Today on Blogcritics
Home » Culture and Society » Spirituality » Dethroning the Hierophant

Dethroning the Hierophant

Please Share...Print this pageTweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest0Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone


A few years ago, I observed that the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church was hitting a critical point, as a glut of news reports was beginning to directly implicate the Vatican. I suggested then that what was happening in the Catholic Church was an indicator of the dismantling of hierarchical systems more broadly and that in the Motherpeace Tarot, such patriarchal, spiritual authority is represented by the Hierophant.

At its root, the word “hierophant” means bringer to light of sacred things. In the traditional Tarot, the Hierophant represents a priest or Pope, the paternal religious authority… Representing a hierarchical view of religion, the Hierophant stands on a pedestal, raised up from the earth, above the common person. In the Motherpeace image, he has taken over the robes and skirt of the High Priestess, along with her breasts which symbolize her sacred power, but he has forsaken her “Sophia” or wisdom… The authority of the Hierophant is based, in large part, on repression of women and the natural instincts that women symbolize.

The Motherpeace Tarot Playbook explains how to read the card when it comes up in a spread.

The Hierophant represents spiritual authority. He represents ritual and ceremonial magic which manifests as organized religion in this culture. Or he represents the psychic control exercised by mostly male, authority figures in our culture, such as psychiatrists, gurus, doctors and courtroom judges. Since he is also the internalized parent or superego authority, he represents conventional morality.

The text goes on to explain how to read this card when it presents as reversed, or ill-dignified.

The reversal shows a full-scale rebellion. You can no longer tolerate external roles and conventional morality; you have begun to call on your deeper conscience for advice You are able to stop kneeling to the priest or the doctor or the father, choosing instead to take your own advice, heed your own counsel.

I believe that this is the fight that is now full-on. After several years of observing and cataloging the scandals and failures of leadership in the Catholic Church, as well as the public breakdown of other patriarchal, spiritual groups—James Ray International, Warren Jeffs’s FLDS, and even the strange little splinter group of Amish in Bergholz, Ohio—I see followers in even some very unexpected religious contexts beginning to take their power back. More recently there have been upheavals in organizations as diverse as Scientology and a prominent Zen Buddhist organization.

What I have found particularly moving in these cases is the courage of women who are standing up to religious abusers, often with little to no support, and sometimes at great personal risk. It is, after all, women and children who suffer the most in oppressive, patriarchal systems. It is axiomatic in these institutions, large and small, that women and teen girls are sexually exploited. Only in the Catholic Church—with its ostensibly celibate priesthood and apparently overflowing gay closet—did such abuse of women take a back seat to the abuse of children.

On February 11, Pope Benedict XVI shocked the world when he announced his resignation. For all the apologia about this being a reasoned decision by a reasonable man, nothing changes the fact that it stands centuries-old tradition on its head. Benedict’s seismic action takes place at one of the most tenuous times in the Church’s history—a period pointed to by prophecy that it takes far more seriously than it publicly admits. I think it would be hard to overstate the importance of this turn of events and that it speaks to a greater realignment of world power. The patriarchal authority represented by the iconic, hierophantic position of the pope, God’s representative on earth from the time of St. Peter, has been so eroded that it is now a job you can quit.

We’ll probably never know everything that factored into Benedict’s decision, but it is arguable that he really is just exhausted—that he is too old and sick to weather the hard rain that has begun to fall on the Church. Over the past eight years, he has presided over a Church in steep decline—one that has lost the moral authority to hold the respect of even one of the most Catholic countries in the world: Ireland.

In an interconnected world of instant media, a Church that has spent decades and billions of dollars concealing crimes and protecting pedophiles at the expense of children has found itself unable to quell the outrage. Such deference to authority has reached its expiration date. And in that respect, the Catholic Church finds itself in good company, as religions big and small face a new level of scrutiny and an inability to stifle the dissent.


LRH aka., L. Ron Hubbard
Father of the Church of Scientology


The Church of Scientology, for instance, had a good run. They managed for some time to effectively silence their critics and intimidate the press. In the popular imagination, Scientology has long been something of a joke. The bizarre antics of celebrities like Tom Cruise, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley have made it seem glamorous and funny at the same time. Sure, they’re kooky, but no one’s getting hurt— xcept perhaps financially. But there is a very dark side to Scientology—a grotesque underbelly that only avid Scientology watchers have been aware of for years. Locals in the Clearwater, Florida area tell tales of an obvious cult in their midst, with slave-like conditions and rumors of disappearances. With the burgeoning of the internet, sites like Operation Clambake began to collect documentation of secret beliefs and evidence of abuse and mind control. But many former Scientologists have been too afraid to tell their stories. Threats of litigation, cutting people off from family, surveillance, character assassination, and other intimidation tactics kept the majority of Scientology’s critics quiet.

Over the past few years things have begun to open up and Scientology’s ruthless message discipline seems to be breaking down. Former members are becoming more emboldened and the Tampa Bay Times started a landmark series on their neighbor across the bay. And now, suddenly, it’s open season on the Church of Scientology. It is facing a multipronged media attack. Books by prominent authors have drawn major press coverage and a thinly veiled biopic of L. Ron Hubbard drew the ire of Scientologists.

The open disgruntlement of followers, disenchanted after having turned over huge sums for a dubious real estate scheme, has people seriously questioning whether this is the beginning of the end for an organization claiming a massive expansion. Some of the major funders of Ideal Org building purchases and renovations have become angry enough over a venture that has only seemed to enrich the central organization that they are suing.

A new book, Going Clear, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright has been making the rounds and making waves, but one of the most damning critiques is coming from Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige’s own niece. In Beyond Belief, Jenna Miscavige Hill tells her story of what could fairly be described as a childhood of slave labor and teen years spent under cruel oppression.

Scientology seems like an equal opportunity abuser but, as is so typical, women and children are subject to extraordinary control and exploitation—particularly in their religious order Sea Org. Women sacrifice their reproductive freedom. Marriage within the order is accepted as long as couples agree not to have children. Women who get pregnant are coerced into aborting or put into filthy rehabilitation centers where they are forced into hard, physical labor, and other conditions that are decidedly unsafe for pregnant women.

Children of Sea Org parents, like third-generation Scientologist Miscavige Hill, are also a cheap labor force. She spent her early childhood on “the Ranch,” receiving a minimal Scientology-only education and putting in a six-day week of hard, physical labor. These small children do mainly construction and landscaping, wielding dangerous equipment and hauling rocks and dirt. She rarely saw her parents and all her phone conversations with them were supervised. At age seven she signed one of Sea Org’s thousand year contracts and took on even more adult responsibilities.

Her parents left first and the then 16-year-old Miscavige Hill’s connection to these SPs (suppressive persons) made her suspect. She was subject to even more restrictive control. Later, she chose to leave as well, risking her marriage to Dallas Hill, who was threatened with separation from his own very committed Scientologist family. They are now both out of Scientology and have done many things that they could not have done had they remained—like read anti-Scientology literature, and procreate. They have two children, Winnie and Archie.

Miscavage Hill also created with Kendra Wiseman and Astra Woodcraft. Woodcraft was also a Sea Org member, married at 15 to a man five years her senior, having spent a harrowing youth of emotional abuse, sexual harassment, and molestation—something the Church of Scientology covers up so effectively the Catholic Church could only be envious.

At 19 Woodcraft resolved to exit Scientology. She did this by deliberately violating the rules. She got pregnant and refused to abort. Her choice has cut her off from her husband, the father of her child, and her own mother, but left her with a real life and a beautiful daughter. In this interview, she, along with her father and sister, provide a damning portrait of life deep inside the Church of Scientology. She goes into graphic detail on her lack of education, excessive and bizarre responsibilities, and emotional torment. No one could listen to this story and come to the conclusion that the Church of Scientology is anything but a dangerous, mind-control cult.


Warren Jeffs
Incarcerated Leader & Prophet of FLDS


Also in disarray is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS. Leader Warren Jeffs is serving out a life sentence in a Texas prison for sexually abusing underage girls—some of his many “celestial wives.” While he maintains a stranglehold on the church community, he is simultaneously destroying it. Excommunications, draconian restrictions like a no sex edict, and ignoring legal moves against his many properties, appear to have resulted in a dwindling footprint. It’s hard to say how many are excommunicated, how many may have deserted, and how many are being deliberately relocated to secret locations.

What is certain is that state and local authorities around Jeffs’s most developed communities are using a variety of legal maneuvers to effectively put him out of business. Texas, which successfully prosecuted him for sexual abuse, is now moving to seize the sprawling Yearning for Zion ranch on the grounds that it was used as a base for illegal operations. Arizona is pressing forward with attempts to rein in what it insists is a crooked Marshal’s Office in the border towns of Colorado City, AZ and Hilldale, UT. Despite one failed legislative attempt to dissolve the force, the State is pressing forward.

In January Arizona’s AG Tom Horne introduced Ruby Jessop to the press. This courageous woman has fought long and hard to regain her freedom and her children. Forced into marriage at 14, and relocated numerous times to hide her from her outspoken, apostate sister Flora Jessop, she at long last escaped and won temporary custody of her six children.

Ruby, it is claimed, was forced not only to marry her own step-brother, but to have sex with other men, as well. Flora, who had also been forced into marriage as a child, spoke for Ruby.

Twelve years ago, I got a call from my sister who has 14 years old [stet] and had been placed in an arranged marriage. She had managed to get away and I gave her a promise that I would do everything I could to keep her safe. Then, before I could get to her and get her help, she disappeared and was taken back into the group.

. . .

Ruby is one of thousands that have been trapped and abused and held under the regime of Warren Jeffs and she is just so happy to be out and her children are excited and able to go to a school for the first time. To watch them play with toys and learn to become children has just been amazing.

It is women like Flora and Ruby Jessop, in open rebellion against the sex slavery of Jeffs’s FLDS, who are tearing through the fabric of his empire.

In one of the most repressive lifestyles extant in the United States (and Canada), women and girls who’ve known no other life are finding their voices and telling their horrible stories of rape, abuse, and virtual imprisonment. In 2007 Elissa Wall, who was forced by Jeffs to marry her first cousin when she was 14, testified in a Utah court. Jeffs was convicted as an accomplice to rape. That conviction was later overturned on a technicality. But Wall went on to write a book about her experiences within FLDS. It bears mentioning that she and Jenna Miscavige Hill had the same co-author, Lisa Pulitzer.

While Jeffs was awaiting that trial in Utah, he reportedly contacted William E. Jessop, confessed to incest and pedophilia, and attempted to hand him the reigns of FLDS. He reneged but Jessop has gone on to start his own church—one which allows for polygamy, or “celestial marriage,” but prohibits the institutionalized sex abuse of adolescent girls. So Jeffs has also created a competitor who at least appears to be rejecting the flesh trade which has long defined the sect.

Jeffs was convicted in Texas due in no small part to the testimony of people he’d molested as children. One was his niece, Jerusha Jeffs, who told the court that he’d molested her when she was just seven years old. No longer in FLDS, she now counsels others who are trying to break from the sect.

Others who had been molested by Jeffs testified in Texas, including his nephew Brent, who told the court about being raped by Jeffs when he was only five. There is no overstating the courage it takes to stand up to your abuser like that… and put a stop to him.


Samuel Mullet
Incarcerated Bishop of the Bergholz Amish


Bishop Samuel Mullet had his comeuppance in a federal court. He will likely serve most if not all of the remainder of his life in prison. He was convicted for masterminding a series of hate crimes against other Amish. Members of his breakaway sect in Bergholz, Ohio, waged a reign of terror against their Amish critics, attacking them with hair clippers. Cutting the beards of Amish men and the hair of Amish women is an assault on their understanding of the Bible and goes to the core of their Amish identity.

There was plenty of evidence of Mullet’s complicity in the attacks, even though he sat safely in his home as they were happening. The hair of the victims and other trophies were presented to him by the attackers. Photos of the attacks were recovered from his property. There were even very damning jailhouse recordings. But federal prosecutors proved their case largely by establishing the degree of mental and emotional control Mullet had over the members of his community.

Jurors learned of draconian punishments for vague infractions. Men were subjected to beatings and forced to sleep in a chicken coop. Women were coerced into sexual relationships with Mullet, a form of “counseling” to “cleanse them of the devil.”

His own daughter-in-law testified to Mullet’s insistence that she live in his house while her husband was in a mental ward recovering from a nervous breakdown. Mullet blamed her for his son’s mental state and insisted that if he could just teach her to have sex properly, she’d be a better wife. When she balked, he informed her that “the other ladies” did as they were told. When she refused to continue with this twisted arrangement, he called her a whore.

Lovina Miller, the wife of Mullet’s nephew Eli, may have become pregnant while she was receiving her “sexual counseling.” She was found in Mullet’s bedroom when the FBI was raiding the property.

Both judge and jury seemed satisfied that the multiple abuses and indignities Mullet heaped upon his followers only served to bend them to his will and bind them to his purposes. One hopes that while he serves his sentence, his remaining followers will awaken from the spell of this most unlikely charismatic leader.


James Arthur Ray
Incarcerated… For Now


It is somewhat ironic that another charismatic leader—who was convicted for causing the deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman—is serving a much shorter sentence than Bishop Mullet did for ordering haircuts. In fact he will probably be getting out presently. The law is a rather clumsy instrument. Still, after sitting through a four-month trial—thanks to the wonders of our electronic age—I was gratified that he was convicted and sentenced, if inadequately.

In a trial, and ensuing coverage, that I cataloged pretty thoroughly, we learned a great deal about the degree of psychological control Mr. Ray exerted on people who paid him an awful lot of money:


Joshu Sasaki
Founder of the Mount Baldy Zen Center


In the very different world of Zen Buddhism, another prolific molester has also, at long last been brought to heel. For decades, the inappropriateness of the legendary Joshu Sasaki was an open secret. Women who complained about being groped and sexually coerced were ignored, even shunned.

It took several men in positions of authority to break the silence and force the community to take the problem seriously. They took a lot of abuse, themselves, for doing so. The story broke wide when Adam Tebbe, editor of the online magazine Sweeping Zen, published a piece by Joshu Martin. Martin was taught and ordained by Sasaki and has gone on to run the Victoria Zen Center in Vancouver. Many used his competitor status to dismiss his accusations. But his piece was followed by a painfully detailed article by Giko David Rubin, who had spent years in Sasaki’s service as a priest and personal translator.

An independent council of Zen teachers then collected stories and statements from the survivors of Sasaki’s abuse. There was a snowballing of media attention, including a feature in the New York Times. A Sasaki Archive was set up to compile the articles and statements and provide a record of the scandal.

At the ripe old age of 105, Sasaki is unlikely to face any real consequences for his years of abuse, other than the damage to his reputation and legacy. In the years during which stopping him would have really mattered and protected unaware women from victimization, radio silence was strictly enforced.

As with the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church, the way the organization enabled the abuser in their midst for decades is as horrifying as the abuse itself. The monks who served Sasaki, when confronted by women who’d been violated and degraded, shrugged it off or told them they should just go ahead and show him their breasts… because, eh, why not?

Even those, within his organization, who tried to get him to stop met stiff resistance from the monks and lies and evasions from Sasaki—something Giko David Rubin learned through painful experience.

Even now, some of the apologia for Sasaki’s behavior is stunning. It forms what Michael Sigman terms a “counter-narrative.” It really just continues a long kept inner tradition in Rinzai-ji of accepting a certain duality in their leader. Monk Bob Mammoser told the New York Times:

“What’s important and is overlooked is that, besides this aspect, Roshi was a commanding and inspiring figure using Buddhist practice to help thousands find more peace, clarity and happiness in their own lives. It seems to be the kind of thing that, you get the person as a whole, good and bad, just like you marry somebody and you get their strengths and wonderful qualities as well as their weaknesses.”

Sure. If you’re gonna make an omelet, ya gotta break a few ova.

It’s interesting that Mammoser chooses marriage as a metaphor because this is exactly the kind of thing that happens in some families of sexual abusers. In many cases, spouses and other family members know the abuse is happening and look the other way because they rely on the abuser’s income… or because they are more besotted with the abuser than with their children.

This dependency was something Sasaki exploited whenever he faced serious confrontation from some of his monks. He would simply threaten to take his leadership and his teaching away from them and they would fall in line.

Sazaki was protected by an army of followers who aggressively stifled any hint of uprising. Sandy Stewart, whose wife Susanna was one of many women he knew to have been abused, was actually lured back into Rinzai-ji with promises that the abuse had stopped. When he learned that it had not, he wrote a letter to the board. The result was a deluge of hate mail. Said Stewart, “People … thought I was stupid and crazy. They said, ‘Have you no respect?’ and said I should be lashed and beaten.”

Others tried to protect Sasaki from himself, even going so far as to try to arrange a marriage for him, in the vain hope that he could restrict his attention to a single pair of breasts. The attempt was unsuccessful.



Even the masthead on the Sasaki Archive appears to be apologia for his behavior—either that or some very strange attempt at irony. The two quotes enshrined there are one generally laudatory one and a statement which appears to be from one of the very small minority of women who welcomed Sasaki’s advances. In addition to being not at all representative of the overall content, the quote is virtually unsourced. It’s excerpted from a comment by an unnamed woman which was claimed by a Sasaki apologist to have appeared on Eshu Martin’s Facebook page. Out of all the pained statements from women who were brave enough to give testimony to Sasaki’s abuse, this is the quote that appears at the top of the website cataloging the scandal: “I ‘suffered Roshi’s abuse’—and it was the closest I ever got to god.”

Needless to say, the bulk of the material on the archive and in the council report does not present Sasaki in such glowing terms. Their voices are better summed up by the poem of Chizuko Karen Joy Tasaka, who did not live to see her teacher forced finally to face the music. What follows is an excerpt:


my friend—she was inji
sex with roshi

she tried to say no 
you demanded, demanded, demanded
demon demand the force of a tornado

sex with roshi
for whose best interest?

I told you I don’t like it.
I asked you why you do this?
You said, “nonattachment, nonattachment, you nonattachment

I told you as shoji, “women very angry, very upset”
I asked you why you do this.
You said: “Be good daughter to roshi, and good wife to G. 
[her husband].
Roshi, that is incest
So many women trying to shake the shame from their voices of
Sex with roshi

We came to you with the trust of a student
You were our teacher
You betrayed us
You violated our bodies
You rape our souls


Sasaki is a classic Hierophant, as defined in Motherpeace. He presented himself as a gateway to enlightenment. The same could be said of any of these spiritual leaders and many more like them. To their students and followers, they are intermediaries between themselves and the ineffable world of spirit. Whether the goal is heaven, nirvana, or simply a more purposeful life, human beings have, throughout recorded history, felt incapable of achieving those goals on their own. We’ve relied on gurus, priests, and other teachers, not as wayshowers, but as the way. They held the secrets. They kept them close to the vest. And to attain them, people accepted again and again a devil’s bargain.

This is the dark side of patriarchy. Human beings are commodities to exploit financially, sexually, and spiritually. Women and children are less than people—second-class citizens reduced to their bodies. They are devoured in these systems.

Invariably, enough people know about outrageous abuses that the abusers could be stopped… but they aren’t. Human beings are sacrificed to maintain a power structure that people believe will set them free. All the while, they are becoming more enmeshed, more ensnared, in the world of illusion—willingly pulling the wool over their own eyes. But the veil is slipping.


“The kingdom of God is within you.” ~ Luke 17:21


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Powered by

About LaVaughn