Friday, November 11, 2016

on the fool

Many years ago I presented a series of workshops on how understanding the history of tarot could be useful for modern tarot users. At the time people told me they were helpful and so my plan is to listen to the recordings and transcribe them here to share with others.

Historically, the Fool was a big part of the medieval dramas or morality plays that were performed to educate people at that time. The Fool had his own particular costume and would entertain between the acts of the plays. During the Renaissance, there was a sequence of engravings done called ‘The Children of the Planets’. Each planet, or the god or goddess of the planet, was depicted in the engraving which also 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 decks 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. 
Chinese Tarot
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.
Druidcraft Tarot
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. 

Mythic Tarot
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.
Thoth Tarot

on coming full circle

So it's been three and a half years since I last posted on this blog. Tarot and I have been 'on a break'. Reading back over the last few posts I made here feels like reliving the end of a once beautiful relationship. It was clear that I'd been trying to hold on to the world of tarot despite knowing that it wasn't going to work out. The truth was that I'd burnt out. I had lost the ability to see the world without using tarot as a lens. I had become obsessed with the systems behind tarot and became increasingly frustrated when I couldn't make them fit the world view I had at the time. I should have made a clean break sooner, but I'd invested so much. Ultimately it was futile to hold on any longer and we drifted apart.  I didn't want tarot to be who I was. I no longer wanted to be part of that world.

Druidcraft Tarot - Eight of Cups
The thing is...sometimes we don't get to choose our path, often it is the path that chooses us. Despite several years of focusing on other things, the pull of what is undeniably my passion has drawn me back. It's only now that I can recognise the emptiness I experienced when I wasn't connected to this world. Delving again into books on tarot, astrology, mythology, numerology, symbolism and other such delights has me feeling alive and excited about life. I've found my spark again. So now...what is one to do?

Frankly, I'm a hopeless blogger! I have blogs all over the place. I jump around from one project to the next, losing interest as fast as I find it. Persistently curious and hopelessly uncommitted, I drift aimlessly and achieve little. Looking back though now, with a good solid break under my belt, I begin to see the sum total of all my aimless wandering and am reassured to know it wasn't all in vain.

Several years ago I had reached a point with tarot where people where pushing me to make it into a business, to have it as my vocation, to use it to earn a living. I hated that. I'm fairly sure now that is part of what killed it for me. The realisation that it had become work. The joy had gone. Now I have a vocation and I don't need to find a way to earn money. As a result I can simply dabble away with tarot and such things for the pure pleasure of it.

My plan is to share my thoughts here, if and when I have anything of interest to say. I'm a teacher at heart and I feel like I need to share what I know with others, so I expect that may be my driving force. In many ways blogging is like speaking to the void. Is anyone listening? Does anyone care? Does it even matter?
Mythic Tarot - Wheel of Fortune
There has been a cyclic nature to my relationship with tarot. I can see it now throughout my life and all the more so for this recent break away. I was drawn to tarot via mythology and that is how I return to it now. I'm working with decks that were amongst the earliest I obtained and it definitely feels as if I've come full circle. I'm looking forward to seeing what having an extra layer of life will add to my understanding of these cards that I simply can't let go of.