The Fool card shows a young, androgynous man walking near the edge of a precipice and paying it no mind. Instead, his focus is on enjoying the sunshine upon his face (or, in the case of Robin Wood’s deck, playing the flute). The Fool is a character of complete, thoughtless innocence. His only interest is in the novel experience, and he jumps into each new experience with a light heart and very little discipline…which can be dangerous, as the Fool’s position on the edge of a cliff shows. The Fool is not without some defenses. The little dog yapping at his heels warns him of the danger, and we can take this dog to be a symbol of things like the Fool’s unconscious mind or his friends who might pull him back just before lighthearted play turns to disaster, thanks to the Fool’s thoughtlessness.
Interestingly, the Fool’s precipice lies between the peaks of mountains shown in the distance and the valley below. Readers often say the lofty peaks represent knowledge or enlightenment, and the valley represents the Fool’s own soul or deep unconscious. Should the Fool suddenly recognize where he currently is and aspire to climb the peaks, he will have to pass through the valley first. This placement implies that the Fool stands at the brink of a journey that will change his essence.
Another important aspect of this card is its number. The Fool’s card is numbered zero. This is the value of what we have when we start in the world, and it’s also the value of what we take away when we die. At a really basic level, I take this to mean that the Fool–for all its imagery for new beginnings–also means that it’s also a card of endings, or–at the very least–recognizing that every ending holds within it a new beginning. The zero also sets this card stands outside the major arcana cards that have values, which A.E. White seems to have picked up on when he wrote that the Fool “is a prince of the other world on his travels through this one”. The Fool’s nothing provides the necessary contrast so that we can understand we are having an experience.
More practically, the zero underscores the unlimited potential at the root of this card. It’s an amazing thing to have the world open in front of you, to be able to dance up the mountains or into the valley at your own whim and caprices, and the innocence that comes with that stance is beautifully carefree and joyous, but it’s a starting point. It will end eventually on a successful journey. A good Fool will someday internalize the warning dog yapping at his feet and warning him of danger, and that is as beautiful a moment as a purely innocent one. So when I see the Fool come up in a reading, I remind myself to enjoy the moment of novelty and to revel in all the possibilities it will present, but to always keep an eye open for that whisper of warning so that I can make the best decisions I can.
There’s a few specific symbols in these images that I feel deserve special attention, which I enumerate below:
1. The Satchel.
- Each Fool in the cards above is carrying some sort of satchel on his back, but his attention isn’t on that sack. Some readers hold that this sack represents one’s past lives and experiences–the stuff that clings to all of us when we are ‘born’, but that we don’t consciously acknowledge in our new paradigm. Rachel Pollack, however, calls attention to the fact that the Fool “bears them lightly and does not mistake them for his true self, which, after all, is nothing.” Robin Wood, on the other hand, says that this pack holds everything the Fool needs to get along in the world, but they’re not easily accessible to him (especially in her deck, where it is strapped to the Fool “with the white ribbons of guilelessness”).
2. The Wand/Flute.
- In most cards, the satchel dangles from a wand, which is highly significant in the Tarot as a symbol of one’s Will. It’s important to note that the Fool is almost negligent of his Will at this point, as he has carelessly tossed it over his shoulder in a passive role as a carrier. In Robin Wood’s deck, that wand is transformed into a musical pipe, which really highlights what she views the Fool doing with his will: playing with it. “In a larger sense [the Fool is] doing just as he wants [with his Will], with little regard for the consequences. Far from a staff to steady his steps, he has made [it] into a flute to dance to! And dancing on the edge is very dangerous.”
3. The White Rose.
- To me, roses in the Tarot are special symbols that mean “life”. They’re a flower that combines an incredible sweetness (their scent) with a noted potential for pain (their thorns), which I find nicely parallel’s life’s experiences. White roses also have a specific meaning of freedom. The white color has the associations with newness and freshness that I take to be similar to a fresh, blank page. It has unlimited potential; anything can be written upon it. The Death card carries a large black flag with a white rose upon it for this reason: Death brings about new life with unlimited freedoms. In Robin Wood’s deck, the Fool wears a crown of five white roses to symbolize the freedom the he feels in experiencing the five energies of life: the five elements of earth, air, fire, water, and spirit. The wreath circles his head and not his heart, because his knowledge of the elements is all cerebral and not an emotional knowledge from his heart.
4. The Red Feather
- In most of these cards, the Fool wears a red feather on his hat. Red is a color of passion, and feathers connect to the apparent freedom of birds. It is this passionate freedom, then, which crowns the Fool (doubled with the life and freedom found in the white roses of Robin Wood’s crown), and which we will again see in the reborn Fool on the Sun card. Robin Wood also notes that in her deck, this feather stands for the Fool’s courage–which, at this point, is the “bravery of ignorance.”
Fool Action Words: Innocence, Beginning, Being Spontaneous, Having Faith, Embracing Folly, Freedom, Risk, Young in Spirit, Immature
Sit comfortably in front of a white wall. Open your eyes and gaze as though you are focusing on a spot at least three feet through the wall. Breathe normally. Follow the breath with your mind and do not allow thoughts to interrupt your ability to follow the breath. You can count each breath from one to ten. Return to the number one each time you notice a thought arising.
Keep the Fool card with you at all times today, or, if this is not practical, place it on your altar. Keep a “foolish” mind with you all day. Don’t assume the reasons for the things that happen. Avoid internal dialogue and running commentary about the events of your day. Keep a simple mind that reflects everything and clings to nothing. Evoke the Fool state of mind whenever you need simplicity and truth in your life.
For what it’s worth, the card descriptions are a combination of my own insights and paraphrasing from a handful of sources. I’m currently working with Rachel Pollack’s book The New Tarot Handbook, Robin Wood’s Robin Wood Tarot: The Book, and a smattering from Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin’s Around the Tarot in 78 Days. I also strongly recommend Joan Bunning’s book Learning the Tarot as well as the resources found on her website, learntarot.com.