Welcome to Soundings! The blogsite of Caitlín Matthews.

Exploring Myth, Divination and the Western Mysteries.

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Wednesday 8 June 2011

SHOWING FORTH THE STORY: Belief, Tradition, Prophecy and the Hierophant

The Hierophant is one who shows forth what is holy. He is primarily associated with the flow and transmission of tradition, a concept that troubles a few in our free-thinking times. Let’s remember that ‘tradition’ derives from the latin traditio or ‘I hand over.’ Tradition is not fixed, but is an ever-flowing wisdom in every generation.
          The ancient tarots make this card a Pope, while the more recent ones return to an older tradition of the hierophants of the Greek Mysteries.  Both Pope and Hierophant drawing upon earlier traditions and represent important concepts. Drawing upon pre-Christian Roman religion, the Pope is called the pontiff or bridge who, in his own person, bridges this world and the other.  The ancient Mystery Religions were largely about the revelation of myth through dramatic representation or sacred ritual.  This is still an important part of our divinatory profession whereby the tarot-reader bridges the everyday and the deep worlds for the client, through the medium of the cards’ story.
          The stories that we tell and the ones we believe in, guide our souls.  This is why, when I created the Arthurian Tarot, the Hierophant card depicts the Welsh poet, Taliesin, relating his own story of intitiation and transformation to the two children hearing him.  Over the back of his bardic chair and falling through his fingers is the golden chain of the story that helps hearers make and keep their own links with the holy and mythic.

Taliesin from the Arthurian Tarot by Caitlin & John Matthews, art by Miranda Gray

          For me, this concept of sacred connection has been central to my life.  I would argue that, rather than representing a fixed and inflexible dogma (which I would associate more with its reversed meaning), the Hierophant stands for those traditional life-guiding myths and stories that uphold our life.  When the Hierophant speaks ex cathedra, in him are met both the authority of experience and the authenticity of living from that deep knowing. 
          We live in times where the river of tradition has flowed out from religion into spirituality.  Tradition finds its own level in every generation, flowing wherever we can catch its precious drops.  We learn from its stories and myths and we make them bridges that enable us to live effectively: our belief in them captures our imagination, so that we can enact all the gifts we’ve been given in this life.
          But there are some who cannot feel safe unless their religion or belief becomes a perimeter fence that separates them from the world: the fundamentalist mentality is fearful, clinging to known constructs and fending off any changes.  This is where tradition becomes rigid concrete rather than a river that flows and finds new channels.  Traditional and holy precepts can become mandatory and imprisoning under such a régime.  The original sacred sayings freeze-dry into dogmas.  This is where the Hierophant becomes dictator and spiritual tyrant.
          There are also those who have little or no purchase on any tradition. Rather than finding the tree of tradition, they cling to the wind-blown twigs and leaves of the  –isms, -ologies and self-help theories, the very tattered remnants of tradition that bear little relationship to the tree on which they once grew.  For them, every little movement is a sacred omen and anyone who sounds authoritative is someone to follow, as we saw when the US preacher Harold Camping’s belief that the world would end on 21 May  2011 (now ‘postponed’ till 21 October 2011!),  caused believers to imagine they would ‘enter the rapture.’ Many believed implicitly in Camping, selling their goods or sending their children’s education money to his campaign funds.  False prophets and those voices that whisper ignorant stories into our ears are also part of the reversed Hierophant who undercut our primal, sacred belonging and replace it with fear.
          In our own field of operations, we should be aware of how much 2012 mania is severely affecting people, making them panicky as Mayan Prophecies and the progress of a long star-cycle comes to its end and starting point again.  When Christian millennial prophecies join up with esoteric prophecy and the astrological observations of an ancient people, we have an explosive mix.  This came home to us recently when my husband, John Matthews, who has just sold The Lost Tarot of Nostradamus, overheard one of his publishers remark:  ‘Didn’t Nostradamus prophecy the end of the world in 2012? We should aim to get it published as early as we can!!!!’  This kind of consciousness, based on fear-mongering is not what we want to foster, we assure you!  John immediately pointed out that his new tarot wasn’t about doomsday scenarios but how to live wisely and with insight all the years of our life.
          Such literal-mindedness is a real fact of our times, as many lose their links with the holy bridge that connects us with the other side of reality.  We really need the wise voice of the upright Hierophant, reminding us of the life-guiding myths and telling us once more the saving stories that uphold and affirm our life-purpose. The myths and stories that guide our souls enable us to have flexible imaginations,  helping us find our way out of the unhappy corners that the loss of resourceful stories pastes us into, and showing us the wider wholeness in which we live.
            Omens and portents are the traditional signposts of the true prophet and way-shower to come and point the way back to the ancestral restorative of thankfulness and offering, as Merlin reminds in his prayer: ‘Highest Creator, I should be obedient to thee, and show forth Thy most worthy praise from a worthy heart, always joyfully making offerings.’ (Vita Merlini) When human anxiety and trouble overwhelm us, the truth is hard to seek.  But instead of ploughing on till the last day of doom in fulfilment of horrific, world-ending prophecies, we can look once more to the treasury of our destiny.  The gifts that have been given to us look not only forward to the future but also back to their roots in the past.  They are a precious wisdom that frames and shapes our story.
          I am out to allay the kind of fears that arise from believing in stories and omens that warp our lives, and to reconfirm the resources we have.  It is part of the tarot reader’s hierophantic task to tell the story of the cards in such a way that it will be helpful to the client, so I’ve devised the Hierophant’s Bridge Spread that may help guide the fearful through this year, next year and beyond.  This includes three factors that shape our lives: Fate, Destiny and Free Will.
          Fate is that which we cannot alter – e.g. our place of birth or basic physiology.  Destiny is that which lies potentially within each of us: e.g. the gift of art that can develop, with practice, until we attain artistic expertise, or that can simply remain a pleasant hobby.  Free Will is about the choices we make for ourselves, the game we play with what we are given (both our Fate and the potentialities of our Destiny) and where we centre ourselves.  


Shuffle and cut, laying the cards as following.  Whichever card lands on position  5 is the Significator or ‘yourself as hierophant,’ who represents you through this three year reading and who is the fusion of your authentic and authoritative self. This is what the horozontal lines mean:

          Wisdom of the Years Behind Me:        top 3 cards -  Before 2011
          How I Wisely Traverse 2012:        middle 3 cards  - 2012
          Wisdom of the Years Ahead of Me:  bottom 3 cards - 2013 onwards
The Hand I’m Dealt/   The Game I Play            The Hand I Create
Me & My Fate          /Me and my free will       /Me & my destiny
           1                               2                        3             2011 & before
           4                               5                        6             2012
           7                               8                         9            2013 onwards

I hope this spread enables us all to see our lives as an ungoing totality. Fate, Free Will and Destiny are the hierophantic triple crown of all human beings: let’s wear them with pride and confidence and not be afraid of beliefs and prophecies that remove us from our own sacred connections.

The Arthurian Tarot will be reprinted in August 2011 and will be available from http://www.hallowquest.org.uk/. The Lost Tarot of Nostradamus by John Matthews & Wil Kinghan is published in 2012.