High Priestess vs. Hierophant - differences in pillars


High Priestess vs. Hierophant

Yesterday I purchased my first Rider-Waite deck (Universal Waite) and after inspecting the cards I have to say it was about time! :)

Anyway, while looking at the major arcana the High Priestess and the Hierophant caught my eye and I thought about similarities and differences. The first thing that came to my mind were the pillars on each card. However, I immediately noticed that the ones on the HP card are black and white. I interpret this as the balance of light and darkness, of the knowledge and the need to balance positive and negative forces. It suites the mysterious side of the HP combined with knowledge.

However, both pillars on the Hierophant's card are white. I know that the Hierophant can also mean teacher and a lot of other things but if we focus on his religious side, can this mean that (from a christian point of view) he ignores the negative side (as in God is pure good, the Devil is pure evil)?

Compared to the HP he also seems more like a king, whereas the HP more looks like a gentle adviser. I mean, if I had the choice to which one I would go to get religious advice I think I would pick the HP. Although I imagine she would be more mysterious in her advice whereas I guess the Hierophant would speak more open. I think if she would give you an advice you would have to figure out for yourself what this means for you whereas he would give you clear directions.

Any thoughts on this? Any more similarities/differences?


Perhaps . . .

Perhaps you might want to start from the perspective that the two pillars or coumns represent conscious and unconscious knowledge. The HP has her scroll of conscious knowledge in her hands for reference, the veil behind her and between the two columns would seem to hide the unconscious knowledge.

The Hierophant stands before two columns of conscious knowledge. He can only teach the formal religion or body of knowledge within an established framework of dogma. He has all of the trappings of an established institution.

As for the rest of your comments, I feel that you are quite right. IMHO, seeing the issue as known and unknown knowledge might get you started with a better grasp of the tarot's symbology. Dave.


Yeah you're right. If you ask a question of the HP, she tells you to use your intuition. You already know the answer, you just have to find out that you already know it. She represents spirit, intuition and natural born wisdom.

On the Other hand, the Hierophant represents learning. If you ask a question of him, then he will tell you to study, ie., look in your past to see where the answer lies, ask a counsellor etc. He represents established learning. His name is taken from The Order of the Golden Dawn, where the Hierophant was the Master of the Ceremonies.

It is interesting to note that pre Golden Dawn decks put him as the Pope, and her as the, um, Popess(?). the two cards are at once similar, oppose and complement eachother. Fascinating!!!


Thanks you for your answers and I think you are both right. Dave, thanks for the thought with the conscious and unconscious knowledge. Another interesting interpretation and perspective of the HP. Helped me a lot!

Major Tom

Two quotes taken from The Tarot by Paul Foster Case:

Regarding the pillars on the High Priestess:

"The two pillars between which she sits are those of Solomon and of Hermes. Opposite in color, but alike in form they represent affirmation (white pillar, bearing the letter Yod, initial of the word Jachin) and gegation (black pillar, bearing the letter Beth, initial of the word Boaz). For strength, (Boaz) is rooted in resistance of establishing principle (Jachin) of all things. The High Priestess sits between the pillars, because she is the equilibrating power between the "Yes" and the "No", the initiative and the resistance, the light and the darkness.

Regarding the pillars on the Heirophant:

He sits on a throne, between two stone pillars. These, and the throne, ... are gray, a color associated with Wisdom, because gray is the tint resulting from equal mixture of and two complementary colors. Since color complements are also opposites, gray stands for the perfect balance of all pairs of opposites and this is the practical aspect of Wisdom...

It should also be noted that Dr. Case calls the Heirophant, "the 'bridge-maker' who provides a connecting link between outer experience and interior illumination". ;)


Oooo- you don't want me to post what the Sexual Key to the Tarot says about the pillars on those cards ! I fear it is too graphic for polite company and will lead to a general degeneration.


Thanks, MT...good review of some of what I have read about HP and Hierophant.

I just read recently about HP: Sometimes she tells you all, Sometimes she tells you nothing...I really like that, too, the idea of her holding secrets that perhaps we are not ready to hear...and for some, she will disclose more because they are ready ...


can't give credit, because I have been reading from various books lately...that stuck with me...


Sounds like a title for a wrestling match :joke: XTAX

Lula Jing

Wrestling match... hehe

I find this discussion interesting, as I feel I have "connected" to the High Priestess and yet I don't feel that I understand the Hierophant at all - he kind of unnerves me and makes me feel like I've just been told off!

Just to add my views on the differences between the cards...

With the Hierophant it would appear to me that he is indoors, in a church-like building.

With the High Priestess I feel like she's outside, in the fresh air. I didn't notice this until recently, but when I was studying her the other day, the card went 3D on me and I felt like she was sitting at a shore (yellow sand at her feet) and in the background, when I looked between the pillars I could see what appeared to be water and it looks to me as if you can see the horizon of a landscape in the background. I sensed that the waters were calm, with only the faintest sound of them behind her.

With the Hierophant, his hands and feet are clearly visible and have some symbolism (the hand gesture), though I'm not sure if it means anything that his shoes appear to be on the wrong feet! :D (Or are his ankles crossed do you think, like the keys?).

With the High Priestess her feet are covered and you can only see one hand, the hand covering and protecting her scroll.

Also, it's a little obvious I know, but the Hierophant has human company at his feet (his scholars?) and the High Priestess has the crescent moon for company, although I'm not sure what this implies.

I've noticed the black pillar in the High Priestess card seems to sit on top of her skirts, almost as if she would forcibly have to tug her skirts free before being able to move away. (Maybe this is just the way the artist has drawn it and is of no significance).

Also, the walls behind the Hierophant seem to me to be solid, made of stone.

The curtain behind the High Priestess was to me at first made of some material as thick as carpet, woollen perhaps but now that I (think) I've seen the water in the background, I feel that the material may be more lightweight, such as that of a scarf, although it is impossible to see through it.

Edited to add: Their faces are similar, almost as if they could be brother and sister and yet their expressions and direction of the eye gaze is very different.

Just another perspective... it would be interesting to see if anyone had thought similarly, or completely differently! :)



Re: Wrestling match... hehe

Shy Priestess said:
I find this discussion interesting, as I feel I have "connected" to the High Priestess and yet I don't feel that I understand the Hierophant at all - he kind of unnerves me and makes me feel like I've just been told off!


Shy Priestess--

I think you've got a better feel for the Hierophant than you may think LOL!!

fly well