The historic conclave to choose the next Catholic Pope began in earnest yesterday. So far only black smoke has risen from the Sistine Chapel chimney signalling that the 115 cardinals inside have yet to agree on who shall be leader of the billion-strong congregation. The world awaits their decision in suspense outside the chapel doors.
Traditionally the Pope is represented by this card in Tarot…
The Hierophant (also known as the High Priest): A religious leader sits within a formal church environment initiating two supplicants into the mysteries of his organisation. He symbolizes the educating forces of society represented at the highest level by our spiritual leaders and on an everyday level by school teachers.
You can see some of his most outstanding characteristics on display at the conclave:
*There’s an air of mystery about him just as there is an air of mystery about the conclave. Nobody knows what goes on inside. But I suspect the reality is quite mundane. Just a whole lot of men bickering and politicking. Education of all kinds appears more magical to those on the outside than those within the inner circle (I speak as a teacher myself here. The teacher’s staffroom is waaay more exciting when you’re a kid staring in through the glass door than it is munching your soggy tuna sandwich at a table on the inside.)
*There is a strong sense of group identification. They’re all middle-aged men in black dresses.
*A uniform is required to participate. See above.
*Everyone is expected to follow the customs of the tribe. Be it keeping silent during conclave. The cardinals are banned from any communication with the outside world and bound by a strict oath of secrecy on pain of excommunication until the decision has been made. Even the cooks, drivers and security guards have to take this oath. Be it receiving a slice of communion on your tongue every Sunday that tastes disgustingly like a piece of paper (I speak as one subjected to this form of torture once upon a time. You call that bread?) Or addressing every woman above the age of 20 at school as ‘Miss’.
*There are lots of rules you’re expected to follow just because they’ve been done for a long time e.g. A new pope can only be chosen via conclave. There’s been no talk of switching to a democratic election. Likewise, Catholics are expected to attend mass every Sunday. The school day always starts around 9am. But why not the afternoon for teenagers? Study after study has confirmed the adolescent body clock is about 6 hours behind the rest of us.
*There’s a feeling of blessing from on high on the enterprise. Whether that be a blessing from God or just the local school board.
*The Hierophant has a lot of influence. Whether that be on the world – as in the papal conclave – or an impressionable class of 7 year olds.
The last Pope was the first to resign in over 700 year. A powerful tradition has been broken. But whether the cardinals will take this as a sign to choose a forward-thinking successor remains to be seen.
Do you have faith that the papal conclave will choose a pope who is well equipped to deal with the challenges of the modern age? Or are you expecting them to elect another dinosaur?