April Fools Day, a light-hearted day filled with pranks and jokes, heralds the beginning, for me, of Spring Fever—that feeling of wanting to ditch work and mundane obligation in favor of adventure, preferably outdoors. After hunkering down during a long, dark, cold winter, I am ready, even if there is still a chill in the air, to wander. And this, naturally, makes me think of The Fool card.
The Fool card is complex, and made no less so by the evolution of its imagery and meanings over the centuries. What began as a comical figure, base fool, often with his pants down (see the Universal Wirth Fool) has changed into something more admirable. Indeed, early meanings (in the 18th century) focused on madness, on being crazy. This is about being crazy or mad or insane. It is a state or nature. A person either is or isn't mad; they don't have a choice in the matter. In the 19th century, we see a shift in the meaning to Folly. This is more about choice; a person commits folly when they make foolish decisions. This is about consciously making choices where one isn't necessarily crazy but is acting so in the eyes of one's contemporaries. These days tarotists often talk about The Fool as noble, as a sort of hero. In fact, many see the Major Arcana as a type of Hero's Journey, with The Fool as the hero. Also, The Fool card is said to represent a crossroads, a point in one's life when all futures are possible, when one should listen to their intuition and move forward with faith, and the consequences be damned. It is interesting how The Fool has changed from a pitiful and inescapable state to an admirable and brave way of behaving.
The above observations are very general and barely touch the surface of the history of this card's meanings. Even so, it is interesting that although the meanings are very different, the images retain many of the same elements. Although later Fools usually have their pants up and have lost the crazy, wild-eyed look (although not always—see The Fool from The Sorcerer's Tarot), they usually retain a person going somewhere, usually carrying something (like a sack on a pole), and accompanied by an animal (usually white and usually a dog). Comparing different Fools can open up many different ways of looking at the card.
Looking at the cards pictured here and The Fools from any of your own decks, note where they are going and by what mode. Are they walking without noticing where they are going, are they taking a physical journey or a mental journey (as in the Fey Tarot and the Sorcerer’s Fools)? Are they walking or riding (as in the Llewellyn Tarot's Fool)? What animal is with them and what is it doing? What are they carrying—or dropping, as in the case of the Witchy Tarot's Fool? What if there is no animal with them? How do all these things affect the meaning of that particular Fool card?
Besides the variation in imagery and meaning, there is variation in how we, as individuals, feel about the imagery and meanings. How do you react to various Fool cards? I find myself being repelled by the crazy, pants-less Fools. I love the idea of The Fool following his heart and just knowing that whatever he does is right and everything will be okay. I imagine that's because I want to believe that is true. But is it always true? Aren't there times when we say we are "following our hearts" just because we want something or don't want to think things through or consider the consequences of our actions?
Back to April Fool's Day and spring fever…when I opt to ditch my obligations and wander around outside enjoying the weather, am I making a foolish choice that will have consequences that I'll later regret, or am I embarking on a journey that will refresh and nurture my soul? If I do a reading on this question, I'll make sure I pick my deck carefully. You can be sure it'll be one with an optimistic Fool card. Is that totally cheating?
What's In Your Bag?
Barbara Moore (Saint Paul, MN) has studied and read tarot since the early 1990s. She wrote the bestselling Tarot for Beginners and more than a dozen other books, and she has contributed to many bestselling tarot kits, ...