In the Tarot, the Fool is often considered the first of the twenty-two cards in the Major Arcana. This ordering isn’t universally subscribed to, of course, but in most modern decks, the card is given the number zero, and placed at the beginning because that’s how math works.
In many older decks, however, the Fool bears no number at all, and this is sometimes taken to mean it belongs both nowhere and everywhere. And, “Because Reasons,” there are few schools which place the Fool as the second-to-last card, sandwiched in between the card called Judgement and the card call the World.
Myself, I lean toward putting it at the beginning of the suit, mostly as a nod to a popular and sometimes useful conception of the Major Arcana as a whole.
The Hero’s Journey
In Western storytelling, there’s a narrative pattern which seems to crop up rather frequently.
Someone, usually a someone of no particular note or skill, is called to adventure. At first they refuse, but ultimately they are drawn into an epic journey.
During their adventures, they face many challenges, all of which lead up to some huge, decisive crisis. They deal successfully with this crisis, but are profoundly transformed by it.
Finally, the adventure over, they return home.
This pattern is often called the “Hero’s Journey,” or the “monomyth,” and it was popularized Joseph Campbell. A professor of literature, and a student of comparative religion and mythology, Campbell’s work on the subject is so well-known as to fall safely into the realm of pop-culture.
In fact, George Lucas himself credited Campbell as being a major influence on the Stars Wars film series.
Campbell’s work has also influenced many Tarot readers’ approach to the Major Arcana. More specifically, many readers consider each of the cards of the Major Arcana as being one step or stage on the archetypal Hero’s Journey.
In this view of the cards, the Fool is our Hero, and on its own it represents the very beginning of the journey, where our innocent and naïve would-be adventurer has just set out, full of youthful energy, despite their earlier misgivings. Each subsequent card in the Major Arcana is a kind of way station along their path, representing the challenges or lessons which the Fool must face, understand, and overcome. Finally, at the end of the Major Arcana, and in true “monomythic” form, the Fool returns to the World, transformed and complete.
If you’re interested in the details of this Hero’s Journey approach, and how each card of the Major Arcana fits within it, you can find many different takes both online and in books. I may even bring my own version to the table someday, but for now, though, I want to focus on the Fool at the beginning.
Shunryū Suzuki was a Zen Buddhist monk and teacher, whose work helped to popularize Zen Buddhism in the United States during the late 1950s through early 1970s. He passed away in 1971, at the age of 67. Just prior to his death, a number of Suzuki’s talks on Zen were collected and published in a book: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.
This concept of “beginner’s mind” (called “shoshin” in Japanese) is worth some deep consideration, and I highly suggest you read Suzuki’s words on the subject for the real truth of it. To give you the briefest, most surface-level description in my own words, the beginner’s mind is one which is eager, open, and holds no preconceptions.
It is the innocent and naïve mind of one who has just embarked on their path, without any real knowledge, but with great enthusiasm.
To me, the Fool possesses just this sort of mind. And it’s a mind we sometimes experience ourselves, to one degree or another, during our daily lives.
Think of how you feel when you first encounter something new which draws your attention. Maybe it’s a new city you’re visiting, or a new book you’ve decided to read. It might even be a new skill to learn, or some other topic which almost seems to call you over to explore it.
There’s excitement, right? Enthusiasm? Maybe even sheer joy?
Whenever we encounter something new and thrilling, whatever it may be, we experience a kind of passionate ecstasy. And it’s this initial passion, this feeling of a mind open, enthusiastic, and holding no preconceptions which the Fool represents.
It’s the height of “Foolishness” to throw one’s scant belongings in a bag, leave the known behind, and step out into the realms beyond our experience with nothing but hope and wonder to guide us.
It’s also might be the wisest thing we could ever do.
This week, I wanted to connect with the Fool, and their beginner’s mind. That raw, unbridled enthusiasm and confidence which only innocence and newness can inspire. Tapping into Fool energy is a powerful way to rekindle one’s passion for things which may have become “old” or “stale” in our eyes. It also serves as a wonderful method of “reformatting” ourselves and our attitudes when we feel stuck in old patterns, or “in a slump.”
The easiest way to tap into this “Foolishness” is through a simple meditation exercise, which almost doubles as a kind of journey in and of itself.
For this exercise, you’ll need a relatively comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed. You’ll also want to find an image of the Fool from the Tarot. I recommend the Fool from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck for this exercise, but any will do so long as it invokes that sense of “beginner’s mind” for you.
Place the card in front of you, or otherwise find some way to hold it comfortably so you can see it for the duration of the exercise. When I do Tarot meditations, I usually place a stack of two or three books on a table, and then lean the card I wish to focus on up against them.
Once you’re set, begin with your eyes closed. Take a deep, full breath in and let it out slowly. Do this again, slowly and deeply, and feel your body start to relax. Breathe in, breathe out, and just let all of your muscles slowly release their tension. Focus first on the muscles around your eyes and mouth.
Breathe and relax. Let a slow, comforting wave of relaxation flow down your body, from your head through your shoulders and torso, then finally your legs and your feet.
Feel your body relax and become heavy, breathing in and breathing out.
Once you feel totally and fully relaxed, slowly open your eyes and look at the Fool in front of you.
At first, let your eyes wander over the card however they wish. Let them take in the card as a whole, or allow them to focus on some specific detail which draws your attention. Whatever happens, happens. Just breathe, relax, and experience the card as though you are seeing it for the first time.
After a few minutes, take hold of your attention, and shift it to the background of the card. The far distance. See what is there. Let your eyes thoroughly explore the landscape behind the Fool.
Don’t leave any sight unseen or unconsidered, but slowly turn your attention toward elements of the card which are nearer to you.
Take in each detail of the card, slowly and carefully, from those furthest away to those nearest, until you are left regarding the Fool themselves.
Here is the Fool, with their beginner’s mind. Innocent, free of cares or preconceptions. No prejudices cloud their judgement, no shame obstructs their intention. They know nothing of the path before them, and so fear no dangers which may be ahead.
The whole of their being is filled with the simple delight of this: their leap of faith into the unknown.
Let these ideas swirl in your consciousness as the image of the Fool comes to life. See and feel the Fool in their beginning, with a mind open and full of joy and wonder at the newness to be found in even the simple objects surrounding them and you.
Imagine the card and Fool within not just as some lifeless picture, but as a doorway to that Great Beginning. Let the Fool’s enthusiasm and innocence become your enthusiasm and innocence.
And, should you feel it begin to happen, let yourself enter the card and become the Fool. Let the beginner’s mind of Fool fill you and thrill you, until there is no longer you and the Fool, but you as the Fool.
Feel this connection, this unity, and embrace the Foolish mind full of openness, innocence, and fearlessness. Let all preconceptions fade. Let every breath feel like the first breath your ever took. Let every moment come and pass as if time itself is nothing more or less than the constant flow of the New and Exciting.
Stay in this place however long you wish.
Then, slowly, allow yourself to come back to yourself. Allow the Fool to part from you. As the Fool settles back within the card, and you settle back into the place of your meditation, allow the card to become an ordinary picture again.
But let the feeling of this “Foolish” experience remain with you.
Breathing in, breathing out, still relaxed, allow this connection with the Fool to recede into the background, but know that a thread of it still remains, and that you can pull on it whenever you wish. Because once it has been felt, once you have truly experienced it, there is always a lingering echo of the Foolish mind. And that echo can be listened for, and embraced again, as it is needed.
As you slowly allow yourself to return to the world around you, that place where you began, know that you’ve taken a leap into the unknown—and the World is waiting.
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