The Hierophant: Ma’at, Tradition, and Modernity

I’ve taken to a daily draw. Unlike many other sites, I am not going to rattle off a number of meanings. Instead, I will attempt to link the card to my own practice: how it fits into Ma’at, how it fits into my practice, what lessons it could hold, etc.

The Hierophant: a fount of knowledge. The symbol for our roots. The keeper of traditions and wisdom. Standing in for organizations, institutions. The one who oversees and guides our disciplined learning, who instills in us the values of our foregoers, who continues the rites and remembers the ways. Something I think is less discussed is that the Hierophant connects us to others.

Knowledge and Authority: I recall reading in a number of places that the Ancient Egyptians placed a great emphasis on tradition. For example, the guidelines for official art stayed the same over centuries (save a few minor tangents *cough-Akhenaten-cough*). As I search the books I have for other evidence backing this claim, a quick skimming does little to further the point. At this point, I’m not sure I could successfully argue the Ancient Egyptians valued tradition any more than any other ancient society ldid.

I think it is pretty agreed upon, however, that, at least as far as the state-distributed propoganda and the state religion would have us believe, the Ancient Egyptians did respect authority, and the general notion is found in the Wisdom Texts and funerary stelae I’ve read.

In the subcultures I find myself in, questioning authority is encouraged. The Millennials, a generation of which I am a part, generally eschew formal traditions and question authority. Some research has found trends that they (we?) prefer less formal titles (first-name basis in the workplace compared to Mr. or Ms.) and less “traditional” dress codes. This may be due largely to age rather than generation. Nevertheless, as a part of this group, I have been taught and respect the teaching to question authority and formality and to think critically.

My schooling has taught me much the same. Using authority as a basis for an argument is considered a flaw, and we are constantly pushed to look beyond what was presented as evidence, to ask deeper questions, to think critically, to innovate.

So far, there’s a lot pushing me against honoring the tradition the Hierophant represents.

Time-worn Traditions: In many pagan communities, some groups and solitaries honor their traditions year in and year out. There is no denying the dedication many in the pagan community have. Building a tradition is tedious, and yet I’ve met many individuals, pagans, polytheists, and others of Neo-Pagan swagger, who have successfully created and practice their own tradition.

In the same communities, however, practitioners are encouraged to forge forward, to boldly create their own traditions. Practices must be relevant to the practitioner, and blindly following tradition can impede this relevance. I agree 100%.

But, for the tradition to really take its greatest effect, it has to be repeated many, many times. I have encountered people or groups (myself included) who call something that has been done 2 or 3 years in a row which also has no tie to something “old” a tradition. This doesn’t mean something we create can’t be meaningful and become a tradition. All traditions start at some point…but it is through time and repetition that a traditions is created.

The Hierophant, to me, is harkening to those traditions, for example, kept by a coven over many years, if not generations. Naturally, these traditions can change as the generations pass…but there is some thread connecting all the versions to each other. Some traditions even span beyond coven boundaries. For example, casting a circle is a tradition that’s been around since Gardner, and it’s kept alive by Neo-pagans of many types today. People do it differently form one another, but there is a connective tissue between these occurrences, a familiarity that ties them all together.

The Hierophant speaks to Midnight Mass on Christmas, prayer before dinner, a certain recipe or destination for a family’s festivities, or destroying an effigy of Apep on Wep Ronpet (I know…is reviving something still a tradition? I’ll get back to this).  The Hierophant is talking about those traditions that call us back to our roots. Maybe it something your father started when you were a child, and doing it now, 30 years later, harkens to all he ever meant to teach you. Or it could be a school motto that echoes its founders and lifts all of its current students onto the shoulders of the giants of which we so often speak. Does it need to be continued, unbroken, through time? Or can you pick a tradition back up once its been gone for a while? I think so…but to have the fullest effect, you have to do it for a few years, minimum. Bonus points if you can somehow do it with others and create a shared experience (I’m not trying to exclude solitaries, of which I am one). Why the bonus points? With a tradition, I argue that time is only one dimension.

Social Support: The second, important part of this card (and, in some part, Ma’at) is that the Hierophant isn’t just connecting us to our roots…its also connecting us to each other. Let’s say you are the only one around to destroy that effigy of Apep, and you’ve been doing it for about a decade. You may do it alone, in your living room. I’d call it a tradition, but not just because you’ve been doing it for a decade. Its also because there are others who share in that experience with you.

Traditions help us to share experiences. They teach us the values and wisdom treasured by our groups. And, most importantly, all of these things (shared experiences, wisdom, and values) allow us to be connected to others in our groups. Traditions provide not just the foundation of knowledge for the sake of learning, but knowledge for the sake of bonding and socializing. Here again, we see that time can play a part. If you have a barbecue at a friend’s house for their birthday one year, its not really a tradition. If you do it again, its just a repetition. The third time…its gathering the sticking power. People could be forgiven if the next year they showed up at said friend’s house with beans and potato salad. By the fourth year…I think its just a given. And the longer its done, the more meaning it has…and the more bonds you forge.

And I think that’s the real importance of tradition, and institution, and shared knowledge. It aids us in forming bonds. It gives us a conversation starter, a common point of reference, with which we can agree or disagree. But tradition gives us a jumping off point.

The Hierophant is giving us a jumping off point.

We can’t think critically unless we have a foundational understanding of…something. We can’t answer questions in another language if its the first time we hear it. All those higher order thinking skills we laud have to stand upon a foundation of experiences, facts, and observations. Thats what the Hierophant is to me.

Traditions serve as a point to which we can all return. Go to the barbecue. Attend the Midnight Mass. Destroy that effigy. Laugh and pray and discuss with your peers. Build your bonds using shared experiences. Share and build a culture together. Thats what the Hierophant is to me.

Returning to Ma’at: So what does any of that have to do with Ma’at? This is where, dear reader, my opinion really takes over. While the above is definitely UPG, this is even more so.

Ma’at, on our human level, is focused on creating a peaceful and harmonious society. As an American, this can mean things like voting and following the laws or challenging unjust laws. It also means caring for those I love. It means practicing compassion (for the self and for others). It means knowing when to stand up and speak and when to let things go. It means learning from others. It means a lot of things.

But one of the largest things it means, to me, is to find peace. I have found that, in general, when I have am surrounded by people who are also compassionate and supportive, I thrive. Traditions can help to keep us bonded. They can teach us about each other and ourselves. They can push to do things we might initially dismiss…but in the end prove a fruitful exercise.

Traditions keep us tied together. They keep us in touch, not just with our roots but with each other. They help us to form and maintain sustainable social circles, including strong family bonds. They reminded of how much family and friends can matter. They remind us to be appreciative or pious or they force us to face our demons or walk aways entirely.

As far as my Ma’at goes…that’s pretty spot on.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Community | Cards and Feather

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