillars – There is disagreement about the symbols on the pillars. Case states that they are phallic in nature, representing union and duality. Some have speculated that the symbols are acorns or pinecones, which seems to be a stretch. Others believe it looks like a uterus, somehow connecting the symbol to the “feminine” secrets of The High Priestess.

Crown – The Secret Language of Tarot says The papal tiara is a triple diadem over a simple cap called a camelaucum from Byzantine court of the seventh and eighth centuries, where it was a sign of high social status. The diadems were added one at a time over several hundred years and probably are more ornamental than symbolic. Still, the papal tiara signifies both a spiritual and secular authority—rule over the Catholic Church and over the territory of the Vatican.” However, Case says that the gold represents radiant energy and wisdom and speaks at length about the numerological symbolism of 3, 7 and 5 (15), the number of trefoils on the tiers. Case connects the numerical values and products to the second Sephirah, Jah (the Hebrew Divine Name) and ADM (Adam).

Black “W” on Top of Crown – The Hebrew Letter Vav (“nail” or “hook”).

Black and White Checkers on the Floor – Black and white signifies duality—yin/yang, dark/light, feminine/masculine, severity/mercy, passive/aggressive, esoteric/exoteric, heart/mind, intuition/logic and so on. Toggling back and forth, they are “either/or”. (Interestingly, Case notes that the Hebrew letter Vav is the equivalent of the English conjunction “and”, which joins nouns and a sentence—much like a nail holds things together.)

Hand Gesture – The manifest and concealed part of a doctrine (Waite).

Roses and Lilies on Monk Tunics – Fusion of human passion (desire) and incorruptible psychic integrity (thought).

Yellow Palliums on Monk Tunics – Yoke of Mercury, symbolizing intellectual perception and outer self-expression.

Crossed Keys – The most obvious meaning would be the keys of St. Peter, or the Keys of the Kingdom. However, in Pictures from the Heart: A Tarot Dictionary, Sandra A. Thomson notes that the crossed keys “link The Hierophant to Hades, holder of the keys to heaven (higher consciousness) and hell (unconscious or instinctual life).

Papal Triple Cross Scepter – According to the book The Secret Language of Tarot, the papal triple cross symbolizes “the three realms of the spirit over which the Catholic Church presides. The first realm, which is symbolized by the lowest bar of the cross, is called the Church Militant. It converts, organizes, and leads the masses. It moves people into the fold and keeps them moving in the right direction. The second bar is for the Church Penitent, the world of angels and souls waiting for birth or judgment. Here, the church teaches and forms the mind and spirit to make it worthy of its destiny. The third bar is for the Church Triumphant, realm of the archangels, heave, and the reward of the virtuous.”

Red/Orange Robe – Connects to the element Earth and the sign of Taurus, which relates to the physical, material and outer realm, as well as latent powers and energies in reserve.

White Accents on Papal Attire – Purity of thought, “inner voice” and action. The unequaled armed crosses symbolize the bridge between Divine Knowledge and humanity.

Blue Under Papal Robe – Apart from oceans and the sky, blue is the rarest color in nature. Interestingly, Tarot scholar and artist Robert Place once said to me that the pigment ultramarine was used liberally in commissioned medieval art because it was derived from costly stone lapis lazuli. In this light, the blue robe suggests “concealing that which is precious” or even preciousness itself. Mother Mary is often enrobed in blue, suggesting spiritual beauty, purity and transcendence. Note that blue was rarely used in primitive art or among illiterate peoples, but is often connected with the elite (blue ribbon, blue blood, blue-chip stocks). (Taschen, 650) Blue is a calming, meditative color.

Number 5 – A number of adaptability and instability (although The Hierophant appears to be the most “stable” of the Tarot 5s), but often associated with Hermes/Mercury. Four limbs + the head connect to humanity, just like the pentagram. In alchemy, 5 is the 

The above was excerpted from the eBook The Hierophant: Tarot Explorations Card-by-Card, which includes additional information like:

  •  People and Archetypes Hiero Exp 200
  • Characters, TV, Movies, Art and Songs
  • Quote
  • Symbols, Objects and Actions
  • Esoteric Correspondences
  • Investigation with the 7 Clue Method
  • Five Affirmations
  • Seven Journaling Questions
  • Original Spread Unique to The Hierophant eBook
  • A Special Pinterest Board of 30+ Hierophant Images

Find out more at this link.

Bibliography for Symbolism

Amberstone, Ruth Ann and Wald. The Secret Language of Tarot. San Francisco, California: Red Wheel/Weiser, 2008.

Case, Paul Foster. The Tarot: A Key to the Wisdom of the Ages. New York, New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2006.

Huson, Paul. Mystical Origins of the Tarot. Rochester, Vermont: Destiny Books, 2004.

Ronnberg, Ami and Kathleen Martin, eds. The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. Cologne, Germany: Taschen, 2010.

Thomson, Sandra A. Pictures from the Heart: A Tarot Dictionary. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2003

Waite, Arthur Edward. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. (Public Domain)

Wilkinson, Kathryn, ed. Signs & Symbols. London, England: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2008.

Illustrations from the Universal Waite Tarot Deck® reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT06902USA. Copyright ©1990 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. Further reproduction prohibited. The Universal Waite Tarot Deck® is a registered trademark of U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

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Janet Boyer is the author of Back in Time Tarot and Tarot in Reverse, as well as the co-creator (with her husband, artist Ron Boyer) of the Snowland Deck and Coffee Tarot. With her teen son, she created the Boyer Charming Oracle and Animal Totems Charm Oracle. Janet's third traditionally-published book, Naked Tarot: Sassy, Stripped Down Advice, releases into the wild September 28, 2018. As a respected, trusted Amazon Hall of Fame/Vine Reviewer, she's penned over 1,200 published reviews that have also been featured in print magazines and other online outlets. Her work with Tarot spans far and wide: teacher, author, radio co-host, deck co-creator, podcaster and professional reader. Her hobbies include cultivating flowers, tending biota, watching British mysteries, trying new recipes (she's an award-winning cook), serving as a Patron of the Arts, photography and reading--but her favorite thing (EVER) is to spend time with her beloved husband and son at her rural home in Pennsylvania.


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