This month, we will move into the Major Arcana, and talk about The Fool. So far, we’ve been talking about Minor Arcana cards, and since this is the first Major we are looking at, before we begin breaking down The Fool, let’s define and describe some terms.
There are 22 Major Arcana cards in a Tarot deck, with numbers from 0 to 21; the Majors usually deal with broader and more far-reaching life experience issues, archetypes that are easy for us to identify with and connect with at some point in our lives.
An archetype (pronounced “ark eh type”) is a generic, idealized model of a person, an object, or a concept which can be copied, patterned, or imitated. In psychology, an archetype is a model of a person, a personality, or a behavior. In the analysis of personality, the term archetype often refers to one of two concepts:
A “stereotype”; in other words, a personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of a personality type; stereotypes can be positive or negative. For instance, “girls make good cooks” is a stereotype.
An “epitome,” which is the embodiment of a particular personality type, especially as the “greatest” or “best” example of the particular personality type; epitomes can also be positive or negative. For example, Venus is said to be the epitome of feminine beauty.
So basically, archetypes present personality traits that are common enough to be known by us all, through images (rather than words) that contain symbolism that connects with our subconscious in a universal manner. Each of us can understand the symbolism of archetypes and connect with that symbolism because each of us has (or will) personally experienced these archetypes.
Each Major Arcana card corresponds to a number, an archetype, an element, an astrological sign or planet, a Hebrew letter, and a Path on the Tree of Life joining two Sephiroth. Let’s start breaking this one down; we’ve got a lot of work to do!
The Fool, the first of the Major Arcana cards, represents the archetype of the Divine Child. This archetype brings us amazing and extraordinary possibilities, a huge potential to achieve redemption, and a powerful regenerative force that can lead to wholeness. The Fool represents the true self, that part of us that is unaffected by ego. But The Fool has a dark side as well, for the Divine Child tends to avoid evil altogether, and like most children, he is afraid of the dark, and of the unknown.
The Fool is like an unfertilized egg because he is filled with potential, but needs some outside influence in order to manifest that potential into reality. He is optimistic, he approaches life as an adventure and expects that he will succeed. He is the Divine breath that gives life to the first step towards fulfillment and completion; a small step, yes, but the first step, no matter how small, is the most important. The potential of The Fool is neither positive nor negative, yet contains both, and he sees the world through eyes that appreciate the unconventional. He lights up everything he touches because he is light, the light that shines out of a child before he is made to conform to expectations. However, formlessness can lead to confusion and disorganization, more darkness to balance out the light.
The traditional image on The Fool is of a boy or young man in danger of stepping off a ledge, dressed in warm colors (sometimes as a jester or in travelling clothes), and carrying a stick or a bundle over his shoulder, accompanied by a white dog. That dog represents trust and fidelity, the superconscious, and the Divine essence that seems to watch over all fools. Tradition holds that in his bundle are the four symbols of the elements, the scepter or wand, the cup, the sword and the pentacle. The Fool always carries these symbols; they belong to him and they retain their own powers, even though he does not know how to use them.
The Fool is numbered 0, which in itself shows a sophistication not apparent in a surface examination of the traditional image for the card. After all, the number 0 is a placeholder for a concept that can’t be held in our hand: nothingness or potential. We can see what the number 1 is, but seeing potential with the physical eyes is not always easy. The number 0 is also without gender, in the same way that a newly fertilized ovum is without gender because its gender has not yet manifested. The number 0 is circular; in sacred geometry, a circle is the basic building block of every other shape, more fertile potential. In some decks, The Fool is the last card of the Majors rather than the first, and thus is also associated with the ouroborus, representing endless cycles, and a life force so deeply connected to the Divine that it cannot be extinguished.
The Fool is the first Major Arcana card that presents the concept of a crossroad. He is both emptiness and infinity, beginnings and endings. The Fool teaches us how to trust that the Universe will take care of us. He loves a break in tradition and does not value the status quo, but this disregard of tradition can lead to irresponsible or reckless behavior, indiscretion, rebellion or negligence. The Fool is unaware of danger and thus is able to act without fear of the precariousness of his position. In past times the Court Jester had the power to present the truth couched in either myth or comedy, and to get away with outrageous things. Sloppy and irresponsible idiot? Or Holy Fool?
The Fool corresponds with the element of Air, and thus is connected to actions, truth and clarity, the intent to manifest potential into reality, mental focus and spiritual guidance, and a striving to achieve balance between the mind and the heart. Air is connected to the beliefs we have, and to the expressions of those beliefs. Air is expansive and adaptive, and so is The Fool.
In astrology, The Fool corresponds with the planet Uranus. Uranus is unusual because it rotates on its side; thus each of its poles is turned toward the sun and then away from the sun in an unending cycle. Uranus corresponds to genius, individuality, new and unexpected ideas, radical notions, inventions and technology, and revolution. Uranus is associated with the Romantic Movement in art and literature, which encourages individuality and freedom of expression. It is interesting to me that one of the correspondences of The Fool is technology, but then again, invention requires the ability to see things that don’t yet exist in the physical world. That is one of The Fool’s talents!
In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is connected to the creative forces in the universe. They express themselves on three levels: one level is archetypical and runs from the first to the ninth letter; the second level is one of manifestation and runs from the tenth to the eighteenth letter, and the third is a cosmic level and runs from the nineteenth to the twenty-second letter. The Fool corresponds with the Hebrew letter Aleph, the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet; this letter corresponds with unity, origin, and with the ability to reproduce or manifest. Aleph also represents patience and learning; it shows a connection or link between the Divine and the physical world, and between the Source and everything that emanates from the Source.
On the Tree of Life, The Fool represents Path 11, running between Kether (the Source, limitless possibility) and Chokmah (male in the electric sense, dynamic energy, the origin of vital force and polarity). Thus you could say The Fool is the spark that sets things in motion (in an unpredictable way); his powers are the neutral powers of creativity. It is difficult to visualize the energies and correspondences of the 11th Path, because this Path is a catalyst, not an actual manifestation. The energy of this Path is not shaped in any way, and each of us must strive to find our own meanings and our own applications for the knowledge and wisdom we receive here. The energies of the Sacred Feminine are easy to be aware of, and the effects of the manifestation of those energies are within the workings of Nature and our world and universe. But those effects would not happen without the catalyst of the Sacred Masculine; they would only be possibilities and potential if they are not activated. We usually don’t know the catalyst is there until it has completed its job and begin activating potential into actual manifestation.
The Fool is not expected to follow the rules that are imposed on the rest of the Tarot cards; the energies of this card are exempt from just about everything. This card is about possibilities, about having faith, about exploring the unknown, about taking a chance and trusting in fate and luck, about doing the unexpected, and about being watched over by a Higher Power.
Nothing is certain when The Fool shows itself in a spread, and the beliefs of the Seeker receiving the reading will have a huge influence over how The Fool manifests. If the Seeker is optimistic, The Fool will cause miracles to drop into his lap; if the Seeker expects bad things, The Fool will trip and fall, skin his knees, and break that nice expensive bottle of single malt scotch in his backpack. The interesting thing about this card is that even if his adversaries are powerful and well prepared to put him down, if The Fool believes he will be victorious, those adversaries had better watch out!