Hierophant — Tarot of the Absurd

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

The illustration for the Hierophant commenced in a tiny cabin in Fairbanks, AK, in the midst of a love affair with Pan. Commonly known as the Greek god of wild places, shepherds and flocks, hunting, folk music, and seducer of nymphs, Pan’s origins are obscure and far older than the Olympic pantheon.


Gods exist due to our worship in one form or another. [See the moral from Dec. 6th 2013]. That which brings us closer to god— the Hierophant— is that which is able to increase our worship of god [See March 10, 2012]. My preferred form of worship is love, altho some seem to prefer fear. Thus, the illustration was to have been Pan and a nymph, which I’m sure some would have taken as devil worship. Really, the only way one can worship the devil is to place one’s self-pleasure above all else, which is what I’m supposed to have depicted in the Devil. Gods, on the other hand, take many forms. Some have crooked hairy legs and goat horns.


Although I was in love with Pan, I would have been quite happy to have been seduced by any god. Unfortunately, gods stayed away. Fortunately, muses abounded. Unfortunately, at least one of them was strong-headed. I had meant to depict the Hierophant as Pan and an adoring nymph. Somewhere along the line, my muse got ideas of her own and moved my hand to draw a bull-headed, bull-handed man reminiscent of the Minotaur.


The Minotaur is not one of many; thus, one cannot say, “a minotaur.” The Minotaur is a result of a bestial love affair between a snow-white bull and Minos’ wife Pasipha. King Minos was supposed to sacrifice the bull that Posiedon had given him, but Minos really, really liked that bull and decided to sacrifice one of his own in stead. Provoked to great annoyance, Posiedon caused Minos’ wife Pasipha fall in love with the bull. Pasipha hired Daedalus make a wooden cow for her to hide in. The bull was suitably duped— pacified, so to speak. Pasipha became pregnant. She birthed the Minotaur: the taurus (bull) of Minos, a terrifying and destructive monster. Daedalus was again called in, this time by King Minos who ordered him to design a gigantic, intricate and inescapable labyrinth in which to hide Minos’ own shame. For his efforts, Daedalus was rewarded with imprisonment, but that’s a whole other story.


My point is, despite appearances, this is not the Minotaur. My misdirected muse caused me to draw a nice, loving holy man with the head of a sacred bull. I do rather like him, myself.


King Rama & Shabari as The Hierophant

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

I began the image for my Hierophant card long before I read Questioning the Ramayanas: a South Asian Tradition, edited by Paula Richman. If I had illustrated it afterward, the essence of the picture would have been the same, only perhaps with the poor old Shabari with her arm looped over god-king Rama’s shoulder.


Before I encountered the tarot deck, I had never heard the word “hierophant,” so I looked it up. The word comes from the greek combination of ta hiera, “the holy,” and phainein, “to show.” Traditionally, the Hierophant interprets sacred mysteries and arcane principles. I understand the Hierophant as one who demonstrates holiness and brings others closer to god.



To make a very long collection of stories very short, the divine Lord Rama spends a lot of time wandering the forest in exile. One story in his wanderings concerns an old woman named Shabari.


Shabari is a low-caste woman who has escaped marriage and exiled herself to the edge of a community of forest-dwelling ascetics. She keeps herself hidden. At night she sweeps the paths an deposits firewood outside the doors of their hut and the men say, “Who has done this?”


Their Guru instructs his students to stay awake and apprehend this “thief” who is stealing their merit. So they capture Shabari, who falls at the Sage’s feet in devotion. The Sage realizes she something special and invites her into the ashram. The aesthetics take offense at this. When the Guru dies, he promises Shabari that she will see Lord Rama in her lifetime. Disconsolate, it is this knowledge that keeps her alive.


With their Guru gone, the aesthetics get nasty. When one accidentally brushes Shabari as she is sweeping the path to the lake, he berates her for polluting him. When he gets to the lake, he finds it has become polluted with blood and vermin. He blames it on that unlucky woman Shabari instead of his own unclean actions.


Every day Shabari spends a great amount of time collecting wild jujube fruit from the forest to serve to Lord Rama in case he should happen to stop by. Jujube are uncultivated. Some are very sweet & some are quite sour, so Shabari tastes each one to make sure it is sweet. Only the sweetest for the God-King! In Hindu tradition, there are clean foods and there are dirty foods. A food tasted by a woman, and a low-caste woman at that, is excessively dirty.


Every day she waits, but when she finally hears he is coming, she hides in her hut. Of course he seeks her out. She prostrates before him; he lifts her up. Her sorrow departs and she feeds him fruit. He eats and praises it.


Meanwhile all the aesthetics are worried about the polluted lake. Someone suggests they ask Rama for a solution when he gets there. Oh, they learn he is already there, and sitting in the hut of that woman!


Their pride is shattered. They go to the hut. Rama instructs to the men to touch Shabari’s feet (yuk! dirty!) and bring her to the lake. When she touches the lake, it is once again clean.


This story challenges all Hindu concepts of purity and pollution, ultimately showing that the purest thing is unsullied devotion. The god-king Rama has visited Shabari first not because she follows all those strict rules of being— the highest of which is being a man of high birth— but because she is the most devoted.


The moral of my retelling is this: That which brings one closer to god is not following arcane rules and mysteries, but unwavering devotion and love demonstrated through thought and action. Gods love best those who love them best.

Hierophant — TaRat (The Rat Tarot)

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Nakisha VanderHoevenArtist: Nakisha VanderHoven


This rat is a free-spirited Hierophant who dances with feathers in the wind.


The Hierophant is a person who brings his congregants into the presence of that which is holy: a guide who leads on the path of the spirit and opens the gateway to higher consciousness by means of ritual and surrender. He interprets sacred mysteries and arcane principles. In this manner, he brings the spiritual down to Earth and shows that holiness is not some arcane, obtuse, far-off thing.


The Hierophant teaches by word and by example. He leads rituals that remind his community of their shared beliefs and shared identity. His leadership brings tranquility to the chaos of life. In the presence of the Hierophant, the community blends together, unity is achieved amongst the diversity, and the inner-light of every individual burns bright— illuminated.


There is not just one Hierophant; there is one Hierophant for every community. The breakup of communities and individuation of society makes it difficult to find one’s own spiritual leader. In such situations, the Hierophant becomes inverted. Thus reversed, he stands for (or warns against) the staunch individualism that leads people to refuse to acknowledge the totality of their community. Byproducts of this mindset are: fear of that which is different, stubborn-mindedness, fear of change, institutionalization, propaganda, and fundamentalism.


5. Dìan Cècht (il Sacerdote) — Tarocchi dei Celti

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

Giordano BertiArtist: Giordano Berti


This is a 22-card, majors-only deck. The little booklet that comes with it is all in Italian.

I asked the deck, “Show me something new.”

“Il Sacerdote” is the priest, or the hierophant.


Dìan Cècht is the physician-god of the Celtic tribe of Tuatha Dé Danann. Famously, he made a silver arm for King Nadua when the original got chopped off in the First Battle of Magh Tuiredh. (Bodily perfection was a requirement for kingship.) To prevent such mishaps during the Second Battle of Magh Tuireh, Dìan Cècht blessed a nearby well. Any of his tribe’s wounded warriors who bathed in the well would become whole and ready for battle again, unless they had been decapitated.


Dìan Cècht’s son Micah preferred to use herbs and direct touch and incantations rather than surgical and prosthetic procedures for healing. Some said it was because Dìan Cècht was jealous that his son was the better healer; Dìan Cècht said it was because Micah had been disrespectful— but when Micah replaced the silver arm of King Nadua with a flesh-&-blood arm, Dìan Cècht slew his son with a strike through the skull to the neck.


Dìan Cècht’s daughter Airmed mourned deeply. All the healing herbs of the world sprung from the ground as her tears fell on her brother Micah’s grave. Airmed catalogued the herbs and their properties. Unfortunately, Dìan Cècht was an angry, jealous father. He scattered the herbs, destroying the work of two children with one blow. Now no human will ever know the healing properties of all the herbs.


Meanwhile, Dìan Cècht’s other son went abroad, married well, and sired Dìan Cècht a grandson named Lugh. Lugh returned to Ireland to lead his father’s people in the Second Battle of Magh Tuiredh— the battle for which Dìan Cècht provided a magic well of regeneration for wounded soldiers. This time, King Nadua of the twice-replaced-arm was killed by Balor of the Poisonous Eye— Lugh’s other, foreign grandfather. Lugh then drove Balor’s eye out the back of his head with the stone from a sling-shot— or blinded him with a spear— or decapitated him— but either way Lugh got rid of his maternal grandfather, Balor of the Poisonous Eye, and won back the throne for his father’s tribe and the now-resurrected King Nadua of the twice-replaced-arm.*


Gods are human, too— but not too human.

*I think.