The Fool Tarot Card Meanings Then and Now
The Fool is numbered “0” in a Rider Waite Tarot Deck. It is designated as a Major Arcana card, and its position in a newly acquired R-W Tarot deck falls at the end after all other Majors.
Arthur Edward Waite is the original author and publisher of the tarot card meanings, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. He interjected the presentation and interpretation of The Fool card unmistakably between card 20 Judgment, and card 21 The World, throughout the book.
Generally speaking, and in reference to its number zero,within the Major Arcana only; The Fool card can be considered to be both the first and the last card representing a new journey, new path or new beginning. In modern Tarot reading, the zero card holds no “hard-coded”, distinct position within the deck. The Fool is on a journey and “gets around” in all directions. The zero is actually symbolic of having no number at all.
Arthur Waite’s Interpretation
It is described in Waite’s book that The Fool stands at the top of the world in gorgeous clothing, having treaded eagerly yet lightly, now appearing stationary and fearless at the precipice of a mountain. The Fool’s composure is one that holds expectations and his expression is one of intelligence. “He is the spirit in search of experience”, writes Waite.
He goes on to say that the card at one time had a subsidiary name, “The Alchemist”, turning the tables to present foolish action, practice, or undertakings or reckless, careless mistakes where there is little understanding of a situation at hand that may require serious attention, careful and calculated thought.
In some respects the card can come to warn us of “Murphy’s Law” and even impending self-destructive or self-defeating behavior, thinking unrealistically or acting irresponsibly.
Arthur Waite’s original interpretation for The Fool card upright is:
Folly, mania, extravagance, intoxication, delirium, frenzy, bewrayment.
Reversed meanings are: Negligence, absence, distribution, carelessness, apathy, nullity, vanity.
He was particular about the interpretations meant for the careful and intentional work that went into the creation of his card deck. Little did he know that even his own translations for the deck he put together would emerge with new meaning and become modified over time.
So much about our way of living has evolved since the publishing of the Rider-Waite deck, circa 1911. Many seers and many books have been queried for guidance on how to read the cards outside of Waite’s own published instruction. Matured interpretations have given each card a new life of its own, sometimes steering Waite’s original intent into metamorphosed expressions that he never mentioned or offered.
In the Tarot Reading community, the newer, renovated interpretations are generally accepted and so pervasive that Waite’s deliberate commentary on the cards is becoming overshadowed. And yet, because of our progress in culture in society since the cards were created, we experience and interpret them differently than the way they were construed over 100 years ago.
Recent books depicting the story of The Fool suggest that he is carelessly and perhaps, obliviously leading himself to nearly falling off of the cliff before him. He is depicted as unaware or unconcerned of the danger only one more step ahead of him. On his staff he carries a small pouch and it is assumed that it carries all he will need.
Updated interpretations for The Fool Tarot card meanings include: Unlimited Potential, New Path, New Direction, Spontaneity, Impulsiveness, Carefree, Gamble/Risk, Naiveté, Innocence, Freedom, Opportunity, Entrepreneur, Exploration, Adventure, Optimism, Embrace the Unknown, Guided by Intuition/Trusting Instincts, Follow Your Heart, Being True to Self, Live in the Moment.
The Fool is far from being a fool. Although it appears there is potential for him to misstep based on inexperience, he knows what he knows. With him he has a loyal companion and a pouch that carries what he will need to get him to his next phase. Perhaps upon being granted his gifts of confidence and insight, he has chosen to part ways with life as he knows it .
Without the confines and limitations of what his present life holds, he takes his own path. At the top of the mountain where he can observe what he is leaving behind, he takes account of it, takes it all in and gives gratitude before tossing his rose in a ceremonial bidding of farewell and moves on.
But make no mistake, he is a vagrant and a vagabond, liberated from carrying the weight of obligation or responsibility. As his life continues in this state, there is no real depth of feeling or true knowledge of aftermath, accountability or consequence. His charisma and his instincts give him the insight to know where to take advantage of an opportunity to get what he needs to continue on his journey.
At a glance, The Fool is to be admired; for his attitude carries the optimism, assurance, liberty and potential we all desire. It is hypnotic, motivating and inspiring. Looking deeper, he is dependent upon the emotions and contributions of life’s real fools to afford his extravagance, and to maintain a life of complete liberty.
Is there an experience of or thoughts about The Fool card that you would like to share? I am open to comments below. Thank you!