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ATS Newsletters

by author


The Boiardo 15th c Poem
Tarot history in brief

quotations from various people

Functions of Readings
What is Tarot?


Med. on XVIIII

Emily E. Auger

Tarot and Other Meditation Decks

L. Atkinson

Orphalese Software review

S. Arwen

Memory & Instinct

Kathy Berkowitz

Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 1)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 2)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 3)
Waite's Mystical Tradition (Pt 4)

Nina L. Braden

Tarot in Literature

David Brice

Birth of Tarot

Colin Browne

Square & Compasses Tarot

Lee A. Bursten

Journeys in Tarot Creation
Vachetta review


Review: The Lo Scarabeo Story

Ross G. Caldwell

Tarot History

Bonnie Cehovet

Tarology - Poetics of Tarot
Review: Secret of Tarot
The Mystereum Tarot

N. Chishty-Mujahid

Concerning Ghisi’s Laberinto

Craig Conley

A House of Tarot Cards

A.B. Crowther

Rachel Pollack interview

Jean-Michel David

On Paneurythmy and Tarot
Tarot's expression of the numinous
Yarker, Tarot & Arcane Schools
Waite-Smith Sun card
The Fool as Wandering Jew
Tarot as Christian Art
Education through Tarot
Tarot: the vatical & the sacral
Fortuna, Ass & Monkey
Steiner and Tarot
1701 Dodal restored!
Enc. Tarot vol I-IV: review
Christ, World & Sin
Caveat Emptor:
       Visual Tarot

Tarot & AlefBeit
Review: Jean Payen Tarot
Tarot and Freemasonry
I-Ching and Pip Cards
Whither directing your course?
Tarot & the Tree of Life
Ovid, Egypt and Tarot
When the Devil isn't the Devil
Four elements and the suits
Court Cards & MBTI
Certification & Codes
Jean Dodal Marseille
Conference FAQs
Golden Dawn
Kabalah & Tarot
Golden Tarot review
Annual spread
Iraqi Museum
Two Brief TdM reviews
Meditations on the Tarot

Enrique Enriquez

The Joy of Wordplay
J-C. Flornoy interview
Embodied Tarot
Indirect Suggestions
Whispering to the Eye

Mark Filipas

History of Egyptian Decks
Lexicon Theory

Jean-Claude Flornoy

in memorium
from Oral Tradition

Roxanne Flornoy

Children and Tarot
from Oral Tradition

Mary Greer

Killing the Thoth Deck
On the Tarot of the Four Worlds
Egypt, Tarot and Mystery School Initiations

William Haigwood

The Sixties: Counterculture Tarot

Alissa Hall

Parlour Tricks

Kris Hadar

The Tarot

Claas Hoffmann

Crowley-Harris 'Thoth' deck

Michael J. Hurst

Tarot Symbolism review

K. Frank Jensen

Century with the Waite-Smith

Shane Kendal

A Poetry of Tarot

Ken J. Killeen

The Metaphysical Bible

Barbara Klaser

Language of Tarot

E. Koretaka

Cardinal Virtues

Dovid Krafchow

Kabbalistic Tarot

Lisa Larson

Perceptions of Spirituality

Suzan E. Lemont

Therapeutic Tarot Work

Eric K. Lerner

Diloggun and Tarot

N. Levine

Tarot of Prague review

C. Liknaitzky

Journey in Ceramics

Joep van Loon

Tarot Wheel

Karen Mahony


S.J. Mangan

Fool, Alef & Orion

Robert Mealing

Petrarch’s Triumphs
Jean Noblet Tarot
Hunting the "true" Marseille Tarot
Cary Sheet

Fern Mercier

Playing the Fool

C. de Mellet

Inquiries into Tarot

Sophie Nusslé

Fantastic Menagerie

Robert V. O'Neill

Tarot Symbolism
Tower Iconology

Michael Owen

Xultun Tarot

Dan Pelletier

Magic Manga Tarot
the Blank Spot

Robert M. Place

The Fool's Journey

Debra Rosenthal

Looking at the Jacques Vieville

Mjr Tom Schick

Tarot Lovers Calendar

Inna Semetsky

Counseling Reading for Spouses
Learning the language of images
Re-Symbolization of Self
Tarot (dis)contents

Diana Sobolewska

'Bateleur's tale'

Russell Sturgess

Jesus's New Testament

N. Swift

Sufism & Tarot

Arthur E. Waite

Symbols of Tarot

Playing the Fool

Fern Mercier

Roam through the 600 years of tarot history with the Fool, raiding the treasure houses of art, history, poetry, literature, theatre, film, folklore, fairy-tale, myth and mathematics with Fern Mercier. We won’t pin her/him down but we can widen and deepen our appreciation of The Fools’ irrepressible wisdom and wit.

Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’, but it’s free

Skipping apart from the ordered procession of the other Major Arcana, the tarot Fool has no number.

Is s/he first or last in the Arcana sequence? It is irrelevant, for the Fool is a nothing – it is neither below one nor less than one – it is no- one! The zero of the Fool suggests s/he moves before or after, above or below, in and out of the other personages in the cards. Metaphysically and psychologically s/he is a wild card.

The fool is a holy nothing – a whole, a zero. The zero is as contrary as the tarot’s Fool for it is a universal symbol of absence or negation, but also a symbol of completion. Nothing is null and void, insignificant, empty, absent, insubstantial, worthless. It is the ether, the immensity of space, a point, a hole, yet also conversely, the whole.

For every culture uses the circle as a representation of unity, perfection and cyclical movement.

The circle symbolises spirit and a circle describes the cosmos – everything unified in the vast realm of the uni-verse, the one song of life. A circle is alpha and omega where there is no beginning or end. The ancients said God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and circumference is nowhere. So the circle is a vision of limitless possibilities, just like the Fool in perpetual motion, ever restlessly roaming the world.

The Fool is embryo in the womb of the World

Where did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into here.

Where did you get your eyes so blue?
Out of the sky as I came through.

Where did you get that little tear?
I found it waiting when I got here.

(George MacDonald 1871)

The circle with the dot inside shows us the idea that new life arises spontaneously, unique and fresh, – separate yet inseparable – from the heart of the chaos of everything. The circle is the cosmic egg as well as the womb where the embyro is birthed. The original Mother Goose was the Egyptian goddess Hathor. She laid the golden egg that was her son, the sun god Ra. The ancient creatrix produced the universe in the primordial World egg.

So in the tarot’s circle, the Fool is the embryo’s thrust to begin life’s journey that completes within the World card’s circle/mandorla/egg/womb. The World card holds and reveals the eternal beginning and ending cycle of life, the circle out of which The Fool pops.

Thus the miracle of birth and death is bounded in the idea of nothing – a circle that is a zero: a cosmic wholeness with comic loopholes.

The Fool reminds us that the center of the universe is here where we are now and there wherever the Fool might show up next.

In the great game of life, Tarocchi was the most popular card game for over 300 years throughout Europe. Games played with the tarot used the Fool as an expendable card, playable at any moment, yet incapable of taking any tricks or of being taken, valuable in points only if held unplayed.

The modern Joker in playing cards, invented by the New York Poker Club as a ‘wild card’ to make the game more interesting, is apparently not related to the tarot deck’s Fool – so the authorities say. But it does serve a similar function to the tarot Fool and to the Court Jester – it’s wild, powerless and free. Paradox rules its being.

Playing ROUND with Number Nothing

Nothing comes from nothing.
Everything comes from nothing.

Zero contains a wealth of concepts and yet it is nothing. The biggest questions in science and religion are about nothingness and eternity – the void and the infinite. Zero has been rejected and exiled and yet it has always defeated those who opposed it.

Nothing is a profound problem. It has the potential to unsettle the very foundations of thinking in physics and philosophy – it forces us to ask the ultimate questions of the meaning of life.

Zero provides us a glimpse of the ineffable and the infinite – it is in fact infinity’s twin both equal and opposite, paradoxical and troublesome.

The Tarot assigns infinity to The Magician and Strength cards who both employ the symbol of infinity in their headgear. In a deeper reading we might assign The World card to infinity, whilst The Fool is given zero.

Nothing really matters
(Freddie Mercury)

We moderns know that Nothing – no-thing – is really something because it occupies space and contains power. Our computer keyboard affirms this reality.

Yet in the West, during the late Middle Ages when tarot emerged, zero was a dangerous idea to be feared and outlawed. For nearly two millennia the West could not accept zero. It had had no place within the Pythagorean framework.

What shape could zero be? Its irrationality made non-sense of the Greeks neat and ordered universe, so Pythagoras and Aristotle rejected and ignored it.

The Medieval Christian scholars, who imported their ideas from the Greeks and Romans, included this fear of the infinite and horror of the void.

Satan was considered literally Nothing. The circulus – little circle – was the brand burned into the forehead or the cheeks of criminals in the Middle Ages.

You ain’t seen nothing yet
(Al Jolson)

In other parts of the world however, zero was embraced very early on. The Indian Hindus readily accommodated a wide variety of concepts about nothingness. Unlike Christianity and Judaism who sought to flee from the void as it was considered a state of poverty and anathema – the Indian religious traditions accepted non-being on an equal footing with that of being. Zero formed a coherent whole. Nothing was a state, from which one might have come and to which one might return. Furthermore, these transitions might occur many times – without beginning and without end. In Buddhist teachings, one sought to achieve Nirvana – the being at oneness with the cosmos.

O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”
(Hamlet by W. Shakespeare.)

Nevertheless, zero wormed its way into European society, firstly through its use by traders and merchants. The Muslim world had long accepted the wonderful zero and convinced the Jews that the Arabic counting system was far superior to Roman numerals. Throughout the 13th century, Italian merchants began to put commercial pressure on their governments to eventually accept zero in the business world.

Then artists took up zero’s cause. At exactly the time tarot appeared in Northern Italy, an Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi demonstrated the power of the infinite zero by painting a vanishing point. In 1452 he placed a zero point in the centre of his drawing of a Florentine building and thereby magically transformed Western art, turning two dimensional work into 3 dimensions.
Eventually the church and its scholars were forced into the realization that the earth is not the centre of the universe. Nicholas of Cusa and Nicolaus Copernicus cracked open the nutshell universe of Aristotle and Ptolemy.

Among the great things which are found among us, the existence of Nothing is the greatest
(Leonardo da Vinci)

In this millennium, the 2000s – the age of the ‘naughtys’ – the zero has become commonplace. There are many more zeros around today than when Tarot emerged into being and in fact, than anytime in history. Because of binary arithmetic, computer calculations and codes, astronomy’s billions of stars within the known universe, not to mention national debts – we are accustomed to the ubiquitous zero.

In our mathematics, we announce each decade with zero as that circular no-thing recycles and ushers in the next cycle ie from 9 to 10 or 19 to 20 and so on.

By adding a few zeros we increase our source of income. Add a few more zeros and the banks and speculators move us into hyper-inflation. We assume that zero moves us into infinity, as we take for granted that zero increases a number 10-fold, a hundred fold and on and on ad infinitum….

Much ado about nothing

Is it first or last in a sequence ? Where does The Fool fit?

Zero is neither below nor less than one. If we count forwards we generally start with number 1. Except for the Mayans, nobody had a year zero or started a month with day zero. To Europeans, that seems unnatural. Yet if we count backwards, it is second nature. – 9,8,7 … …O – we have liftoff! The bomb goes off at ground zero. An important event happens at zero hour not at one hour.
Zero has become a commonplace – we name Year Zero as the time when the unspeakable began in Cambodia and Ground Zero in New York City marks an historical spot.

A baby turns one after a year’s life which surely means the baby was zero years old before that first birthday?

It is a silly, childish discussion and only exposes the want of brains of those who maintain a contrary opinion to that we have stated
The Times (London) December 26th 1799

We Westerners left the Fool out when our calendar was devised – there is no year zero. Hence the wonderful joke of the third millennium with its spectacular world-wide opening ceremonies taking place a year early on December 31st 1999, when really it began in the year 2001.

The Fool’s Title

The Divine Bum
(Paul Huson)

The word fool comes from the Old French fol from the Latin follis meaning a “pair of bellows” or “a windbag”. The tarot Fool indeed often carries an inflated bladder. Today’s clowns sometimes carry a pair of bellows maintaining that ancient connection with the windy folly of their origins.

Buffoon from the Latin buffo means toad and the Italian buffare means “to puff” also suggesting a windbag.

The Fool’s French name Fou means madman and is cognate with the word fire, echoing the connection with light and energy. Folle means madwoman and Folie means folly. In the Swiss deck, the Fool is called Le Mat meaning “the dull one”. In Italian Il Matto – the Mad One.

Often court fools were mentally retarded and therefore considered to have a special relationship to the spirit. Affectionately called “God’s folk” the village idiots were cared for by the community as they were considered under protection – touched by God.
Silly once meant blessed. To be “silly” in a Medieval sense meant to be holy and sensitive to religious impulse.
Frequently the image of The Fool is shown in medieval and Renaissance engravings as a child of the Moon (La Luna ); the Fool as a luna-tic. The 17th century Fool in the Mitelli deck from Bologna may be a lunatic.

Jester is a word that comes from the French and originally meant “someone who recites gestes or heroic tales”. This suggests an earlier role of fools being all-round Minstrels and troubadours. Many centuries later, the 20th century “song and dance men” of Vaudeville, Burlesque, Music Hall, both pre-and post-television and moving pictures have entertained the masses royally.

The Fool was also at home in the Medieval Morality plays, free to move on and off the stage, improvising both with the other actors as well as with the audience. Harlequin and his mates Pantaloon, Scaramouche and Pulchinello of the Italian Commedia Del’ Arte complete with their hectic slapstick craziness, derive from this foolish, time-honoured, theatrical tradition.

Clown is a native English word probably from the Celtic meaning “ a boorish rustic” and cognate with the word “clod” meaning “country bumpkin” and used interchangeably with Fool” in Elizabethan times. Circus clowns are known for their droll buffoonery.
There have been many names for the Fool as there are colours in his crazy clothing. Buffoon, Harlequin, Joker, Droll, Zany, Punch, Vice, Puck, Jack Pudding and Merry Andrew are a few of his names in English.

Folly, Sister to Wisdom

Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And hain’t that a big enough majority in any town?
(Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn)

Images of the Fool were common in the Renaissance at the time the Tarot appeared in Europe. Literature, theatre and people’s daily life abounded with Fools.

The Fool was celebrated in folk Festivals. Our modern April Fool’s Day is a pale left-over from the outrageous anarchic carnivals and Mardi Gras of Medieval times when the Lord Of Misrule overturned the strict hierarchies of the times at the Winter Solstice and on Holy Innocents’ Day. Foolery, drunkenness and cross-dressing ruled the day. Every small town and large city held a rowdy parade that a crowned Fool headed in triumph. Topsy-turvey ruled, gender-bending expected when even wives had license to beat their husbands.

In the literature of the time, the Fool’s mother was called Folly and it is she who is sister to Wisdom. Shakespeare’s motto that a wise man knows he is a fool, recalls the famous assertion of Socrates, wisest of the Greeks, who said he knew only that he knew nothing.

It is a profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish.

Tarot artist Brian Williams re-launched 15th century Sebastian Brandt’s wonderful Das Narrenschiff – The Ship of Fools – (1494) with his Tarot of Fools deck in 2002. The allegory of foolish humanity all in the same boat sailing oblivious through the world, seems especially poignant in this environmentally fragile era of our global village.

Erasmus the great Dutch humanist portrayed Folly as Goddess in his masterpiece “In Praise of Folly” published in 1511. To Erasmus, Folly encompassed all forms of Unreason and defended the “creative vital instincts of humanity against the encroachment of the analytical reason.” For although Folly “may have no altars or temples, she is nevertheless the most universally worshipped and beloved and obeyed of all the deities who bear sway over human affairs.” Folly “fosters the pleasing allusions which make life possible”.

Erasmus asks “What would work without Folly? What would sex be? Folly is the very giver of life for is not the very act that brings humans into existence filled with folly?”

The Court Jester

The revelation of laughter

T’were better Charity
To leave me in the Atom’s Tomb –
Merry and Nought, and gay and numb –
Than this smart Misery.
(Emily Dickinson)

Fools played a large part in medieval life and were an integral part of every feudal court. Sometimes they could even attain certain renown. Mattello was one such famous fool. His name is derived from the Italian matto and he was the court fool to Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua.

Great Lords and Popes found a place for a Fool in their households and there s/he was kept in an honored position. The Fool’s job was to entertain their master and mistress and to remind him that like Caesar, he was only human and open to error. Theoretically at court, the poor Fool was the one person immune from retribution for quips at the master’s expense. However all too often s/he became the butt for cruel jokes, for s/he was also a scapegoat.

Fools came in all shapes and sizes, often absurd, grotesque physical specimens, which emphasized their role as an outsider. There were giant fools and dwarf fools. Jimmie Camber who lived in the early 1500s and was the pet dwarf of King James 5 of Scotland was said to be “just over a yard high and two yards in girth” (round the waist).

Both male and female could play the Fool. In the 1600 Mathurine was the favorite fool of three French Kings.

There were learned fools who specialized in clever wordplay. Some university professors took part-time jobs as buffoons to supplement their meager teaching salaries. Buffoonery could pay so well, that many could give up teaching entirely. Some dwarf fools were prominent in other professions and many were lawyers. Our modern-day equivalents – of which there are many – are easy to spot! Each country and time period has ‘em. Our modern media is full of Fools.

Fools Kings and Popes

The Emperor, The Hierophant and The World in Cap and Bells

The Fool and the Priest have a special relationship as evidenced by the Fool’s headgear, which seems to have hidden a shaved head, a parodying imitation of the monk’s tonsure. The hood itself is a grotesque illusion to the religious cowl. Nevertheless, Fools were often welcome among the clergy. Pope Leo X loved his jokers so much they could enter his chambers unannounced anytime they wished. Visiting officials were not so privileged. They usually faced long delays before they could see the Pope. It was jested throughout Rome that an official who wanted to see the Pope quickly should dress up in fool’s motley.

The dwarf- fool Querno was a poet, musician and wit. He lived in Naples and had an amazing ability to make up rhymes. Leo, patron of buffoonery heard about Querno and wanted to add him to his collection of fools. He summonsed Querno to Rome – a great honor for the tiny fool. To create a sensation, Querno made his entrance into Rome riding an elephant and wearing as a joke a crown of vines, cabbage leaves and grapes. From the top of the huge beast, Querno shouted funny Latin verses that he had composed with the Pope in an earlier meeting on the outskirts of the city.

The relationship between Fool and King is best illustrated with Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. In this great and absorbing tragedy, we are exposed to the ultimate exposure and defeat of the King who is degraded to the status of the meanest of his servants. We watch the royal sufferer being progressively stripped, first of extraordinary power, then of ordinary human dignity, then of the necessities of life, to physical nakedness, helpless and abject as any animal. Then as the king’s very sanity dissolves, the great reversal occurs. On the heath the poor mad king is turned into fool and beggar, guided by his half-witted court jester. Shakespeare crowns the Fool and invests the king with motley. Throughout, the Fool remains the mouthpiece of truth, of real sanity, an impartial critic.

In his dotage the tragic hero Lear cries “When we are born we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools”.

So the Fool/Jester plays at the court of the king as well as pope. In tarot talk the Emperor and the Fool as well as the Hierophant and Fool are partners. Sometimes the Fool speaks in riddles, which encode a truth the king accepts even when he can’t accept any honest declaration. The Fool’s wit or buffoonery reverses the edicts of authority and officialdom, so that the highest dignitaries of State or Church appear as fools themselves and the State, the Church and even the World herself, is revealed in cap and bells.

Bottom or Simpleton

Taboo is the Fool’s terrain

The Fool, slippery as s/he is, can be divided roughly into two types, although s/he has the capacity to be in both camps.

The Buffoon, like the clown is Shakespeare’s John Falstaff or Sir Tony Belch. They make lots of noise, and they’re spiteful, rapacious, lying, deceitful, greedy and drunken. We laugh at poor Bottom wearing ass’s ears in Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. He reminds us of our own worst fears – being laughed at for our ignorance.

We are familiar with the buffoon in drag in Pantomime or at university Capping concerts and transvestite and Queer festivals. All Fools love to cross-dress and confound sexual stereotypes. Australia’s own Dame Edna is a marvelous modern Buffoon/ Fool.
Buffoons thumb their noses and show their bottoms at convention and authority. Their tomfoolery includes iconoclasm, disrespect and subversion.

Jennifer Saunders and Pamela Stephenson in the TV series Absolutely Fabulous are two buffoons spilling venom at the fashion industry and all other aspects of the filthy rich’s lifestyle. The two Fools laughter directs derision toward society and society’s derision is flung like stones back at them.

Then there is the Holy Innocent, often a simpleton or saint-like Forrest Gump character. The Idiot in Dosteovesky’s book by the same name is a beautiful example. Prince Mishkin is an epileptic who “sees” things with a heightened awareness and personifies the redemptive power of simplicity plus faith. Mentally and physically abnormal, a Fool is always an outsider who is set apart and therefore views the world in a different way.

Without guild and malice, naïve, usually celibate the holy Fool is often used as a foil to show up a corrupt society, the only person to speak but with no power to change the world. Parsifal from the Arthurian legends was a great Fool, relying on his naive intuition. He was fool enough NOT to ask and eventually then to ask the one simple question that was needed to redeem the Wasteland.
Like the foolhardy youngest brother or sister in fairy tales who rushes in where angels fear to tread and by doing so, wins the hand of the prince/ss and the kingdom, the Fool’s approach to life combines wisdom AND folly, which can result in miracles.

The Fool shows us how the sublime and the ridiculous are one and the same. Either or neither, idiot or jester, s/he unites Shakespeare’s Caliban who is lurking, willful and dark – with Ariel who is quixotic, brilliant and light. Both are servants and both desire freedom.

The Fool, like zero, employs and embodies paradox, the exception that does not deny the rule, but manages to escape or break it. S/he blurs distinctions, especially in the area of sexuality and spirituality. An ambiguous figure of fun, s/he can be both grossly obscene and (w)holy innocent. The Fool criticises the ego while celebrating the self. The Fool scatters certainty about sexual identity.
The Fool often represents the marginalized and the dispossessed. Taboo is the Fool’s terrain. Nothing is sacred and comedy is his/her map and journey.

The Fool is our guide who does not know where or what s/he is. A medieval text tells of the Fool Philip, who was given a new shirt by his master. Philip put on the shirt and ran all through the house asking everyone who he was, for he did not recognize himself in his new clothing.

And then there’s the child in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Emperor’s New Clothes” – who speaks like the jester without punishment or censure… to the whole community trapped in illusion…. “But the Emperor is wearing no clothes!”

The Fool is the revelation of laughter and the embodiment of mirth. Laughter happens when we are totally involved, absorbed in the moment and/or looking on as an observer, standing quite apart from the moment. Laughter breaks us out of ourselves and may restore proportion, whilst reflecting skepticism and credulousness. Often though, a fit of the giggles does NOT restore order, but increases the silliness of the moment. The Fool scorns our orthodoxies, and substitutes absurdities, encouraging us to believe them because s/he does.

The Fool’s Clothing

‘Motley: – an assortment and variety of types, the costume of a jester.’

In early tarot decks, the Fool was sometimes portrayed as ragged and unkempt, sometimes simply a beggar, sometimes in complete jester’s panoply with bells, cap and bladder. A Fool sports a medley of colours, baubles and bells.

In medieval drama, the fool’s costume traditionally consisted of a tight-fitting hood with long ass’s ears at the sides and sometimes a cockscomb trimmed with hawk bells on the top. Sometimes he sports horns from his cap. The flaps of her coat frequently ended in bells and the trousers were often of variegated colours, the favourite tints being light green and yellow.

Sometimes the Fool has feathers on his head as in the Visconti-Sforza deck (1450) where Il Matto is a beggar in penitential white. Feathers can be found in other Renaissance paintings such as Giotto’s Folly in the Arena Chapel in Padua. Cesare Ripa in the Iconologia tells us feathers are a symbol of foolishness. However, maybe they also emphasize his connection with the heavenly spirit. The movie Forrest Gump begins and ends with a feather drifting from and to heaven. Here the feather alludes to the foolish Forrest Gump as being a feather on the breath of God.

The horned hat in the Marseille deck links the Fool to the God Dionysus who was born with horns on his forehead. This linked him with the young kid or goat – a suitable sacrificial offering to the gods in the ancient world and gives an undertone of scapegoat to the insouciance of the Fool. Dionysus was said to have gifted wine upon human beings – and wine is one of the great doorways to ecstasy and revelry. April Fool’s Day is a remnant of the great drunken holidays when the Fool reigned supreme. Annual carousing in public on New Year’s Eve in New Zealand has become a Fools’ paradise for many, while Authorities wring their official hands.

There are a few particular animals associated with the Fools clothing. Asses (the ears on his cap) and cocks (his hood is called a coxcomb) – remind us of the Fool’s infamous lustiness, for both these animal’s names have become semi-taboo. In polite company we call them donkeys and roosters. Interesting to note that both animals are implicated in the sacrificial imagery of Christ’s story; it was a humble ass that carried Christ to triumph into Jerusalem to his death, and a cock that crowed three times to announce Peter’s betrayal. Do we take this to mean that the Christian Lord is a Fool?

Dionysus also celebrated his birthday at the winter solstice and was an ancient god of sacrifice.

The English Morris and Mummers’ Fool frequently wore a fox’s skin which may link him to Reynard the Fox, a trickster of European origins and hero of the 12th century beast epic Roman de Renart. Reynard like the Fool is canny, amoral rebel pitting himself against all authority – foxy indeed.

The Fool’s traditional bauble is a wand he carries, that is usually an inflated bladder filled with rattling beans or peas. It would often look like a phallus – like the manic Punch who has a colossal penis. The Fool’s bauble has two pendant balls and is obviously his tool, a fertility symbol. At the same time, as a scepter it connects him directly with the King as his alter ego. If you get hit with the Fools’ bauble, the joke is on you. His slapstick is the defenseless Fool’s only weapon.

Women Fools could carry a leather dildo called a Baubo. This name alludes to the cathartic and healing function of the bawdy Dionysian comedies which are associated with the Greek myth of the Goddess Demeter. She is pulled out of her grief by laughing uproariously at the grotesque crone Baubo’s dirty jokes. Baubo also entertains the Goddess by showing her bare rump and genitals.
Lewdness and fertility are associated with the Fool, although Love itself doesn’t sit easy with the poor Fool…… “in love everybody plays the fool’ or ‘I’m just a fool for you “ etc

The Fool’s Dog

Hounded by our instincts

The Fool, like the hero in the Fairy tale, is almost always in every deck walking with an animal companion, usually a dog who represents the forces of nature, our instinctual self, our desires driving us on, leading us into success or misery, happiness or failure.
The dog is our familiar, our domestic companion, our guardian. In the Marseille decks the dog is attacking the Fool’s bottom (who seems oblivious nonetheless).

Perhaps the idea being conveyed here is that the wandering Fool is a stranger in our midst and our animal instincts are warning us to be on guard?

Perhaps the dog represents our animal desires that are driving us onwards?

Perhaps we should be listening to the watchdog’s barking? What has it got to tell us? What is dogging us?

Perhaps the Fool doesn’t care his backside has been exposed by his animal drives? The Marseille Fool’s bottom is bared and yet his face is unembarrassed and shows no shame.

We seem unaware or ignorant of the dog’s power to make an exhibition of ourselves.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss?

If our head is in the clouds and we doggedly pursue a quest like Don Quixote, we will tilt against reality, fall prey to accidents and crazy whims.


Contemporary Fools

….. fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
(Alexander Pope. Essay on Criticism.)

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Fools rush in where wise men never go…
(Elvis Presley)

The demise of the fool – at least as an institution and as an accepted part of the ruling classes everyday life – began in the 17th century. The 1790 image shows us a stern nymph admonishing the fool in ass’s ears. “Know Thyself she instructs…. Tut tut – the Age of Reason(?!) and political correctedness is upon us.

Of course the Fool is still within and without, and of course in the modern age, Fools abound. They’re all around us. Popular culture is their playground and they pop up wherever you may least expect them – in our music, on the radio and TV, and of course in the movies.

Nothing is real – Strawberry Fields Forever
(The Beatles)

Some of my favorite Fools are:-

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol is a fabulous Fool as is the Book itself.

Charlie Chaplin like Don Quixote tilting against reality, the little tramp is the quintessential fool… with his gift for self-mockery, exploiting his own absurdities without any apparent loss of self-esteem.

Marilyn Monroe played The Fool in most of her movies where the Hollywood macho machine forced her into being the dumb child blonde. However she transcended her sex-objectification in roles such as Some Like it Hot or Diamonds are a Girls’ Best Friends with her comedic sense of timing and naivety in taking things at their face or literal value. Her waif-like vulnerability was often ingenuously/ genuinely funny.

Buster Keaton, Peter Sellers, Mae West, Judy Holliday, Lucille Ball, Guiletta Masina (Fellini’s wife in her role in his masterpiece movie La Strada.

Danny Kaye – one of my all-time favorite Fools. Spike Milligan.

And then there are the groups of fools and eccentrics, the Buffoons, the Keystone Cops in the 1930s the Carry On Films from the 1950s, The Goons 1950s, Dad’s Army and The Hillbilly’s 1960s TV, The Young Ones 1980s etc etc.

The Marx Brothers

And the inimitable Monty Python – their classic ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (and Death)’ as they swing from the crosses of Gethsemene in the Movie Life of Brian

The great Sammy Davis Junior, Vaudeville and Music hall “song and dance man”

Jack Nicolson’s The Joker in the movie Batman. He has no past and is never seen without the wild make-up of a joker in a deck of cards.

Billy T. James in his brilliant rendition as The Mexican Kid in the immortal NZ movie Came a Hot Friday.

Jim Carrey in The Truman Show plays a classic Fool, Peewee’s Big Adventure.

And then there’s real life.

The hippies and the young at heart of all ages wearing a medley of colours affecting rags and patches, baubles and bells. Maybe the motley of psychedelic colours of the ‘60s and ‘70s presaged a new dawn of consciousness for all of us? Remember those cries – oxymorons all – of “free love” and “make peace not war” while sticking flowers down the barrels of the soldiers’ guns…. Ah how foolish we were! Pied Pipers and Peter Pans all.

Backpackers, wanderers traveling around with all their worldly goods slung over their shoulder. Tramps, hobos, transvestites…. Fools are punks, the social outcasts, the homeless, the bawds, the drunks.

The centre of reality is wherever one happens to be, and its circumference is whatever one’s imagination can make sense of.
(Margaret Atwood.)

The King and his court can be a lovely symbol for the inner world of our psyche. The child/Fool criticizes the King, who stands for our adult ego – while celebrating the innocent self. S/he is equally at home in the everyday world of ‘reality’ where most of us try to live most of the time, and in the non-verbal world of the imagination where we visit not nearly enough.

Like Puck, King Oberon’s Jester in Midsummer’s Nights Dream, our inner Fool revels in moving freely between these two worlds, mixing them up to make fun of the waking consciousness.

“Lord what fools these mortals are!”

The Fool’s world is often bizarre and delights in illusion and the imaginary. It is the Cheshire cat’s grin. It destroys logic and entertains in puzzle. It lies in the singularity of the Big Bang and the heart of black holes. The Fool will always have the last laugh.

Let us celebrate and crown our own Fool. “Ask ourselves where’s the Fool in my life? Who’s the Fool in my family or workplace, the community, the funny old world?”

Let’s skip into and through our own lives, looking for the Fool, playing the Fool, being the Fool.

“Esser come il Matto nel tarocchi” (to be like the tarot Fool – all over the place, at home everywhere and nowhere)

The Fool Spread

Devised by Fern Mercier

A circular spread with Number 7 sitting alone in the middle of the circle
Remember Folly is sister to Wisdom.

1. What kind of fool am I? This describes me and the journey I’m on.
2. Specifically in what area of my life is my folly located?
3. The Dog – my instincts/desires – that are driving and accompanying me?
4. The Knapsack – my baggage/resources – what am I carrying?
5. What in my wildest dreams do I want to be?
6. What is grounding me?
7. One card in the middle of the circle – what is my greatest Folly?

Bibliography Books and Magazines – (authors listed alphabetically)

FOOLS PLAYS A study of Satire in the Sottie by Heather Arden. Cambridge University Press 1980.

THE BOOK OF NOTHING by John d. Barrow. Vintage 2000.

SAMBO The Rise and Demise of an American Jester by Joseph Boskin. Oxford University Press 1986.

THE KING’S FOOL A Book about Medieval and Rennaissance Fools. By Dana Fradon. Duttons Children’s Books 1993.

THE FOOL – THE CLOWN – THE JESTER by Fred Fuller. From Gnosis a Journal of Western Inner Traditions No. 19 Spring 1991.

THE DEVIL’S PICTUREBOOK by Paul Huson Abacus Press 1971.

MYSTICAL ORIGINS OF THE TAROT From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage by Paul Huson. Destiny Books 2004

JUNG AND THE TAROT An Archetypal Journey by Sallie Nichols. Samuel Weiser Inc 1980.

ZERO The Biography of a Dangerous Idea by Charles Seife. Souvenir Press 2000

CRAFTSMAN OF CHAOS by Lynda Sexson from Parabola. Myth and the Quest For Meaning. The Trickster Vol 4 No. 1 Tamarack Press.

THE WOMAN’S ENCLYOPAEDIA OF MYTHS AND SECRETS by Barbara Walker. Harper San Francisco 1983.

FROM THE BEAST TO THE BLONDE On Fairytales and Their Tellers by Marina Warner. Chatto and Windus 1994.

THE FOOL His Social and Literary History by Enid Welsford. Gloucester Mass. 1966.

BOOK OF FOOLS by Brian Williams Llewellyn Publications 2002

WOMEN ON TOP Symbolic Sexual Inversion and Political Disorder in Early Modern Europe. From Society and Culture in Early Modern France by Natalie Zemon Davis. Sanford University Press 1975.


1 IJJ Swiss Fool
2 Playing Card Joker
3 January 1st 2000 cartoon
4 Mitelli Fool 17th century
5 Ship of Fools
6 Velazquez Dwarf Jester
7 Fool and the Priest
8 Cleopatra and Fool Jacob Jordaens 1653
9 Keying Up Fool William Merritt Chase 1875
10 Absolutely Fabulous
11 Charlie Chaplin
12 Fool Laughing Anon Dutch c.1500
13 Visconti-Sforza Fool
14 Rahere, Last Jester to Henry 1 and Mathilda 1100.
15 Fool Tickling Woman’s Fancy
16 Marseilles Fool with Dog Jodorosky and Camoin
17 Nymph admonishing Fool
18 Charlie Chaplin
19 Buster Keaton
20 Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby (2 images) and Danny Kaye as Court Jester
21 Marx Brothers
22 Monty Python
23 Jack Nicholson as The Joker from Batman
24 Billy T. James
25 Jester in Motley – modern image

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