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April Fool's fools

It is the 1st of April today and, instead of trying to deceive you, I chose to honour the figure of The Fool - the first card of the Major Arcana of the tarot - and talk briefly about the Fools in the decks I have in my collection.

The Fool is either number 0 or unnumbered, signifying the start of a person's journey towards enlightenment. S/he is often pictured dressed like a court jester, an entertainer of medieval and renaissance palaces, in colourful costume and a silly hat. We also find him/her as the village fool, an outcast living in the margins of society, naive or mentally unstable and wise at the same time. He is depicted as a male in pre-19th century tarots, but the Rider-Waite-Smith and some of its derivatives present him as a hermaphrodite, or of ambiguous gender.

The Fool is usually carelessly walking towards the edge of a cliff, blissfully unaware of the danger of falling, with a dog running behind him and often biting him as a warning. In most cases he is holding a staff with a dangling satchel that contains his belongings, and a white flower that signifies his innocence.

The divinatory meaning of the card refers to the start of a new cycle which the querent is about to enter inexperienced. They are enthusiastic and impulsive, and any lessons they may learn from their new endeavor will make them grow as a result.

In my Visconti-Sforza (mini edition), the Fool is in destitute condition. He has feathers in his hair, and wears only a jacket, underpants, and his socks. His staff looks more like a wooden bat, a weapon with which to defend himself while he wanders in the wilderness. There are hills and mountains behind him, and we can barely see the edge of a precipice before his feet. He has an expression of complacency on his face, of seeming calmness and peaceful acceptance of his fate.

The next two Fools (from the Barbara Walker tarot and the Mystical tarot) are the typical jesters. Both are dressed in red-and-white costume (a mix of desire and innocence), with yellow accents (signifying the element of air). The landscape in the Barbara Walker card is stark and barren, with a bright blue sky and a mountain range in the background. The Fool is heading to the edge of a cliff, and a black dog is running behind him. The white butterfly is a symbol of the soul and of transformation, and the Fool, with a frozen smile on his face, doesn't see where he is going.

The Mystical tarot Fool is forging ahead, unaware of the banana peel under his shoe, while a dog is trying to drag him from the bell on his belt. Owls are watching from the top of trees in the background and, beneath the cliff, a skeleton is signalling the lethal danger of a potential slip.

Moving on to Aleister Crowley's Thoth deck, the Fool now becomes Dionysus: the god of wine, feasts, fertility and excess. We can see the grapes on the right, and on the left the butterfly, the white dove as symbol of the holy spirit, and in front of him the caduceus staff of Mercury. The Fool's satchel is full of coins, each one showing a planetary or zodiacal symbol. In his feet lies a crocodile, alluding to the Egyptian crocodile god Sobek. Instead of a dog, we see a tiger biting his leg (the Roman god Bacchus was sometimes depicted riding a tiger), and a glowing sun in front of his genitals. As is the case with all cards in the Thoth deck, we are faced here with a cornucopia of symbols that require study on behalf of the reader.

The Fool with the tall, pointy hat comes from the Spanish El Grand Tarot Esoterico. He is dressed like an ancient peasant holding a corn stalk, presumably to signify fertility, and balances precariously at the edge of a cliff. A small dog that looks more like a big rat is biting his leg in an effort to stop him in his tracks. In the Crystal tarot, on the other hand, the Fool seems very young and is dressed in clothes of vaguely oriental origin. Instead of a flower, s/he is holding an apple, possibly a symbol of sin reminiscent of the Fall of Man.

We find two Fools with their arms wide open in Le Tarot Psychologique and the Greenwood tarot (of which I have a PnP copy, as it is out of print). Le Tarot Psychologique is in black-and-white only, and the Fool has no facial features. We recognize him from the diamond shapes of his costume, while the dog on his side is playfully blanacing on top of a cosmic symbol similar to the symbol of the atom. The Greenwood Fool is herself a butterfly ready to fly off the cliff, with a dog having already taken the leap of faith.

Finally, our last Fool, and the one I find the most amusing, comes from another out of print deck, the Russian tarot Lubok. He has a red nose (due to drunkenness?) and is riding a purple boar and blowing a long horn to signal his departure.

The inspiration for this post came from Tarot Oculus and his own April Fool's Fools of Note video.

If you had the patience to read thus far, thank you, and be careful not to be fooled today and in general. ;)

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