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High Priest

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The job always comes with a silly hat.

A character (or several) that leads the religious group that this character would belong to. These characters 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 be a Clueless Boss who does 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 characters to be Priest Kings, who lead their people both spiritually and physically. This is particularly common if they lead a theocracy.

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.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Father Magin of Adai Village, who founded a Cargo Cult around an abandoned Gunmen. Not evil, but does use his religion to make killing children For The Greater Good more palatable. It is indicated that living conditions in the village have improved considerably since he took charge, and Magin himself finds his deception to be distasteful... but necessary for everyone's survival.
  • 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 
  • The protagonist Prometheus in The Chronicles of Utopia Volume II becomes the High Priest of Pelor, the major god of Light, and a major priest of Bahamut, Lord of all Metallic Dragons, on the planet of Oerth in Greyhawk where he rules as Emperor.
  • Queen of Shadows: Sanshobo, as General of the Kamikiri tribe, is this for the Shadowkhan and their worship of the Queen as a divine Goddess-Empress. He's The Fundamentalist, but played mostly for laughs.
  • Ages of Shadow: After Jade takes over the Shadow Walkers and reorganizes them into a Religion of Evil based on the worship of her "Yade Khan" persona, she grants her appointed leader the title of "Himinion" (clearly a portmanteau of "High Minion"). The two accepted means of gaining this position are direct appointment by Jade herself, or earning it by ritual trial; the Fourth Himinion took the title via covert assassination, which got him killed and replaced almost instantly by Jade.
  • In Ripples, Meridian's official religious body, the Sisterhood Covens, are led by an elite group called the High Coventors, who appear to have a first among equals based on seniority. However, after Phobos' purging of the covens following Allora's failed coup, the faction that pledges loyalty to him instead appoints its leader the title of Grand Abbess.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami: The position exists in most of the Dark Gods' priesthoods:
    • Tasbaal: Ex-High Priest of Murdrul the Devourer, since his god got eaten by Azzathra.
    • High Priest Karmalun of Crowned Death's clergy, named in the narration after he died.
    • Unnamed High Priests of Crowned Death, who take the position after their predecessors' deaths.


  • 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 Hughnon 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 Cenobiarch) 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 Cenobiarch 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 in The Tombs of Atuan.
  • 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, regarded as a decent man but also a weak-willed pawn, 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 & 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.
  • In The Elenium series by David Eddings, the main religion of the Eosian continent is run by a whole council of High Priests — some good, some evil — called patriarchs. They are roughly analogous to the cardinals of the Catholic church, with a Popelike leader called the Archprelate.
    • And while the Church of Chyrellos serves as a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of the Roman Catholic Church, their counterpart in Astel serves as one for the Eastern Orthodox Churches, except they have only one leader called the Archimandrite
    • While it only comes up in the second trilogy, the Younger Gods of the Styrics each have their own High Priest or Priestess, all one thousand of them forming the governing body for all Styrics. Their exact selection criteria are unknown, but in the case of Aphrael she takes a direct hand in their selection. In the first trilogy Otha, King of Zemoch also serves as High Priest of the Azash, one of the Styric Elder Gods. The High Priest of Cyrgon also serves as a minor antagonist in the second trilogy.
  • The Sworn Church from The Shadow Campaigns is actually set up to have three of these, each with specialized emphasis. The Pontifex of the White handles spiritual, theological, and philosophical matters; the Pontifex of the Red handles the church's bureaucracy and politics; the Pontifex of the Black is head of the inquisition. The last post was officially dissolved in an attempt to curb corruption a century before the novels begin but is implied at the end of the first book and confirmed at the end of the second to still operate in secret; the other two Pontifexes are aware of the Black and take his input on matters concerning his sphere, but treat him as their Token Evil Teammate and the Church at large is generally unaware of his activities.
  • One Nation Under Jupiter: Emperor Piissimus, who serves as both Emperor and Pontifex Maximus. Verus and Falsa Sperus fill this role to a lesser extent as well.
  • Christianity in The Traitor Son Cycle has two high priests - the Patriarch of Rhum and the Patriarch of Liviapolis, with most of the world subscribing to one or another's variety of faith. They are, respectively, a villain and an ally of the heroes.
  • The Tough Guide to Fantasyland: Jones describes and lampshades the two types of high priests you are likely to meet in a typical cliched fantasy story. High priests, whether fat and ugly or thin and unpleasant, will always be evil and corrupt. High priestesses, who will always be either stern, serious and thin or good-looking and cheerfully helpful, will always be good.
  • In Kane novel Bloodstone there is Gerwein, high priestess of the female-only Temple of the moon goddess Shenan. Barely thirty and very beautiful, she's also haughty, cold and a very talented politician. And she has access to a great library, not to mention some powerful artifact. Oh, and the Temple brings up orphans to become virgin sacrifices, just in case (even though human sacrifice is officially forbidden).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones: Aeron Greyjoy seems to be the top Priest of the Drowned God faith. In the books, the Drowned Men who serve as priests in their religion actually don't have any ruling hierarchy — theoretically all of the priests are equal and any priest can ordain another man as a priest if he is worthy. They don't have an equivalent to the High Septon in the Faith of the Seven. In practice, of course, Drowned Priests who have been serving the longest and successfully revived the most initiates in drowning ceremonies are respected much more than others, and often in every generation or so there will be one Drowned Priest that all of the others look up to for guidance. Aeron is universally respected by the others — on the level of an Old Testament style prophet — and thus he is their unofficial leader, first among equals, etc.
  • Merlin (2008) 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.
  • On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Kai is the Bajoran equivalent of the Pope. Kai Opaka is wise, open-minded, and politically moderate. Unfortunately, she's soon replaced by Kai Winn, a Sinister Minister who cares about her own self-aggrandizement more than the good of Bajor.
  • Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Father Faustus Blackwood is the High Priest of the Church of Night, making him the leader of Greendale's entire witch community. His predecessor in this role was Sabrina's father Edward, who served until his death.
    • It's later established that the Church of Night is just one coven in a worldwide collective known as the Churches of Darkness, led by a Witches Council headed by an Anti-Pope.

  • In Tarot the Major Arcana include The High Priestess (II), who represents (among other things) hidden knowledge and wisdom, and the Hierophant (V), who represents concepts like relationship with the divine or education. They were originally (and indeed in some places still are) The Popess and The Pope.

    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 Usurpation 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.
  • In Anima: Beyond Fantasy, the Holy Sacred Emperor (now Empress) is also the head of the Holy Church of Abel, even if some of its members haven't recognized her as that and have instead named a Summum Archbishop. However, (s)he leads it rather spiritually and the Church itself is governed by said Summum Archbishop.


    Video Games 
  • Habaruku/Habalk in Breath of Fire II is the High Priest of the Church of Eva. He also masquerades as the village priest in the tiny town of Gate.
  • Galius from Exit Fate, High Priest of Cento while also Governor of Oischin.
  • A handful of characters with this title appear at certain specific points in NetHack.
  • The Lord High Priest in Dragon Quest VIII lives in a special residence on the Holy Isle of Neos and functions as the spiritual leader of the world's major religion.
  • Dragon Age
    • The Divine is the head of the Andrastian Chantry. After a schism, there are currently two separate Chantries, each with its own Divine.
    • Before the founding of the Chantry, the Tevinter Imperium worshipped seven draconic figures known as the Old Gods. Each of the Old Gods had their own high priest, called the Sidereal Magisters. The seven Sidereal Magisters are, according to legend, responsible for corrupting the Golden City and unleashing the Blight on the world.
  • The Paranid Empire, a theocracy in the X-Universe series, is ruled by Xaar, the Priest-Emperor or more formally the Pontifex Maximus Paranidia.
  • Tyrande Whisperwind, High Priestess of the Moon and, along Malfurion Stormrage, leader of the night elves in the Warcraft universe. Doubles as a Lady of War too.
    • As of Legion in World of Warcraft after King Varian's death, Anduin Wrynn is this for the Alliance.
  • In The Sims Medieval, the Jacoban priest can become this after reaching a certain level.
  • Fire Emblem:
    • In Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, Rausten is a theocracy founded by the All Loving Heroine Latona, and whose King or Queen tends to be known as its Pontifex. During the events of the game their Crown Princess, L'Arachel, becomes a member of the cast; her uncle/Parental Substitute and the current Pontifex, Mansel the Divine Emperor, later helps out the group itself after they rescue him.
    • In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the Apostle is said to be able to speak to the Goddess Ashera, making her both Ashera's high priestess and the Empress of Begnion. The offices were accidentally separated when the current Apostle was nearly killed along (Micaiah) with her predecessor (her grandmother) and the Apostle's younger sister (Sanaki) was installed as a puppet empress. Micaiah herself would later reign over another land while Sanaki, who managed to get actual power with the help of the cast, stayed in the Begnion throne.
  • Prelate Lucius is the chief cleric in the Otheran army in Queen at Arms. He's a kind man who tends to the wounded soldier, and is a potential love interest for the player character.
  • Pontiff Sulyvhan in Dark Souls III, who rules over Irithyll and leads the Deep Church, dedicated to worshipping Aldrich. Since Aldrich himself seems content to hang out in his room and occasionally eat people (and gods) who are sacrificed to him, Sulyvhan is the guy doing most of the actual ruling.
  • The Elder Scrolls
    • After defeating the Ayleids and founding the First Cyrodiilic Empire, St. Alessia upheld her end of the Bargain with Heaven by making the religion of the Eight Divines (which worships the eight Aedra who aided her during the Alessian Revolt) into the official religion of her new Empire. This new religion was a compromise between the traditional Aldmeri pantheon (which her Cyrodiilic followers, as slaves to the Ayleids, were accustomed to) and the Nordic Pantheon of her Nord allies, who refused to accept any "Elven" gods. Thousands of years later, through several Empires, the religion of the Eight (later Nine) Divines continues to serve as a Saintly Church to much of Tamriel.
    • The Dunmeri (Dark Elf) Tribunal Temple was formed to worship the Tribunal, a trio of living flesh and blood gods. The Tribunal (Vivec, Almalexia, Sotha Sil) were the formerly mortal advisors to Lord Nerevar, the leader of the ancient (then known as Chimer) Dunmer people, who obtained godhood by tapping into the power of the Heart of a "dead" god. For thousands of years, the Tribunal lived and worked among their people. However, they still had "Archcanons" responsible for running the more practical business of leading the Temple. A few centuries prior to the events of Morrowind, the Tribunal's ancient enemy, Dagoth Ur (long presumed to be dead), returned and ambushed the Tribunal on one of their annual pilgrimages to restore their divinity at the Heart. He managed to capture two of the three tools needed to tap into the Heart, depriving the Tribunal of the ability to recharge. After this, in order to conserve power, the Tribunal was forced to withdraw from the day-to-day affairs of their people. More and more responsibility fell onto the Archcanons and other mortal leaders of the Temple, leading to significant corruption. During Morrowind itself, it is possible for the Player Character to become the new Archcanon of the Temple.


    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.
  • Samurai Jack has the aptly-titled High Priestess of the Cult of Aku.
  • On The Angry Beavers, the leader of the Girl Raccoons in the episode "The Mighty Knothead."

    Real Life 
  • The Pope for Catholicism. "Pope" is actually a courtesy title for the Bishop of Rome, who is given primacy over all other Bishops, and therefore runs the Church itself. One of his styles is even Pontifex Maximus, which can be roughly translated as "high priest".
  • The Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs are nearly the exact analogue of the Pope in Orthodox Christianity, with the significant difference of there being many of them who don't answer to any higher (earthly) authority.
    • Part of the reason for the similarity between the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs and the Roman Catholic Pope is because before the two branches of Christianity split, the Pope was considered one of the Patriarchs. In fact the Pope still counts Patriarch of Rome as one of his titles.
  • Ancient Egypt often 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 there are no real "priests" in Islam, historically the Caliph was something similar to a High Priest. Because believers were originally led by the prophet Muhammad, his successor was supposed to be the highest civil and religious authority in the Islamic World. Various Muslim rulers have claimed the title over the years, the last such being the Ottoman Sultan. However, even when there was a generally-recognized caliph around, his religious authority was shared by the community of scholars and jurists.
  • The Imam of Shia Islam is a much straighter example. Much like the High Priesthood in Judaism, the imamate is hereditary, derived from the prophet through his daughter Fatima. Whomever the individual was, he is supposed to be infallible in matters of faith and religion, and to receive direct revelation from God. However, for the majority of Shia Muslims, the office of Imam is not held by a living person, while some believe he is alive, but in hiding.
  • 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.
  • Emperor Akbar of the Mughal Dynasty made himself high priest and prophet of his own religion, Din-e-Ilahi, which syncretized elements of Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. Interestingly enough, he was also the only priest of his religion, which forbade religious hierarchy.
  • A recurring myth in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was of the kingdom of Priest John or Prester John, a Christian monarch said to rule a vast kingdom somewhere in the East. Among others, he was supposedly leading his armies to aid in recapturing Jerusalem, and one account identified Genghis Khan as a grandson of Prester John.

Alternative Title(s): High Priestess, Religious Head, Priest King, The Hierophant


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