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Homeland Tarot: Saul Berenson – the Hierophant

I have a deep love for Mandy Patinkin. Inigo Montoya, from The Princess Bride, stole my heart as the loyal grammarian (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”) set out to avenge his father’s death. (I never did prefer blonds.) The clincher for me came at the end of the film when he said, “I have been in the revenge business so long, now that it’s over, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.” I was young when the movie came out, but I remember that line moving me more than anything else, the sadness and the emptiness of it. Turns out, that same line moved Mandy Pantinkin when he saw it years later: “I love that line, and I love it for all of us because the purpose of revenge, in my personal opinion, is completely worthless and pointless. And the purpose of existence is to embrace our fellow human being(s). Not be revengeful, and turn our darkness into light.”

Turning darkness into light seems to be a thread for Patinkin, or at least for the characters I have come to know and love. Rube Sofer in Dead Like Me had a sharp tongue, but a large and soft heart. Living on the other side of life, he knew too well the ways we whittle it away with the inconsequential. He often guided George and the other reapers in seeing the higher good or in their role or the universal truths that governed. For example, when George refuses to reap, Rube says to her, “You don’t mess with fate, Peanut. People die when they are meant to die. There’s no discussion. There’s no negotiation. When life’s done, it’s done. You of all people should know that.”

Unlike Rube, Saul Berenson is still very much alive. He too, though, has a sense of how we miss the mark in life. He is the voice of wisdom on Homeland, the voice of judgment and yet also compassion (still with a bit of a sense of humor).


Saul is the figure who most stands for justice on the show, albeit a personalized and slightly twisted version of justice. That said, the card I would pick for him would not be Justice. It would be the Hierophant*.


The Hierophant, being a picture of the medieval Pope, is often linked to a religious or spiritual leader. In Homeland, the characters approach the CIA as though it were a religion, a dogma that dictates every action, every perspective in their lives. They are, for lack of a better phrase, true believers in their mission. There is a certain degree to which the show depicts them as akin to members of a cult, albeit a cult with extraordinarily far-reaching consequences, in that it’s able to infiltrate terrorist groups and carry out international executions.

In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck (see image above), the Hierophant is shown with one arm raised, two fingers up in a peace-like gesture. An interpretation of this is that he is able to bring down higher knowledge and share it with the masses. He mediates between the earthly world and the celestial, like the Pope depicted on the card. (Note that in medieval times, the Pope was not just a religious figure, but also controlled armies and politics.)

Saul is the one true leader on Homeland. With the occasional exception of Quinn, he seems to be the only one who regularly can step back and call on a higher sense of justice and order. It’s interesting, because in Hebrew, the name Saul means “Asked for; inquired of God.” And his perspective carries with it a feeling of holiness, or at least the recognition that there is something sacred in all life. He doesn’t enjoy the life-taking part of his job. Though he seems to believe that when done with the right intention and for the right goal, it is always in the highest good.

The downside to the Hierophant is that this mediation of worlds, the sharing of a greater message, is always done within the confines of an organization. Wisdom is filtered through the lens of the social structure over which the Heirophant figure presides. And this is precisely Saul’s major downfall. He is the voice of reason and justice, but he is also a true believer in the CIA. His version of justice, his higher knowledge is skewed to make sense within the framework of the institution.

This season, Saul has exemplified just that. He outwardly defied his current bosses on moral grounds in the first episode (which would be more a Hierophant reversed, I think). Yet, when confronted with the fact he would need to conform to the expectations of the organization, he fell in line. Hierophants are deeply invested in the organization. Their power comes not from their ability to stand between worlds, but from the position they hold within the hierarchy. In Saul’s case, though, I actually think his ability to make change is the wisdom he’s able to channel and the fact he’s occasionally willing to make a stand for his position.

Last week, he showed another side of the Hierophant by tending to his acolyte; providing guidance, wisdom, and a few minor miracles along the way. He is Carrie’s guru, which is one of the things the card can symbolize. Their conversations are as close as she allows herself to a spiritual view on the world.

Another issue with the Hierophant is that he (traditionally, this card represents a male) can misuse the authority he holds over others. Think Jim Jones or the guy who led the Heaven’s Gate group. There was a glimpse of this possibility at the start of last season when it looked like Saul was hanging Carrie in the press to save the CIA. It turned out, as the case has been so far, that he had a bigger game plan, one that would net a much higher good. Since he is one of my favorite characters, I hope he doesn’t turn out to be shepherd leading the flock astray. Without Saul to serve as the moral compass for the group, the possibilities are alarming.

*Note: Each card has a variety of elements, meanings and interpretations. These brief profiles only discuss a few and, obviously, only the most salient points. This is just one way of viewing the card in the context of a particular person and is by no means the way to either view the card or the character. 🙂

One comment on “Homeland Tarot: Saul Berenson – the Hierophant

  1. I like Mandy too – so much that I feel guilty when I enjoy his episodes of Criminal Minds, a program he so notoriously hated working on.

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