Mary El Tarot - The Hierophant

Bat Chicken

I had an interesting discussion earlier with one person that is not a fan of this deck because of this card in particular, and their comment made me think.

This card seems to be the most disturbing. Children are suckling on the breasts of this hierophant female that looks as if she is wearing a nun's habit. What came to mind was the unpleasant looking children beneath the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens' Scrooge. These children are "Ignorance" and "Want".

This is a dark and negative card and the first one that looks backward toward the Emperor with the red and gold fleur de lys that are reminiscent of the classic Emperor. This is far from a feel good hierophant. Religion, perhaps even Catholicism seems to be shown less than favourably and to go further, the YHVH is in the stained glass and in such a negative card I am inclined to think it suggests an allusion to the gnostic demiurge. Maybe unbalanced is a better word than negative?

Her eyes are made up like the Egyptian Eye of Horus, but they are closed, not seeing.

She wears a key over her heart. The key has a cross. I wonder what it opens? Thoughts?


The image takes my breath away, in the sense of being stifling.

There's no air inside the church, the light is murky, the figures look ill and oxygen-deprived. Her hold on the babies looks insecure--uncaring, like she might drop them--and yet her breasts are smotheringly large. Not enough air, not enough light, and obviously not enough nourishment from the milk. She looks like she's barely alive. A joyless, loveless depiction.

A female Hierophant/Pope. Making her a nun shows a closer parallel to the Marseille tradition of the Pope rather than the Golden Dawn/Crowley "hierophant." Why female, though? "Mother Church" is sick, looks like. I wonder why this sickness is identified with a "bad mother" female rather than a rigid male authority figure.

Interesting contrast to the High Priestess counterpart. The HP is also stuck (in the mudflats) but on her it looks good, so to speak--strange and mysterious, and not at all unhealthy. Her roots are down and she's thriving.

The two "religion/spirituality" cards are both female figures involved with breastfeeding--the first with breasts galore and no one nursing from her although pregnant; and this one whose milk is thin poison.

Laura Borealis

Very good observations. *nods*

I wrote about this card in another thread, and I hope it's okay to just quote myself rather than rewrite my thoughts.

I heard her talk about this on a radio program. The Hierophant in the full deck is actually the first version she painted. She said it was an intuitive depiction, she didn't really plan it out. When it was done it creeped her out, too, and she basically rejected it and went for the kinder gentler version that she used in the majors-only deck.

But it always nagged at her. She ended up feeling that the original Hierophant was the right one. That it said what she wanted to say. And the nicer, prettier one just didn't work. BUT, when she went to do the Star over (because that one wasn't right either) she realized that she already had a painting that said what she wanted the Star to say. Hence the majors-only Hierophant becoming the Star in the full deck.

She revised the Hierophant painting a bit (I think she said she changed the stained glass to put the Tetragrammaton in) but it still has that creepy impact. I personally think it's perfect. Yes, it's horrifying, but the Hierophant has a very dark side in my opinion -- the potential for abuse of power and authority -- Mother Church and Mother Country feeding us lies and poison while telling us it's for our own good. Usually it's a male figure on this card, but I think of how mothers are often the very ones who enforce gender roles, and the whole dogma of suffering to be a woman -- FMG and footbinding are the extreme examples, but you know that poison runs through all of human culture. So the image works for me, the creepiness of it fits.

As an aside, anyone who thinks I dislike the Deviant Moon because it's too dark -- think again The Mary-el Hierophant is worse than anything the DM can throw at me.

An additional observation -- it was only when I actually had the deck in hand that I noticed the tracks of tears down the Hierophant's face. This adds a dimension of sorrow, a suggestion that she is not malicious. She wants to nurture, but despite her overflowing breasts her children remain malnourished. And this hurts her.

I haven't read what the book says about this card yet, I want to see what we come up with. And echoing Bat Chicken -- what about that key? What does it open?

Bat Chicken

Excellent observations, folks! I knew this one would bring some good ones...
"Mother Church" - that just says it all.


As one who's no fan of organized religion, I personally am drawn to this card. Yes, it is dark, and certainly, there are positive aspects of religion. On balance, though, organized religion has arguably done more than its fair share of harm:

-- The Inquisition
-- The Witch hunts
-- The Crusades
-- 9-11
-- Anti-science agenda (and, while we're at it, the Church has always been rather anti-science...)
-- Anti-woman agenda
-- Anti-gay agenda

There has arguably been no other institution that so brazenly perpetrates human evil on such a mass scale.

The metaphor: Society is malnourished and poisoned by blindly sucking at the teats of a corrupt, unhealthy institution that has perhaps outlived its social & cultural usefulness.

Yep, that's rather extreme, but there it is! :)


I don`t see this card only with a "negative" meaning. In my eyes, both are here, pros and cons.

Firstly I thought it is a depiction of reversed energy flow, from babies to her, like she`s sucking the life from their bodies into hers. But the woman looks malnourished as well, big belly, skeletal shoulders and hands.

This seems like a situation of interrupt communication, in either direction, just a dogmatic, dry existence. Not dead, there is life, but there is no joy, just a surviving aspect, making it from one day to another, not remembering anymore why.
The bright part is that she HAS the key, she can open this communication.


To me the Heirophant can mean society, and when I look at our Heirophant I think about how sick and malnourished our society has become, and how that is affecting us as individuals. It doesn't nurture as it used to, it's left us all weak and poisoned. This is what we have to survive on, but it isn't spiritually fufilling enough and this is reflected in all the problems society in general faces around the globe today.

You can see light streaming in through the stained glass window, to me that signifies that there is still hope. If we look to the window and turn to God or whatever flavour of divinity we worship then we can change things. We can rebuild society, we can heal the earth, and the hole in our souls, which I truly believe is responsible for many of the symptoms we see in society at this time. The key is there within our reach, we just have to find the strength to grasp it.

Le Fanu

what about that key? What does it open?
Compassion. According to the book; the gateway unto ourselves, the temple of our bodies, the subconscious, the place where we will put away childish delusions...

I like this card. I like its scariness, its darkness. I can live with the fact that belief systems, of whatever creed (not just Christian/Catholic church from the more traditional imagery), enslave, cause addiction to lazy patterns of thinking, self-delusion...They give us a quick fix, the comfort of the infant suckling (that's the positive part). And yet it can unify people. I'm kind of unmoved by beliefs and religions and faiths so this dark Hierophant speaks to me. There's a nihilism about it which makes sense.

Bat Chicken

Your words here made me think of the Bible, so I looked for the quote:

1 Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Not sure if it is relevant!