The High Priest/The Hierophant
You might assume this card has to do with organized religion. And it does! That was easy. Alright, but what else is the High Priest about? Well, he’s not just about religious groups, he’s about groups in general. He’s a leader, but he doesn’t lead by authority and law – people follow him because he represents them, as a group. The High Priest is charged with the maintenance and propagation of tradition and conventional beliefs, and anyone who goes against these beliefs is shunned. Balance and conformity are the goals of the High Priest, and neither positive nor negative is emphasized. Only tradition matters, the good of the many outweighs the good of the one. This is a card of orthodoxy and dogma.
On a more personal level, the High Priest is a teacher. He could be a spiritual advisor, or someone who passes down traditions to the next generation. The point here is for him to initiate others into the community. The value of this man isn’t to be ignored – there’s a reason for many traditions, and this man has a wisdom and spiritual knowledge that shouldn’t be discounted. At the same time, this is a dogmatic card, so don’t hope for anything creative here. His teachings are mostly based in conformity, instructing you in the ways of his particular belief in the hopes that you will join him.
That’s his major failing, of course. The High Priest is, at his worst, an exercise in groupthink and unbending tradition. He does things this way because we’ve always done things this way, and because everyone says we should do things this way, and we don’t care if you think you can do better. You’re just a young fool who hasn’t learned how things work, and if you step out of line you will be shunned, ostracized, or worse. The High Priest is not flexible and not the sort of man who bends tradition. He can’t be, because tradition makes up the source of his power. To break it is to break himself.
What happens when the High Priest gets turned on his head? Convention is, too! Break tradition! Explore new ideas! Express yourself freely! Have an open mind! Break loose from society’s chains! This is a bold sort of fresh beginning, which opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities. Unfortunately, the High Priest is still right there, and he’s not really happy with your behavior. Get back in your place, you darn whippersnapper! Society is not going to appreciate you, and you’re likely going to come into conflict with the group mentality trying to shove you back in line. You’re different, and that makes the group uncomfortable. In fact, they’d like you to stop being different. Orthodoxy can quickly turn to being oppressive and self-righteous. If this card shows up inverted in a reading, it’s probably a good idea to figure out just where you’re standing, in your beliefs. Are you the bold innovator that’s trying to be different? Or are you the uncompromising persecutor who is trying to squash that innovator, not because he’s foolish or wrong, but because he threatens you?