Arcana In Balance: The Heirophant (The Pope) updated



I love context.

Knowing the gestalt, the big picture of something is a good thing in my book. The more of the big picture I see, the happier I am, especially in dealing with The Hierophant. This card is called “The Pope” in some decks.

In some respects the Hierophant can be seen as similar to a shaman according to the hierophant is a “person who brings religious congregants to a place that is deemed sacred”.

Whether that “place” is a mental state, an emotional feeling or a literal sacred space or place of worship, the connotation is the same…the Pope has to do with group spirituality. This holds true even if you think in more literal terms of leader of a religious organization like the Roman Catholic pope.

If you look at the history and gestalt of Tarot, it is not surprising that so many of the card images are drawn from Medieval Catholicism, and that sort of conventional, literal religion. The church was a very powerful figure both in individual’s lives and the larger politics of the time.  Tarot developed largely in France and Italy (according to the few sources I’ve found on the matter). These countries are still overwhelmingly Catholic. It is also interesting that the Pope card follows the Emperor card. I wonder if there was any intent to show one supercedes the other. Does the Pope replace the Emperor because it is next in order or does the Emperor have authority over the Pope?

There may have been connotations about this in the past. The mythos of Tarot holds that the Major Arcana as a whole and as a series reflects life’s journey from beginning to end.  Even if you look at it abstractly, the traditional order of the major arcana moves from more concrete personas to more abstract concepts from nature. It does take a certain maturity to think abstractly and symbolically.  As a whole, we have matured as a species. Now ideas like time as an extant, cohesive dimension and parallel multi-verses have come into our midst. Time isn’t a single-line, predictable fate anymore. The major arcana isn’t a start to finish life story anymore.

No card supercedes another…each is a valuable lesson all on its own.

That is in itself a lesson for some. I’ve learned to acknowledge and work with my own bias. I understand  that I see this card  through my personal lens of “no, god’s law does NOT come before the rule of law”. My view of the card reflects my belief that internal, personal spirituality and external, orgainized religion are vastly different and widely separated things.  Others may disagree, but that is part of the lesson too. The Pope card asks us to hink about who is in charge of our spirituality. To whom, if anyone, do we cede our spiritual authority.

For those of us who have had issues with organized religion (changing religions or leaving all religion outright for example) the Pope is a very challenging card. For others who embrace mainstream religions the Pope may be a very comforting and inspirational card.

This card has the widest dichotomy of the major arcana in my opinion.  This card, I think, takes some maturity to appreciate, even though it comes fairly early in the major arcana. It takes a measure of reason, compassion and empathy to find a balance within this card – or at least it has for me. Being a religion-leaver, it has always been my greatest challenge on a personal basis…so it is also a big challenge to keep my personal bias out of a reading to keep it objective and open for the sitter (the person for whom I was reading)

The balance, as I see it, is between obedience and autonomy.

In the Wikipedia article we saw earlier the Hierophant is literally a group religious leader – rules, conventions, majority, social acceptance, codified doctrine and dogma. For some this is comforting tradition and ritual made more powerful through shared belief. For others, it is slavish, it is empty servitude, not spiritual expression at all.

For some the lesson is one of seeing where we need more group cooperation. “No man is an island” as John Donne said ( Groups can be means of companionship, support, and the shared expression of spirituality may be genuinely benevelent, beneficial, instructional and uplifting. Everyone enjoys the company of “like minds”. It is also the allure of the political / media “echo chamber”. Group-think can be a comfort, “safety in numbers” in a way. Or it can be too safe, too narrow, prevent growth and foster bigotry.

We all grow up. For some,  the childhood experience remains the same. They are truly attuned to the particular group experience. The religion of thier family IS, in a way, family. For others, the old way of thinking and doing things becomes empty: then it is time to choose. The choice in this card is like the balance point. Do you keep going through motions, or do you change and show your true self. The choice can be ignored or delayed – keep doing the same thing without thinking about it. I don’t fault anyone who does that. Feeling a part of something larger, having a tangible group connection with loved ones can be a lovely thing. But at the same time I challenge you not to drift along out of fear. It is a frightening, challenging thing to strike out on your own, to show your genuine and true self, especially if the religion of your loved ones looks on that path with judgement. Be brave. Be honest. Be authentic. You are not alone.

So the Heirophant’s lesson of balance is one of obedience versus autonomy: when to follow, and when to lead, when to enfold into a group, and when to stand on your own. It is a balance of obediently following the external rules and expectations of others, and following your internal knowing, your direct, individual experience of the sacred.

When the Pope pays a visit to your reading, think of where you need to be a team player, and where you need to be individual. Where do you need to follow convention and where you need to be unconventional.

As always, the key is wisdom is to know what, when and how much. It also takes courage to take the unconventional path. In the words of that memorable movie quote from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”…”it takes a great deal of courage to stand up to one’s enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to one’s friends”.

Wishing you all the comfort and all the independence you need.