Discovering the Wild Unknown: The Hierophant
Today’s card draw in the Discovering the Wild Unknown series is the Hierophant.
I want to start off by providing an important notice, which will be included in all of this series. However, other things that will be included that you can skip to are:
- Card Description
- Considering the Card, where I look at how I would interpret certain imagery used
- Traditional Rider-Waite definition
I only include the latter as a comparison, to show how wandering down your own understanding of images and symbols can bring you to a similar meaning, though along a different path with different experiences. This is to help expand knowledge of the card.
I will not, however, be including the definitions from the guidebook, as that is not the point of this. Also, I don’t have rights to that material.
I started this series because I had read that people struggled with the deck purely because the definitions in the Little White Book were very Rider-Waite-based, and that there wasn’t much wisdom regarding the animals and symbolism chosen.
This series is to help you to decipher the meanings yourselves. I am by no means saying what I have to say about the cards are correct for anyone outside myself. However, I am providing my daily journal entries regarding the deck to act as a guide so that you can begin your own journey.
When I started tarot, I had no idea what to write in my journal, and thus didn’t. Instead I obsessively read and re-read the Little White Book belonging to the Spiral Tarot (which is why today I can completely quote the book). I didn’t trust myself to know the cards, even when I could recite the definitions. I was afraid to put the book down.
To this fear of lack of knowledge, the creator of The Wild Unknown writes:
You do know enough. You’ve been a person on earth every day since you were born. You’ve experienced all the emotions and situations these cards depict. Quiet the naysayer…don’t let it prevent you from sitting down with a friend (or yourself) and using these cards to help talk about what’s going on in your life. It will be positive. It will be radical. You’ll find things start to reveal themselves through the cards that have been hidden away, covered with dust.pp. 10-11, The Wild Unknown Guidebook
Description of the Hierophant
The Wild Unknown Hierophant shows a crow, possibly a raven, ruffled of feathers, and somewhat hunched up. It’s perching with its wings closed, on a skeleton key. The card is dark at the top, and is completely white as it gets to the key. The bird is cawing, and a single-branched shaft of lightning breaks down behind the bird. It starts out orange at the top, then quickly turns to yellow. The lightning moves all the way down the card, just about to the key.
The crow/raven faces the left of the card, entirely in profile view.
Traditional Card Meaning
The Hierophant is a card representing a teacher, someone who has worked for their knowledge and has the authority and right to share it. However, in ascribing to their knowledge, the student must follow their system, thus, there is an element of conformity. This teacher is traditionally depicted as religious in nature, as religion was tightly woven in with education.
What I derive from the Card itself
I can never remember which it is, the crow or the raven, but one represents wisdom. I feel like it’s Norse mythology that gives deep significance to the raven, though I don’t know enough about it to truly comment on it.
However, I feel that in ‘modern’ ‘pop’ culture (‘modern’ meaning far more modern than the time of Norse religious practices back in the day, and ‘pop’ being popular culture of the recent few hundred years) found wisdom in the raven with Edgar Allen Poe’s chilling poem, ‘The Raven,’ in which the subject of the poem was forced to face his inner demons while blaming the raven ‘knocking, knocking at [his] chamber door.’
The raven represents guidance in both cases, I think. Again, I can’t comment too much on the Norse mythology, because I don’t know. But I feel like I’ve heard something along those lines*. To guide, there must be an element of higher knowledge, enough to know that it isn’t enough to tell someone a lesson, but to bring them to discover it themselves. This is true teaching, and for this method, there must be wisdom.
However, in some Australian Aboriginal traditions, the crow (I think it is) is a trickster. And this is also an element of the Hierophant. The Hierophant is a religious figure/leader, and there is an aspect of trickery to get into this position.
I think of characters like Wosley in Tudors, who was an advisor and a respected religious figure, and yet it was a façade—he had two kids and a mistress despite a vow of celibacy; he lied and conducted dirty dealings to get to where he needed to be; he was sneaky and manipulative throughout the show. When we consider too the scandals the Catholic Church is undergoing at the moment, it only reiterates the trickiness of the religious leader. Of course, not all religious leaders are like this, however, there are quite a few.
Each leader experiences a truth, and thus, they must convince others of that truth. However, what may be true for one, may not be true for another. Thus, in order to convince everyone of that truth, there is an element of trickiness. Likewise, filmmaker Robert J. Flaherty once said, ‘Sometimes you have to lie to tell the truth.’ These are the stories we tell to make a point, the message in fiction. This is the trickery of the Hierophant.
However, I think this card is the raven rather than the crow. It holds a key, and the key represents, to me, knowledge. But you have to be worthy of obtaining that key. Worthy in whose eyes? The Keeper of the key—in this case, the raven. As a result, there is the element of conformity for the raven, or acting in accordance with the keeper of this key. With conformity, access to knowledge will be granted.
I think the lightning shows thought born of passion. The majority of the lightning is yellow, but just at the top, there is a little orange. Orange and red are the colors of the Wands, which represent the element of Fire. This is passion. The color yellow is the Air, and Air has to do with communication and thought. The combination of these two aspects correlates to teaching/higher education, and the law.
These systems were born out of passion, and they grew into an ideology. That passion might have been a need for order, but still, a need can burn as passion.
That the bird is cawing indicates it may be carrying the message of these ideologies.
* The reason I keep bringing something up that I don’t know about is because this is straight out of my personal Tarot Journal. As promised at the beginning of the series, I am copying out of it in order to demonstrate how to keep a tarot journal. Thus, I make claims to myself, which also serve as mental notes to research it later.
About the Deck
The Wild Unknown Tarot is a 2016 Harper One publication, created by Kim Krans. The deck is widely available at most bookstores who carry Tarot cards, but also on Amazon. Kim Krans always wrote The Wild Unknown Guidebook.