The Fool’s day in April

The Fool Tarot Card

April is my month of the extraordinary. In April 1991, I took the first job I was offered after having been unceremoniously fired by my previous employer. A year later, I’d had enough of the computing industry and was poised to quit that job…when Microsoft bought the company I was working for and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Three years later, on April Fool’s Day, Microsoft closed shop in Vancouver, handed me my golden parachute, and that was the last day I worked in an office environment, and the first day of a spiritual quest…though I wasn’t aware of it as such at the time. In the past couple years, that quest has intensified.

I put a lot of trust into allowing the possibilities to emerge out of the minor chaos that is my life right now, give time for the path to become clear. Sometimes, I feel like I’m walking at the edge of a precipice.

Carl Jung likes the I Ching as a tool of divination, and divination as a tool for evaluating the conditions of our existence. I like the Tarot for the same reason. I don’t do readings (though I’ve had a few readings done for me). I don’t even own a deck. But whenever I have an opportunity, I’ll draw a card. It’s interesting how often I find significant relevance in whatever card is drawn.

The symbols and meanings of each card are subtle, often paradoxical and sometimes counter your expectations. Take the fool, for example. Since today is his day, here’s a little look into the wisdom of the fool’s errand as written in Wikipedia…

Symbolism

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 unconcerned that he is standing on 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, eg. ‘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 English grammar. The ‘danda’ is also slang for ‘penis’ (Sanskrit: lingam) and the ‘void’, ‘womb’ and ‘vagina’ (Sanskrit: yoni) is its offset and complement: 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.[6] 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

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.[7]

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; but it might call for more than ordinary gifts to put it into operation. We shall see how the card fares according to the common arts of fortune-telling, and it will be an example to those who can discern the fact, otherwise so evident, that the Trumps Major had no place originally in the arts of psychic gambling, when cards are used as the counters and pretexts. However, we know very little of the circumstances under which this art arose.

The conventional explanations say that The Fool signifies the flesh, the sensitive life, and by a peculiar satire its subsidiary name was at one time The Alchemist, as depicting folly at the most insensate stage. When The Fool appears in a spread, he would be 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.

Some literary comparisons can be made. In universal literature, The Fool would be considered the youngest son or daughter who accomplishes great feats despite the apparently better position of older siblings. Examples include Cinderella, Psyche, Cordelia (from King Lear), all the third sons of kings in fairy tales who succeed when their older brothers do not, the Grail Knight who may be destined to locate the Holy Cup where greater and wiser men have tried and failed, the one teetering at the edge of Nietzsche’s abyss, at the cusp of dreadful knowledge that will pull him or her out of the cave, or even Hamlet before he decides to embrace his destiny.

A dog appears on most versions of the card. Some versions of the dog depict him biting at The Fool. The dog as a polysemy symbolizes the natural world, devotion and faithfulness, wildness and primordiality, the converse of wildness being tamed, one path to knowledge and a valuable ally; he can be seen as providing The Fool with a “reality check,” a link to the everyday world, indeed this is what the dog did for the Saint Kukuraja.

Although it cannot be seen in all modern cards, The Fool is often shown walking off a cliff. This raises the question of whether the fool is performing a leap of faith or is being depicted as acting without foresight.

Over a year ago I encountered an anonymous quote that seems to mirror this sensibility.

When you come to the edge of all that you know, you must believe one of two things: There will be earth to walk on, or you will be given wings to fly.

So far, so good.

3 Responses to “The Fool’s day in April”

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  1. Vena Jensen says:

    I love your website, Patrick! It is refreshing to read someone else’s views on subjects you already love – and write about them in such an interesting and invigorating way. I too love the tarot – I own quite a few decks and love to compare the images and interpretations of each. I often think about Carl Jung’s work on dream images when working with the tarot. I love Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Jane Siberry, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Jaz Coleman (have you heard his classical version of The Doors “Riders of the Storm?”), Alison Krauss (especially her collaboration with Robert Plant), My Morning Jacket, Dresden Dolls, PJ Harvey, Imogen Heap, Radiohead, Lowell George, Warren Zevon, The Subdudes, the list goes on and on.

    I left my “9 to 5 Corporate America” position after 17 years for a supposedly-secure contract consulting job. A year later, the contract has been reduced by half – meaning the compensation is barely enough for me to make it month-to-month. So I’m just starting out on the fool’s journey myself (I have no idea what I want to do next) and appreciate hearing from one who has been here before. I’m trying not to panic and remember to “breathe” as much as I can.

    I’m going to spend more time checking out your website – and will relish each and every review.

    I just started a weblog focused on bird-watching and living on a houseboat along side a wildlife refuge in the Pacific Northwest (I live in Ridgefield, Washington) if you’re interested. http://venajensen.wordpress.com/

    I’m glad you’re here!

  2. Patrick says:

    Thanks for the encouragement, Vena!

    You’re not very, very far away, in Ridgefield. In fact, I drove through town last fall during a nice long road trip into the American Southwest…both southbound and northbound.

    Let’s see, from your list we’ve already covered
    Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel. Given such an eclectic list, I’m thinking I’m doing pretty good. [smile]

    As for the rest, well:

    • Jane Siberry — a great Canadian Talent I’ll eventually get to.
    • Talking Heads — well, this blog would stop making sense if we didn’t cover them — (OK, couldn’t resist).
    • Jaz Coleman is now, officially, on my listening list.
    • Alison Krause…I’ve been listening to her live duet with Shawn Colvin, just today.
    • and a bunch more for the future listening list: My Morning Jacket, Dresden Dolls, PJ Harvey, Imogen Heap, Radiohead, Lowell George, The Subdudes.

    And the list just keeps getting longer, eh?.

    Keep that positive attitude going, and watch for the unorthodox opportunities. Sometimes the universe throws a shake-up at you when it’ll do you the most good.

    I’ll be checking on your blog when I’m not having to borrow internet from friends (disconnected at home temporarily and the laptop’s wireless is down [sigh]).

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