Naturally you'd have to obscure the banal Euro-Catholic origins of the tarot with a few well-chosen name-changes and substitutions, chief among them the exoticization of the Pope, who's now the Hierophant. high priest of something-or-other (which is crucially nothing-in-particular). The Pope represents institutional power and knowledge, sure, but the success of the papacy over the last 2,000 years reminds us that the 'boss==God' formulation is a crucial strategy for ensuring employee loyalty. The Pope commands an army of followers hundreds of millions strong, with an officer corps trained to believe in (or at least act under the provision of) papal infallibility. As a step on the path from Fool-as-credulous-idiot to Fool-as-Buddha, then, the Pope (and to a lesser extent Waite's Hierophant) represents the Problem of Obedience, of Dogma.
He holds the key to the greatest repository of exoteric learning on earth but the cost of entry is a pledge that no wise Fool would consent to make.
'Exoteric,' I say, as opposed to the esoteric wisdom held by (or which holds) the High Priestess, the Witch-Woman. In a sense the Pope is the public face of a secret Church; as the Church's purpose is to bring churchgoers to wisdom, and wisdom comes only through devotion and a kind of scholarship of the soul (to be in one's every act a student of Truth, that sort of thing), the Hierophant is less a symbol of secret wisdom attained than the earthly administrator of the machines by which the group can act toward wisdom.
The inner Church, its secret corps, is necessarily built on solitude, personal reflection, release-from-structure. The Pope is structure. The High Priestess is the secret, the Hierophant its keeper. Which, if you're rejecting the simple man-above-woman ordering of these first few trumps, might be an ornamentation or allegory of the simple truth that we (observers of the human/universal condition) can readily grasp the shape of 'esoteric knowledge' with pre-human faculties 'beneath' high-level mentation or consciousness, but inquiring into the order of all things as socially-embedded humans means pulling apart complex relations which obfuscate as much as they reveal.
In other words, Churches raise awareness of the fact or possibility of Wisdom, but they make its attainment more difficult. Some churches more than others, you feel me?
'Pulling apart complex relations' shouldn't necessarily put you in mind of things like deconstructionism or critical interrogation either - those are just specific (FALLEN) instances of a general practice of seeing-anew; insofar as our academies reduce them to algorithms for generating, say, interchangeable conference papers and dissertations rather than private experiences of the well-beyond-the-goddamn-dissertative, they're actually the opposite of wisdom. Which maybe just means 'Don't go to grad school if you want to be happy,' though of course plenty of people go to grad school precisely because they don't actually know (or won't accept) what makes them happy, so maybe you don't need me to say this stuff!
Crowley goes on at characteristic length and obfuscatory strangeness about this card, more or less embodying the unbelievably annoying secreter-than-thou side of esoteric inquiry, in which quantity rather than luminance is the key measure of the worth of information:
The card is referred to Taurus; therefore the Throne of the Hierophant is surrounded by elephants, which are of the nature of Taurus; and he is actually seated upon a bull. Around him are the four beasts or Kerubs, one in each corner of the card; for these are the guardians of every shrine. But the main reference is to the particular arcanum which is the principal business, the essential, of all magical work; the uniting of the microcosm with the macrocosm. Accordingly, the oriel is diaphanous; before the Manifestor of the Mystery is a hexagram representing the macrocosm. In its centre is a pentagram, representing a dancing male child. This symbolizes the law of the new Aeon of the Child Horns, which has supplanted that Aeon of the "Dying God" which governed the world for two thousand years. Before him is the woman girt with a sword; she represents the Scarlet Woman in the hierarchy of the new Aeon. This symbolism is further carried out in the oriel where, behind the phallic headdress, the rose of five petals is in blossom.
None of this strikes me as terribly meaningful or interesting, which is to say (parochially) that I don't get the sense that this description of 'magical' inquiry is correct; there's no flash of illumination or immediate connection, which even the most eso- of esoterica should provide. Waite and Crowley both use their glosses of the Hierophant (in The Pictorial Key to the Tarot and The Book of Thoth, respectively) as chances to put in a little dig at the Catholic Church and Christianity more broadly, but only Crowley (who seems to have had a better time, in general, than Waite) provides an alternate frame of reference - the 'Aeon of the Child Horns,' which is a load of cod-Viconian/Hegelian bollocks but at least kind of a cute image.
Better to start simple, leaving aside Waite's pedantry and Crowley's grandstanding, with this: the Thoth deck gives us the image of Churchly authority (over thought and deed) complicated or even overturned by a new way of being. Dissolution of barriers to knowledge. Authority overcome. Waite-Smith has stone columns and a raised hand in blessing, but no true blessing is his to confer. He's just a manager. (You can tell he doesn't have any real power: the only folks lined up to receive his favours are...his employees.)
False knowledge. Seeing the Self - i.e. one's private universal meaning - in borrowed terms.
'When you speak the master's words, you think the master's thoughts.'
The 'Fey Tarot' Hierophant ('The Wisest') speaks to me: a little gnome seated on an hourglass, working his way down a scroll full of whatever-it-is (a tiny shopping list?), with a great red dragon in watchful repose at his feet.
The dragon is his friend, his pet. I'm sure he'd say so. They'd both say so, I bet, dragon's eyes twinkling, gnome wearily.
He's going to eat that little gnome motherfucker the moment he gets even the slightest bit hungry or ornery or just bored. Maybe the gnome realizes this. But he goes on studying his shopping list, and for the moment he can call himself Master. (Maybe something D&D-ish, like 'Dragon Lord.')(!!)
But he's lunch, soon enough. Mark my words.
'The trick is not to mind it.'
'The Wisest' of the Fey is a critique of the Hierophant/Pope tradition of the tarot.
I mean a continuation.
I mean a critique. Is there a difference, really? The severest critique is just to speak the truth, but as we're all implicated in the timely thrown-forwardness of each other's of being-in-the-world (thanks Buddha/Heidegger!), part of every statement of The Really Real is that, alas, shit is partly my fault too. The gnome is perfectly happy for the moment. He has a dragon for heaven's sake. It's going to eat him, but until then is any gnome even a zillionth as totally fantastic as The Wisest Gnome?
So either he's a rube who's about to be kibble or he's a Zen-Gnome-master with a dragon watching his back, or both. I don't know which at this moment. There's my attempt at truth-telling for the day, if you like.
It's important to remember that the Hierophant is trumped directly by The Lovers. That's not an arbitrary decision on the part of the original tarot designers. You might say the Hierophant's job is precisely to be trumped, to reveal the mere temporarily of earthly power. Such an old institution can't ever make something new - and if The Lovers have a single great work before them (which with so many bloody Popes busily, monomaniacally interfere), it is making someone new. (Making you new, if you like to love.)
Love doesn't conquer all. We die, it's 'bad,' dust to dust with or without you. But I'd prefer your hungry mouth to the dragon's. In any case we're more likely to find release - by which I mean Wisdom - there.