A Feminist Tarot: The Hierophant

There’s a really weird thing about misogyny and patriarchy where certain activities, pursuits, or skills are relegated to women until there is opportunity to master and profit from them, at which point the highest levels of attainment are reserved primarily for men.  For instance, cooking is women’s work, but executive chefs are most often men.

To me, this card embodies the same idea.  Back at the beginning, the realm of spiritual enlightenment and esoteric knowledge was depicted as feminine with the High Priestess.  She was the mysterious guide to intuition and insight.  But here, when the Fool goes into a temple seeking similar guidance, the sage figure on which the authority and ability to publicly lead others has been bestowed is traditionally depicted as male.  The High Priestess leads in private without the blessing and benefit of an organization behind her, but the Hierophant is enthroned in a temple.  Inner wisdom and sage guidance is wrapped up in the idea of the sacred feminine only until the point where such wisdom and guidance can be made useful to the larger system of authority and power.

The meaning of this card points less to a level of authority held by the figure on the card, though, and more to the level of respect given by the acolytes to the teachings and guidance that figure is able to give.  And while institutional spiritual leadership is most often reserved for men, many traditions place women in positions of respect and community leadership.  The important message of this card is found in the sense that spiritual development and greater wisdom can be found through connection to others, to a larger group to which we belong, and that traditions are important to the process of tapping into that wisdom.  And if we are to depict a traditional spiritual community leader, there are many traditions which embrace women in that role.

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