The Fool asks — Am I in control of what’s happening? Or are other forces at work? Does it matter?
Modern tarotists sometimes relate the Fool to the planet Uranus, but in the era in which we first know that Tarot existed, this was impossible, since no one yet knew Uranus the planet existed. Only seven planets were named. Back then it’s believed the Fool may have corresponded to the Air element.
While the mental or airy nature of the King of Swords may be seen as the mastery of, or complete focus of the powers of the mind, as the ultimate in mental discipline, in fact ultimate mastery of the mind may very well belong to the Fool. Not only is the Fool so focused, on one hand, that he’s oblivious to the dangers around him or to the possible folly of his path. He’s also, on the other hand, able to let go of instinctive control, of his survival needs, just as a mad man or an innocent child might. He may also do this with full conscious intent, in order to let go, fall, create, risk, imagine, and explore inner and outer realms with absolute freedom. He embodies conscious and unconscious focus, as well as conscious and unconscious abandon. He has few attachments to the material world — only the ragged or comical clothing he wears, his knapsack, and possibly an animal guide. He could conceivably be a shamanic kind of healer, willing to enter another plane of existence without fear, with his trusty animal guide there to pull him back into our reality when his work is done. At his most powerful, the Fool can be all these things or none. He can be an error in thinking, a blunder. He can be a surprise.
He’s one aspect of the Trickster.
While many tarotists place the Fool at the beginning of the major arcana, as number zero, in fact zero isn’t a beginning at all. It is no thing. In some of the earliest known Tarots, the Visconti, none of the major arcana were numbered. When they later were ordered and numbered, the Fool remained unnumbered. Where in the series of 22 cards would one place this being who seemed to exist out of time, outside the material world, even outside the social classes? On one hand he’s a beggar, an idiot, a mad man. He matters not to the ordered classes. On the other he’s the court jester, the only one who can make fun of the King or Emperor without fear of losing his life. He also has the King’s ear and might sometimes whisper words of wisdom of the kind only a child might utter, or deliver news that no one else dare. He’s a truth teller, for isn’t that what makes a good joke, a humorous illustration of truth? So he must remain of no account, as one who will never be taken seriously.
The Fool may be a “natural fool” or a “licensed fool.”
Today, instead of court jesters we have comedians who point out the flaws of our leaders — and who don’t seem to take sides in their truth telling. Every leader seems to fall subject to their jests.
Many a family has a child like this, one who will tell family truths, truths the family doesn’t want told, who is therefore cast into the role of no-account by becoming the family scapegoat. In a dysfunctional family this role is sometimes relegated to one child. In some families the role is shared. It gets changed off from one member to another, from one time or circumstance to another. Perhaps even a parent takes a turn at being the scapegoat/truth teller.
The Fool can be seen as both the beginning and the end of one’s journey. One starts life as an infant, a child, an innocent who knows no good or evil. Vulnerable, unlearned, unconscious, the child looks at the world and life with his eyes wide with wonder. Toward the end of life, if one is fortunate, one may reach the other end of the journey with a new kind of Fool-like awareness, an ability to see beyond good and evil, to recognize them as merely light and shadow, both necessary for balance. The Fool may have a sage-like wisdom that knows no boundaries and sees beyond our material existence. The Child Fool may be fearless because he’s innocent of danger. The Sage Fool understands danger and realizes he need not fear it. He moves through his fear with awareness.