|Rider Waite Smith|
Of all the cards in a tarot deck, there is one that, no matter what the deck is, no matter it's depiction, I intuitively stall whenever I see it. The Hierophant is a card of such diverse meaning, yet I can barely ever feel good about it.
Maybe the lack of organised religion in my formative years had something to do with it, but I highly doubt it, The Hierophant is so much more than that.
As a child my upbringing was always at odds with who I was. My mother was (and still is) a great believer in acting in a way, so that others judgement of you would be positive. She was a stickler for convention, for proper manners and etiquette, for dressing as if we were higher up the rung of the social ladder than we really were. And if you misbehaved by her standards, well, punishment was inevitable. Firstly by a physical punishment then by emotional withdrawal and ultimately the guilt trip. Pretty heavy stuff for a 5 year old to have to understand.
My mother was the disciplinarian, the rule maker, the judge, jury and executioner. My father, he was more like me, laid back, easy going and a free spirit. He was a hard worker, a provider, and an ally.
Looking back, and being of an age where I now understand my mother's story, I can see why she had the belief that, as a girl, I was supposed to be the epitome of coy and demure sensitivity.
My mother was the third of 4 sisters, born between the mid 1930s and early 1940s, her mother, prior to marriage had been employed as a lady's maid, her mother before her was 'in service' too A job that demanded a strict etiquette and certain social graces for that period. My mother and her sisters were raised with that same etiquette and discipline. This was what she had been taught and made to believe about how females should conduct themselves.
However, I was the child with my head in the clouds, lost in my little fantasy world and daydreams. There were no girls of my age where we lived and so I ran wild with the boys. This frustrated my mother so much. All the pretty dresses, frilly ankle socks, pretty patent leather dolly shoes were wasted on me, even though I was small for my age, had blonde hair, big blue eyes (everyone used to tell my mother I was like a little doll, ugh!). This was, I was told, how little girls are meant to be, how I was expected to be, yet I was happiest running barefoot along the road, hair blowing out behind me, dust on my face, playing cops and robbers with the boys.
I didn't want to be like all the 'other little girls', because I wasn't like the other little girls, I was me. I was just me! I would question who it was, who said I had to be like the other girls, but was told that is just how it was.
My father, on a weekend would take my brother and me off to explore over the paddocks that were in front of our house, with strict instructions from my mother to keep hold of my hand, don't let me get dirty, and to make sure I behaved, no such rules for my brother though. Once out of sight, I was allowed to run wild, I learned how to throw a boomerang, I played football, went for a paddle in the stream, whilst my brother looked on in total amusement and encouragement. My darling dad would get us almost in sight of our house, then dust me down, wipe my face with his handkerchief and tie my hair back into its ponytail as best he could, then return us home having 'obeyed orders'.
I didn't or couldn't be the young lady my mother wanted me to be, I just knew I had to allow my energy, my spirit to run in the direction it wanted to. As young as I was I felt stifled by the restraints of 'convention', like trying to hold in a sneeze that you can feel coming, it may work for a short time, but it will soon burst forth with force, but my mother just couldn't understand that.
Even to this day, I fail to conform, I live as who I am comfortable to be. I still see the look on my mother's face and hear her sigh if frustration as I add another tattoo to my vast collection, as I crop my hair close to my head. I turn up to functions in my jeans, with paint on my hands and a half eaten packet of mints in my bag. I laugh at the most inappropriate times (and inappropriate things), I kick off my shoes, curl my legs up on chairs and rest my elbows on tables. I will go and play water fights with the children outside, run to the ice cream van in an excitable puppy like manner (and ask for every topping available on my ice cream). I'll eat starters as a main course, ask for ketchup in a restaurant and use a spoon to eat the foam from my cappuccino. Whose rule says I shouldn't do these things? Bring their head to me on a plate!
The 'teacher'( or preacher) that is The Hierophant possibly represents that part of my upbringing, that outdated belief that I should be shy and retiring, looking pretty and dead behind the eyes. Demanding that it not be questioned, or running the risk of punishment or ostracism if you do.
The other thing that stalls me with The Hierophant is the religious symbolism usually portrayed within the card. I have nothing against any organised religion, if that is what you choose to follow, then I'm happy that you have something that gives you peace and meaning in your life, however, for me, it just doesn't work.
These are my opinions and I do not wish to offend anybody, so please do not think I am making any personal attacks here, that is not my intention. However as a student of tarot, my views on the cards are personal to me and based on my beliefs and experiences.
It is concerning when you realise how many wars have been started, fought and lost in the name of religion. Persucution and execution performed in its name. Where is the love, compassion and unity that it preaches? Why are some sections of society turned into pariahs depending on the dogma of a particular religion?
And, as with all institutions that hold any kind of power, it is open to corruption and abuse of that power. It then allows those who are guilty of any kind of misdeeds, to hide behind its doors, covering up the stains on its reputation, making all the right noises, but doing little to make any of their people culpable.
And these are the people we allow to dictate our moral code, we aren't expected to and discouraged from questioning their ethics, their policies or their honesty. We are told their 'truths' and are expected to follow an 'etiquette' from a long gone societal structure into our modern world. When the shift came is irrelevant, but the fact that it did is highly relevant and religion needs to adapt. Obviously some are trying,but that is more thanks to individual religious teachers. Peter Owen Jones is an Anglican clergyman who is a progressive 'man of the church' and has a talent for exploring where the Christian teachings fit into today's society, putting it on film and sharing his explorations with the world (you can find his BBC documentaries on YouTube).
Nobody is infallible, it is what makes us human, however when someone is in the position of being the intermediary of the people and their god, then they have a responsibility to act in a way that is beyond question, for these are the people who teach us what is acceptable within that faith and, in their belief, the world. If they are not prepared to adhere to these beliefs then what chance for anyone else.
Obviously not all religious teachers are like this, a few bad apples and all that, yet it brings in doubt as to the credibility of the religious institutions.
This is why I have respect for Buddhism, it allows the free thinker to participate, it encourages the follower to question it and work with the parts of its teachings that fit. It doesn't ask for blind devotion, nor encourage it. It calls itself a philosophy or way of life, even the Dalai Lama, when asked about his religion will tell people, his religion is kindness. His way of life is Buddhist, but that is not his religion.
So until tarot decks have His Holiness's smiling, serene image on card number 5, I am always going to stall when this card comes up.