The Tarot’s Major Arcana begins with card 0, the Fool. This card is to be reviewed within this brief essay to reveal some of the significant elements that this card and archetype have for the Tarot and Human existence. As the opening card of the Tarot, curiously placed at 0, the Fool card is an intriguing and helpful study reference for all who seek to open their minds to the mysteries of initiation, travel, destiny, and all things ‘funny’.
Who is the fool? This is certainly one of life’s great questions. It is said that “a sucker is born every minute” (Quote Investigator 1). In modern day society, where advertising, get rich quick schemes, and dead-end solutions abound for many serious problems, one is well advised to beware becoming the Fool. Most bizarrely, in the Tarot, one of humanity’s foremost oracular devices for the transmission of Truth and wisdom, the Fool is the first card to appear in the 78 card pack. The presence of the Fool thus points to something beyond his mere idiocy. What that something is exactly should be deduced from the images, symbols, element, and number stored within the card. The Fool, presented above from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck (the most popular deck around), is one of the most recognizable characters from Tarot due to several factors. The reader will easily recognize from the image that the Fool is a ‘stand-out’ character. His attire is motely, that is multi-colored, and he is equipped with shiny shoes, a satchel hanging on the end of a stick, a white rose, and a bright red feather that sprouts out of his cap. On his side, a white dog accompanies him on what appears to be a journey right off a cliff into pure nothingness. Thus the fool is connected to all manner of beginnings, openings, initiations, and novelty.
“We shall not cease from exploration, And the end of all our exploring, Will be to Arrive where we started, and Know the place for the first time.” -T.S. Elliot
Seeking is one of humanity’s foremost occupations. Almost everyone seems to be on some sort of quest whether it is for happiness, money, sex, fame, freedom, and/or truth. The Fool stands at the very beginning of the Tarot at number 0 as an indicator of the state of being that precedes or possibly launches this hunt or journey (Tsarion). Depending on the source one reads, the aim of the fools quest will vary. According to Zerner and Farber, author of The Enchanted Tarot, “Wide-eyed and innocent as a new-born child, The Fool has descended from the celestial realms to alight on mountain tops of vibrant green and purple, ready to begin his mystical journey on the path towards enlightenment. All his new to him and he has not yet learned to fear. He lives from moment to moment, going forward without premediated thought, unaware of the pitfalls or dangers which may lie before him” (13).
This obliviousness has thus connected the Fool with the medieval tradition of Le Mat, the Mad Man or the “April Fool” (Crowley 50). Being sourced from much older cultures, the Tarot is especially concerned with the movement of the sun and the influences that has on nature and human consciousness. For anyone who has or is living in areas where the winter strikes cold and hard, there is most certainly the appreciation for the kind of ‘new-born’ energy that emerges in Spring following the dark-grey days of the past season. This flourishing is experienced by Earth, animals, and Man. In olden days, there was the “salutary custom to externalize the subconscious impulse by ceremonial means” (Crowely 56). Hence, the tradition of Spring festivals and the ‘Great-Fool’ who would burst forth to provide comedic relief and even religious inspiration for salvation is solely the providence of ecstasy and even madness. Reason, for all its devices, offerings, and snares, is, as the old fable tells, what curses humanity with all manner of mental disturbances including fear of death, social engagements, and innumerable forms of twisted judgements and prejudices.
While the exact nature of the Fool’s quest and presence is decidedly unknown, one may infer certain characteristics of the quest based upon connections made to the card astrologically and alphabetically with Uranus, Aquarius, and Aleph. Uranus in astrology is the heavenly planet or body is existing in the universe which is in Aquarius, the sign of liberation, nourishment, and radical change (Michele 1). Uranus is known for having erratic, unpredictable, impulsive, chaotic, original, innovative, and eccentric qualities, all things a blazing fool might possess. Intriguingly, Aquarius, the water bearer, is an air governed sign that also fits nicely with the connotations shown with the fool (Crosara 24). Crowley cryptically says the “The Fool is the gold of air” which further links the Fool to both air and heaven (68).
Indeed, there are many heavenly or divine characteristics and personalities associated with the fool. Percivale, the innocent knight who wins the grail, the Sun God Ra, Zeus, the Lord of Air, Dionysus Zagreus and Bacchus Diphues, deities of fertility and celebration, and Baphomet, the horned God, all are found to be closely identified with the wild man of nature who is called the ‘Fool’ (Crowley 67). By placing the Fool at the beginning of the Tarot, the long-held tradition of divinity in disguise is honored in full. Tarot students may both beware the Fool and yet at the same aspire to the Fool. Crowley writes in his Book of the Law that “Pure will, unassuaged of purpose, and delivered from the lust of result, is every way perfect” (I. 44). Thus, fully engaging within the vigorous and continuous activity of life without expectation or ulterior motive, a person may realize their own authentic nature which is believed in Tarot studies to be closely if not exactly divine.
Each of the 22 cards of the Tarot has a letter from the Hebrew alphabet which is also 22 letters long. The Fool Card has the undisputed connection with Aleph, the Double-Mother Letter for the element of Air, shown on the card above. Aleph, is an appropriate letter for the Fool as the term technically derives from the Latin word follis, meaning “a pair of bellows, a windbag”; thus “a fool is like a pair of bellows in that his words are only air, empty of meaning” (Janik 140). Interestingly, researcher Tony Bushby has traced the entirety of the squiggly shaped Hebrew letter-symbols to ancient Egypt where they were said to appear as shadows on the ground created by the refraction of light through pyramids (Tsarion). Thus, one may trace the Tarot’s mystery, myth, and symbolism even further into the realm and mindset of one of humanity’s most successful and enigmatic of civilizations.
Several important images and figures emerge from the fool card. Here, the dog, the cliff, the sun, the flower, and the number zero are briefly discussed. As with any tarot card, one may extricate enormous stores of knowledge from any sampling of text or item found therein. For instance, one may clearly recognize the foolishness of man in the picture as he seemingly walks off a cliff into an abyss. With the sun at his back, this movement and placement is commonly interpreted as a setting forth into the unknown that is set forth by the stars themselves. Furthermore, there is the connection to the concept of descent, a potent religious concept for Man and his relations with both God and Animal; for Adam and Eve’s departure from their blissful ignorance in the Garden and into ‘self-awareness’ has also been described as a fall.
With the fool there is also the figure and then the number of 0, which principally is the shape of a circle or sphere. The Circle is commonly considered the image of utmost purity, sacredness, and design. From the circle, innumerable, if not all, productions of nature are achieved. Chief among these creations is the flower of life. The flower of life, shown to the right, is a most remarkable geometric configuration whose construction is the result of 19 interlocking circles and one big circle. If one were to continue the vortex motion of the flowers, the next pattern created is the 3-D ‘egg of life’, another significant shape exhibited in all of nature’s eggs (World Mysteries). The Flower of Life has been a consistent pattern in spirituality throughout the world appearing in perfect form within ancient Egypt, in China, Jewish mysticism with the Kabbalah, and in Christian Temples throughout Europe (World Mysteries). It is likely that the 20 circles are significant as well for the Fool. Earlier, the fool was compared to a ‘pair of bellows’. While there is only one fool depicted on the card, from an numerological perspective one may infer the presence of the ‘2’ from within the card via the flower of life pattern. Perhaps this is process can also help scholars make sense of the mystical and dynamic principle ‘0=2’ (Crowley 4).
The zero-Flower of Life may be why there is a flower in the fool’s hand. Crosara writes that the flower is the White Rose, a flower whose associations include purity of heart, openness, flourishing, tenderness, and freedom (24). The Buddha is known to have had an entire lecture simply by silently raising a flower to his disciples. Is the Buddha, the world’s foremost purveyor of the doctrine of ‘emptiness’, teaching of the flower’s own simplicity, beauty, and receptivity? Most likely, he is. Zero, as the base by which all numbers are irrevocably reduced, to is certainly the simplest, yet somehow the hardest, to grasp, of all the numbers. Thus again, one sees the excellent placement of the fool as the Tarot initiating card. Nothingness, or 0, is a concept or experience that precedes, endures, and transcends all finite experience and thus is the providence of ‘Fools’. Nevertheless, it is a most beneficial quality of awareness to abide by. Zen master Shunryu Suzuki is known for the famous saying, “If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few” (Suzuki).
The dog is also incredibly important figure of heavenly significance. Although one source mundanely describes this figure as “An alert watchdog.. [who] calls a warning to show what the human next to him has missed” (Fiebig and Burger 65), other sources have pegged this dog as a representation of God’s own companionship along the fatal journey that is life (Moore 19). The faithfulness, loyalty, unconditional love, and playfulness of the dog are all taken to be mystical qualities of the creator. Furthermore, the whiteness of the dog’s coat matches the undercoat of the Fool thus indicating the internal and eternal quality of Spirit (Moore 22). In this way, the Tarot is subtly indicating to those who are beginning, in life or the Tarot, ‘Dog bless you’ for dog is simply God, spelled backwards.
The Fool is one of the tarot and natures central mysteries. All forms of funny business are connected to the Fool and thus it is a helpful inspiration for one to continue on their adventures in life and Truth. Depending on the position or time, the fool can be a god-send or an omen of annoyance. When standing up, he is deemed positive. While reversed, the Fool is ascribed negative connotations. Either way, he is a mighty compelling symbol for the concept of the Fall which is both the beginning of humanity’s back story and a key note for love. Indeed, with the Fool, one is encouraged to go wild and follow their course where ever it may flower even if it should pass through April Showers.
Crowely, Aleister. The Book of the Law. New York: Ordo Templi Orientis. Print.
Crowley, Aleister. The Book of Thoth. San Francisco: Wesier Books., 1944. Print.
Fiebig, Johannes, & Burger, Evelin. The Ultimate Guide to the Rider Waite Tarot. Llewellyn Worldwide, 2013. Print.
Flower of Life. Token Rock, Inc. n.d. Web. June, 2, 2016. http://www.tokenrock.com/explain-flower-of-life-46.html.
Janik, Vicki. Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998. Web. June, 2, 2016.
Michele X. The Tarot and Astrology- the Fool to the Emperor. Michele Knight, n.d. Web. June, 2, 2016. http://www.micheleknight.com/articles/psychic/tarot-articles/the-major-arcana-and-astrology-part-one/.
Moore, Dapha. The Rabbi’s Tarot. Hughes Henshaw, 2007. Web. https://books.google.com/books?id=WmvPGgAACAAJ&dq=daphna+moore+tarot&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjq1NqipYnNAhUJ6IMKHeO2CBMQ6AEIIjAB.][
Tsarion, Michael. The Fool. Unslaved Films, 2014 Web. June 1, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C5CSAyQ7e7I&index=2&list=PLiW0X33OHW6P_BZHpFXj_UtTLeV9AXw4M.
Suzuki, Shunryu. Beginner Quotes. Brainy Quote, 2016. Web. June 1, 2016. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/beginner.html
Zerner, Amy, Farber, Monte. The Enchanted Tarot. Macmillan, 1990. Web. June 2, 2016.