If the Major Arcana of the Tarot is mysterious, then the Fool is the Mystery of All Mysteries.
For one thing, there’s the assigned number. Remember that the Major Arcana has 22 Cards; in many older decks, the Fool goes unnumbered (though exceptions do exist, such as the Sola Busca, which was one of the inspirations for Pamela Colman Smith’s designs). However, following the publication of the Waite-Smith deck, the Fool has typically been assigned the number 0 (it is noteworthy that in Waite’s the Pictorial Key to the Tarot, he reserves his discussion of the Fool to the space between cards XX – Judgement, and XXI, the World).
Let’s consider Waite’s assessment as it appears in the Key:
“With light step, as if earth and its trammels had little power to restrain him, a young man in gorgeous vestments pauses at the brink of a precipice among the great heights of the world; he surveys the blue distance before him-its expanse of sky rather than the prospect below. His act of eager walking is still indicated, though he is stationary at the given moment; his dog is still bounding. The edge which opens on the depth has no terror; it is as if angels were waiting to uphold him, if it came about that he leaped from the height. His countenance is full of intelligence and expectant dream. He has a rose in one hand and in the other a costly wand, from which depends over his right shoulder a wallet curiously embroidered. He is a prince of the other world on his travels through this one-all amidst the morning glory, in the keen air. The sun, which shines behind him, knows whence he came, whither he is going, and how he will return by another path after many days. He is the spirit in search of experience. Many symbols of the Instituted Mysteries are summarized in this card, which reverses, under high warrants, all the confusions that have preceded it.”
Now, that was succinct. Waite’s rival occultist, Aleister Crowley, was far more verbose. His commentary on the Fool takes over 15 pages, with an additional 7 pages of appendix material (which adds, of course, to 22. Typical Crowley).
Crowley does what Jung called amplification (they were both born in the same year, and Crowley at the very least had an opinion – uncharacteristically kind – regarding Carl). In this process, parallel myths are seen as expressions of the same underlying archetype. With that in mind, here are Crowley’s associations with the Fool:
• The Formula of Tetragrammaton
• The “Green Man” of the Spring Festival, “April Fool,” The Holy Ghost
• The “Great Fool” of the Celts (Dalua)
• “The Rich Fisherman”; Percivale
• The Crocodile (Mako, Son of Set, or Sebek)
• Zeus Arrhenotheleus
• Dionysus Zagreus; Bacchus Diphues
He makes a case for each of these in detail. He then adds three more pieces in the appendix, which are essentially meditations/ritual invocations of the aforementioned deities, all channeled through the composite form of the Fool. These are headed as:
ii. De Sapientia et Stultitia; De Oraculo Summo;
iii. De Herba Sanctissima Arabica; De Quibusdam Mysteriis, Quae Vidi; De Quodam Modo Meditationis; Sequitur De Hac Re; Conclusio De Hoc Modo Sanctitatis; De Via Sola Solis.
Of course, Crowley’s Fool is no slacker – with the help of artist Lay Frieda Harris, it is as detailed as the multiple associations he makes with the card:
So, what’s the take-away?
Enjoy a Fool’s gallery, a visual ancestral tree that leads up to both the Rider-Waite-Smith and Thoth decks (and the uncountable number of decks that have followed), and remember the Hobbit-Bard’s words, as they apply to the Fool, and perhaps even yourself:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost…
(-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Riddle of Strider, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring)