If you’ve been reading this blog for even a little while, you know that Tarot is the most consistent spiritual practice in this Priestess’s life — I’ve been reading for 25 years as of this summer, and Tarot has been a constant in my life through periods of major upheaval. The more I get to know these 78 cards — these 78 self-portraits, these 78 mirrors — the more I love them and the more I learn from them. So I was honored when Rose, my lovely co-Priestess over at The Bliss Institute, asked me to collaborate with her on a Tarot series this summer. She’s recently started her own journey through the Major Arcana, with her entry about The Fool, and asked me to talk about The Fool and present my favorite reinterpretation of this card — from Kris Waldherr’s Goddess Tarot.
Who Is The Fool?
The Fool is the first card of the Major Arcana (sometimes just called “The Majors”) in the traditional 78-card Tarot deck. (The Majors are the 22 cards that are not associated with the 4 Suits — classically, Wands, Swords, Cups, and Pentacles.) These cards represent the journey to enlightenment. In some traditions, they are also associated with the Qabbalahic Tree of Life, though since I don’t work with that particular imagery I won’t discuss it here. The Fool is associated with the number 0, which is sometimes thought to represent endings and beginnings. In the classic Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (the deck with which most people are familiar), The Fool looks like this:
Dressed in his bright tunic and leggings, he’s off on an adventure — and clearly not heeding the warnings of the dog about the impending plummet off a cliff, right? In my decades of reading, I have seen many querents have a negative reaction to this card — both because of the apparent danger to the figure on the card, and because of all the connotations that come with calling someone “a fool” in Western culture. People often assume that drawing The Fool means that one is “acting a fool” or “making a fool of themselves” — ie, acting without forethought, looking ridiculous, or otherwise being played or taken advantage of.
I like to remind people that the figure of The Fool only took on those connotations relatively recently. If we look instead to history, to the Fools and Court Jesters of Europe (as well as to Trickster figures like Coyote or Anansi) we see that The Fool is anything but “foolish.” The role of The Fool in the courts of Europe was to act as a fool/foil to the nobility — and in this role, outside the conventions of the court and society, he or she could tell hard truths, make crude jokes, and point up absurdity with little or no fear of censure. Trickster figures across cultures play this role — they fill a prescribed place where they can (and indeed are expected to) act outside cultural norms. (Henry VIII’s Fool, Will Sommers, is an excellent place to start reading about the important role of The Fool in courtly life.)
When we look at The Fool through the lens of someone whose socially sanctioned role is to challenge boundaries and conventions, as someone whose job it is to both tell us hard truths and make us laugh at ourselves and the absurdity of it all, as someone who is unafraid to be unapologetically themselves, this card takes on a whole new meaning. The Fool from this perspective is the person who takes the first steps on a journey even without being able to see the final outcome — the person who steps out in faith, knowing that they might indeed fall, but who is willing to take the risk that they might instead fly.
When The Fool appears in a reading, I take it as a sign that a new phase of life is unfolding or will soon unfold — a phase or cycle that will require us to trust and take the first steps out into the unknown, to challenge what we think we know of ourselves and the world and how it works. The Fool represents the first steps on a new path, often a path that will serve our Highest Self and Highest Good. There will surely be obstacles and pitfalls along this path, but The Fool does not allow fear of these or the negative voices of others or their own inner critic to deter them. (I see the nipping dog as symbolizing those voices that try to hold us back from pursuing our true calling.) The Fool is not “foolish” in our modern sense — he does not go into the new without consideration of what he needs to take with him (his bundle), or of what cautions he needs to take, but merely prepares as best he can and trusts that he will be able to navigate the path ahead.
This perspective on The Fool perhaps explains why my favorite Fool card is the one from Kris Waldherr’s Goddess Tarot. In this deck, Waldherr has reinterpreted many of the Majors and associated them with particular Goddesses. In the case of The Fool, Waldherr has opted to envision The Fool as Tara, Buddhist Goddess of New Beginnings. Appropriately, both for Tara and for the underlying message of The Fool, Waldherr has called the 0 card in her deck “Beginnings.”
Join me tomorrow for an in-depth exploration of Tara/Beginnings as The Fool, and why She’s my favorite Fool of all.