Introduction to the Major Arcana: The Hierophant

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Introduction to the Major Arcana: The Hierophant

The word, “arcana,” comes from the Latin arcanus, where we also get the word arcane. The English word, “arcane,” meaning something understood by very few. It’s a word with magical or occult connotations, something requiring interpretation. In Tarot, the major arcana are the 22 cards that represent the biggest and most important parts of the human psyche. Each major arcanum is a symbol for something much deeper. Learning to fully interpret and grasp them is a journey that can take a Tarot reader years, but with my articles, you can get started right away!


A little bit about me: I’m Gwendolyn Greenwald. I am an experienced Tarot reader and interpreter of mixed Germanic and Celtic descent. I have a great deal of experience with pagan spirituality in general, including divination with runes, astrology, smudging to clear bad vibrations from rooms, and more.


Today’s card is the Hierophant. Tarot meanings are nuanced and sometimes contradictory, so pay close attention! The Hierophant is a priest. The picture of him in most Tarot decks depicts a man in religious vestments. He is the male counterpart to The Priestess and brings a certain masculine energy by comparison. 


The upright Hierophant meaning is one of tradition, loyalty to nation or spouse, established institutions, steadfastness and an ageless perspective on life. It has connotations of religion, patriotism, and timeless values. In terms of romance, the upright Hierophant represents marriage. It also represents the relationship between romance and religion. There is also a professional and academic side to the Hierophant. In that capacity, the upright Hierophant symbolizes allegiance to a company or professional body. It can also represent continuing education, especially higher education.


The reversed Hierophant meaning is one of stagnation. It especially refers to those institutions that have lost their way or wandered from their original purpose. If you see the reversed Hierophant in your Tarot spread, you may want to experiment and try new things. You may want to restore an institution you hold dear back to its original purpose, or re-create that purpose elsewhere.


In a past-present-future spread, the Hierophant can mean a few things:

  1. As past, the Hierophant represents the traditional parts of your upbringing, emphasizing the solidity and goodness of tradition in your early life. The reversed Hierophant in that position represents the way that those traditions may have harmed you, either by being hypocritical in their application or by losing sight of their original purpose.
  2. As present, the Hierophant represents the structure you currently occupy. This can be a family, church, school, employer, or society itself, depending on context. The reversed Hierophant in that position means that you are being stifled. Or, conversely, it may mean that the structure ordinarily provided by the Hierophant is lacking, that you need order in your life.
  3. As future, the Hierophant augurs control over oneself, possibly continuing education or a position of authority professionally. As a reversed future, the Hierophant counsels caution and care when dealing with traditional things. Cross your t’s and dot your i’s!

That’s all for the Hierophant. Our next card will be his female counterpart, The High Priestess!