Mysteries of the Tarot: The Fool

The Fool

“...but we will speak only of those things which are difficult, and not to be grasped by the senses, but, indeed, which are almost contrary to the evidence of the senses.”
Paracelsus, Archidoxi Magica


Using my own handpainted Holy Grail Tarot, I will use this blog to teach the definitions of the cards and explore their deeper meaning. Their part in the Grail Legend will also be told, using the literary sources that inspired the outer images. I say outer images, for this Tarot deck is the result of an Initiation, and the real images came to me directly from the UnderWorld of Faery.
When I embarked on my visits to the Kingdom of Faery, I was no more sensible of the dangers and rewards than this Fool you see here blithely walking off a cliff. Heaven and Earth attempt to warn him to watch his step…but the Fool’s way is to venture into the unknown because there is no other way  for him to learn but through experience.
David Ovason, in his book The Zelator: the Secret Journals of Mark Hedsel,Way of the Fool.
“The Way of the Fool is the way of the independent traveler on the Path of Initiation. Such a traveler may study under a variety of Masters, yet will strive always to preserve his or her own identity, and rarely undertakes vows of silence which will bind his or her being to a particular school or teaching. The fact that this traveling Fool is on a Path is meant to reflect that he or she is following the way of experience, which in ancient Greek was termed pathein.”
He goes on to say that the Path of the Fool is about development of the higher Ego, or the Self. This is the Self that Jung talks about, “the droplet of Godhead which has sought experience through involvement in matter.” The  part of us that that knows itself to be divine. The Divine Fool is one whose folly is to surrender  to this Godhead. He is motivated by his desire for life beyond earthly existence. To find it, he steps into the unseen and therefore begins an journey into the unknown. But in his surrender to trust in the divine pattern of his life, he knows perfect freedom.


The meanings of the Fool card in Tarot are more complex than they seem. The symbol of the 0 is rich with meaning. As a newly incarnate soul, the Fool is the baby that has passed through the 0 of the birth canal, coming from the spiritual dimension into the world of matter. His consciousness is raw, full of sensations and visions of a former life of complete security, enclosed in warmth and darkness. He is jolted awake by pain and blood and light, beginning the journey of the Fool from the second the umbilicus is cut. He has no name and knows nothing. In many respects he is an empty 0 waiting to be filled.
In the Middle Ages, the Fool was known as the Lord of Misrule; he was unpredictable, anarchic, arcahic, somehow ‘inferior’ to us in his instictual abandon.  This uncouth manner is symbolized in traditonal Tarot cards by the Fool’s cap and bell, a residue of the old crown of asses ears that resonates so well with the sin-burdened scapegoat. To say it simply, civilized people sometimes long to return to the raw, unconscious, instictual stage of infancy expressd in the madness of the Fool. Because they fear a break down of their inner control, they joy in having someone else act it out for them. In ancient times it is easy to consider that the one who played the Fool too well was cast out or killed so that society could rid itself of these base desires for the rest of the year.

The Lord of Misrule


The little dog barking at the Fool to watch his step  symbolizes the  internalized, positive side of an instictual, natural response to life. Attuned to nature,  this instinct builds in protection when it is needed at the most dangerus junctions of the Path.
In his sack, the Fool carries his unknown Self, or Shadow. He doesn’t think he wants what is in that sack, yet he needs it, and it can never be left behind. It can be seen as a bag of Karma, that which must be paid out by the end of life. In my deck, the Fool, Parzifal, carries a bag of black and white squares, signifying his inability to see the shades of grey. Black and white thinking blocks subtle awareness, depth of perception and openess to the contradictions through which the Mysteries are revealed. It suggests that even as free as the Fool’s mind is, his clinging to easy answers causes him to fail to ask the questions that would bring the Wasteland to life again. In a sense, black and white thinking is the sign of an inner wasteland — an utter lack of imagination. In the legend of his life, Parzifal was raised alone by his mother in the deep forest. All she supplied him with was a set of rules. His story shows that blind reliance on the rules can bring disaster when creative solutions are called for.
It is not hard to see that the sack and staff have phallic conotations. In traditional decks, the sack dangles at the end of the stick which is over the Fool’s shoulder visually severing his head from his body. There is no more apt arrangement of symbols to suggest that much of the Fools’ instinctual bad behavior, and much of his mania, is sexual. On another level, this sexual imagery has less to do with sexual acts than with fertility of ideas, creative energy as yet unformed, direct from a source close to the divine.

” The Way of the Fool is a sort of balancing act on a tightrope. While the Fool has no wish to lose contact with his Higher Self, he or she wishes to gain experience of life…”
Though my Fool, Parzifal wears no Fool’s cap or horns, or asses ears, the trees behind him mimic those shapes. They are part of nature. This Fool is already partly redeemed, for  he wears the royal purple emblazoned with butterflies of transmutation, his bare head shines with gold and is free to recieve the angel’s blessings from above. He is wrapped in the yellow cloak of the mind in harmony with the body it floats around and supports like wings.
Parzifal walks out of the starry night of the forest  toward an abyss of stars in the UnderWorld, for unlike our forebears, we have seen the Earth floating in space; we know the earth is as divine as any other celestial body.  He is drawn to the wider world by a vision of ‘angels’– an encounter with the Knights of the Round Table whose armor shone in the sunshine like gold. Therefore, his motivation is a spiritual search.
The motley magpies represent  and gathering of bright things, also in their constant chattering, the Mystery Language of the Birds.  In the far distance the rising sun shines over the sea of origin, the source of all life.

Tarot meanings: Ignorance, naivete, entering the unknown, higher guidance, Idea, thought, that which endeavors to rise above the material, spiritual aspiration. In a reading about material concerns it shows folly, stupidity, eccentricity and mania unless balanced by very strong cards that stabilize.

To see the complete Tarot of the Holy Grail, go to www.whiteswan-tarot.com and look under Photo Gallery.

My services are also listed at that website.

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9 thoughts on “Mysteries of the Tarot: The Fool

  1. I want to comment on the inner earth thing but I don’t know how to write it under there…anyway it is fascinating and I have been absolutely sure for years that there is a central sun in the centre of the Earth. There are photographs that have escaped censorship of a literal gap at both poles, which is more than freaky and hundreds of stories about explorers going in there and all finding the same thing is not just coincidence or conspiracy theory. It is only a matter of time before we are reunited with those who dwell there… I doubt they are happy with what we are doing to our Earth.

    ps-I told my Dad about this some time ago…he called me “dangerous and frightening”!

  2. I enjoyed your look at the Fool. It was very perceptive. You added thoughts about the Fool that I had never considered. Thanks!
    Dave

  3. Ive just checked out your beautiful marriage of Grail legend with Taro-Tronfi art and card number sequence. Could not the chequered bag on shoulder symbolise that he passes through the dualities, has mastered them, tied up his gainings in the form of the magi card, uses the bag to support them, and is moving to something new bringing such findings with him? Sometimes the author or painter or poet creates and their interpretation of what it is they created can be also different to how such a creation is partook (interpreted) by others, who taste such a creation, inspired in various ways. I offer another understanding of the intuited chequered design which came its way into your work here and that is it is a support and foundational level of opposites wherein the shades of grey you see are indeed the chess pieces which move between black and white squares in various black and white colours making shade of grey, mixture of black and white. Perhaps the chess pieces are inside this bag, and he has to learn how to open the bag and set up the pieces and play like the magi in the next phase? Im always fascinated by the black and white chequered design in various works of art and as you know have started my love and chess group which you have nicely contributed to as a member. I see also this chequered pattern on all the maiden cards of each suite-Grail, as well as it on the Hierophant Prester John card too. Furthermore, there is also the black and white dress of the Lovers Of Gawain having to choose between the beauty or the hag,one black, the other white. There is a chequered white and green in Devil-Green Knight card, and also another black and white chequered design in the Tower-The Seige Perilous card. Black and white chequered design appears as well on the coat of the knight on the card, five of spears, who is engaged in the combat for the lady of the fountain. Always interested in seeing how chequered chess board and chess pieces find their ways into visionary art and literature of the esoteric of today.
    In Dutch Grail tradition of Walewein, the Grail appears as a magical chess board which floats and which Walwein (Gawain) has to obtain for Arthur who in turn will give Gawain his kingdom. There is a stream of love theme running through this legend too, which shares the same garden as in the Prester John Indian tales, and mentions how this garden has various bellows blowing under a tree, which share the same number as chess, being 32 of them (as there are chess pieces. Here in this visionary art I see Prester John, Gawain, black and white chequered design, and love being tested. Also it must be mentioned in Grail legend that Prester John was the son of Fierefiz, Parzifal’s half brother, and Fierefiz was black and white like a magpie. So if your paintings were visionary and intuitive and you didnt know about these things whilst painting, then you came close to the historical and traditional mark in having the black and white design entwined in Prester John, Gawain and tests of love represented by Lovers and Tower and Devil cards. Not to mention love being present in Lovers black and white dress on card and the Lady of the Fountain being battled over by knights on card five of spears, one of whom has a black and white chequered mantle. Its nice you continue the Grail tradition in this way, through a combination of vision and knowledge of the traditions. Thanks. : D

  4. You know, Scott I hadn’t thought of that!!! i saw that checkerboard in other places but not in my own work.
    That Tarot deck came from visions I had real visitation by the Tuatha de Danaan that last for a couple of years.
    Of course I was pretty well read in the Grail stuff, and then I was practicing magic.
    It was the most unbelievable experience because no one really believes me or understands unless they were around em at the time.
    They transmitted the images to me and they were meant to full of teachings. I have written about this in lots of essays at various times.
    That started back in 1997 and the deck was done in 2001. It was a hell of a ride no pun intended.

  5. I got a detail wrong in my post above, its not the number 32 associated with the bellows but it is as follows (excerpted from my retelling of chess grail of Gawaine story on my blog):

    Walewein discovers the self same golden tree as found in the letter of Prester John, upon which are seated various golden birds and their various presumably golden songs. This same tree in two differing and yet related branches of story, has underneath it a hollow chamber with bellows whose wind or air (Holy Spirit is wind, air and sometimes symbolised by bellows) comes up through the inside of the tree to move the birds to sing. In the Walewein version, this tree has underneath it 16 men who work 8 bellows. Thus, amazingly the tree in this chess grail romance also has major chess numbers therein. The golden tree, a bird, an underground wind-bellow motif, the common literary symbol tree of medieval literature also found in the Prester John tradition, in the Grail, all here linked to chess..

    So it is 16 (the number of pieces each side has in a game) and 8, the chesboard is 8×8..

    Best wishes, Damian

  6. I just re-read this and find out again how my minds stirs around in the collective unconscious.
    In my novel The Roses of the Moon the castle is built in ab owl in the mountains of northern Hungary. In the time before time began, the earth gave birth to the moon and
    the place where the moon went out a tree grew. In the novel the first tree is gigantic white willow. But when the Red and White Queens are usurped by Oezsebet
    the willow is cut down and replaced with a golden tree I call the Liliu Tree. It is kept inside a wall without a door and is an important part of the drama.

    Anyway golden trees — but in mine the fallen angels live.

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