The Hierophant in general terms means “The Man”. If you work for a company, it’s the corporation. It’s the government, the church, people in authority. Contrast this with The Emperor, who is one person in charge. This is people or institutions.
In most of these cards, there is a man sitting in a position of authority, on a throne, with two people at his feet, listening to his every word. The Keys in most of these pictures are the Keys of Knowledge. He is in red robes or ornate dress, showing that he is above the two people who are below him.
What I don’t like about most of the Rider-Waite-Smith copies is the fact that there is a man in charge. When I get the Motherpeace deck, I’ll update what the Hierophant is in that.
In four of my decks, the artwork and titles are slightly different.
In the Witches’ Tarot, the Hierophant is the High Priest, which perfectly fits into the theme of the deck. Again, a man in red robes is on a throne, with two keys. But where are the people?
This man is a keeper of knowledge and dispenses it to all, not just the select few. He knows of night (moon and stars) and day (sun). Like the other RWS cards, he holds his hand up in blessing.
Who’s this guy? He looks awful familiar. This is Chiron, who is near and dear to my heart (as I’m a Sagittarius). Chaion is the wounded immortal centaur, a healer and teacher to many a Greek hero. According to the Mythic Tarot Book (Burke and Greene, 1986, 2011) this card means someone who is trying to look beyond themselves, to philosophy and institutions. In this case, the person is going toward the group, not the institution is looking for the person.
The Wizards Tarot’s theme is an academy of wizards (*cough* Harry Potter knockoff *cough*) and has their own Chiron. The Wizards Tarot Handbook (Kenner, 2011) uses this card to introduce the Horseshoe Spread, one of the more common spreads in Tarot.
Lastly comes the ugliest card in the Starscape Deck. It’s so detailed I can’t tell exactly what it is. In this deck, the Hierophant is a teacher, a teller of stories and guide to the young. Not as overbearing as the other decks, but gentle and kind (and really ugly). It takes into consideration the age of the tree, just like Chiron, who is immortal.
The Hierophant is considered “my” card by numerology, based on my date of birth. I have not been drawn to companies, but learning about different religions is right up my alley. Do I want to be in charge of my own religion – or “tradition” as the Neo-Pagans call it? Not particularly. You need to come up with new things to keep people in line. Though I am a storyteller, I am not a gentle guide.