The Fool & His Spontaneous Journey
Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person that hates one card studies. If you’re a member of any tarot study group, it’s common to see one card intensive studies. In case you don’t know though, this is where people write down reflections of each individual card. The thing is, everyone always has great insights… and I don’t. Before attempting my own one card intensive study, I felt like the one person who couldn’t be intuitive. I didn’t notice the finer details, and because of that, I kind of felt less as a tarot reader. What’s important to remember though, is that you have to actually try. The reason I didn’t feel intuitive is because I’d never attempted to be intuitive before.
Being honest, I wasn’t initially thrilled having to do a one card intensive study as a beginner exercise. It felt silly. It felt redundant. And, worst of all, I didn’t feel like I could do it and gain insights into the cards. Thankfully, I made a promise to myself to do the exercise anyway. Learning isn’t just about what comes easy, or even what we think we can or can’t do. For me at least, learning is about discovery. Every discovery we make comes with some sort of effort put into the process. So what if I didn’t want to continue with all 78 card studies? At least I would have done one and discovered if that process was right for me. Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised.
One Card Intensive Study: The Fool
Does anyone else hate this card? I don’t just mean dislike, I mean absolutely loathe the card. To me, The Fool has always been an idiot. What’s strange about this is I enjoy jesters and all things connected to them. Apparently, I somehow separate The Fool from these more familiar jesters. Add to this the fact that in older systems of tarot symbolism The Fool is placed between Judgement and The World, and the whole thing gets complicated. But, sticking to the Rider-Waite Smith system of interpretation, I just don’t like The Fool card. When it comes up in a reading, I secretly groan inside. With that kind of opinion beforehand, I wasn’t looking forward to the intensive study of this card.
The first question was actually a prompt to write down the story depicted by The Fool card. This seems easy, but in practice it is difficult. See, I had to separate what I already knew about the card to so do. Intuitive reading is supposed to go off of your individual impressions… not what you’ve already been told. For me, this is an extremely difficult task. But, I tried my best nonetheless. To me, The Fool depicts a youthful person dancing ignorantly toward a cliff. His dog barks in warning, but The Fool does not hear the warning over the music playing in his own mind. To him, the music is all that matters, as life is happy and clear.
What I found a bit more helpful was the second question, “Was there a background story?” This doesn’t seem like much of a question, but try answering it. There’s only one person on the card, and I answered what I thought that story was. How then, was I supposed to create or form a background story? For me, I learned that the card backgrounds contain some form of a background story. I know, not the most creative idea… but it has been a prevalent theme for me. This allowed me to question the dog’s origin on the card, and pay more attention to the mountains themselves. The backstory seems to be one of a safe place, right before plunging into the black doom of a cliff.
None of these descriptive exercises were incredibly helpful. With a basic knowledge of tarot, it somewhat negates the intuitive narration of each card’s scene. However, I did find value in the way of symbolic specifics. Questions regarding mythology, historical references, religious symbolism, and even general archetypes were incredibly eye-opening. Here was a place to reflect on The Fool and his connection to jesters. Expanding that idea, and I realized a theme of power balance portrayed in The Fool. Jesters were allowed to “insult” the King, all in the name of good fun, and often subdued the King’s ego. For me, that theme is one of extreme importance. But, before now, I’d never really considered the Trickster archetype presented by The Fool.
Tricksters are interesting really, but difficult for someone like me to relate to. The Fool in his Trickster aspect is always upsetting the organized system. Just when you think you’ve got it down The Fool comes along and ruins your plans. This isn’t entirely accurate though, and studying archetypes eases the initial impression. Both Holistic Tarot and Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom link the archetype of Tricksters with The Fool. What I love about Holistic Tarot is that it specifically uses Robin Hood to demonstrate the archetype of The Fool. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom utilizes Merlin from the story of King Arthur to illustrate the same point. For me, Robin Hood is easy to understand… and a bit more likable than Merlin.
The added value of Rachel Pollack’s Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom alongside Holistic Tarot is that of extra commentary and varying perspective. Rachel Pollack touches symbolism that varies from that of A.E. Waite. With The Fool, she mentions an interesting placement of the card utilized by Oswald Wirth and Elizabeth Haich. This version of The Fool may have been placed between Judgement and The World. The symbolism of The Fool then, is how society might perceive of someone who has found enlightenment. There is a mask or foolish appearance there, but seen only when looking through the societal viewpoint. The World is the true essence of The Fool, but through the eyes of The Fool himself.
This may not seem like a big deal, especially when studying the symbolism of A.E. Waite specifically, but to me it is of great importance. I want to understand all three tarot systems, but they must be taken one at a time. What’s curious, is during the one card intensive study, I viewed The Fool in a way better reflected by Elizabeth Haich. For someone like me who doubts their intuitive sense, finding out information this critical. Will I use it when interpreting the Rider-Waite Smith deck, probably not. However, when I use my Marseilles deck, I will. There’s a connecting thread of the Trickster, my Robin Hood now, regardless. Somehow, I’m warming up to The Fool.
One card intensive studies seem tedious, but are worth the insights gained. For me, The Fool has become relatable and likeable. I’m going to do a post just on my personal takeaways of The Fool’s meaning. But, until then, it might be worthwhile to read some folktales featuring that Trickster archetype. Tarot is complex, I know that, but who knew I’d get to rediscover my love of Robin Hood too? Who knows, maybe, just maybe, I’ll start to warm up to the idea of Merlin as a Trickster. So many archetypes… so little time. But hey, where would the endless loop within tarot be if not in the stories themselves? After all, isn’t every story a journey in its own right?