Greater Arcana Study Group—The Hierophant


He wears the triple crown and is seated between two pillars, but they are not those of the Temple which is guarded by the High Priestess. In his left hand he holds a scepter terminating in the triple cross, and with his right hand he gives the well-known ecclesiastical sign which is called that of esotericism, distinguishing between the manifest and concealed part of doctrine. It is noticeable in this connection that the High Priestess makes no sign. At his feet are the crossed keys, and two priestly ministers in albs kneel before him. He has been usually called the Pope, which is a particular application of the more general office that he symbolizes. He is the ruling power of external religion, as the High Priestess is the prevailing genius of the esoteric, withdrawn power. The proper meanings of this card have suffered woeful admixture from nearly all hands. Grand Orient [Waite writing under a psuedonym in Manual of Cartomancy] says truly that the Hierophant is the power of the keys, exoteric orthodox doctrine, and the outer side of the life which leads to the doctrine; but he is certainly not the prince of occult doctrine, as another commentator has suggested.

He is rather the summa totius theologiæ [the whole of theology*], when it has passed into the utmost rigidity of expression; but he symbolizes also all things that are righteous and sacred on the manifest side. As such, he is the channel of grace belonging to the world of institution as distinct from that of Nature, and he is the leader of salvation for the human race at large. He is the order and the head of the recognized hierarchy, which is the reflection of another and greater hierarchic order; but it may so happen that the pontiff forgets the significance of this his symbolic state and acts as if he contained within his proper measures all that his sign signifies or his symbol seeks to show forth. He is not, as it has been thought, philosophy—except on the theological side; he is not inspiration; and he is not religion, although he is a mode of its expression.

*Summa Totius Theologiæ is also one of Thomas Aquinas’ best-known works in which he reviews the whole of his philosophical and theological positions.


The sign of estorericism is made by lowering the last two fingers and moving the thumb in to partially conceal the palm of the hand. In Waite’s description of the Devil he contrasts the hand of the Hierophant with that of the Devil, which is opened wide. See illustration.

Waite never really condemns institutions of the external variety other than to say they sometimes forget their proper place. From what I can tell, his view was not that of tossing out all the institutions on the external side, but seeing them for what they are—teachers of morals and doers of good deeds for society at large. Often they’re a person’s first exposure to the transcendent or divine, aka God, and provide an entry point into the deeper mysteries.

In his Way of Divine Union, Waite devotes a chapter to the “Saving grace in the churches.” Here are a couple of quotes:

With the official churches we may lament by the waters of Babylon, seeing that they are rather there than in Zion; but we need not desert them in Babylon, though we may not only remember Zion but may have seen it in visions of our own on the high hill.​


The Churches—as I have indicated—are a means of salvation to the world at large, and considered as a gate they are scarcely less essential than that of morality, which is equivalent to affirming that our path—in the great majority of cases—lies through the official temples. It is best for a man to begin in his own spiritual home, and it is so much the harder for him if he have none from which to start. The prayer that he learned at his mother’s knee is no doubtful point of departure for a journey which ends in God. There is certainly no better mode of entrance offered than that of the Churches, though we can at need be joined on to the path from other points. There is a sense, as we have seen, in which all roads lead, on the understanding that where they lead is to the path. Progress along that path is not a forsaking of the Church but an entrance into its higher ministry. Yet the Church transforms with us—for us and in us.​

The Hierophant represents an intellectual faith in ideas on the external side while the High Priestess represents the mystery of faith, which is internal and leads to a “face-to-face” experience of God. The High Priestess makes no hand gesture because the secrets she conceals are communicated directly without any mediating signs or symbols.


“The pillars of the Temple in the fifth Tarot figure are Chochma and Hod; the two ministers are Binah and Netsah; the triple crown of the hierophant represents Kether, Tiphereth and Yesod; the triple cross in his hand symbolizes Assiah, Yetzirah and Briah.” Letter from Eliphas Lévi to Baron Spedalieri, in Waite’s The Mysteries of Magic.


“The pillars of the Temple in the fifth Tarot figure are Chochma and Hod; the two ministers are Binah and Netsah;

This forms an 'X' pattern on the ToL (albeit not along standard pathways) -- signified/re-iterated perhaps too in the 'crossed keys'?

(top pillar severity) Minister Binah---------Chockmah Pillar (top pillar of mercy)

Bottom pillar of severity) Pillar Hod--------Netzach Minister (bottom pillar of mercy)

Possibly relevant that the dark and light pillars of the Priestess emphasises element of polarity, duality: while those of the hierophant are of the same colour?

The triple cross is also that of the Brass Serpent:

“The 2°=9° Altar Diagram, then, represents the Serpent of Wisdom twined through the Paths. In the 4°=7° Grade, however, you are shown the same Serpent, its representation being that of the Serpent Nechushtan. This was the Serpent of Brass that Moses made in the Wilderness, and which was turned around the central Pillar of Mildness,-having three cross bars upon it,-representing a species of triple cross.”

Flying Roll X

This is the Serpent Nehushtan which Moses made when the Children of Israel were bitten by the Serpents of Fire in the wilderness. It is the Serpent of the Paths of the Tree. And he set it on a pole, that is, twined round the middle Pillar of the Sephiroth. And the word used in the passage in Numbers 21 for Fiery Serpents, is the same as the name of the angels of Geburah, the same spelling, the same pointing, Seraphim, around the middle Pillar of the Sephiroth, because that is the reconciler between the Fires of Geburah and Severity, and the Waters of Chesed or Mercy, and hence it is said in the New Testament, that it is a type of Christ, the Reconciler. And the Serpent is of Brass, the Metal of Venus, whose Sphere is called Nogah or External Splendor, as shown further in the Alchemic symbol of the Planet Venus, wherein the circle of the Sun is exalted above the Cross of corrosion. And therefore it is said in the Zohar, that alone of the Shells is the Serpent Nogah found in Holiness, and he is called the Bilanx of Justice. Why then is he called the External or false Splendor? Because he indeed united the Paths but comprehended not the Sephiroth. Nevertheless he is also the Celestial Serpent of Wisdom. But the Serpent of Temptation is the Serpent of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and not that of the Tree of Life.”

Philosophus (4=7) Grade Ritual.

A GD document specifically mentions in regards to the Hierophant that he bears a triple barred cross "like that on which Nehushtan is twined." The Elusive Tarot of the Golden Dawn by Tony Fuller, in The Hermetic Tablet, ed., Nick Farrell, Solstice, 2015.

The Lilies and Roses link in with the Magician ? (GD Title of the Hierophant is 'Magus of the Eternal Gods').


The Lilies and Roses link in with the Magician ? (GD Title of the Hierophant is 'Magus of the Eternal Gods').

Because this card is unchanged in many ways from the older pope cards, what draws my attention are two things he went out of his way to add - the keys and the roses/lilies.

Case said the roses and lilies made the two front figures "personifications of the principles of Desire and Knowledge. This is to be understood that here these principles are manifest at the human level," although I don't know why these would be especially relevant for this card in particular.


The Rose of Sharon, Lily of the Valleys (flos campi and lilium convallium) refers to the Song of Songs.

In the GD it relates to Malkuth and the Grade of Zelator, thus it may be seen as about initiation, the Hierophant as initiator.

In the Zohar, the discussion between the lover and beloved of the Song of Songs is between the Sefiroth Tiphareth (Vau, the Hierophant) and Malkuth, the Shekinah (the two accolytes, the two H of YHVH, as aspects of Binah-Malkuth Shekinah). In other Jewish exegetes and Christian mystics it is between the soul and God; and as an allegory of Hierogamos, the Holy Marriage.

In Jewish tradition, Malkuth is the congregation of Israel; in Christian, the Church (not as an institution or building, but rather the Congregation, the community of souls as the Bride of Christ).

The red rose signifies the influx from the side of Strict Judgement, the white Lily the side of Mercy; the way of attainment, the path of initiation is via the middle path, as symolized by the triple cross of the Hierophant, the reconciler.


The Keys of St. Peter represent the church's spiritual and temporal power. In his manual of cartomancy Waite (as Grand Orient) wrote:

5. Pope, or Hierophant. — Aspiration, life, power of the keys; spiritual authority developed on the external side; temporal power of official religion...

They symbolize the power to bind and to loose, in heaven and on earth.

Other older decks show a key or keys too. For example the anonymous Parisian has the Popesse and the Pope holding a key, the Geofroy Pope holds a key, crossed keys appear at the bottom of the Popes throne on the Budapest sheet.


crossed keys appear at the bottom of the Popes throne on the Budapest sheet.

I did not know that. That's very interesting; thank you for pointing it out.