Most often, The Hierophant in a reading points to orthodoxy, tradition, and the social structures that are built on these. He also points to our own personal doctrines - the self-imposed laws by which we choose to live our lives. When The Hierophant pops up, a marriage may be imminent, or sometimes he indicates practical lessons and wisdom gained through being mindful of natural law. He also may represent religious beliefs and practices in general, and the type of institutions that support a structured hierarchy of power.
In a reading, we may want to think about which figure we identify with: The Hierophant himself, or one of his two followers awaiting what he has to say. Part of this card’s message is the intrinsic nature of teaching, learning, and passing from one stage of self-knowledge to the next. Do we feel as if we are The Hierophant, passing our wisdom on to others, or are we an acolyte, receiving the wisdom as part of our ongoing journey? The crossed keys at the bottom of the card represent the ability to unlock the great mystery of life. Interestingly, no figure in the card holds them.
Reversed, The Hierophant points to unorthodoxy, to following our own paths and judgment, even if this is going against the status quo. On his head, he represents personal belief and conviction, and freedom from structures or doctrines that may have held us back. Caution is needed, though, to ensure that rebellion isn’t being created for the sake of rebellion itself. Sometimes, traditions have stood the test of time for a reason; and sometimes not.
The Hierophant reversed tells us that everything we need is within us, and there is no need for any external validation of that truth.
The Hierophant, like The Magician, The High Priestess, and The Empress before him, is an archetypal image of power; but here, we see this as how power manifests in connection to other people. As with all the cards in the tarot, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ ‘good,’ or ‘bad,’ cards: they are all expressions of the beautiful contradictions inherent in human nature.