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Where Myth Meets Reality

The Tarot: The Divine Fool

by Christine Hall

When I'm doing a Tarot reading, when The Fool card comes-up people will often ask, “That doesn't mean I'm a fool, does it?” Many people are so afraid of seeming foolish or silly that they often see no positive attributes to The Fool at all. Actually, The Fool is like every other card in the Tarot deck and has positive and negative attributes. The meaning of this card in a reading depends on its placement within the spread, the other cards around it, and “what's going on” in the life of the person being read.

The Fool is represented by the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, which means “ox.” To the ancient Hebrews, the ox represented the primal force, making the ox very similar to the Eastern concept of “life force” or “chi.” The card also represents the element Air, which on the human level manifests as the functions of the intellect. Therefore, in many ways The Fool is the unfettered mind, wandering where it will, connecting freely and indiscriminately with all of creation. When well aspected, this card can be seen as the Shamanistic adept. He is so connected with all of creation that he becomes a part of that creation.

It's obvious that A. E. Waite, the designer of the Waite-Rider Tarot deck, well understood this aspect of The Fool. If we look at his depiction, we see a young man wandering down a road, coming dangerously close to a cliff or precipice. The person is evidently a vagabond, for all of his belongings are wrapped in a measure of cloth, which he has tied to the end of a stick which rests over his shoulder. As he walks, a dog is about to bite or nip at his heels.

At first glance, it may seem that this is indeed a fool, and that his foolishness will cause him nothing but grief. Even though he is walking down a dangerous mountain road, he is lost in his wandering thoughts and is paying no attention to his surroundings. In fact, he is completely unaware of the fact that he is in the process of stepping over the edge of a cliff to his certain doom. He seems hapless and without luck, as even the dog seems to feel free to bite him on his heel.

This first impression is, in fact, the negative aspect of the card. His mind is undisciplined and he is completely out of touch with his surroundings. The fact that he carries his meager belongings at the end of a stick reveals what he hasn't even been able to find the discipline necessary for making sure that he has basic needs, like shelter.

If we look carefully at this picture, however, a very different interpretation begins to emerge, one that reveals the positive aspects of the card. Here we see a Fool who doesn't need to stay constantly focused on his surroundings, even though he is traveling a dangerous path. Here we see a Fool who is so connected with the universe that he has become an actual part of the universe, which will let no harm become him, even though he is about to walk over a cliff.

The key to understanding this is the dog that is nipping at his heels. At first glance, this dog would seem to be merely an annoyance, little more than meaningless window dressing to “pretty-up” our image. We must remember, however, that A. E. Waite was an adept with the Golden Dawn and was a highly trained occultist. This being so, he would not have added this “little aside,” the unnoticed dog getting ready to bite at the heel of our subject, without good reason. To an occultist, nothing in the image can distract from the point – and the dog is central to the point.

Our Fool, if well aspected, will not complete his step over the edge which will result in certain destruction. When the dog bites his heel, his focus will return from “the clouds” to the “real” world; he will see the cliff and be saved.

This Fool is so in-touch with the universe that he manifests everything he needs. The universe has sent the dog to warn him. Likewise, he has few belongings because he ha few needs. The universe will provide for him.

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