Saturday, April 15, 2006

Tarot as Mirror of the Psyche: The Hierophant

[Please see the Introduction to this series for a brief synopsis of my approach to working with the major trumps of the Tarot. I am hoping to post a new meditation each Saturday. I use meditation here in the philosophical sense of the word, meant to denote an open-ended, free-form exploration of an idea.]

With the Hierophant (originally known as the Pope), we move for the first time into the human world. The previous four archetypes encountered by the Fool on its journey were isolated forces set off from human affairs. But with the Hierophant, there are two other figures pictured on the card.

When the Tarot was developed, the Pope was the unquestioned representative of God on Earth. Over the next three centuries, with the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the Pope began to lose power as the supreme symbol of Spirituality. In the 19th century, the card was renamed the Hierophant by Western occultists, and the name has endured.

When we look at the meaning of the word Heirophant -- which is literally, "the one who teaches the holy things" -- the name is well-suited to the role of the card in the Fool's journey. It is with the Hierophant, more than any card so far, that the Fool confronts the "externalized embodiment of man's striving for connection with the godhead -- of his dedication to the quest for meaning which sets man above the animals" (Sallie Nichols, Jung and Tarot).

In the Rider-Waite version of the card depicted above, the Hierophant is much younger than the traditional Pope image. The youthfulness allows an androgyny that betrays the card's role as a further amplification of the masculine Logos of the Emperor. Still, the original role of the Pope was as mother and father within the Church, so the image is not far from the intent of the older images.

Like the Magician, the Hierophant bridges inner and outer, physical and spiritual. But while the Magician required a more contemplative, intuitive grasping of that bridge, the Hierophant does it in a more literal way. His personage is the metaphorical bridge, much in the same way that the wafer and wine are the body and blood of Christ.

The Pope, and therefore the Hierophant, represents a stage in human development when we were unprepared to own our own connection to the sacred. Like all archetypal powers we are not ready to own, the power of that "bridge" energy was projected onto the Pope as head of the Church. In him, we see that which is within each of us when we are ready to become responsible for ourselves.

But at this stage, the Fool is only beginning to develop an ego structure, so there is not nearly enough interiority to accomodate such a powerful archetype. All of the cards to this point have also been projections of the Fool's own inner world, but this is the first time that there is an ego to kneel before the Hierophant and ask for blessings.

The Hierophant and the Emperor go hand in hand, one working with the spiritual life, the other responsible for the public and cultural life of his kingdom. Both of these cards represent variations of the father archetype, a pivotal figure in the young life of the Fool. As such, both cards bring the emerging ego of the Fool into the Blue meme of the human Spiral.

With the Emporer, the focus was on the external, on fitting into the group and learning the laws and rules of conduct that would ensure acceptance -- always an important need for the young ego. With the Hierophant, the focus is turned inward, toward the nascent drive to the know the sacred, a drive that Carl Jung thought was sui generis -- innate, given at birth.

For many of us, the teacher or guru assumes the archetypal power of the Hierophant. For Buddhists, in particular, we are encouraged to surrender ourselves completely to the wisdom and enlightenment of the guru. As described on Wikipedia, "the guru is seen ... as a sacred conduit, or a way to self-realization."

Interestingly enough, Wikipedia goes on to say that, "Guru also refers in Sanskrit to Brihaspati, a Hindu figure analogous to the Roman planet/god Jupiter." The Hierophant is generally considered to be ruled by Jupiter and, in fact, some of the early cards were called Jupiter. Mostly, this is just an interesting parallel, but it demonstrates the universality of this archetype.

I think it's important to note that the idea of the guru is not widely accepted in the West, yet every church has a priest or a minister of some sort. We are willing to petition an intermediary, but we are not willing to concede that s/he is an embodiment of divinity. Even most Catholics in the West reject the idea that the Pope is in any way divine.

Finally, I want to touch on the Osho Zen variation of this card. In this deck the card is called No-Thingness, referencing the Buddhist concept of shunyata.

The Osho deck sees the fifth card as more than just a bridge between the physical and the spiritual -- it is the gap between the two. No-Thingness is equivalent to liminal space, the "betwixt and between" that we experience in meditation and in our journey to the sacred. When we are in liminal space (limen = threshold), we are literally on the threshold of Spirit.

Being in the gap can be scary, and for this reason many of us seek the teacher exemplified by the Hierophant. It is helpful to have a guide who has made the journey before us to help us find our way.

However, the Osho Zen deck advocates that we simply surrender to the liminality and not fight the process:
All you can do now is to relax into this no-thingness...fall into this silence between the words...watch this gap between the outgoing and incoming breath. And treasure each empty moment of the experience. Something sacred is about to be born.
And, indeed, with the next card, The Lovers, something will be born: the unification of the conscious and unconscious. Again, the Fool will need to learn the art of surrender, so practicing No-Thingness is a valuable piece of the work.

For many of us who reject organized religion, No-Thingness better reflects our approach to Spirit through the cessation of ego. We do not necessarily need a Hierophant to bridge the gap for us. As we meditate and work with healing and then transcending the ego, we increasingly approach No-Thingness, the inherent emptiness of manifest reality.
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