What The Tarot Fool Seeks

Why is the Fool looking up when he should be concerned he may fall? Because his heart is uplifted on the memory of his origin, his path, and his destiny (returning to the stars). This protects the Fool against harm, in spite of all distractions, including all temporal joys and pains of this particular ride through material existence. The best way to understand this card is to realize that the Fool looks this way in his mind. His place in the world might be a relatively wretched thing in material reality. But he cannot be weighed or beaten down in spirit. This makes him seem foolish to fools.
There is a reading I do. It is called a Life Reading. I do this with the Thoth deck, and it generally produces pretty good results. In fact, recipients so far have thought it pretty much rocked (which is bad if they were seeking easy-listening Tarot, which I do not play).

Years ago I did this reading on myself.

Now, when I drew the Life card, that is the card that represented me and my life, there were many possibilities I considered before I drew the card. But in truth all of those were what I wished might be true.

What was true, and what I got, was not exactly what I wanted, and yet it made the most sense of all in light of my experience up to that time, and ever since.

Because my Life card is: The Fool.

I don't think I seem much like that card, at least not in the superficial way people think about it.

I am certainly not much like the surface of Waite's Fool card, for example. And yet, in my entire life, I have been walking around pretty much that way. People, when I was younger, and more distractible, several times had to pull me back onto a curb and out of oncoming traffic because I was so engrossed by whatever (usually talking to them) that I just forget to look.

And anyway, traffic just seemed so petty and mundane to me.

If I had been hit—or if I had toppled off the cliff—I would not have minded so much. This reality of the people-plagued Earth has always seemed to me to be absurd, anomalous, and really quite foolish. The years have not softened that impression, although they have refined my critique. I understand better now why things are like they are.

And I understand as well how for the most part, they must for a time be just this way, to accomodate people's fanatical resistance to being pushed or dragged to wisdom. It may be in the not-too-distant future, we can finally force or instantly enable people to be wise. Is that the right way? To extinguish the need for experience? This may be something we will have to answer.

In the meantime, we must acknowledge the Old School way is really time-consuming for almost everyone.

There are good or understandable reasons for this:

The path to seeing higher and clearer can be very upsetting and frightening.

It can be long and hard.

It can be fatal.

In fact, to do its work, the path has to be fatal to that often comfortable and comforting false self.

I better understand these things now, and the basis of people's terrors about them.

Earlier today, I answered a claim (made on a Tarot group) that the Tarot Fool is a young, naive player, just bounding out upon the world for the very first time. That is a premise you often read in pop Tarot books.

I offered the following comments about that:

There has been a debate about this in Tarot, between those that take the cards as they see them, and those that believe the symbols are not the meanings—but imply them metaphorically.

So, in that view, there is no way the Fool could really be naive, or even young, since the reduction to this state implies a loss of a great deal of complexity, suggesting as it does, the loss of the filtering and obstructive tools by which the experiences were obtained.

Think of it this way. Let us say life was a game where you played a great many levels to obtain experience points, with the idea of the game seemingly being to win by gaining points, but the trick of the game is that you can only win by losing all the points.

The "Journey" in that sense is ironic, because it isn't necessary. You had the answer all along. Problem is, in this plane of being, you can't recall that, or touch that, or invoke that. It seems a place quite remote and alien to your experience.

This miserable creature, from an early Italian tarocchi (Tarot) deck, has basic elements we expect to find in most subsequent Fools (staff, legs attacked by dog-like rats)—but it is told from a medieval perspective, one which had little room for glorification or euphemizing of human suffering. Later Fools would translate the abjectness of Misero's poverty into amusement and frivolity and finally Waite's seemingly air-headed young man (actually Jesus), and Aleister Crowley's demon-Fool.
Who after all, wishes to be reduced to a barefoot beggar, chased by rats and dogs—or tigers and crocodiles? And would you even really want that fantastic moment of joy walking in the bright sunlight, as Waite has it, on the highest plane of awareness, carelessly advancing, as if gravity still had no claim on you?

Maybe so. But the implication of all Fools is kind of frightening—the utter desolation of material foundation and wellbeing to obtain the highest, simplest, wisdom.

If you survive that path, and many do not, you will have gotten something much more valuable than the stuff of this world. By that point, you won't care so much about articles of simulation like Tarot cards. Or any misleading idea about the one real experience (in other words, ideas that distort or limit the continuum of living experience as a pure quality—as opposed to a negating quantum).

I will offer here A. E. Waite's brief comments from his article on the Fool, from The Pictorial Key to the Tarot:
"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."
What does all that mean? Well, it basically boils down to this idea—the continuum of living experience is the essential quality and point of life—though Waite implies a transcendent continuum that vibrates back and forth between the unified ("heavenly") and diversified (material) spiritual experience.

Here, Waite's metaphor is Jesus (the Fool), who is described in the NT as being validated in his testimony concerning his divine origin (symbolized in Waite's Fool by the Sun) because Jesus has a memory of his own past and future spiritual being:
"Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go."—John 8:14, King James Version (KJV)
The Fool asks us to see the ALL in life, and to bless it, but NOT to feel entitled to own or obliged to dominate the ALL, or to break it into pieces to analyze it, or to fall in love with a part, but not the whole, or to valorize or envy some "greater" over the implied "lesser" portions. Recall what Jesus taught about these necessary components of salvation—which is obtained by faith but is sustained through a righteous understanding and charitable actions towards "the least of these".


Eric Wagner said…
Thanks for this interesting post. For years I've contemplated a cinematic tarot, and I tend to think of Chaplin's Tramp as the Fool.
Glenn Wright said…
I think that's a fair point about Chaplin, one I almost made in this posting in fact. I figured the allusion might be too study-intensive for most people, so I left it out.

And that's always the problem you know, with picking cultural icons for your symbol set, instead of just getting people to learn Tarot. People only have so much time, and interest.

But, a discussion of how exactly the Tramp works as the Fool could be yet another posting I think.

But that kind of raises a point of argument about the difference between making a cinematic TAROT, and making a tarot with movie guys and gals in it.

The Cosmic Tarot already has that, by the way, lots of allusions to older movie stars especially. Most people would not recognize them.

Thanks for your comment, Eric.
Eric Wagner said…
Thanks for your response. Your comments always remind me that I don't know enough about tarot to make the kind of tarot I would like. Your article about "The Godfather" and the Princes got me thinking about a cinematic tarot years ago.

Some other trump notions:
Orson Welles as the Magus
Greta Garbo as the High Priestess
Marilyn Monroe as the Empress
Clark Gable as the Emperor
I don't know about the Hierophant or Lust
Hepburn and Tracy as the Lovers
Cecil B. DeMille as the Chariot
Perhaps Clint Eastwood in Adjustment/Justice
Spielberg in Fortune
Scorsese in the Hanged Man
Bergman in Death
I don't know how to do the Devil. I found the image of the Devil terrifying in Fellini's "Spirits of the Dead," but I can't see how to fit that in with Crowley's phallic image.
Kurosawa in the Tower
Liz Taylor as the Star
David Lynch in the Moon
D. W. Griffith in the Sun
Francis Ford Coppola in Aeon
Kubrick in Universe
Glenn Wright said…
"I don't know enough about tarot to make the kind of tarot I would like"

Well, I have been critical in the past of people going off and pasting pastimes on their pastime.

But, it isn't because playing what Trumps match with what pantheon is a complete waste of time, but rather that people often do this in substitute of learning Tarot.

However, I would not let not knowing "enough" stop you. I would just suggest that if you really wish to do this Tarot, you think a good deal about whether you are doing justice to the cinematic palette, and whether you are making the access points sufficiently clear and relevant to an audience that is always getting younger and invested in its own circle of cultural relevance.

Something to consider. You could focus the project on one iconic figure: perhaps Orson Welles, and his career, which could certainly fill up 22 trumps of characters and events in his life.

But, then you have another problem—if you want to sell the project—getting permissions or god knows paying license fees (which seems nutty for such a potentially small run).

However, I suspect there would be some audience for a really beautifully done (B&W with touches of color) Orson Welles Tarot.