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The Fool At Zero

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Examining Tarot Cards: The Fool

By James Donahue

The Fool is usually always at the top of the deck of the Tarot cards. This is because he represents the start of the journey. He is the number zero. A young lad with a spring in his step, he goes forth with a knapsack containing all of his worldly possessions slung over his shoulder and his faithful dog at his heels. He is prepared to confront whatever awaits him.

He has always been called the fool, but the name is somewhat misleading. There is a profound message to be learned in the study of this card.

Not all tarot artists depict this character in the same light so we are choosing the best known Ryder-Waite deck.

The character on the Fool card is staring off into the clouds as he sets off on his journey, failing to see the cliff he is about to fall over. The little dog at his feet appears to be yapping as dogs will, perhaps trying to warn him of the looming misstep ahead.

On the surface, the card has a relatively simple message. The bag on the staff contains all the young traveler needs to do or be anything he wishes. He symbolizes a brand new beginning, whether it is a job, a move to a new location, a marriage, or simply a new start in life. The dog issues a little bark of warning, however. To be successful we must stop daydreaming and watch our step lest we fall and make a fool of ourselves.

The warning in this card is if we put our minds on dreaming of what might be, we may ignore what is. Reality isn’t always what we expect, so we need to listen to the bark of that watchful little dog at our heels. This might come in the form of a word from a wise friend, a tarot reader. Or simply that personal “gut” feeling.

There is much more information buried in the artwork on this card.

The Fool card represents the ultimate “free spirit.” Drawing this card may be a statement that we yearn to be free from the constraints of society, or that we are the courageous person capable of shedding outmoded social implants.

Notice that even though the Fool stands near the edge of the cliff, there is yet room for him to take another step forward. The subtle symbolism points to an eternal truth; that no matter how life deals with us, we never reach the limit of our possibilities.

In his left hand the fool holds a single white rose, said to represent the desired goal for which he strives. The white color of the flower signifies purity in purpose. The staff on his right shoulder may also represent the wand, an important element of magic. The spirit, soul or god that exists within each of us creates the universe as perceived through our own eyes.

We perceive an important link between the bright yellow sun appearing in the upper right corner, always seen among the pagans as Ra, the Egyptian god of the morning sun, and the wreath of green leaves on the Fool’s head. The green organisms of earth capture and bind the sunbeams, thus providing food from the soil. The feather rising from the rim of the wreath represents the animal life that co-exists. That the Eye of Horus, also known among the ancient Egyptians as the Sun God Hoor-pa-Kraat, is sketched on the pouch at the end of the wand seems to put a stamp of authenticity to this interpretation of the symbolism in this image.

Close examination of the gown, or robe worn by the Fool reveals enough symbolism to fill volumes. There appears to be a circle of fire right over his heart shakra, which, in yoga, represents the element of air, or a detachment from the Earthly realm. Some have explained this as “becoming what is not ‘me,’” which in itself is a philosophy that goes too deep for casual exploration within this series.

The pattern on the gown contains a crescent moon and sun on the Fool’s left shoulder, but also ten wheels, each with eight spokes, an occult symbol for pure spirit. Each wheel is surrounded by seven trefoils, perhaps representing various aspects of the number seven in numerology and astrology. This is a significant number.

Printed along the lines in the folds of the Fool’s collar are Hebrew letters that say “Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh,” or translated “that which was, is and shall be.” There is a girdle, or belt wrapped around the Fool’s waist. It has been said that the subtle lesson here is that the belt must be removed before the coat may be taken off. Thus man must free his consciousness from the limitations imposed on him by artificial belief systems before can become truly free.

The Hebrew symbol at the lower right corner of the card means “ox,” a symbol of creative energy. The ox was perhaps the original beast of burden when humans first began tilling the land to grow food. Thus the symbol represents man’s ability to utilize nature to accomplish his daily work.

There is deep significance in the very number of this card; either 0 marking the beginning, or 22 marking the end of this Arcana. The number 22 is an ancient symbol for a circle representing god and infinity. A circle has no starting point or end. Today the symbol for infinity is two overlapping and linked circles lying side-by-side, also lacking a starting point or end. Thus the Fool is the first and the last, the alpha and the omega. The Fool, then, represents the “I AM,” or the god within.

In the occult the number zero also signifies “No Thing,” which Crowley’s Book of the Law recognized as Nuit, the “Infinite Space, and the Infinite Stars thereof.” Nuit is the feminine side of the great intelligence we see in creation. She states: “I am nothing: they do not see me.” This is because she is the circle that encompasses all. The zero also symbolizes the cosmic egg from which all life springs.

Notice that as we study the great names throughout history, people with new and creative ideas were scoffed at and mocked. They were often perceived as the fool before their idea was proven to be correct. Thus it takes courage to walk the path of the Fool, but in the end, it could well be the pathway to great success.

The Mind of James Donahue