High Priest

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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 it's corruption. 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.

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.

Examples of High Priest include:

Anime and Manga



  • 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.
  • 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 bit Did Not Do the Research 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.
  • 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.

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.


Tabletop Games

Video Games

Web Comics

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.

Real Life

  • The Pope for Catholicism.
  • The Eastern Orthodox Patriarchs.
  • 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.
  • A common role for Constitutional Monarchs as it ties in with their role as master of ceremonies for the state. Sometimes this is taken more seriously then others for instance the Emperor of Japan really is the high priest of State Shinto whereas the Queen of England is only nominally head of the Anglican Church and has to deal with the fact that being head of a multinational state makes large numbers of her subjects non-anglican. For instance, Scots are largely Presbyterian; Indians when part of the empire were Hindus and Muslims predominately plus some minority faiths like Sikhs, Jains, and Parsees.
  • Several religions have defunct or abstracted high priests:
    • Judaism has not had a high priest since the destruction of the great Temple by Titus.
      • The requirements for high priest are descent from the Levite tribe; physical purity(especially legitimate birth and freedom from deliberate physical disfigurements associated with paganism); and if this tropper remembers, masculinity, at least there are no female high priests recorded. Unlike Catholicism, Jewish High Priests had consorts. Personal behavior is not a requirement(though highly encouraged obviously), as the sacrifice is meant to atone for the High Priest's sins as well as those of Israel in general and in any event the High Priest's duties were more those of an icon then a teacher or role model. However there is one Biblical record of an otherwise decent High Priest punished by God with heart failure for tolerating his sons' excessive corruption.
      • The High Priest stricken with heart failure would have been Eli, mentor to Samuel who succeeded him as one of the most beloved High Priests. Eli's sons were guilty of desecration, extortion, womanizing and possibly power-rape. They themselves were punished by dying in battle which sounds like a more honorable death then they really deserved.
      • Oddly enough Moses was not High Priest. That job went to his brother Aaron. Moses rather would have been both first of the prophets and first of the judges.
    • The Caliphate has tended to go to the most prestigious monarch in Islam by tradition and thus the claim is usually only recognized by a part of Islam; a large part of the disagreement between Shia and Sunni hinges on that, though it is also about ethnic strife between Persians vs Turks and Arabs. Today the Caliphate has no official holder though several radical groups claim it's restoration as part of their platform. This is really an unfortunate association as past Caliphs were often Fair for their Day and while certainly as bloodthirsty as typical monarchs of the time were not as boorish or fanatical and could often be Cultured Warriors.
      • To be precise Shia has a "monarchial" concept with the office going to Mohammad's kin, whereas Sunni has a "democratic" concept of consensus among Islam, with however no institutional mechanism for election. On the whole, historically the Sunni model has been the closest to what was followed though like all religions Islam is highly factionalized and often the title simply went with military success.
      • One obscure aspect of a monarch possessing the Caliphate or claiming to is that this gives a subtle diplomatic advantage. Warlords needing a cloak of legitimacy to retire safely with and perhaps form a dynasty of their own would compete for his favor. This, like any patronage strategy had to be used carefully(after all no one would suddenly become a lone desert dervish if the Caliph refused to make him an Emir), but a clever statesman could cultivate it well.
    • The Sikhs have had ten gurus. The tenth however is their religious writings rather then a person.
    • The High Priest of Christianity in general is ultimately held to be Jesus himself who is held to have Incarnated as a human. This by the way went with some interesting rabinical ingenuity on St Paul's part as Jesus was not a Levite and Christianity was not at the time considered split off from Judaiism.
  1. in some lost period of New Kingdom history, apparently, unless you follow another translation and make it five thousand, which makes him the Scorpion King or something and doesn't agree with the architecture