Hiero what?

One of my favorite cards from the Halloween Tarot is the Hierophant, which features my old friend the Mummy. I find this especially delightful because the traditional imagery for this card doesn’t do much for me: some overdressed priestly person (often a pope) seated stiffly on a throne, with servants or followers fawning at his feet. Yawn.

From the Halloween Tarot by Kipling West

In the Halloween Tarot, the Mummy sits on a throne, but he’s unadorned, simply wrapped in his bandages. He is seated comfortably, elbows resting on the arms of the throne, and the way his toes turn in makes him look even a little shy. The green cats at his feet seem more interested in playing with his trailing bandages than in fawning, and the black cat perched on his shoulders appears poised to leap down and join the fun.

Things are about to get interesting, and the jackal heads that top the oversized canopic jars flanking the throne seem to know it, as does the grinning jack-o-lantern impaled on the papal cross. But the Mummy isn’t concerned with any of that — his gaze is f0cused on us.

There’s a certain irony in choosing the Mummy to illustrate this card. By definition, a hierophant is one who interprets and explains sacred mysteries. While the Mummy is no doubt privy to all kinds of arcane knowledge, his tongue was cut out before he was mummified; in his current form, he is unable to speak. How, then, is he to share his hard-won personal knowledge about the mysteries of life and death?

Perhaps that is the point: some things must be experienced, cannot truly be taught, and should not be interpreted for us by another. The Mummy as Hierophant reminds us to be careful of granting authority to others, especially when it comes to the great mysteries. He also serves as a warning that knowledge misused may produce terrible consequences.

And thus the question may be answered: the Mummy can teach us through the example of his own story, simply by sitting there and looking us straight in the eye.

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