Visualisations on The Fool

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Editor’s Note: If you want to experiment with tarot cards and don’t have any, we provide a free tarot spread generator using the Celtic Wings spread, which is based on the traditional Celtic Cross spread. This article tells you how to use the spread. You can visit Sarah’s website here. –efc

By Sarah Taylor

The Fool is a wanderer, energetic, ubiquitous, and immortal. He is the most powerful of all the Tarot Trumps [major arcana]. Since he has no fixed number he is free to travel at will, often upsetting the established order with his pranks. As we have seen, his vigor has propelled him across the centuries where he survives in our modern playing cards as the Joker. Here he still enjoys confounding the Establishment. In poker he goes wild, capturing the king and all his court. In other card games he pops up unexpectedly, deliberately creating what we choose to call a misdeal.

— Sallie Nichols, Jung and Tarot — An Archetypal Journey

The Fool - RWS and Jodorowsky Camoin Tarot de Marseille tarot decks.

The Fool from the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot deck (left) and the Camoin-Jodorowsky Tarot, a restored version of the Marseille Tarot. Click on the image for a larger version.

The first card in the major arcana, The Fool is also somewhat of an outsider from the outset: assigned the number 0 as it is, there is no other card in the major or minor arcana that has this numerical quality.

I’ve spent some time exploring The Fool in numerous sources, and my prevailing conclusion is that the card is at once simple and complex.

I think these two ideas are embodied in the two versions of The Fool that accompany today’s article: the first, and for some more familiar one, from the Rider-Waite Smith Tarot deck, the second from the Camoin-Jodorowsky version of the Marseille Tarot deck. Each card depicts The Fool differently; both express the “energetic, ubiquitous, and immortal” wanderer that Sallie Nichols describes in the quote above.

Given the airy and pioneering nature of the card, I felt it would be fitting to address The Fool in as flexible and accommodating a way as possible: through the eyes, thoughts and feelings of you, dear readers.

Exploring The Fool for yourself

Using the above quotation by Sallie Nichols as guidance, and working with one or both cards:

  • What does The Fool symbolise — what is the story that the card or cards are telling you?
  • Where and how does The Fool make him/herself apparent in your life?
  • Where has The Fool taken you?

To help you get started, here are some additional questions that you might want to consider:

  • Why is The Fool associated with the number zero?
  • What is the significance of the dog in both versions?
  • What does the white flower represent?
  • How does The Fool’s dress work with the concepts you’re exploring?
  • What does the use of movement, in both versions, mean to you?
  • Is the use of colour significant?

If you feel like sharing anything, please feel free to add your comments below and I’ll join in where I can.

Happy adventuring!

Sarah Taylor

About Sarah Taylor

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15 Responses to Visualisations on The Fool

  1. Lokta says:

    What a delight reading everyone’s interpretation/feelings about this card. Whenever this card appears for me, I know I can make the ‘jump’ or take that’ step’ into the unknown and be supported. Admittedly, I have been using various decks for insight going on about 40 years now, my first deck being RW. For the last 8 years I have used the OSHO deck exclusively.

    Oh Half, “the illumination through the lunar”….The Fool in Osho’s deck; the Moon, a thin, almost invisible crescent, is amongst stars, whispering assurance.

    And Jere, to quote Osho….”go on dying to the past so you remain in the present, here now, as if just born, just a babe.” Your words really moved me.

    The ‘zero’ place occupied by the Fool is the numberless number where trust and innocence, intuition and experience are the guides.

    Thanks Sarah

  2. Half De Witte says:

    Here goes!

    Zero, or naught, I see in the Rider-Waite pictorial, at least as much as representing the moon, the lesser light. Although the sun has magnitude, the colours hint neither at domination nor illumination, through the Solar entity. This makes me feel that this card should not be interpreted predominantly in an individualistic way. It seems to represent the whole esoteric project of illumination through the lunar, intuitive side of life – a side that has relentlessly been judged, in exoteric tradition, as less than knowledge, as folly, once compared with the positivist, rational, ‘enlightened’ solar disciplines (culminating with science).

    The fool, positioned beneath the zero/moon is indeed ON the path but simultaneously may be seen AS the path; the road less travelled, perhaps. On the mountaintop, the fool is in a posture and motion of worship, as if transcending. Carefree and in touch with intuition. The dog mirrors this mode of being. Although it is merely a creature, on its hind legs it becomes more of a biped, more fully ‘human’ in expression perhaps as it expresses lunar energy?

    The flower is very interesting. Photosynthesis requires sunlight and the flower seems to be the only thing directly nurtured by the sun’s illumination. Interestingly, it is simply in the palm of The Fool’s hand – indicating powerfully that exoteric, solar knowledge is indeed a beautiful and productive thing once it is an instrument, once it is in the palm of the one wielding it – rather than exhibiting arrogance; wherein the solar illumination obliterates everything that is not explicitly ‘of the light’, instead becoming fascist in its manifestation within the natural order, through the mere machinations of brute rationality.

    Another subtle confirmation of the above interpretation is that The Fool’s ‘heart’ (embossed on his tunic) is on the ‘wrong’ side – But actually that means it is in the RIGHT place – singing the song of mysteries, the ballad of the watery willow, the melodies of the moon.

  3. RiccoFiori says:

    This is simple for me, the fool is the agent of change. He shows how easy it is when you have no inhibitions or preconceptions. He wears various costumes to call attention to himself. The costumes are filled with sights to attract most observers.

  4. luckydriver luckydriver says:

    Yes, thanks to Charles for mentioning the fore/middle/background mode of interpretation…..very interesting to think about.

    I think anyone who is involved in any kind of creative activity also has the Fool standing with them. The birth of any new idea involves a certain amount of sifting through intuition and thought in order to “jump off the cliff” and shepherd the concept through to the end without worrying about how others might interpret it.

  5. Sarah Taylor sarah taylor says:

    Oooh, I am intrigued by the, erm, case that Case puts forward for an interpretation based on background/middleground/foreground. I will try to bear that in mind when I next look at a card.

  6. Charles says:

    I looked up some of the BOTA details on the Fool, and Paul Foster Case has some very interesting ideas. Case says the Fool wears a belt with 12 divisions (7 are visible in front) which represents the zodiac, and time. This is supposed to represent man imposing a structure on the universe (represented in the robes).
    The outer robe is black (ignorance) but under it, a white garment (purity, innocence) is visible at the collar and sleeves. Also associated with that is the white rose, a symbol of purity and innocence again. The black robe has circles with red “asterisks” on them, they are symbols of stars as forces of energy shining out of the darkness. There are also little yellow circles with symbols of fire on them, and a Sun/Moon on his shoulder (only in the BOTA version). Notice the prominent Sun in the corner, this card is about being propelled by the energetic forces of the universe. The Fool has the Sun at his back, and symbols of stellar energy on his chest.

    I was looking at that link I gave that showed how BOTA modified the Fool’s staff and purse so it looks straighter. The RWS purse seems to have a break in the outline and a cut around it, like the drawing was altered crudely. The way the purse is drawn seems like the staff comes too far forward, or perhaps is even crooked. This is slightly reminiscent of the awkward Jodorowsky Fool, which holds the staff in his left hand, pole over his right shoulder, and the bag back over his left shoulder. Also look at the legs of the RWS fool. I can not really determine which leg is forward, left or right, it is ambiguous.

    The Fool is Number O, Aleph, the beginning, actually outside the number system of the other numbered cards. I love Case’s description, “Key 0 represents the manner in which the Absolute presents itself to the minds of the wise. The Absolute is THAT concerning which nothing may be positively affirmed. We cannot define it because it transcends our comprehension.” We may seem like a fool to others, with our head in the clouds, tapping into that divine Absolute. The Fool walks, his path determined by greater forces than his personal will. But our human lives are not so absolute, we may stumble right off a cliff.

    Case also offers a very interesting key to interpreting cards. He says the background represents states or causes of manifestation that precede the events represented by details in the foreground. Middle distance symbols represent intermediation between the big background forces and what happens in the Now. Ooh that’s good, I’d forgotten about that, Case is big on the symbolism of space and perspective in the cards, now you can see why. Anyway, there is a huge gap between the foreground scene of the Fool, and the distant background with the Sun and mountains. A monumental gulf separates them with nothing in between. This is another symbol of that Absolute acting directly on a personal level.

  7. Sarah Taylor sarah taylor says:

    Charles – I have mixed feelings about the Jodorowsky Camoin tarot, and you definitely picked up on something for me when you mention the “jumbled planes”. It sometimes looks quite warped. Having said that, I was interested in his dress as the archetypal Court Jester. There is something to that.

    Indrani, I like your linking of The Fool with love. That makes sense to me.

    Burning River – it seems that I had an encounter with The Fool that shares something with yours. I’ve followed The Fool when I’ve quit my job without any planning for a fall-back, but simply because I “had to”. Things worked out well. I also embodied The Fool when I divorced, left another job, sold my home, and moved country. Again, there was a calling to do so from deep within my soul. How could I not follow? Thank you for sharing, and for the reminder.

    Some rich observations, Jere. I loved your likening it to “the ‘personality’ that knows everything from ‘before'”.

    I read this quote in the same book by Sallie Nichols – from Carl Jung – that I absolutely loved:

    “The ego stands to the self as the moved to the mover, or as object to subject. . . . The self, like the unconscious, is an a priori existent out of which the ego evolves. It is, so to speak, an unconscious prefiguration of the ego.

    ***”It is not I who create myself, rather I happen to myself.”***

  8. Lea Burning River says:

    Wow jere–that was blowing me away–the way you see the Fool–which is so mystical to my down-to-earth–but with no conflict–especially the meeting of yin and yang-my quest and cause-and the figure 8 and 2. I love to see those invisibles brought into the sunlight. And thanks for the nod indra–I love your comments always, and appreciate appreciation :>)And thank you Sarah for your insight on the Tarot that you so freely and wisely share

  9. Jere says:

    ..I’ll stop shy of commenting on the specific artwork in the decks you’ve pulled, but I will comment on my perceptions regarding the Fool. To me the Fool represents the ‘beginning of the Circle’, and as it is the beginning, it cannot be rightfully displaced from it’s mirror image: the Princess of Disks (pentacles, pantacles, spirals.. whatever..), the last card in the deck (..and my two favorite cards..). These two are where Yin turns to Yang, and Yang turns to Yin. It’s that funky point in the cognito-written form of infinity, the 8, one circle unfoded into two, (or twisted into a one 2…)

    The Fool is where we step into reality as a baby. It’s also the ‘personality’ that knows everything from ‘before’.

    ..Imagine an older person at the end of their life, who slips from this reality.. and then a child who is born that same instant.. this is the sense I feel. It is continuation, and there is a real Understanding that newborns, and elders have, regarding their positions..

    ..if we could tap that synapse..!

    ..I hope to say more.. but I’m drained these days..

    (Eric, if you read this,.. do some serious clearing meditation, if you don’t already (and if so, cool) at least for ten minutes a day.. and what I mean is “Empty out”. the Soul must be fed.. you have to create the vaccuum to sponge..)


  10. indranibe says:

    Thank you Burning River – that was fabulous, especially the bit about when it is that the Fool appears in your life.


  11. Lea Burning River says:

    Hi Sarah!

    Thanks for asking!

    I have had a busy day and was considering how I might answer your questions about The Fool from my perspective. The feeling in each card seems very different to me. I wondered: do Fools have good days and bad days? Why did the artists have such different interpretations?

    The yellow background color, the movement from right to left and the expression of the man’s and dog’s face are upbeat. Personally, I resonate with the RWS depiction.

    Many years ago the Tarot deck I was introduced to did not have such a postive slant on The Fool and I was happy as I noticed in your columns that some of the decks (or is it only the RWS?) now have that feeling about them. The Fool who is Cool being The Fool. Open, honest, willing. Curious, humble (not poor, but not royal, and only a knapsack), aware.

    However, whether its a good day (RWS)or not (C-J), The Fool is on his own journey, his own path, whether the movement is from right to left or left to right as we have on the C-J card.

    Both cards have the connection with nature not only through the dogs but also with the decorations on the clothing (much more on the RWS, so there is much more connection and exuberance).

    The dog in both scenes is also in different moods. In the RWS scene the pup is enjoying, happy, free. In the C-J card man’s/Fools’s Best Friend seems to be saying–lighten up and maybe turn around. But whatever is going on, the dog and the Fool are in it together. The Fool is in relationship with nature–all Nature.

    And I would add here, that with the card’s number being 0, The Fool is also pretty tight with The Source of all. So, even on the “bad” days, it’s safe to be The Fool.

    The cards today are telling me I have a very strong Fool in me and that Fool’s do have good days and bad days and that nature and best friends are helpful, even necessary, on the good days and bad days, but what ever kind of day, it is My Road and I’ll walk whichever way I need to walk right now to be satisfied that I have checked out what calls to be checked out.

    The Fool has appeared in my life each time I am willing to take big chances, to lose the confidence and perhaps respect of some people I love as I pursue what I know to be best for me and not harmful to them or anyone else.

    The Fool appeared in my life when I left a 41 year long relationship, monetary security and a certain level of prestige to become fully self supporting and living alone in order to get better acquainted with myself and to make sure that I not miss any turns on my road.

  12. indranibe says:

    The child-state, the nascent self. The dreamer – love and innocence itself – unfettered, unbound – the Child of Light.

    I am The Fool, and therein lies my “power” – because underneath trappings of the world, underneath all the filth and bitterness, underneath sorrow and loss and heartache and disappointment, lies love, and that love is as untouchable as it is persistent. The power of The Fool is the power of Love itself.

    As usual Sarah, we flow.


  13. Charles says:

    Builders Of The Adytum. Paul Foster Case split from the Golden Dawn about the same time Crowley did, and formed BOTA. Case is famous for his Tarot books and essays, and BOTA is still active today.

  14. Amanda Painter Amanda Painter says:

    hey charles —

    i checked out the link you included, and have one question: what does BOTA stand for?


  15. Charles says:

    A friend of mine showed me a book she just checked out from the library, “Jung and Tarot.” I said, “hey, I tried to check that out last week and someone already had it. It was you!” LOL

    I’ll let others jump in with their interpretations first. But I will comment, to me, the Jodorowsky Fool seems contorted and like a bunch of jumbled planes. That’s sort of what I dislike about that deck anyway, it is consciously “naive” artwork that is very flat, it lacks the depth of perspective in the RWS. I also note that the BOTA deck subtly reworks the RWS Fool, in particular, adding detailed symbols on the Fool’s dress and on his pouch. There are subtle symbols like fire, sun moon, etc. in the RWS version but they are hard to see clearly.

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