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The Fool

Fool Man, The

  • Hebrew letter: Aleph
  • Syllables: A, L, P
  • Astrological Correlation: Air

The card is numbered as 0, and this small detail, unimportant as it might seem is one of the pivotal points of Tarot theory. There is actually a sort of "split" between the Anglo-Saxon and Continental European schools of  Cartomancy (that's Tarot-Card-Reading in a "big word" way) over this very point  and the reason is this:

The Kabbalist school of thought (to which I vaguely subscribe) maintains that the tarot is a form of describing a mystical symbol (or  glyph, to give it its proper name) called Otz Chiim, the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life looks a bit like 10 spheres (which are actually called "sephiroth" -or "sephirah" in the plural- and represent something like states of existence) and 22 paths connecting the spheres among each other. Each path is a sort of bridge between two spheres. There are 22 paths, 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and 22 cards in the Major Arcana. It would seem pretty obvious then that there ought to be a relationship between cards, letters and paths. The BIG hurdle is working out which card  goes with each path.

The French school of Cartomancy has the Magician (as card #1) representing Kether, the first of the spheres and then sort of "runs out of steam"  after the first ten cards. The Fool has no number and is stuck at the end of the major arcana after "The World". I'm sure they have their reasons, but I can't quite relate to them. Oswald Wirth gives a pretty good if (for me), unsatisfying explanation in his book "The Tarot of the Magicians".

The English (personified by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn), have a different system: the Sephiroth are represented by the first ten minor  arcana cards of each suite and the Major Arcana represent the paths. The fool  has the number 0 and represents the path between the first two Sephiroth. I like this idea a lot better, somehow.

Having said all that, let's look at the rest of the card.

We see a young man, apparently in the middle of traveling somewhere and standing by the edge of a cliff or a mountain. He may be about to  accidentally walk over the edge, as he is apparently blissfully unaware of the  chasm. On the other hand, he COULD be simply admiring the view. And here we have  a lot of symbolism already.

Let's look closely at the word "fool". The Tarot's Fool is a madman, maybe a simpleton: perhaps he is a bit childlike. He is someone that is  unaware of the "right" way to behave, he is unaware of social convention. But because he is incapable of calling a spade by any other name, he is honest and sincere. His reactions to a situation may be strange, but they're never  hypocritical. Because of this, he is usually represented as a young man: someone who  has not had time to become cynical or lose his idealism and is still "travelling", finding new twists and unexpected turns to Life behind every corner. This idea is further borne out by the white rose he carries. White is a clean  colour, free of impurities (read: "the lower passions"). And as time passes, the flower (like youth) will eventually wilt.

Faced with the fact that we do not know what the eventual outcome of ANY of our actions will be, many years down the track, we are ALL a little  bit like the Fool. Like the fool, we can only use our own notions of what is  correct and behave accordingly. We may be about to inadvertently step off a metaphysical or actual "edge" every single moment of our lives. The  car accident we will have next week has its birth in the fact that a week ago we were too rushed for time to take the car to the mechanic. If you are not a millionaire today, it may (may, I repeat) be because twenty years ago, you didn't finish reading the "help wanted" section of the paper while you were at that traffic light.

We can tell the Fool is traveling because his purse is slung from a stick (just like a comic-strip tramp's). The purse is decorated with an  eagle and carries all of the Fool's belongings. For Paul Foster Case, the purse represents memories: I like the idea in the sense that whatever the fool is carrying in his wallet or purse is really a symbol of something greater that he has left behind. Let me make this clearer: if I carry my money around in a bag or purse, I am only carrying a symbol of a job and whatever purchasing power that gives me. If I take my mobile phone, that's a symbol of friends with whom I wish to stay in contact and of the technological world that spawned mobile phones. Any food that the Fool carries is in truth a symbol of the farmhouses or fields he left behind. So, OK... the purse represents memories. Paul Foster Case (who was a lot more "together" than I'll ever be!) sees the Eagle as a symbol of Scorpio and of reproduction. Memories will, in other words, take root elsewhere and become a new generation. Maybe the Fool is looking for some place to regenerate himself, to reinvent himself as someone new, to take on a new life and a new identity.

To me, the eagle represents soaring, traveling, seeing the world clearly but from a higher viewpoint. Maybe the Fool's memories help him to see  his world more clearly.

The stick or wand from which the purse is slung is not just a visual aid to represent travel, it represents power as well. The Fool can defend  himself against animals and robbers, if need be. Maybe the stick is a symbol  of a family tree (and the fool is one branch of the tree)

The Fool's clothes are full of detail as well. The inner garment is white and represents clean, pure wisdom (and it's of a piece with the rose),  but over that garment, the Fool wears a black mantle representing ignorance. Wisdom has temporarily been cloaked in darkness. In between the two colours rests the red lining of the cloak, which (being red) represents the  lower, bloodier passions.


The start of a new life, beginnings in general. Energy, optimism, happiness and strength. Decisions that must be taken, paths to be chosen. Unexpected situations which can change our lives.


Impulsive and unpredictable actions, folly and indiscretion. Energy is lost or sapped due to a lack of focus. Perhaps an inability to concentrate.