(Originally appearing in Kaleidoscope.)
A deck of Tarot cards is really the spiritual journey. The Major Arcana, or the Fool’s Road, is the path of birth, life, initiation into the mysteries, death and eventually rebirth. We all walk these steps throughout our lifetimes. Out only difference is how these events manifest in our lives. The sixth card of the Major Arcana, the Hierophant, indicates a major turning point on the road.
Before the Hierophant, we walk the paths of innocence and opportunity, with the Fool, marked not with a 1, but a 0. Then cards numbered I ­ IV, the road explores, polarity and gender. The Magician uses the mind while the Priestess works through emotion. The Empress explores femininity while her partner, the Emperor works through masculine energies. The Hierophant blends these qualities into a harmonious whole. No one is a product purely of masculine or feminine energy, or solely of mind or emotion. Everyone contains all of the four elemental qualities, Earth (physical), Water (emotions), Air (mind) and Fire (energy). We each contain all these qualities, only in unique balance. The Hierophant card is numbered with the Roman numeral V, being a synthesis of all four elements plus the fifth, Spirit.
The Hierophant is the teacher, one who comes to guide you on your life’s path. Teachers come in many forms. At the Hierophant’s highest incarnation, it is the spiritual teacher and leader. All of the great spiritual teachers are part of the Hierophant, including beings not normally associated with the Tarot, like Jesus, Buddha and Krishna. Anyone who brings you into the mysteries of life, showing you the way most often by example, is taking part of the Hierophant energy. The Hierophant teaches us harmony and synthesis by example, but we do not undergo this synthesis of polarities until the next card, the Lovers.
Teaching comes in many forms, and spiritual is not the only avenue. The Hierophant card represents teachers of knowledge as well as wisdom. Mentors, professors, school teachers, and tutors are found here. Passing accumulated wisdom, folklore, science or artistic techniques is very important, and part of our own growth and development, even if we do not consider ourselves on a spiritual path. Finding your life’s passion is the greatest lesson of all.
Even though this card represents balance and enlightenment, there is always a reverse meaning to each. Look to our own dark views of society and spirituality. In many ways, learning in the current schools systems is not a labor of love, but just a labor. Education and knowledge is not valued for its own sake, but for achieving high scores on standardized tests, grades and class ranking. Colleges are places were young adults are figuring out their life, often killing time with some subject they do not value. Not all education experiences are like that, but many are. In the search for spirituality, we usually run into dogmatic religion. The Hierophant is the enlightened one at times, but also the unchanging, unmoving and unliving religious icon, distant, remote and out of touch with the spiritual needs of the people. Many institutionalized religions teach fear, discrimination and blind obedience. The keys of enlightenment and knowledge turn into keys locking us into our own prisons of doubt and conformity.
Do a meditation to meet with your highest teacher or guide. Sit quietly and relax, breathing deeply. Hold the Hierophant card before you. Stare at it for a while, letting the details fill your mind. Close your eye and visualize the card before you, the size of a doorway. Step though the portal and into the realm of the teacher. On the Hierophant’s throne is the teacher you need most at this time. It can be a religious leader from your path, spirit guide, someone you know in life or someone from history or mythology. What does that teacher mean to you? Ask this being any questions you have. This meditation will give you clues to your own personal meaning of the card.

Thank this being and step back through the portal, returning to normal consciousness.
When doing a Tarot reading, first intuitively decide if the card feels enlightened or distant. From that point you will have a better idea how the Hierophant fits into the spread. It always means learning, lessons and knowledge. The hard part is determining if it comes with an open hand extended in love and learning, or a clenched fist of control.