Historically, the Fool was a big part of the medieval dramas or morality plays that were performed to education people. The Fool had his own particular costume and would entertain between the acts. During the Renaissance, there was a sequence of engravings done called ‘The Children of the Planets’. Each planet planets, or the god or goddess of the planet was depicted and showed the children of each planet, which were the professions or different activities associated with the planets. The fool was one of the children of the Moon. This may seem a surprising association but actually he was the lunatic and the word lunatic comes from moon, or lunar. The Fool represented mania, madness, mood swings and unpredictability. He was the crazy man walking aimlessly through the countryside with his stick and bag and all his possessions. And the symbolism in modern deck is not that different, we still have the stick and bag, although probably not so much the crazy wandering fool.
|Ancient Italian Tarot|
Historically the figure of the Fool would have been well known to people of that time as representing someone who operated outside the norm. He wandered aimlessly and would go to the different courts to visit. He was the court jester, the only person who could criticise or poke fun at the king and not get into trouble. This was well and good until they needed a scapegoat and then they would use the fool. Interestingly in the game of tarot the Fool was the card you would use to save yourself. You’d be happy to use the fool to save you higher cards so he was the scapegoat in both the game and in life.
|Nigel Jackson Medieval Enchantment Tarot|
In the modern decks the number zero was added to the card. The occult significance of that was the idea that from nothing comes everything. One modern way of viewing the major arcana is as the Fool’s journey and the Fool is representative of us, or our soul. We become the Fool and we embark on a journey through life. The fool is seen as being at the beginning of the sequence, but really it can fit anywhere because it can be viewed as the one taking the journey.
|Robin Wood Tarot|
It is interesting to contemplate the idea of madness, as this isn’t something we associate with this card in modern decks. More often it is associated with a new beginning, or being prepared to take a leap into the unknown. In most representations the Fool is about to walk off a cliff and he doesn’t care. It alludes to risk-taking and the sense of freedom to be our own self and not worry about what people think of us. Here we see the link with madness because obviously the fool didn’t care what people thought of him, he was operating in his own reality and it didn’t matter what people thought. We still see people like this today, walking down the street mumbling, and we think ‘what world are they in?’, but in fact, this is our Fool. It is interesting with this card to remember when it comes up just how close all of us are to flipping over into that world of madness, we can all lose it at any time, whether it is through a sudden event or something, at any time we can lose our grip on this reality and become the Fool. The Chinese Tarot depiction of the fool below taps into these ideas of a wandering madman.
Even the things we associate positively with this card such as taking a leap into the unknown and the freedom that goes along with that, in some ways that is foolish behaviour. We have to not care what people think, we have to be prepared to operate outside the norm. When we consider the historical development of this card and connect that with the modern interpretations we can begin to see how they come together to give a deeper understanding.
The Mythic Tarot below uses Dionysus to illustrate the Fool and this association is common even in decks not explicitly linked to mythology. Dionysus is often linked with drinking, drunkenness and crazy behaviour and so here again we see the idea of abandon and not caring. Most representations of the fool depict an animal biting at the Fool’s heels which is sometimes considered a symbol of our animal or natural instinct. Again, this is the part of us that doesn’t think too much, doesn’t worry what others think of us, and acts in accordance to our inner or true self.
Ultimately the Fool is where we begin and end. At the beginning we are everything and yet nothing, unlimited potential un-lived. We are pure and untainted by life, simply our true and essential nature. At the end of the journey life has built us up and worn us down. We have donned many masks and then watched them fall away. Ideally we return to our essential nature but this time we hold within a wisdom gained from the experiences on our journey of life.