High Priest

aka: Priest King
A character (or several) that leads the religious group they belong to. They can be either good or evil, depending on whether the religion in question is a Saintly Church or Religion of Evil, respectively. It can be a bit more iffy in a Corrupt Church, since the character may not know of its corruption, or may be working to root it out. The High Priest usually resides in a Vatican-style Holy City, especially if the church worships an Abrahamic-analogue God.

A common variation is for the character to be a Priest King, who leads their people both spiritually and physically.

Expect Authority Equals Asskicking to be in full effect in fantasy fiction, especially if Religion Is Magic.

The Pope is the Trope Codifier, hence why many High Priests resided in Vatican-style cities, worshipped Abrahamic-analogue Gods, and borrowed Catholic aesthetics. Compare the God Emperor, who usually leads and is worshiped by the religion in question. There is a good chance he will carry a Staff of Authority. If the High Priest is also the leader of the government, you've likely got The Theocracy.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Father Cornello, the priest of Leto's Church in Fullmetal Alchemist. Evil.
  • The Elder on the Assasi Village on Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, who founded a Cargo Cult around an abandoned Gammen. Not evil, but does use his religion to make killing children For The Greater Good more palatable.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has a couple of late arcs in which we start to learn who exactly our main character is and why he inhabits a puzzle, and it turns out that Seto Kaiba, an early antagonist who edged toward Noble Demon since his second return from Put on a Bus defeat, though he never quite accepted that Defeat Means Friendship, is the reincarnation of the the High Priest who served under the Puzzle Spirit three thousand years agonote , and apparently only betrayed him because of Mind Control from his own dead father, the previous High Priest and the previous Pharaoh's younger twin brother. Who made the magic gold jewelry by burning Bakura's family alive.
  • Knight Carim Gracia of Lyrical Nanoha, current head of the Saint Church.

    Fan Fiction 


  • In The Bible, Israel went through a period of being ruled by "Judges" like Samuel. God was actually very displeased when the Jews asked for a regular king.
    • The actual office of High Priest and its duties in Ancient Israel are described, including the vestments to be worn and the proper way of butchering a sacrifice. The office was hereditary and dominated by the line of Aaron, Moses' brother, and of the Tribe of Levi. This fell out of joint a bit after the Babylonian Exile and while the office was restored by the returnees, it was destroyed along with a large amount of the Jewish religious hierarchy during the Jewish Revolts. There hasn't been a High Priest since then. The rabbinical class to some degree took the place of the priesthood, but rabbis can't do sacrifices, one reason that modern Jews don't sacrifice anymore (the other is that there is no Temple). There are, however, many Jews who are hereditary priests—the last names Cohen, Kahn, Kahane, Kane, Katz, and others all come from the Hebrew word kohen, or priest, and signify priestly families—and they do still have some special religious duties, such as giving blessings to the congregation on holidays. There is no high priest, or kohen gadol, because the method for selecting the high priest (there were different selection methods in the first and second Temples) became defunct when the Temple was destroyed.
    • One famous example from the Book of Genesis was Melchizedek, a Canaanite priest-king who gave Abraham and Sarah some food and blessed them. He is also noted for acknowledging the Abrahamic God, although it is not clear whether Melchizedek was a monotheist or merely worshipped God as part of a larger pantheon.
    • Book of Exodus has Aaron, as mentioned above.
  • High Priest Hughon Ridcully is the High Priest of the Ankh-Morpork clergy in Discworld, of the sort that regards actual religious-ness as one of those tiresome things that you just have to put up with when what you really want to concentrate on is getting the pews organised.
    • In Small Gods Deacon Vorbis of the Omnian church plots to take over the Omnian High Priest post (The Cenobriarch) and usher in a new age of religious terror.
      • One of the effects of the Prophet Brutha's revelation on the Omnian church was to abolish the Cenobriarch and ("let there be a thousand voices") start a long train of schisms, meaning Omnians stopped running around ruling an empire of grandeur and oppression and the suppression of science and got busy arguing theology all the time and became harmless and handed out a lot of pamphlets. Which is a tad problematic if you look at some of the awful shit Protestants have pulled in the last four hundred years, but the Disc can be like that.
      • The Omnian in the Ankh-Morpork Watch (we never learn his exact denomination) is actually named Visit-The-Infidel-With-Explanatory-Pamphlets. They call him Visit. Of course, given Brutha achieved his great transformation from stupid youth to politically savvy prophet largely due to absorbing an Expy of the Great Library of Alexandria before it was burnt down, there may be rather sound theological reasons for those pamphlets. Although Visit was invented before Brutha.
    • In ''Pyramids, the main antagonist is High Priest Dios. Although the previous examples of Discworld high priests aren't evil, according to Pyramids, high priests have a general tendency to be evil. "There is no such thing as a good Grand Vizier. A predilection to cackle and plot must be part of the job spec. High Priests are much the same way. No sooner than they get the funny hat they start goving orders about feeding babies to the sacred crocodiles and throwing virgins into volcanoes."
  • Deacon Hollingshead, the head of the Dominion of Jesus Christ in Julian Comstock.
  • Tenar/Arha, the Eaten One, the high priestess of the Powers of the Earthsea Trilogy.
  • Lord Reston in Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, who is priest to the king (although the king is technically the leader of the church.)
  • Stranger in a Strange Land has Foster, the founder of the Church of the New Revelation, and his successor, Supreme Bishop Digby. Valentine Michael Smith, as the leader of the Church of All Worlds, also fits.
  • High Priest Jakan, head of the Yuuzhan Vong religious caste, is a recurring supporting villain during the last third of the New Jedi Order (and was the father of Elan, a one-off villainess from earlier in the series). His boss, Supreme Overlord Shimrra, is somewhere between Priest King and God Emperor.
  • High Priestess Viviane and Archdruid Taliesin in The Mists of Avalon.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has a Pope-equivalent called the High Septon. The ones seen in the series have been fairly bad, including a corrupt glutton who was killed by a starving mob; the glutton's substantially (but not totally) better replacement, who was killed by political enemies; and most recently, an incorruptible, but fanatical and misogynistic Knight Templar.
  • In Mistborn Lord Prelan Tevidian is High Priest of the Corrupt Church, one of the chief lieutenants of the Lord Ruler and the father of heroine Vin. There is a faction in his church, led by the Steel Inquisitors, that want to get rid of him and put the head Inquisitor, Kar, in his place and they succeed, offing Tevidian brutally before he has a chance to really do anything on-page, though Kar himself is then killed before he can enjoy his new position.
  • In John Carter of Mars the title of "Holy Hekkador" basically means "Priest King" among the Therns. During the time of the novels, it's held by Matai Shang, very much a villain.
  • The Green-Sky Trilogy has D'ol Falla, described as high priest of the Vine. Since the Root of the Vine is all that stands between the good people of Green-sky and the revelation of a horrific truth, the high priest of the Vine is the ultimate authority on the planet. She lives in the Vine Palace at the heart of the Temple Grove.
  • In the Heralds of Valdemar series, Karse is always ruled by the High Priest and Son of the Sun, the most recent being Solaris, the first female to ascend the position after the god Vkandis decided to do a little rearranging of the heirarchy with a Bolt of Divine Retribution.
  • A few in Tales of the Branion Realm. The Hierarchpriest of Cannonshire, while possibly an expy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is treated as a secular position and seems to be second in command next to the monarch, although he/she does have some religious duties. A truer high priest is the Archpriest of the Flame, the kingdom's god, and to a lesser extent the Archpriests of the other three Aspects. There's also the Essussiate Pontiff (expy of the Pope) and his various bishops and abbots.
  • In Elantris, Wyrn is the title of the high priest of the Derethi faith, who is also the temporal leader of the Fjordell Empire; the office is currently held by Wyrn Wulfden IV. Directly subordinate to him are approx. twenty lesser high priests called Gyorns (roughly analogous to cardinals); the Gyorn Hrathen is one of the novel's three core POV characters.
  • Acatl in the Obsidian And Blood trilogy is a High Priest of Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec God of the Dead. This doesn't give him as much power or authority as you'd imagine; the God of the Dead is actually a lesser deity in the Aztec pantheon, and in fact Acatl was practically disowned by his family for taking up the priesthood instead of the more "honorable" profession of a warrior.
  • Shirain in The Rogue King is the High Priestess of the God of Lust and responsible for the protagonist's fall.
  • In The Heroes of Olympus, Octavian declares himself 'Pontifex Maximus' in the final book, The Blood Of Olympus. It doesn't work out too well for him, and by the epilogue, Jason is bestowed the title and builds temples all over New Rome for all the gods.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Merlin has had three. Nimueh was the High Priestess of the Old Religion until her death at the end of season 1. It was revealed later that Morgause had become the new High Priestess, and when Morgana killed her as the blood sacrifice to open the veil between worlds, she became the new High Priestess.
    • There was also Alator, a high priest of the Catha.
  • In Babylon 5 the Grey Council has three representatives from the warrior, religious, and worker castes respectively. Delenn is in the religious caste making her a High Priestess.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, the High Priest of the Unconquered Sun angers Sol so much, he turned his face from his Exalted, and let the Ursurpation happen without any intervention. Said high priest claimed that Sol backed a tax increase, without having bothered to check with him.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite is the leader of New Phyrexia's white-aligned faction, the Machine Orthodoxy.
  • Warhammer 40,000 has several:
    • Ecclesiarch, the head of the Adeptus Ministorum, or Eccelsiarchy, the state church of the Imperium of Man.
    • The Fabricator-General of Mars, the leader of the Adeptus Mechanicus and senior priest of the Machine Cult.
    • Space Marine Chapters have their own Chapter cults revering the God-Emperor and their Primarch, led by the Master of Sanctity or High Chaplain.


    Video Games 


    Western Animation 
  • The Fire Sages in Avatar: The Last Airbender seem to be this, only 1) there's a roughly equal group of them and 2) they spend most of their time on an island separate from the rest of their countrymen and 3) it's unclear what the tenets of their faith are supposed to be, anyway, besides supporting the Avatar and crowning the Fire Lord.
  • In The Brothers Grunt, the Poobah presides over the Grunt Brotherhood's rites and celebrations.

    Real Life 
  • The Pope for Catholicism.
  • The Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs.
  • Ancient Egypt often actually had these; not of the entire 'religion' so much as of specific powerful cult-centers, since a particular god in ascendancy generally only had one location that was at the center of his or her worship. Since it behooved the ruler to be aligned as closely as possible with the most important of the gods and vice-versa, and since Pharaoh was a religious position, High Priest was often a highly government-affiliated job.
  • Constitutional Monarchs bear some interesting analogies to this, being in charge of ritual-of-state while their ministers actually do the business of ruling. They are not always religious in concept though they might have some religious duties. But the mystical air about them gives room for comparison. One or two monarchs actually were closer to being High Priests then rulers, like the Emperor during the Japanese shogunate period, or the Archon-Basilus in Ancient Athens.
    • The British monarchy is an interesting example in and of itself, as the reigning monarch is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, though in both the political and spiritual realms most of the actual day-to-day administration is conducted by others.
  • While Moslems like to make a point of having teachers but no priests, the closest Islamic equiv would be the Caliph who would hypothetically double as The Emperor. The office was held by the Ottoman Sultan among his other titles, and became defunct at the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Thus the Islamic Caliph like the Jewish High Priest is a theoretical office at the present time.
  • Sikh gurus were sort of priest kings.
  • The emperors of China were the highest priests of the state religion. The emperor's religious duties, which only he could perform, included sacrificing and making a report to Heaven on the state of the Empire in the Temple of Heaven each year, and ceremonially plowing the first furrow for the planting every spring.

Alternative Title(s):

High Priestess, Religious Head, Priest King, The Hierophant