The Fool (Tarot card)

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The Fool from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck
In the Visconti-Sforza tarot deck, the Fool is depicted as a ragged vagabond.

The Fool or The Jester is one of the 78 cards in a Tarot deck; one of the 22 Trump cards that make up the Major Arcana. The Fool is unnumbered; sometimes represented as 0 (the first) or XXI (the second to last) or XXII (the last) Major Arcana in decks. It is used in divination as well as in game playing.

Iconography[edit]

The Fool is titled Le Mat in the Tarot of Marseilles, and Il Matto in most Italian language tarot decks. These archaic words mean "the madman" or "the beggar", and may be related to the word for 'checkmate' in relation to the original use of tarot cards for gaming purposes.[1]

In the earliest Tarot decks, the Fool is usually depicted as a beggar or a vagabond. In the Visconti-Sforza tarot deck, the Fool wears ragged clothes and stockings without shoes, and carries a stick on his back. He has what appear to be feathers in his hair. His unruly beard and feathers may relate to the tradition of the woodwose or wild man. Another early Italian image that relates to the tradition is the first (and lowest) of the series of the so-called "Tarocchi of Mantegna". This series of prints containing images of social roles, allegorical figures, and classical deities begins with "Misero", a depiction of a beggar leaning on a staff.[2] A similar image is contained in the German Hofamterspiel; there the fool (German: Narr) is depicted as a barefoot man in robes, apparently with bells on his hood, playing a bagpipe.[3]

The Tarot of Marseilles and related decks similarly depict a bearded person wearing what may be a jester's hat; he always carries a bundle of his belongings on a stick slung over his back. He appears to be getting chased away by an animal, either a dog or a cat. The animal has torn his pants.[4]

In the Rider-Waite Tarot deck and other esoteric decks made for cartomancy, the Fool is shown as a young man, walking unknowingly toward the brink of a precipice. In the Rider-Waite deck, he is also portrayed as having with him a small dog. The Fool holds a white rose(a symbol of of freedom from baser desires) in one hand and in the other a small bundle of possessions, representing untapped collective knowledge.[5]

In French suited tarot decks that do not use the traditional emblematic images of Italian suited decks for the suit of trumps, the Fool is typically made up as a jester or bard, reminiscent of the joker in a deck of playing cards.

History[edit]

In the decks before Waite-Smith, the Fool is almost always unnumbered. There are a few exceptions: some old decks (including the 15th-century Sola Busca) labelled the card with a "0", and the 18th-century Belgian decks labelled the Fool as "XXII".[6] The Fool is almost always completely apart from the sequence of trumps in the historic decks. Still, there is historic precedent for regarding it as the lowest trump and as the highest trump.

Traditionally, the Major Arcana in Tarot cards are numbered with Roman numerals. The Fool is numbered with the zero, one of the Arabic numerals.

In tarot games[edit]

In occult tarot, the Fool is usually considered part of the "major arcana". This is not true in tarot games; the Fool's role in most games is independent of both the suit cards and the trump cards, and the card does not belong to either category. As such, most tarot decks originally made for game playing do not assign a number to the Fool indicating its rank in the suit of trumps; it has none. Waite gives the Fool the number 0, but in his book discusses the Fool between Judgment, no. 20, and The World, no. 21. The only traditional game deck that numbers the Fool 0 is the Tarocco Piemontese. Since the 1930s, Tarot Nouveau decks often use a black upside-down star as the corner index for the Fool.[7][8] In all tarot games, the Fool is one of the most valuable cards.

As excuse[edit]

In most tarot games originating from Italy and France, the Fool has a unique role. In these games, the Fool is sometimes called "the Excuse". The tarot games are typically trick taking games; playing the Fool card excuses the player from either following suit or playing a trump card on that trick, this naturally means losing the trick. The player then takes back the Fool and adds it to their own trick pile and gives the trick's winner the least valuable card from that same pile. If there are no cards to give in exchange, the Fool is worth one point less and an extra point is given to the trick-taker. At the end of the game, if the owner's trick pile consists solely of the Fool, then it may be awarded to the opposing team. Usually the Fool can't be captured but in some games it can be won in the last trick or awarded to a player who has won all the tricks. Winning a trick containing the Fool card often yields a scoring bonus.

As highest trump[edit]

In most Central European Tarock games, the Fool is simply played as the 22nd trump, making it the highest trump in such games.[9] In Königrufen and Slovenian tarock, the Fool can be captured but only if it is played in the same trick with trumps 21 and 1 in which case trump 1 wins; this is called the Emperor's trick.[10] In Hungarian tarokk games, the player that loses trump 21 to the Fool traditionally has to wear a silly hat.[11]

As excuse and highest trump[edit]

In French Tarot and Droggn, the Fool is an excuse but in a rare circumstance it will be the highest trump. If the player who holds the Fool wins every trick, in the last trick the Fool becomes the highest trump.[12]

In Troggu, the Fool is the highest trump but if it is the last trump in the player's possession, the player can elect to throw in another card instead of following suit. Once this occurs, the Fool is no longer a trump but an excuse that must be reserved for the last trick.[13]

As excuse and wild card[edit]

In Danish Grosstarok, when leading a trick the Fool can turn into the weakest card of any suit the player chooses but it will be sent to the player's trick pile just like an excuse. If, however, the opponents lack the suit named, then they may get the right to set the trick's suit.[14]

In Tarocchini, the Fool and the Magician are called contatori (counters), a limited form of wild cards.[15] They can be used separately or together to fill missing gaps in combinations or extend them but they can't fill in two consecutive gaps in sequential combinations.[16] They can't replace the highest trump or kings. Both cards can be used in every sequence but as the Fool can't be captured while the Magician is vulnerable, the player holding the Magician would want to use it only judiciously.[17]

Symbolism[edit]

The Fool is the spirit in search of experience. He represents the mystical cleverness bereft of reason within us, the childlike ability to tune into the inner workings of the world. The sun shining behind him represents the divine nature of the Fool's wisdom and exuberance, holy madness or 'crazy wisdom'. On his back are all the possessions he might need. In his hand there is a flower, showing his appreciation of beauty. He is frequently accompanied by a dog, sometimes seen as his animal desires, sometimes as the call of the "real world", nipping at his heels and distracting him. He is seemingly oblivious that he is walking toward a precipice, apparently about to step off. One of the keys to the card is the paradigm of the precipice, Zero and the sometimes represented oblivious Fool's near-step into the oblivion (The Void) of the jaws of a crocodile, for example, are all mutually informing polysemy within evocations of the iconography of The Fool. The staff is the offset and complement to the void and this in many traditions represents wisdom and renunciation, e.g. 'danda' (Sanskrit) of a Sanyassin, 'danda' (Sanskrit) is also a punctuation mark with the function analogous to a 'full-stop' which is appropriately termed a period in American English. The Fool is both the beginning and the end, neither and otherwise, betwixt and between, liminal.

The number 0 is a perfect significator for the Fool, as it can become anything when he reaches his destination as in the sense of 'joker's wild'. Zero plus anything equals the same thing. Zero times anything equals zero.[18] Zero is nothing, a lack of hard substance, and as such it may reflect a non-issue or lack of cohesiveness for the subject at hand.

Interpretations[edit]

In many esoteric systems of interpretation, the Fool is usually interpreted as the protagonist of a story, and the Major Arcana is the path the Fool takes through the great mysteries of life and the main human archetypes. This path is known traditionally in Tarot as the Fool's Journey, and is frequently used to introduce the meaning of Major Arcana cards to beginners.[19]

In his Manual of Cartomancy, Grand Orient has a curious suggestion of the office of Mystic Fool, as a part of his process in higher divination. The conventional explanations say that The Fool signifies the flesh, the sensitive life, depicting folly at the most insensate stage. When The Fool appears in a spread, he is a signal to strip down to the irreducible core, and interrogate whether the Querant's self-vision is obscured. It may also be a warning that significant change is coming. Another interpretation of the card is that of taking action where the circumstances are unknown, confronting one's fears, taking risks, and so on...

A standard medieval allegory of Foolishness, painted by Giotto. This depiction resembles the Fool in the earliest surviving painted decks.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Talia Felix, "The Cartomancer's Key"
  2. ^ Images from the Tarocchi de Mantegna, accessed April 9, 2008.
  3. ^ Hofämterspiel images, accessed April 9, 2008.
  4. ^ Bill Butler, Dictionary of the Tarot. (Schocken, 1975; ISBN 0-8052-0559-4)
  5. ^ Gray, E. (1960). The tarot revealed: A modern guide to reading the tarot cards. New York, N.Y.: Bell Publishing Company.
  6. ^ Belgian tarot
  7. ^ Tarot Nouveau decks manufactured in France
  8. ^ Tarot Nouveau deck from Austria
  9. ^ Tarot games
  10. ^ Konigrufen rules
  11. ^ Hungarian tarokk
  12. ^ French tarot
  13. ^ Troggu rules
  14. ^ Danish tarok
  15. ^ Tarocco Bolognese deck
  16. ^ Tarocchino Bolognese
  17. ^ Tarocchini sequences
  18. ^ "Tarot 0 - Fool". Yhwh.com. Retrieved 2012-03-31. 
  19. ^ See, e.g, Rachel Pollack, Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom (Thorsons, 1980; ISBN 0-7225-3572-4); Gareth Knight, The Magical World of the Tarot (Aquarian, 1991; ISBN 0-85030-940-9).
  • A. E. Waite's 1910 Pictorial Key to the Tarot
  • Hajo Banzhaf, Tarot and the Journey of the Hero (2000)
  • G. Ronald Murphy, S.J., The Owl, The Raven, and The Dove: Religious Meaning of the Grimm's Magic Fairy Tales (2000)
  • Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings (John Dear, ed. 2002)
  • Juliette Wood, Folklore 109 (1998):15-24, The Celtic Tarot and the Secret Tradition: A Study in Modern Legend Making (1998)
  • Vici Dwyer-Thomas: The Fool and her Facebook (2012)
  • Robert Mazlo: A la recherche du Tarot perdu. Les tablettes d'Hermès, ISBN 2-910401-86-3, Ramuel Ed. (1998)

External links[edit]


This article incorporates text from the public domain 1910 book Pictorial Key to the Tarot by Arthur Edward Waite. Please feel free to update the text.