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
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
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.