The Hierophant: There is more-so than the just-so

The most intriguing nuances of experience cannot be wholly captured by words. Positive claims within consciousness-as-such can only apprehend so-much of our being-world as an encompassing phenomenon (Jaspers 1970b: 18-22).

We have known this since the very beginning of recorded thinking. It appears as a running critique in diverse myths, proverbs, and philosophies—read the Dào Dé Jing or Zhuangzi (Lu & Brown 2018), the fragments of Heraclitus or Parmenides (Callicott et al 2018), even the Hebrew Torah which actually begins with an invocative performance by the Creator quickly followed by the naming acts of the first human.

To convey this notion to the youth with whom I engage in Loving Struggle, I provide the following distinction.

  1. When you express what can be circumscribed by language, you are addressing the Just-So (the WHAT-THIS-IS!). 
  2. When you turn to speak about what refuses reduction to a simple phrase (or even a complex essay), you are gesturing toward the More-so (the WHATEVER-IS-THIS?). 

Making a factual claim or stating an axiomatic proposition shows how language can be very powerful. In either form, the words you say very much agree with what you perceive or how you conceive it. I call this the just-so, having to do with how a “what” gets explained—laid out flat for understanding. Explicative thinking—whatification—informs a notion of truth as correctness: Things are just-so, affirming a strong probability if not outright demonstrating a valid proof. While such statements are open to refinement and/or to correction for making them more exact, just-so speaking as a correspondence theory between the signified and the signifier presumes that language captures reality. In this way, just-so thinking prefers useful explication over existential elucidation because the just-so provides security in a cosmos that is so vastly enormous.

“There are more things in heaven
and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
–Hamlet’s final words to Horatio

But it is not a hasty generalization to say that “everyone” regularly has those moments where language—as external expression or as internal intention—flounders. Think of the ways some folx strike us as repulsive. When we dislike somebody, there may be actions that we can lay out as an argument of why they are deserving of our disapprobation. Yet, if it is more than an incidental dislike, if the disfavor evidences as a profound unliking, how can such a feeling be fully expressed?

Furthermore, nobody who claims to love someone can actually “count the ways” in an exhaustive totality of words. Even Elizabeth Barrett-Browning’s poem alluded to here catalogs a list of more-so descriptions that imply the frustration of using just-so concepts to talk about loving someone: heights and depths of soul, desire that breaks the boundaries of life and goes beyond into death, the faith of a child, etc.

When at the limits of expression, all we can do is gesture toward whatever more-so refuses signification. Especially when we are taking-care to communicate about phenomena that have a highly existential importance—chance, suffering, struggle, guilt, death, freedom, etc—words do not work as explicative-assessments so much as elucidative-disclosures (Jaspers 1970b; also see Heidegger’s discussion of ALETHEIA in Being and Time).

Of course, if this more-so was merely “metaphysical” speculation about Heaven or God or angels or reincarnation, plenty of pragmatic arguments could be mustered as to why the more-so should be avoided less we lose sight of the world around us. But even if one outright denies an other-worldly reality or transcendental being(s) or karmic cycles in favor of purely material nature, more-so matters in that materialist worldview than can be just-so related. Like it or not, quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and chaos theory gesture at the more-so of material reality.

In terms of existential elucidation, consider how both being-free and being-predetermined are more-so conceptions.

Howsoever we attempt to comprehend freedom, we ultimately fall back into negative language, e.g. that to-be-free is to-not-be-contained in diverse predetermined limits. To gesture toward freedom you must offer up a negative definition that simultaneously reaffirms both freedom and predetermination. And, of course, vice versa: Because what is that state of being-predetermined except not-being-free?

Mentioning the necessity that each of these concepts have for each other as mutual negation reveals the dialectical structure of more-so thinkering for the seasoned mind-walker. As useful-thinking, just-so concepts point directly at a matter-of-fact or propose a logical relationship that can be seized for fixed categorical arrangement. More-so gestures force us always-already to move beyond staking-a-position and to go along the vibrant current of energy between the expressive limits. More-so weakens hardened just-so categories like water weakens stone (see Poems 78 and 8 in Lu & Brown 2018: 67, 85).

Turning this toward my own dissertating—where I hope to be wyrding hermeneutics for an examination of Tarot as creative play in the QUILTBAG community—Tarot cards very much work off of the tension between the just-so and the more-so. Because, in fact, the just-so itself is a more-so concept: a dynamic thinking having more-so than its obvious usefulness that becomes–through reductionism–the privileged side in the ambiguity of communication between the security of Speaking-really-says-it-all and the insecurity of Speaking-really-says-Nothing.

In terms of jumping into this ambiguity in a way that gets us into the current of Tarot, I turn to Major Arcana V: the Hierophant (see some portrayals of this trump below). Originally named the Pope and a bit later the High Priest, the card denotes associations with institutional power (Snow 2019: 21f). Lasting institutions heavily depend on the socio-cultural opinions held in common by a people that inform how they understand their world. For example, heteronormativity functions as a presupposed limit: the explicit socio-cultural assumption of a “natural” binary between men and women that provides the paradigm for all sexual relationships. Many anthropologists would refer to the blanket acceptance of heteronormativity as “common knowledge” with the Ancient Greek term doxa to denote such a shared opinion (Blank 2012: 25f). Of particular interest is how doxa themselves continue evolving across generations while simultaneously being treated as invariant cardinal points by the gatekeepers of tradition.

The Hierophant (Gr. HIEROS [sacred], PHANTOS [shower]) reaffirms common doctrines so long as they are working; should the doxa need reinterpretation with the flow of history, the one who reveals the “mysteries” can update the parameters of the common worldview. This is literally the job description of the Pope, so medieval imagery used that institutional authority as the cipher for the one who sees and points out the more-so. However, the Hierophant represents any time in our own lives where we are called to use traditional knowledge to understand our situation. In the event that such knowledge falls short or seems to do more violence to us or others than “common wisdom” should probably do, we are asked to peer beyond the just-so claims of old teachings as correct (literally, ORTHO- [correct] -DOXA [opinion]).

The irony, here, for those who automatically assume doxa to concern only Sacred Tradition, is that figures such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche represent the dynamic possibility of this card as much as Martin Luther, Aleister Crowley, or John Paul II. All such knowledge-hunting looks beyond (through the more-so) to bring out what had been hidden by just-so presuppositions reducing rigorous thinkering to thoughtless common-knowledge. The more-so gestures toward our existential encounter with the WHOLLY-OTHER, of which the Holy-Other is an aspect.

The card appearing in a spread could denote the frustration with an institutional situation or the need to offer your own new interpretation of a situation more-so than how it has been just-so conceived heretofore. Marginalized folx often feel the arbitrary power of these established belief systems. Some queer tarotists, like Cassandra Snow, find the card to be highly negative for QUILTBAGs in general (2019: 21f). I believe this to be especially true in the beginning of any Wyrding escape from superstructures that estrange folx from their authentic Existenz. This discloses another aspect within the WHOLLY-OTHER: the Healing-Other. More-so than fundamentally different to us, the Not-I as yet another mode of the Encompassing shares in our struggle as that which completes the circle of awareness. We are healed by whole-becoming. Becoming-whole, we are holy.

In conversation with my dissertation director, Adam Briggle, about his new book project, I realized that what makes the Hierophant the defender of the Orthodox is also what makes them the ground for Heterodoxy… they contain the Wyrding Way to make the just-so show itself as the more-so, a mode that reveals the current limits of our thinkering and encourages us to go beyond into uncanny currents. They are the personification of Existential paradox, predetermined and free.


Blank, H. 2012. Straight: The Surprisingly short history of heterosexuality. Boston: Beacon Press.

Callicott, J. B., van Buren, J., and Brown, K. W. 2018. Greek Natural Philosophy. San Diego, CA: Cognella.

Jaspers, K. 1970a. Philosophy, Vol 1: Philosophical world orientation. Trans. E. B. Ashton. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press.

__________. 1970b. Philosophy, Vol 2: Existential elucidation. Trans. E. B. Ashton. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press.

__________. 1970c. Philosophy, Vol 3: Metaphysics. Trans. E. B. Ashton. Chicago: Univ of Chicago Press.

Lu, W. and Brown, K. W. 2018. Dào Dé Jing. Denton, TX: Sparrowhawk.

Snow, C. 2019. Queering the Tarot. Newburyport, MA: Weiser Books.

Cite this blog entry: Brown, K. W. 2019. The Hierophant: There is more-so than the just-so. Call me Maggie: Wyrding and Existenz, 04 June. Accessed [Date of access].

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