Confusion and Loss: On the Hierophant and Fives in Tarot

The Hierophant, Rider-Waite Tarot

The Hierophant, Rider-Waite Tarot

The Hierophant is a tricky card. Traditionally, it deals in themes of orthodoxy and authority and tradition. It’s very focused on the stability and protection that comes from being part of an institution. All of that is fine, in theory. But there’s a darker side to the Hierophant that tarot readers today often tap into. At its worst, the Hierophant shows us an authority figure who’s intent on keeping the status quo. It’s a card that preaches conformity above all else because conformity keeps things stable, and institutional stability is at the heart of this archetype. That stability comes at a steep cost, though, and the Hierophant doesn’t really show us the price. It doesn’t show us what happens when people are encouraged not to question things or rock the boat. It doesn’t show us how harmful it can be to live within a tradition that places such a high value on staying quiet and being like everyone else. It doesn’t dive into the outcome of a culture of obedience.

But that’s what the minor arcana is for. Each card of the major arcana is assigned a number, and the Hierophant’s number is V. So, numerologically speaking, the Five of each suit of the minor arcana is connected to the Hierophant. And these Fives of the minor arcana give us a deeper look into the consequences of the worst aspects of the Hierophant. The most heart-wrenching of those consequences is a loss of instinct, a severing of one’s inner voice. Each of the Fives shows us a different facet of that loss of instinct, whether it be confusion or aggression or disillusionment or depression. They illustrate the consequences of conformity.

Five of Stones, Wooden Tarot

Five of Stones, Wooden Tarot

The suit of Wands is associated with passion and creativity, and it’s full of direct and pointed energy. But the Five of Wands shows us what happens when that creative energy runs up against a stifling of instinct. The Five of Stones from the Wooden Tarot illustrates this well. The image is a simple one, two pairs of antlers locked together. But it’s difficult to get a feel for the energy of the card. Deer will lock antlers in both play and combat, but it’s difficult to tell whether this card is showing us a playful tussle or an all-out brawl. The Five of Wands is one of the most ambiguous in tarot, and that’s the point here. One of the defining traits of the suit of Wands is its directness, but that directness is noticeably absent in this card. That fiery, wands-y energy loses its focus here. This is what happens when creativity is repressed for the sake of conventionality. Creativity is directed by intuition, so if intuition is stamped out, then creativity quickly loses its course. If that relationship is severed, the result is murkiness and confusion.

Five of Swords, Rider-Waite Tarot

Five of Swords, Rider-Waite Tarot

The Five of Swords shows us a take on the loss of instinct that centers on aggression. The suit of Swords deals in themes of conflict and debate. It’s often an argumentative suit, and that’s not a bad thing. But the Five of Swords illustrates what happens when that conflict is no longer tempered by intuition. The Rider-Waite interpretation of this card portrays a man holding three swords, looking smug. In the background are two swords on the ground, and two people walking away, looking defeated. It’s a cruel image. It shows us debate turned hostile, an environment that is less concerned about fostering communication and more concerned about being right. It’s a harsh reminder that the stamping out of one’s intuition for the sake of conformity often causes a person to develop a fear of anyone who doesn’t conform, and that fear often manifests as aggression. At that point, debate becomes less about finding common ground and more about silencing the opposition.

Five of Vessels, Slow Holler Tarot 

Five of Vessels, Slow Holler Tarot 

The suit of Cups is more inward-focused, relating to emotions and how we deal with them. Because of that, the entire suit has insight to offer on intuition and its effect on one’s inner life. The Five of Cups offers us a look at what happens to a person’s emotions when instinct is pushed down and stifled. The Slow Holler Tarot’s Five of Vessels illustrates it beautifully. It gives us an image of five plants. Three are dead, and being continually watered by tears in spite of that—a symbol of refusal to let go of feelings. All of this while two thriving plants sit in the corner, ignored. It’s a picture of disillusionment and confusion. When intuition is stifled for the sake of obedience, emotional intelligence is also stifled. If a person stops listening to their inner voice, they lose the ability to navigate their inner life. They can no longer handle their feelings, and their emotional life becomes clouded.

Five of Pentacles, Pagan Otherworlds Tarot

Five of Pentacles, Pagan Otherworlds Tarot

The Five of Pentacles also takes us inward, showing us another personal effect of the loss of instinct. The suit of Pentacles is a deeply grounded one, focused on the more earthly aspects of our lives—family, labor, creature comforts. In essence, we are animals, connected to the earth, and this suit reminds us of that. In the Pagan Otherworlds Tarot, the entire suit of Pentacles is full of lush images of spring and summer. The one striking exception is the Five of Pentacles, which pictures a barren tree in the dead of winter. This is a picture of deep loneliness—a single tree, a blanket of snow, unsettling quiet. It’s perhaps a less dramatic result of the severing of intuition, but it’s no less serious. When someone loses that inner, animal voice, they lose their sense of connection to the earth. They lose their place in the family of things. Despite that, the Five of Pentacles isn’t despairing. Winter doesn’t last forever, and the voice never dies for good. But sometimes that loss of connection can feel permanent, and it can give one a sense of being shut out in the cold with no place that really feels like home, which is perhaps the saddest symptom of all.