I spent decades wrestling with ways to translate Temperance into practical interpretive terms, never once realizing that the Hierophant posed just as big a puzzle for me. I was content thinking of the latter as showing traditional values and conventional wisdom of a practical sort, primarily due to its correspondence to the conservative fixed sign, Taurus. In short, it came across as indicating cautious, stubborn self-reliance that clings to custom and dogma as its rigid, uninspired vision of reality. As a non-religious person with a dim view of pious posturing, I found more than a whiff of smug self-satisfaction and sanctimony in it, a devout “think inside the box” mentality. I never considered it a “marriage” card since the number Five in qabalistic terms indicates necessary change of an often chaotic type, upsetting the stalled complacency of the Four and clearing the way for emergence of the harmonious balance of the Six. Perhaps if this cleric only presided over doomed unions that were prone to self-destruct and liberate the participants . . ?
In readings, I usually made a point of this card’s sensible, security-minded practicality, advising that “slow and steady wins the race.” It implies “keep your head down and don’t rock the boat.” Taurus is one of the least spiritual signs, so the higher order of intelligence the Hierophant appears to be channeling suggested the sagacity of a gardener, not that of a guru. Animal husbandry rather than the shepherding of souls looked more like his forte to me. If Taurus is the Bull, the Hierophant’s catechism struck me as being suspiciously similar to what comes out of the Bull’s back end: fertilizer. Those seekers who were looking to marry and settle down found cause for hope in the Hierophant’s unimaginative, single-minded monotony (and inferred monogamy); those who sought excitement and stimulation were less enthused by his unswerving orthodoxy. He only teaches the kind of mundane lessons that are attuned to his orderly, non-controversial world-view.
But it turns out there is an intriguing correspondence between the Hierophant and Temperance that plays right into my rethinking of the astrological associations for the Major Arcana. Both cards have an institutional “learning” slant to them, one doggedly theological and the other idealistically theoretical: Temperance relates to the classical academician through its connection to the philosophical sign of Sagittarius, denoting a role model who (unlike today) once embodied the professorial mandate to weigh both sides of every question and arrive at a reasoned synthesis. The Hierophant’s lessons convey the no-nonsense immediacy of the “school of hard knocks” since Five is also the number of Mars. Numerologically, the number Fourteen (Temperance) reduces to Five, reinforcing the idea that Temperance is a “higher octave” – a more refined expression – of the Hierophant; their most compelling affinity is thus hidden in the subtlety of occult number symbolism. I even went as far as surmising that Sagittarius might be better situated with the Hierophant as its counterpart so I could move Taurus to the Empress, Venus to the Lovers and Gemini to Temperance.
Another interesting correlation exists between the Waite-Smith depiction of the Hierophant and that of the Devil from the same deck. Both figures have the right hand raised in benediction, although – at least on the surface – their ministries are thoroughly incompatible. The Hierophant bears the triune scepter of untainted holiness in his left hand, while the Devil carries a downward-pointing torch suggestive of the redeeming light bestowed upon the world by Lucifer. It begs the question whether the Hierophant’s dispensation to his acolytes is demeaned by this similarity, or whether that of the Devil to his minions is exalted. Since, as Waite points out, the Hierophant is not a paragon of doctrinal virtue, merely a functionary and messenger, and the Devil does not represent the fatalistic end of all enlightenment, only a misguided detour, it could be an admixture of both (which is, after all, the agency of Temperance). Contemplating the Hierophant and the Devil, one is offered a choice between the simple agrarian sensibilities of Taurus and the more sophisticated but also more ruthless executive acumen of Capricorn. The Hierophant may be a stickler for propriety, but the Devil is a much harder taskmaster.