The Hierophant – Two Extraordinary Women

The Hierophant is the card of traditional values and institutions. The Hierophant can represent a counsellor or mentor who will provide you with wisdom and guidance or a spiritual or religious advisor such as a priest, vicar, preacher, imam, rabbi or a monk.

It seems limiting to present the Hierophant as a robed religious Popish figure and to imply that such an individual is a receptacle for all wisdom and teaching. By contrast, the figure in the rendition presented in the Tarot of the Sweet Twilight, presents us with a less ostentatious figure, more like a wise, shamanic story teller, one of many guardians of cultural knowing.

In the Tarot of the Sweet Twilight the Hierophant appears to be in a subterranean world, with fish shoaling above him. The Hierophant is sitting on a rock, communing with a young lady and her cat who has all the appearance of a character you would find in an Alice in Wonderland production. Untrimmed strands of the Hierophants vast beard float in the water around him and he is dressed in simple apparel. He is not wearing any of the regalia so many Hierophants wear to signify their religious affiliation.

Rarely is the Hierophant depicted as being female and it is undeniable that the devoted work of women in places of education and community support has not had the acknowledgement it deserves. These two Australian women help shine a light on the meaning of the Hierophant and the importance of the work that they, and so many of their sisters, have devoted their lives to.

Sister Mary Mckillop

Saint Mary McKillop was an Australian religious figure, educator, and social reformer. MacKillop was born in Australia to poor Scottish immigrants. Her father, a former seminarian whose ill health had caused him to abandon study for the priesthood, stressed the importance of education and homeschooled his eight children. When she was 14, MacKillop began working, and she was often her family’s main source of support. In 1860 she moved to the small rural town of Penola to serve as governess for the children of her aunt and uncle. There MacKillop provided her cousins with a basic education and soon extended this to the poor children of the town. A young priest, Father Julian Tenison Woods, encouraged her to continue this work, assuring her that educating the poor would be an ideal way to serve God.

In 1866 MacKillop and Woods founded Australia’s first order of nuns, the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart, and also established St. Joseph’s School in a converted stable in Penola, providing a free education to children from the area. In 1867 MacKillop took vows and became the first mother superior of the sisters. The following year the sisters opened schools in other Australian cities, as well as an orphanage and a refuge for women released from prison.

In June 1995 MacKillop was beatified by Pope John Paul II. In February 2010, after evaluating the testimony of an Australian woman who claimed that her terminal cancer had disappeared after she called upon MacKillop in prayer, Pope Benedict XVI recognized MacKillop as a saint. She was canonized that October.

Eva Janet Holland Deaconess

Eva Janet Holland was born in 1859 into a missionary family in Port Macquarie, NSW She was the daughter of the Reverend Edward Holland who it was believed shared a room with the well-known missionary David Livingstone. Both were ordained by the London Missionary Society in 1840 as foreign missionaries. Mr Livingstone headed to Africa while Mr Holland headed for Jamaica. He eventually arrived in Australia, working in various parishes in rural NSW.

In 1903 the NSW General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church resolved “to make investigation into the question of providing further facilities for women to engage in the work of the church, particularly in regard to the institution and training of deaconesses”. Eva had become entrenched in the Presbyterian church. In 1905 when the NSW General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church approved a scheme for the establishment of a ‘settlement’ in Woolloomooloo, Eva was appointed to run the Palmer Street church as the first deaconess. For the next 35 years she “performed the work of a devoted deaconess”.

Indigenous storytelling is a way to instill a knowledge of the mind, body, and soul in connection to the earth through experienced and trusted “knowledge keepers.” In fact, in many Indigenous cultures storytellers must be trained, apprenticed, and given the right to share knowledge through these stories. The life lessons brought about are essential for these peoples to make sense of the world and to teach about values, history, significant events, relationships, cultural beliefs, and sacred stories.

Consider these possible activities

  • Seek out the Hierophant in each of the decks you own and compare and contrast the messages that the artists provide in their companion texts.
  • Prepare some questions! Engage in active imagination and dialogue with your favourite Hierophant. Ask those hard questions!
  • Many communities had “memorisers” whose role was to memorise history, witness and memorise current events (including what happened, who attended, even what key figures wore), and identify and train up young people to become memoriser. In your journal carefully memorise the events of recent years making sure to include as much detail as possible.
  • Certain stories, such as Fairy Stories, are much more than mere entertainment – they are used as lessons and provide a moral, through the form of a traditional belief, that will help guide people through their lives. Create a story which you believe needs to be passed on.