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The Hierophant with Winifred Tannetta Costello

By August 5, 2016 February 13th, 2019


Welcome to the Real Life Lessons from the Major Arcana series. We've gathered together 22 of the best Tarot readers to share their personal stories and interpretations of the Major Arcana cards.

Discover new meanings and spiritual lessons behind the Major Arcana cards, through real-life experiences and stories. And watch as the Tarot cards truly come to life!

In this post, Winifred Costello shares how she went from seeing the Hierophant as a “problem card” to how she now views him: a wise spiritual mentor offering guidance and counsel. Read on…

To download all 22 stories, click here.

The Hierophant: An Unconventional Journey

Hierophant1You could say that I have been journeying with this card since my birth.

The Hierophant is the fifth card in the Major Arcana of the Tarot.   May is the fifth month in the calendar year.  I was born on the thirteenth day of May and my sun sign is Taurus.   There is a rich, complex relationship between astrology and the Tarot, especially within the Golden Dawn Tradition, which assigns specific associations to the cards.  One of those assignments is that Hierophant rules Taurus.  That means Hierophant influences or flavors the expression of my life and being, much like how a certain spice can dictate the taste a soup or dish.

As a lifelong Pagan and Traditional Witch, I practice “direct encounter spirituality.” That means, I recognize my soul’s process in choosing many aspects of my physical incarnation including my birth time, location and, therefore, a partnership with the Mystery Teachings that Hierophant offers.

With such an alignment, you would think I would have a life story of trying to fit in; following the conventional path strongly encouraged by the world around me.  But no, it has been quite the opposite!  From my earliest memories, my life has been a journey of the Hierophant reversed.   I grew up in a wealthy suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, where conformity was highly valued, yet I railed against conforming like an allergic reaction.  Like a Heyoka, the “Backwards Teacher” in Native American culture, the Hierophant has initiated me to rise to a higher consciousness by leading me through very unconventional channels.

As a tarot practitioner, initially, I really disliked the Hierophant.

While the majority of tarot practitioners referenced Death, The Devil, and The Tower as “difficult” cards, I thought to myself, at least those cards are an open book about their trials, unlike the Hierophant.  He keeps his secret knowledge to himself all while presenting one difficult, obtuse test after another.  He stoically taunted me, as I kept hitting my head against the proverbial brick wall behind which the teachings I sought lay.

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As a burgeoning tarot reader in my twenties, I found this card continued to be stubbornly silent in readings.  Often described as a powerful clergyman pressuring you to stick to conventions, to color within the lines and to not rock the boat, I found his wisdom remained closed when I approached his teachings with such restrictive beliefs.

Then I studied with an amazing woman who owned a mystical shop, tucked down a side street, in Northampton, MA.  She removed the first bricks in the wall surrounding the Hierophant by nicknaming him as “The Head Slap or Hug Guy.”  She suggested I engage him as the teacher that holds the keys to unpacking life lessons so that your soul can evolve.  But more than being a Teacher, he is a Hidden Teacher.

I invited him to step down from his intimidating post, seated between the rigid columns of the church and to remove his religious attire. When I asked to be shown his mystery teachings outside the confines of patriarchal religions, he began to speak, and the gate that he held the keys to, opened.   I discovered The Hierophant has a dual nature.  His lessons are rarely straight forward, demanding you examine both the conventional and unconventional.   In many contemporary tarot decks, the Hierophant has been reclaimed and renamed to reflect his position as “The Teacher” (Gaian Tarot by Joanna Powell Colbert) and “The High Priest” (The Druid Craft Tarot by Philip Carr-Gomm & Stephanie Carr-Gomm), just to reference a couple of decks.

My own experiences with Hierophant, reclaimed, speak to a fundamental understanding and alignment with Nature’s inherent order as guiding principles rather than the prescribed society’s rule of order.  As I embraced a relationship with the Hierophant as High Priest, counterpart to the High Priestess, he came to represent a respected and wise spiritual mentor rather than an oppressive force demanding obedience.  Instead of pressuring me to conform, he invited me to consider his counsel, steeped in wisdom traditions and to consciously choose my actions.

He provided lessons to stretch me by challenging me to seek and know when it is time for following traditions and when it is appropriate for traditions to be broken.  He pushed me beyond my comfort zone for the greater evolution of myself and, subsequently, those close to me.  As High Priest, he initiated me by presenting situations that require me to reclaim my power and my spiritual sovereignty. He was seldom an easy task master and I had to earn the right to the keys he held.  Hence I came to understand that how he shows up in your life, either as the “Head Slap” or “Hug Guy,” depends on how you engage the lesson at hand.

As I moved through these levels of understanding, so I developed a key phase to help me with interpreting his messages in readings with clients.  That phrase is this “How hard do you need your lessons to be in order to feel like you have learned them when you engage the Hidden Teacher?”

  • Particularly when the lessons involve the following:The role of conformity and non-conformity as you seek to define your authentic self-expression
  • The value of adhering to cultural/personal beliefs and when to let go or transform them
  • Uncovering the core reason for your resistance in regards to personal growth
  • Unpacking the gifts hidden within the challenge or situation
  • Understanding soul patterns and your evolutionary process

Through my own process, the Hierophant has revealed himself in his many guises and I have learned how to apply his guidance in readings and classes with clients.  One very impactful way that Hierophant has manifested his gifts on a personal level, is my love of teaching.  As I grew from being stumped to integrating the lessons of Hierophant, so I now share his wisdom to help others do the same.

The Hierophant is a deep and complex teacher, worthy of his title, The Hidden Teacher.  He is an exacting spiritual mentor pushing you towards enlightenment through his challenges and initiations.  The Hierophant is unrelenting in leading you on the quest as a mystical seeker, and the rewards are the keys to transformation.

About Winifred Tannetta Costello

Winifred1Winifred has been exploring, studying and reading the tarot since she was 16 years old. She is a professional reader, teacher and magickal entrepreneur of AwenTree where her mission is to provide an inclusive and healing atmosphere that inspires your unique process of spiritual awakening, empowerment and healing transformation.  Winifred creates sacred space for exploring your deepest soul expressions; empowering you as healer, dreamer, and co-creative partner on your path of spirit.

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