The Hierophant is the moral and social conscience of the deck. He offers spiritual guidance, and when upright and positive, he can stand for that favored spiritual leader who guides us all through troubled times and ethical dilemmas.
At his best, he is about humility and teaching, about getting people through deeply frightening and difficult situations. He also represents the wider rules of society, what we teach each other in order to get along and fit in, everything from common courtesy and social graces to laws and rules. When reversed, however...
1) Opposite: if we assume that the negative or worst qualities of the card are it's "opposite" qualities, then the reversed Hierophant is the hidebound prude. Here is the man pounding on the holy book, insisting that every commandment must be followed to the letter. He refuses to listen to alternate interpretations of what is written, refuses to bend or flex. He teaches by rote, and had no mercy for those who disagree.
In a general sense, he represents the most unforgiving aspect of society; the one that stones and burns those who do not conform. It can be telling the querent that they are either in danger for trying to be different, speak up or blow the whistle--or it can tell them that they, themselves, are being far too inflexible in their point of view. Too harsh in their judgement of another's failings, weaknesses or individuality.
2) Blocked: We can better understand the negative of this card by viewing the blocking of energies. The Hierophant gets spiritual inspiration from above and makes it real on Earth. In psychological terms, he is the superego communicating and guiding the ego. If this is blocked, then the ego is without guidance. It has only the rules it wrote down to follow, with no knowledge of WHY such rules should be followed.
Hence, the community is unable to adjust its laws, erase those that no longer apply or create new ones which might be needed. They follow law by rote, without true spiritual guidance, ethics or morality behind such laws. It is very much a matter of a parents saying to a child, "Do this because I say so!" And so the child learns to do this--but never knows why. And so true conscience for why this ought to be done, or not done, is never developed. Fear of punishment keeps the child from disobeying. Not morality or a belief in the rightness of the law.
3) Upside-down: Upright, the Hierophant gives his words to his acolytes, with the "keys to the kingdom" at his feet. Turn him upside-down and it is the acolytes who are on top, as it were, the keys in their hands. The Hierophant's head/voice (superego/conscience) is below instead of above.
Symbolically, the Hierophant is grounded, and his words come from the earth, not from heaven. Meanwhile, his listeners are in power and control, using those keys with impunity to lock away secrets, rather than open them up.
Upside-down, this card is very reminiscent of spiritual institutions who control information, maintain earthly power (where the leaders are rich and living in luxury, while their flock is poor and in need). They offer up rules for the purpose of being in control, like the acolytes above the Hierophant, rather than helping the community morally and spiritually. We see this likewise in folk who take the moral high-ground in order to get their agendas favored, while making opponents look immoral in order to undermine them. There is a strong pressure in this card to conform...or else.
Curious about this card when upright? Go to our Tarot Card Meanings.