Tarot Fool

The first card in the tarot is considered to be The Fool, though in fact, the Fool is an anomaly, his place is outside and apart from the ordered tarot. The Fool represents ourselves and our progression through life.

Inexperienced tarot readers and even more knowledgeable ones can have difficulty knowing how to deal with the Fool when he shows up in their readings. Rather than parrot the standard meanings that show up in many tarot books, I hope this article will help you to gain an in-depth understanding of the Fool card, its many aspects and its impact upon a reading. My other aim here, in this examination of a single card, is to make you think about the cards – to look for the deeper meaning and relate it to your own life experience.

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Description of The Fool

In the popular Rider-Waite based decks, the tarot Fool is usually depicted as a young man, sometimes a Foolwoman, stepping rather dangerously close to the edge of a cliff. He is brightly dressed, carries his belongings tied to a stick, or perhaps a wand, over his right shoulder, and holds a white rose in his left hand.. He carries his head high and appears to be completely unaware of the danger at his feet. A small white dog is frantically attempting to get the Fool’s attention; we can’t tell if the dog is trying to warn the youth or is merely joining in the fun. The sun beats down and there is a range of snow-capped mountains in the background.

The Fool’s Place in the Tarot

The Fool is numbered 0 in the Major Arcana. Many tarotists agree that the Fool is embarking on a journey that will cause him to experience all the wordly and spiritual trials and tribulations that befall men and women as they travel through their lives. He encounters the various archetypes, whom he must accept as being facets of himself, and he must also pass through life stages that we must all adjust to in order to become fully rounded human beings.

A.E Waite, creator of the famous Rider-Waite tarot deck, describes the Fool as “… the spirit in search of experience.”

The Fool could be compared to a newborn baby – he is a page yet to be written upon. He has no experience and no expectations. Just like the zero, he is all potential and nothing at the same time.

Who is this Fool?

The traditional meaning of the Fool card is very literal – fortune-tellers interpret it as foolishness, impulsiveness and general bad decision making More recently, he has been hailed as the powerful hero, the one who takes a leap of faith. However, there is far more to the Fool card than that.

Let’s consider the card in more detail. It would be a natural assumption to think that the Fool is heading for self-destruction as he skips toward the edge of the precipice, but what makes you think it is a precipice? Sure, the rocks beneath his feet appear to almost hang over nothing, but maybe the drop is only a few feet? Less, even? What if there are bushes ready to break his fall? In other words, what appears to be a huge risk to us, the outsiders, may not be a risk at all. So… it could go either way, couldn’t it?

The dog is an important symbol in this card. Dogs have been man’s companion for thousands of years, so what is this dog representing here? In some decks the dog is trying to warn the Fool of his impending doom, but this dog is having fun. He’s not in the least bit worried that there is a huge drop in front of him. He’s ready to skip alongside his master wherever he goes. This is another clue that the prospect of destruction is not in this card. Why would the Fool with his journey (life) ahead of him choose to end it all before it starts?

The Fool is carrying a stick… or maybe this is a wand or staff. The suit of wands is connected to power, inspiration and action. He doesn’t wield it as a weapon or in self-defence, he’s obviously not on a power-trip of any kind; he merely uses it to carry his belongings. To him it is nothing more than a useful tool.

His worldly goods are tied up in a kerchief; there can’t be much in there. There is speculation that he carries the three other symbols of the minor arcana – a cup, a knife (to represent a sword) and a coin. This maybe so, but again, we don’t know. I would surmise that whatever it is, the loss of those things would not cause the Fool more than a momentary pang of dismay.

In his right hand he has a white rose, the symbol of innocence and purity, which emphasizes the unsullied nature of the Fool. His clothes are bright and covered in symbols. There is much discussion about the nature and meaning of these symbols in the tarotsphere. I prefer to think that the Fool cares not a jot about what he wears and chose his tunic just because it caught his attention.

The distant mountains represent a mystical journey, which, in fact, refers to the Fool’s (and thus our own) spiritual journey. Man has always yearned to ascend mountains where he believes he will experience a revelation, enlightenment or a direct communication from his deity.

What Do All Those Symbols Mean?

In essence, the Fool is a blank sheet. He has no consciousness, as we perceive it, because he has yet to become aware of himself. He has no past; he has learned no lessons; he has no experience of anything. He represents pure energy, an extension of God, or Source, or All That Is. He has no opinion or judgment because he has no ego. His task is to become aware, to experience and ultimately throw off the ego to become pure once more.

The Fool’s Journey

As the Fool travels he meets the other 21 archetypes and experiences portrayed by the Major Arcana. This table simplifies their influence on his spiritual growth.

Prime Meaning
Effect on the Fool
Power, male singularity
First stirrings of awareness of himself as an individual.
High Priestess
Intuition, female duality
Recognition of duality. Dark is necessary to appreciate light.
Motherhood, fertility
The Fool becomes aware of nature and his own senses.
Fatherhood, organization
The Fool learns that there is structure in the world.
Guidance, spirituality
He discovers there is more to life that what he can see and touch.
Partnership, decision
The Fool learns that he exists in relationship to others.
Control, determination
He finds that he can control aspects of his life. His ego is in charge.
Persuasion, inner strength
He learns that he can achieve more with gentleness than brute force.
Withdrawal, self-knowing
He feels the need to examine his own existence.
Wheel of Fortune
Randomness, Universal order
He understands he cannot control everything and that fate is involved.
Cause and effect
The Fool learns that his actions have consequences.
Hanged Man
Giving up, timelessness
He encounters a challenge that he is unable to solve and gives up, releasing his ego for he first time.
Ending, transition
The Fool discovers that the only constant is change.
Balance, harmony
He begins to understand that inner peace is the only goal to aim for.
Self imprisonment, materialism
The Fool is disheartened and seeks consolation but merely chains himself to the material world. He is trapped.
Cataclysm, change
The only way out is complete destruction of his current beliefs.
Serenity, hope
He discovers that in loss, there is hope and a spark of inspiration.
Illusion, imagination
He experiences confusion and learns that all is not as it appears.
Illumination, understanding
He reaches a moment of clarity. He has a revelation.
Attonement, absolution
The Fool understands that the next part of his journey begins with self-forgiveness.
Integration, wholeness
As the Fool accepts attonement, he becomes, once more, part of the All. His ego falls away in his acceptance of love

Interpreting the Fool in a Reading

It is important to understand that the Fool means nothing unless it is read in context with a. the querent’s situation and b. the other cards in the spread. If there are other Major Arcana in the reading then it is a good idea to refer to the table above and see how their interaction maybe manifesting itself in the life of the person you are reading for. It could give you a good idea of why they act or react as they do. Consider if the querent is resisting this life-lesson or experience.

Taking the querent’s circumstances into account, work out if the Fool has appeared to encourage them to take a step into the unknown. For example, if the querent is thinking about making a life change, then the Fool is there to tell them to go ahead, jump. If the Fool has appeared in a past position then it may well be indicating that the seeker already did something impulsive and unthinking and is now reaping the consequences.

When the card turns up in an advisory position in a reading, then it might simply mean that the seeker needs to lighten up, that all life is a cycle and it would be a good idea to relax and play awhile. The Fool is nothing, if not spontaneous.

If the card appears reversed (upside down), then take the extreme negative view that the querent has done or is considering doing something foolish that will not serve him well. Instead of being encouragement, the reversed Fool is acting as a big STOP sign. Advise your client to wait before acting or going any further with this course of action.

I hope this has been of use to you. Please feel free to ask any questions about this article in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

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