The Hierophant: a 2021 Archetype

There’s something magical about New Year’s Eve: the final moments of the year ticking down before our eyes, the promise of a fresh start completely within reach, the opportunity to be someone new, someone different, someone better… The year ahead glitters like a charm, saying it aloud is an incantation of hope–but how long does this optimism stay? When does the present year become a curse? How does that shining promise become the symbol of everything we loathe, every obstacle that has stood in our way? 

When 2019 drew to a close, I was in a fog: I had just gotten married, my head was in the clouds, and while my eyes are always on the stars I was wearing some very rosy glasses–I absolutely knew the Saturn conjunctions between Pluto and later Jupiter would bring widespread change, but I was hesitant to abandon my warm and fuzzy emotions for the potential hail of brimstone that could become. I knew Mars would pull ahead as a major planetary player, making 2020 a year of intense Malefic transits, but it was also a numerological 4, a Year of the Emperor. The Emperor is ruled by Aries, the sign Mars spent nearly 6 months of 2020 marching through, a sign of war and martial action–but the Emperor himself also speaks of rigid structure, of control, the proverbial Iron Fist of rulership. It’s never been my favourite card in the deck, but again I was hesitant to toss aside my optimism. Instead, I told everyone who asked that they should focus on self empowerment, of creating structures to support their continued development, and to take control of their own problems in order to maintain personal sovereignty. 

And then 2020 happened. 

Rarely has a year been as literal as 2020. There was the Mars unrest and civil disorder, the Saturn plague and “bad air,” the economic hardship of Jupiter in fall and Uranus in Taurus, and all the miscommunications and manipulations of a full set of planetary retrogrades. Sometime around April, I began to realize exactly how negligent I’d been in communicating the year’s potential. I suddenly felt as if all my Sagittarian optimism had been grossly irresponsible. The non-committal “love and light” buzzwords I thought I needed in order to be received and appreciated had served no one’s best interest, including my own–so I ditched the fluff and started to speak in the language I know best, however harsh I thought it might be. Despite so many obstacles to health and happiness, 2020 forced me to step into a role I might never have been prepared to play: myself. When the year began to draw to a close and people started to ask what the year ahead would bring, I could tell from the sparkle in their eyes and tug of a hopeful smile on their lips that they wanted the love and light brush-off. They wanted to be told that everything would go back to normal, that we were done with the isolation and despair, that their favourite bars would reopen and they’d get to watch their favourite sports team play amongst thousands of adoring fans and we’d never hear the words “infection rate” again. 

But that’s not really how things work. 

Like attracts like, and whenever there is a period of change you’ll often find continued rapid change in its wake. “Normal” is a distant fantasy in both directions. We may never return to the world we knew before, but there is a world after and it’s time to start paying Very Close Attention to the changes that come. 

2021 is the Year of the Hierophant. 

When I ran the numbers and arrived at the Hierophant as our annual archetype, I can’t say I was relieved. It may not be the rigid warmonger, but it’s still a card of structure and discipline. It’s still a card of power held by one to represent the many. But I already knew it was the truth thanks to a few curious transits and the general course of history. In the first tarot decks, the Hierophant was called the Pope, a reference still evident in the Smith-Waite decks by the papal trappings and vestments. As the Pope, he occupies two very different spaces and depending upon your own worldview, you may not see him as anything but one or the other. To the faithful, the Pope is the Mouthpiece of God, a Descendent of Saint Peter, here to lead by example and gently tend the flock. He is a teacher, imparting wisdom through inspirational sermons and long-forgotten quotes, taking a new generation of clergy under his wing and installing them as new cornerstones of faith. Or is he simply another bureaucrat posing as a savior? More of the same from the powers that be, dressed in the blood of martyrs? 

Pamela Coleman Smith portrays him in the midst of a benediction given to two acolytes as he sits enthroned. On his head, the triple tiara could represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or the more modern Subconscious, Conscious, and Superconscious depending on which Church you prefer to ascribe to, and echoes of this triplicity ring back at us everywhere we look. Is it synchronicity, an emphasis of the Holy Trinity, the number of creation? Or perhaps it’s conscious design, a message constructed to instill the feeling of sacred serendipity? His white vestments are covered by flowing red robes meant to honor the innocent blood spilled in the name of God, a constant reminder of the unyielding faith–and lurid violence–that built this institution. His acolytes wear the red roses and white lilies of purity and natural wonder, but their shaved heads denote complete devotion to their earthly master as they wait for his order. To them, the Hierophant is a beloved teacher, a mentor, a bearer of Heavenly Truth. But does he know them by name? Does he lovingly usher them into a better life? Or are they simply part of a larger mass, anonymous faces indistinct from any before or after?

At its highest potential, the Hierophant is a respected teacher, a keeper of life-giving tradition, the one who gives order to the chaos that spiritual awakening can quickly become. But with the pressure of the material world crushing down at all times that potential is rarely allowed to express. We need to remain quantifiable, controllable, to live within the system set out for us no matter the name, and unfortunately the Hierophant at its worst is just another one of these systems. 

2020 closed on a very particular energy–the Great Conjunction. In my forecast for Capricorn Season, I mentioned that this aspect is something of a Kingly Eclipse, an omen that foretells the rise and fall of dynasties and their rulers. According to legend, the Star of Bethlehem was a Great Conjunction under Pisces, heralding in a new age of compassion. While we’ve heard the Age of Aquarius thrown around for the better part of the last hundred years, there has not been an aspect of this magnitude under the sign until now. If the Age of Aquarius is to begin in this century, this seems to be the place. But expression is even more difficult when you’re looking at something that contains multitudes: in order for the Age of Aquarius to be the “mystic crystal revelation and the mind’s true liberation,” we all need to reach for much greater heights. Especially when the lower expression of Aquarius includes Big Tech and the Church of Science. It’s long been said that Aquarius is “for the people, not of the people,” and it’s this aspect of the Hierophant I believe we need to look at.

The Hierophant may be the head of the government’s spiritual arm, but he is still an appointed official. Historically, the Pope was elected from the wealthiest families in Europe giving them a controlling stake in politics where they may have lost out through other means. Families with multiple sons often sent one into the clergy to rise through the ranks in case they could not secure a more prestigious marriage for another. It’s worth noting here that the Hierophant is ruled by Taurus, a sign that governs conservatism and the acquisition of wealth: the Hierophant is an elite figure, untouchable, enthroned, surrounded by the comforts afforded to him not only through high birth but through the sacrifices of the faithful he represents. He is a symbol of wisdom and salvation for millions, yet we will never know whether he holds those same beliefs himself. It is ultimately in his best interest that things remain the same.

In 2021, Jupiter will move quickly through Aquarius, accelerating progress and working together with Saturn and co-ruling Uranus to expand wealth in areas like cryptocurrency and even more abstract forms of monetary energies. In mid-May, the Greater Benefic pulls ahead and rushes into Pisces, a sign he co-rules with Neptune who’s been home since 2011. For all intuitives, mystics, and sages, this is the time: between May and July, Jupiter’s transit through the Cosmic Ocean will light up the subconscious, but we’ll still need to listen very carefully. Pisces is also the sign of Self Undoing, and with our egos in a fragile state, we’re ripe for false messiahs to lead us astray. The Hierophant can easily become a zealot, manipulating the iron fist of the Emperor or worse, leading his own army of faithful into battle, and this is the energy we need to avoid during Jupiter’s ingress and subsequent retrograde. 

So how do we make this the year we’ve so optimistically waited for? How do we avoid cursing this year like all the others? After combing through charts, flipping cards, and reading countless papers, histories, and studies, I’ve come up with an incantation to summon strength and agency:

“Who benefits?”

These two words can chase away the spectres of ideology. It turns the icons of control on their head and forces us to examine them anew. It reveals the Hierophant for who he truly is and encourages us to place our faith where it truly matters. It may not reverse all the damage we’ve done along the way, it may not collapse the system or topple the plutocrats, but it destroys the illusion of peace and progress and encourages us to find new ways to take back control. As we move from the Second Fish of Pisces into the Age of Aquarius, we learn that charity is rarely altruistic and everyone has a motive. It’s only by asking “who benefits” that we begin to see what those motives are. 

It’s natural that after so much change and upheaval, we want to look to others for guidance. The Hierophant represents this deep need for a teacher to steer us through the wreckage and show us how to pick up the pieces and start anew. But the Hierophant is a renewable figure, the latest in a long line of figureheads. Without a keen grasp of history, you may not even be able to tell one from the other. Instead of pinning all your hopes on this latest manifestation, take that power for yourself. Understand that you have access to the same lineage of wisdom because it exists within the collective of which you are apart. The Hierophant may be a highborn son of wealth and status, but his titular power comes from the faithful who put their trust in him. If this trust is revoked, the power comes home. Make 2021 the year you finally recall your power. Start the schism. Slowly but surely, you’ll begin to see the benefits.

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