1 The Fool (Le Mat or Il Matto, the Italian word that appears on some earlier versions of the Tarocchi, can be translated not only as ‘the fool,’ but also as ‘the beggar,’ ‘the madman,’ or ‘the lunatic.’) is the only unnumbered card in the Tarot de Marseille (In other decks it is numbered zero.) The Fool is placeless and numberless. It is the card of beginnings and endings – a card more concerned with movement and temporality than with location and spatiality – alternately counted as the highest or the lowest of the trumps. The Fool ascends and descends the order of the Tarot.
The card itself depicts a vagabond whose torn pantaloons are playfully pawed at by an indeterminate species of animal; perhaps a companion, perhaps a vigilant guard chasing a stranger out of town. Regardless, the figure seems undisturbed. They* carry a rather thin knapsack filled with few possessions. They look ahead with a youthful freshness and naïveté. The Fool approaches the threshold of the card itself, bearing their ass to the opposite side as if to say, “I don’t need your acceptance! Onward!”
The Fool is taking the initial steps on a relational drama that unfolds across the Major Arcana, or the first twenty-one cards of the Tarot. If we understand the Tarot as a complete system of interpretation, The Fool is the figure who sets that system into motion. The Fool is the animator of archetypes. On the one hand, they are a figure of great openness to the multiplicity of encounters which will ensue on the journey and, on the other, they are a figure great stupidity, even madness. In both guises, The Fool is something like a Simmelian stranger, embodying the tense relationship between absolute fixity to a point of origin (zero-point of lowest trump, preceding The Magician I/The High Priestess II; absolute reterritorialization) and utter detachment from any spatial specificity (zero-point of highest trump, succeeding The World XXI; absolute deterritorialization).
The Fool’s journey through the Major Arcana culminates in Le Monde, The World, sometimes called The Universe. This is a card of accomplishment and completion. On it, we find an androgynous human figure, dancing at the center of a yonic wreath. In the Tarot de Marseille, the wreath is surrounded by four classic elemental figures, or the tetramorph: the cherub/human figure (Aquarius/air), the eagle (Scorpio/water), the lion (Leo/fire), and the bull (Taurus/earth). Assembled together, the figures are joined in celebration of the historical accomplishment of the Fool’s journey. This is a card of human triumph in the formation of a world. The world is both an abstract and an earthly card. It is practical; a card which crowns cyclicality, renewal, and unity. It is at once emancipatory and inaugural, suggesting in the notion of completion, the inevitability of return. The World is a card of rhythms and wholeness. It suggests a freedom guided by the teacherly values of responsibility, discipline, and contemplation. The world, in a word, is totality.
The Tarot, of course, is a game of chance as much as it is a tool or system of interpretation. The act of reading Tarot generally requires the querent to focus on a particular problem – or at least the outline of a problem. The acts of shuffling, drawing, placing, and reading the cards affirm a commitment to engage a problem through both the order and the arrangement of the cards in the reading itself and in terms of the overall architecture of the Tarot. Cards from the Major Arcana suggest overarching principles of consciousness and action, so-called ‘court cards’ indicate personae and individuals, and cards from the Minor Arcana speak to transformational struggles and victories that unfold in everyday life.
A reading is spatial in that the relationship of the cards to each other must be considered in terms of the geography of generally agreed upon positions in the map of the reading itself. (The first position being that of the querent, the second of their immediate obstacle or opportunity, etc.) A reading is temporal in the sense that it takes place with respect to a situation that is ‘present’ to the querent and insofar as the order in which the cards are drawn is the singular factor in determining their position. The manner in which a reader draws connections between cards is therefore expressed in an art of spatio-temporal analysis.
I invite you to draw a card.
* While some traditions gender The Fool as a male, others portray The Fool as androgynous. Therefore, I use ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ to preserve this indeterminacy.