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.

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