Monday, January 9, 2012

The Hierophant in the Pagan Tarot.

This is a reposting of the blog article I had previously written for TarotGals when I was a blogger there. Now that I am no longer, I wanted to keep my material available to the people who wanted to read it. I'm still working on the pictures part of this. Article follows....

When the mere mention of a book burning comes up, most of us feel a sense of outrage, a feeling that something wrong, something atrocious, is being committed. The very act of violation against books, those vessels of knowledge, symbols of the most precious of our freedoms, the freedom of expression, the freedom to be ourselves, is seen in a most negative sense. However we feel personally about the concept of a book burning, however, changes when we are confronted with this very thing.

I have been witness to a real book burning in my life. It was back when Madonna came out with that terrible coffee table book about Sex. I say terrible, because as a book, it was truly mediocre. A demonstration of great ego, disguised as art. On its own merits as a publication, had no one ever objected to it, the book would have been relegated to the remaindered books piles in discount stores within a year of publication. However, the zealots who proclaimed the book as “evil” and “filthy” made a great show out of it, and the book sales flew through the roof.

In a town not far from where I live, these same zealots staged a very public book burning in the very open Public Square. Egged on by the fanatic who started the whole thing, masses of people caught up in the fervor of destroying something they saw as inherently bad went and bought every last copy of the book in stores all across the region, just so they could throw it on the fire. Moreover, there was a record store located on the Public Square; this record store almost immediately was sold out of every Madonna cd and cassette they had in stock, as these also were destined for the flames. While the crowd raged out of control, and the constable was called to come and contain it, the fanatic who got everyone riled up against the book disappeared into the background, never soiling his hands with an actual book; he let the angry mob do all the dirty work for him.
As an active and open pagan in my community, I was dismayed at the thought of what was going on, but at the same time I had to recognize that, while I could not, would not, participate in the activity, I should not voice my opposition either. Time has proven, over and over, that an angry mob of riled up people who believe themselves to be in the right is a faction one can neither reason with, nor stop, except sadly, by force. Like the witch in my Pagan Tarot Hierophant card, I could only cover my pentacle, and watch in horror from the sidelines. Not my day to fight, I thought. One other person was watching and doing nothing; he who had fanned the flames of insanity in the first place.

Book burnings like this went on across the country. Madonna’s mediocre book sales went through the roof. Her albums likewise experienced an upswing in sales.

I do not believe the Hierophant is about which side is right or wrong. It is more about questioning your motives for being on the side you are on; questioning your actions, determining whether you are acting in your own interests, or for/against the interests of others; are you following the RE-actions of others, or going your own way? It is critical to pick your battles, and a wise warrior knows when to step back and let a situation balance itself out. This card asks you to probe deeply within yourself to see what it is you believe, and why. Many who are brought up within a specific religion follow its tenets without ever knowing if they are a good fit for their lives. Some are taught from a young age that they should expect to be a lawyer, because their parents are, or that they must attend a certain college, or that they have no artistic talents, when perhaps their own path lies in a very different direction. Outright rebellion is just as poor a choice as complete submission. The Hierophant challenges us to find our own middle ground, and in so doing, find our right and true path in life.

A big deal for me in designing this card was in the details. Look at the way the heroine is poised, half towards, half away from the crowd. She doesn't WANT to involve herself in what they are doing. She doesn't want to draw attention to herself, either, by being very obvious in her objection to the book burning. It doesn't really matter that much, though, because the majority of the crowd isn't even looking around at anyone, they are completely involved in the evil that they are doing.

But one of the other important details is that of the religious leader standing above on the balcony. You see that he is raised up above his followers, but he is also standing apart from them. He has used his words to enflame the crowd, and he is not getting HIS hands dirty handling or burning books! He can go home at night and say "they did it, not me" and his involvement is minimal. Instigators of this sort are sometimes the worst kind of bully. A lot of attention has been gotten lately with the bullying problem in schools, but it happens everywhere. Bullies are in the workplace, the schoolyard, the church, any situation where multiple people come together, there is room for abuse by those who manipulate others and instigate trouble, like this fellow.

The Hierophant, then, is less a matter of always being one thing, and more a placeholder for the question it raises. Where in your life are your beliefs being challenged? Is your behavior being judged? Your clothing? Your lifestyle? Your sexual orientation or gender? More importantly, is it being judged for good reason or not? Are you acting authentically? Or are you instigating trouble? We can land on all sides of this equation. The Hierophant card points to the existence of this type of imbalance, but it makes us really think about where and why it is happening. In the end, where do you stand and what will you do to correct it?

Yours in tarot,

Gina M. Pace (aka Wicce), creator of the Pagan Tarot, published by LoScarabeo, and webmistress of Wicce's Tarot Collection, one of the internet's largest former tarot review websites and PENDING NEW AND IMPROVED SITE


  1. Wow, incredibly thought provoking. :-)

  2. Really liked your take on this card. It's one I struggle with quite a bit.

  3. I struggle with it too. The Hierophant has never been one of my favourite cards, but seeing it as a barometer; a "which way are you tending - and how do you feel about that and the reaction of others?" kind of instrument of internal values is a new insight for me that I'm going to use more often. Thanks Gina.

  4. you guys are awesome. It takes a lot to admit you have to struggle with something... I'd like to think we are always a work in progress. That said, the Hierophant has always been MY greatest challenge in the tarot