Hebrew Letter: Vau (nail)
Key Words: Taurus, the Sign of Esotericism, key-holder, beneficence, teacher, pentagram, hexagram, spiritual master, Horus, impersonal love, faith, Truth.
The Hierophant represents the seeking of knowledge, the merging of duality within oneself, and the ability to pass on those achievements. From a divinatory perspective, the Hierophant often represents the appearance of a spiritual teacher in one’s life, a new spiritual group, or an opening of a path on one’s spiritual journey. Coincidentally, this was the second card I pulled for the new year and took it to mean that this year would be full of occult and esoteric research, learning, and progress.
But the Hierophant also represents completion, an arrival into balance and mastery of this knowledge. Ruled by Taurus, both the Bull and the Elephant are present in the Thoth depiction. Likewise, he is surrounded by the four Kerubic (Cherubic) beasts (man, lion, ox, and eagle):
“And I looked, and, behold, a whirlwind came out of the north… Also out of the midst thereof came the likeness of four living creatures. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man… As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle.”-Ezekiel 1:4, 5, &10.
Each of the beasts represent an element: the lion (Leo) for fire; the man or angel (Scorpio) for water; the bull (Taurus) for earth; and eagle (Aquarius) for air. It should be noted that the eagle and man have switched traditional locations, and Crowley attributes this to the New Aeon (Vision and the Voice, p.67). Crowley deviations withstanding, the Hierophant is shown in the center of these elements because he “has united all these elements in himself and has brought them to full expression” (Ziegler, p.24).
The Thoth conception of this card also deviates from the Waite style in its depiction of the subservient figures and columns. The secondary figures are typically shown kneeling, and this reiterates the teaching aspect of this card. However, the Thoth Hierophant is both student and master, a self-contained journey. The other substantial deviation is that of the columns, symbolic of the Law (right) and Liberty (left), here being the liberty “to obey and to disobey, the essence of Being” (Tarot of the Bohemians, p. 109).
The Thoth representation’s absorption of these dualities is also present in the depiction of Venus, or the “Scarlet Woman.” Holding both a sword and the moon, she signifies the balance of male and female. The crescent moon has many interpretations, classically ranging from feminine wisdom, the Bow of Artemis the Huntress, and the cycle of life and death; the sword, phallic , symbolic of penetrating the mysteries or being wielded (much as we wield our thoughts) (What’s Your Sign). With this union, or birth, comes the child Horus, depicted in the pentagram centered in the Hierophant’s chest. Encompassing the Hierophant is a hexagram, and this display of the pentagram/hexagram represents the unification of the macro/micro-cosms.
The traditional keys are now held in the Hierophant’s hand, merging with the triple cross of the “father, son, and holy ghost” (Tarot Teachings). They are also indicative of the three Thelemic Aeons of Isis, Osiris, and Horus (Snuffin, p.26). The keys have been called the keys to “Heaven and Hell…the knowledge of good and evil” and also unlock secret wisdom (Cavendish, p. 106). His left hand forms the sign of Esoterism, a sign of benediction, symbolizing the above and the below, the Hierophant himself acting as bridge (Cavendish, p.106).
And finally (and briefly!) there are the rose window, the snake, and the nine nails. Talk about a loaded card!
The rose window signifies pure, unadulterated love, capable of only being wielded by a true master, and given without regard to the disciples acceptance or rejection of it (Ziegler, p.25). The snake (and dove) reference the Tower and Mars (as noted in the Book of the Law), but also again, the pursuit of love and knowledge. The nine nails may represent the crown of thorns or Yesod (the womb of the Tree of Life), and the moon (Ziegler, p 25; Snuffin, p.26).
I have to admit, I’ve stumbled a bit with this card. There are so many layers of symbology occurring that the more I researched, the less I knew. In a way, I think that is the Hierophant: the master of knowledge is able to hold both the initiate and the adept. And the reward for such perseverance always pays off in the long run. In closing, I’ll point you over to this gem of a site, which I’ll certainly been giving some future study.