Tarot Card Meanings: The Fool

The Fool (“Le Mat”) — Card 0/Card XXII

Jump off the cliff…and build your wings on the way down.” – Ray Bradbury

At first there is Nothing. This is a profound concept. Many religions even start this way.

But then there is suddenly…Something. And that Something is…The Fool.

The Fool is the Something-ness that somehow manages to pull itself into existence by its own bootstraps from out of Nothingness. How The Fool does this is a Mystery, as those bootstraps don’t even exist when the equally non-existent Fool is reaching for them…

So part of the basic message here is that The Fool can do the impossible. The Fool is the impossible!

The Fool is Magical. To be clear, The Fool doesn’t necessarily do Magic – that’s more the province of The Magician – The Fool simply is Magical.

Consider the way in which The Fool is treated as being both Card 0 and Card XXII, depending on the reader’s needs in a given moment. That’s unique among Tarot cards, the rest of which all have some fixed number (or in the case of the Court Cards, some readers treat those as having no numbers at all). That’s Magical.

Consider the way in which The Fool is the very first card in the deck, stepping into existence and toting the rest of the deck behind him in his pack where before there had simply been…Nothing. That’s Magical.

Consider the way in which the Minor Arcana translate almost entirely into a deck of regular playing cards, but the Majors don’t seem to appear there at all…except for The Fool. The Fool makes the jump and represents the Major Arcana by appearing in decks of playing cards in the slightly altered yet still familiar guise of…The Joker. The “wild card.” And consider how The Joker functions in such a deck of cards: lurking on the outsides of things, laughing and capering about the margins, separate from the official boundaries of our card games, and yet somehow still a necessary part of the overall proceedings (wouldn’t a deck with no Jokers feel somehow deficient…?). That is Magical.

So the Fool is special and random: the exception that proves every rule.

And what does it mean when The Fool appears in a Tarot reading? As with any Tarot card, it’s important to keep track of both the lower and the higher expressions of its energies (and some of this will often be determined by the feel of the cards that surround or adjoin The Fool in a given reading – if they’re all dark, they can pull The Fool down with them, but if they all feel lighter, then The Fool can really walk on air!).

Low expressions of Fool-energy… When The Fool operates from less than ideal places, this card’s appearance in a reading can signify literal foolishness: naivety, falling prey to schemers and swindlers, a lack of plans and logic. It can indicate an absence of self-awareness when such awareness is called for, or an inability to pick up on social cues. The Fool can indicate a harmful lack of maturity or sophistication, and an insistence on the simple when matters have become more unavoidably complex. Peter Pan Syndrome and a refusal to grow up may be part of the message.

In higher expressions, though, The Fool has some fantastic qualities! The Fool is pure, optimistic, exuberant, trusting. When the Fool card appears in a reading, it can be the announcement of some new beginning, or it could be an indicator of a need to take leaps of faith, to be childlike and unselfconscious. Things work out for The Fool because The Fool knows they will. The Fool generally has support from both the Universe at large, and from smaller-scale helpers and allies. Each of the Fool cards drawn from the English-speaking world’s Big Three Tarot decks features an animal familiar engaging with The Fool, possibly to alert The Fool to potential dangers. The Fool is a character who can be lovable, sweet, charming, disarming, and a focal point for adventure.

And things do seem to go The Fool’s way much of the time. Think what your existence would be like if the prospect of stepping off a cliff didn’t cause you the slightest bit of concern. Imagine a reality in which you could march from a sheer precipice out into the yawning void, and feel utterly confident that, say, a huge bird would happen by to snatch you out of the sky in timely fashion, and grant you safe aerial passage down to the ground well before you’d ever be in peril of going splat at the bottom…or imagine you could feel certain that, as Ray Bradbury says, you’d easily be able to build wings of your own on the way down. That’s who and what The Fool is…

Next entry: The Magician
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