Fool that I may appear, today, the “day of fools”, I am coming out of the closet with a confession – I have a number of decks of tarot cards which I have collected over the last nine years since I first bought a pack (the Old English Tarot) from my local Mind, Body and Spirit fair. As my wife and I travelled back from that fair, she wondered what I’d bought as she pulled them out of the bag. Shock was on her face and was heard in her voice as she queried my motives for having bought them – I merely wanted to see what all the fuss was about as there were many tarot readers in the fair and I am secure in my own faith enough to explore what others believe. She opened the box and…. no demons flew out (we’re not superstitious like some Christians who believe that even touching a pack will “infect” them somehow), As she flicked through the cards we both started to notice certain cards had resonances with the Christian faith: the Hanged Man, Death, Devil, Lovers, World, Judgement, Justice and more.
Some people use the tarot for divination practices – I don’t personally use them for that. Others use them for guided self reflection – again something I don’t personally do, but can see value in that. For me, they are a collection of 78 beautiful paintings all contained in a box (with a little white booklet to unpack the imagery of the cards). I am very interested in the symbolism within the images of the cards, the archetypes represented by them and how they may be used positively in conversations about life and faith. And so by reflecting today upon The Fool card, we may unpack its deeper meanings and thus learn a little more about the Holy Fool himself…
The Fool Card
If you have a Rider Waite tarot, pick out The Fool and lay it out for meditating upon. If not, you can print out the image below.
Here we see a young man holding over his right shoulder a staff (a wand, similar to The Hermit¹) with a bag of gifts at the end. In his left hand, he holds a white rose – the same white rose on the flag of Death. He is dressed in a blue cloak decorated in pomegranates, the same pomegranates that decorate the veil between the pillars behind the High Priestess.
He walks amongst the high places of the mountains illuminated by the radiant sun., followed by a friendly white dog (unlike the dogs in the Moon card). With his serene face lifted high and raised towards the heavens, he steps forth… towards the precipice. A fool perhaps, someone carelessly moving towards a dangerous situation, one which will certainly end his life.
To some, The Fool is the highest, most powerful trump card in the deck, whilst to others it is the lowest. The Fool is the one who therefore can encompass both the highest and the lowest ranks – and may point towards the One who came from the highest spiritual realms to these lower earthly planes, and even travelled to the underworld itself.
Who is this Fool?
A E Waite, in his Pictorial Key to the Tarot (p76) says “He is a prince of the other world on his travels through this one”. It is this curious phrase which elicits a response from me as a follower of the Prince of Peace who has travelled through this world – what is hidden in the symbolism which may reveal the true identity of The Fool?
Dressed in blue (a colour representing heavenly things – see the shirt of the Hanged Man), the pomegranates are found on the clothing of the ancient Jewish high priest (Exodus 28) – this Fool wears the clothes of the high priest:
But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come…
The Fool holds the white rose, as mentioned before – the same white rose on the flag held by Death – which Waite (p60) refers to as signifying “life” (hence the mystery that in death, life may itself be found). It is towards the certainty of death that the Fool carries the gift of life itself.
And now, the time has come! That grace was revealed when our Saviour, Jesus the Anointed, appeared; and through His resurrection He has wiped out death and brought to light life and immortality by way of this good news.
2 Timothy 1:10
Incidentally, the Hanged Man – a card symbolising self sacrifice on the cross – appears to be the same young man in The Fool. Coincidence? Well, given the symbolism, I think there is a great link between these cards that should be explored further and not simply ignored, but that is for another time.
The Fool carries the promise of life into the abyss of death itself, carrying a bag of gifts to those who were held there, making a mockery of even death itself…
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?
Waite (p76) says that the sun overhead knows where the Fool came from, but also that he “will return by another path after many days”. Certainly the path which led to death was trodden by Jesus (whose crucifixion 2000 years ago is remembered on Good Friday), and Jesus rose again from the dead, leading those held in the captivity of the sleep of death free into newness of life, and is now in the heavenly realms awaiting a return by another path – not the path of a newborn child, but by a different one – as the majestic Divine Creator to restore the cosmos to a perfect spiritual state.
He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.
He is in heaven now and must remain there until the day of universal restoration comes—the restoration which in ancient times God announced through the holy prophets.
Listen to the words of the Holy Fool himself whilst he was incarnated on this “middle earth”:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The teaching of Jesus is diametrically opposed to the power and dominion systems exhibited by those who seek to control the people of this world and the ecosystems we are a part of. It is not by power or by might that we may change the world for the better (humans who gain power and might inevitably tend to mess things up and start becoming autocratic / totalitarian), but it is by the power of the Great and Holy Spirit through which positive change comes about². That power I believe comes about from fostering an intimate relationship with the Eternal through the Divine Creator, Jesus.
To the powers and principalities of this world, we may appear as fools when we follow the Holy Fool, but that is of no concern to the ones who walk towards the precipice and die to themselves in order that they may receive fullness of life both here and thereafter.
We are nothing but fools for the cause of the Anointed One while you are wise in Him. Am I right? We are feeble and tired while you are mighty and full of life. You are well respected by others while we’re treated as contemptuous creatures by pretty much everyone everywhere.
1 Corinthians 4:10
- What is the Holy Fool saying to me?
- Can I follow the Holy Fool, dying to myself that the Eternal One may fully live in my life?
- What life can I bring to others in turn through my own life here?
- What contempt may I receive by following the Holy Fool, and am I prepared to look foolish to gain what is eternal?
¹ The Hermit which Waite (p52) says represents God, “the Ancient of Days”, Jesus, the “Light of the World” held by the Hermit, and yet Waite himself misses out the significance of the staff / wand, the fire of the Holy Spirit which descended at the birthday of the Church on that first Pentecost morning, and which gives gifts to all people – wisdom, understanding, counsel (right judgement), courage, knowledge, reverence, wonder and awe of the Eternal One, which equip the five-fold ministries in Ephesians 4:11. For me, the Hermit is the card which represents the Trinity as all three symbols are in there.
² I’m not claiming that only “Christians” can make positive change in this world – not in the slightest, but I do believe that the Spirit of the Divine calls us all into relationship and that includes giving gifts to all to enable them to make this world a better place to live, whether or not they understand or acknowledge the Spirit of the Divine at work in them).