I had a bit of an epiphany about The Hierophant the other day (I love when that happens). As I was looking at the card it suddenly struck me that perhaps many of the traditionally negative attributes associated with The Hierophant are because of our own expectations of spiritual authority figures.
When one considers the spiritual leader most often associated with this card is The Pope and when one looks at the history of the papacy and its abuses, it’s very easy to get a bad taste in your mouth. It’s not limited to the papacy; it seems to me that powerful high priests in ancient pagan religions created the same kind of negative attitudes. Whenever spiritual leaders acquire power (and mix in politics) we seem to see similar patterns develop. Consider this however, what came first the chicken or the egg? Is it that the types of people drawn to positions of authority (whether spiritual or political) possess character traits that cause them to abuse this power? Or that the demands put upon them by their followers force them to become that way?
I remember reading James Michener’s book The Source and one point he makes is that people get the gods they demand. Perhaps the same is true of spiritual leaders. When one gets passed the hype, at his core Jesus appears to have been a teacher. He used parables and personal examples to get his message through to his followers. He was not trying to force them to submit. He was just showing them a new way of relating to Yahweh and each other. Clearly that has mutated as his spiritual successors have acquired more prominence and power but did it have to be that way? What happened that allowed the papacy to claim such power over people’s lives?
I believe the sad but true fact is that many (of not most) people out there want to be told what to do with their lives. They desire a rule book, a set of instructions telling them what is good and what is bad; how to live their lives so that they will go to heaven. They want a clear map to help them find their way through this confusing, sometimes dark and often chaotic thing we call life. Lest it seem that I am picking on Catholicism (it’s just the Christian religion with which I’m most familiar), I see the same trend in various Pagan sects. How many high priestesses and high priests become de facto parent figures for their coven? How many find themselves besieged by followers (not coven mates) pleading “tell me what to do?” It drains them and in my opinion is the reason that paid clergy has become such a hot topic. If coven leaders are being called upon to service so many different needs among their co-religionists it leaves them with little time for anything else. It makes the idea of being compensated for their efforts seem reasonable. Of course my problem is that if I didn’t want to be told what do as a Catholic I certainly refuse to be told what to do as a Pagan.
In my current favorite TV show Supernatural there is an angel named Castiel. At several points Castiel is asked to lead the other angels. They plead with him to tell them what to do next. He tries to explain the concept of free will to them but they insist that they require his guidance. Each time he tries to guide or lead them things turn into a clusterfuck but is that his fault? He is trying his best to help his fellow angels because they feel unable to make decisions on their own. At the same time, Castiel is clearly not competent to lead them. His intentions are good but the results are not. Is that how abusive spiritual leaders are born? Are they initially teachers seeking to help querents, those lost souls seeking guidance, whose demands eventually push the teacher to make increasingly autocratic decisions?
The truth is that I don’t have the answers. I’m simply pondering this stuff and sharing it with whoever ends up reading this post. I guess at the end of the day all I can hope for is to raise questions in the minds of others; to find teachers rather than spiritual leaders. Maybe if we stop accepting or expecting that leaders (spiritual or political) have the right to ignore our wishes and requirements and tell us how to live, we’ll be able to create a better world. I remain eternally hopeful.