0 – The Fool: Symbolism and Meaning

As part of the Major Arcana, the Fool kicks off a sequence of major life events depicted in each card of the Major Arcana; and thus marks the beginning of life, the foolishness of young age and being oblivious to the dangers of the world.

  • Hebrew Letter: Alef א
  • Number: 0
  • Element: Air
  • Keyword: The Spirit of Ether
The Fool in different decks: Rider-Waite-Smith, The Hermetic Tarot, Thoth Tarot(left to right)

As we can see in the picture above, Godfrey Dowson also attributed Pluto to the Fool in his “The Hermetic Tarot”. This planetary correspondence is not in line with traditional Tarot, as the traditional system(as laid out by the Golden Dawn) uses traditional astrology; which ignores more recently discovered planets like Pluto, Uranus and Neptune. Godfrey Dowson added those planets in order to make the meanings of a few cards clearer; although he also sees Pluto and Uranus(which he attributed to XX – The Last Judgement) as interchangeable; so I won’t dive into the meaning of Pluto for this card as its not part of the earlier system and no clear correspondence.

The Letter Alef א

  • Meanings: Master, Teacher, Wondrous
  • Historical meaning: Ox’s Head
  • Gematria: 1
  • Sound: Silent

The primary meaning of the letter alef can be found in its gematria – one. This letter is the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, its sound is silent and the meanings listed above all refer to one – God. The meaning of “master”(hebr. “aluf”) is the reminder that the world was created by someone, while the meaning of “teacher”(hebr. “ulfana) signifies God’s teachings – the Torah and 613 mitzvot, which he gave to His people of Israel. Both of these meanings can also be found in the Jewish declaration of faith, the Shema Yisrael. The final meaning of “wondrous” relates to the esoteric and mystical side of the Torah – the Holy Kabbalah.

The Shema Yisrael

At least this for traditional Jewish Kabbalah; which is one of the most interesting and enlightening disciplines I’ve ever had the pleasure of studying. But for the sake of historicity, we have to make a distinction between this original form of Kabbalah and the Kabbalah, often spelled as Qabbalah, of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; which the Tarot system we use today is based on.

We see the letter alef in regards to the teachings of the Golden Dawn described as follows:

“Come and see! A, Aleph, only is called the first (letter). In A, Aleph, is the masculine power hidden and concealed; that namely, which is not known.” S. L. MacGregor Mathers, Kabbalah Unveiled, p.315.

“The Letter ALEPH represents spirituality in high things, but when translated to the plane contiguous to or below ASSIAH is usually something horrible and unbalanced, because it is so opposed to matter that the mo ment it is involved therein, there is no harmony between them. T his notion is most important and permeates all forms of the Order’s magical procedures.” Israel Regardie, The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic, Volume V, p.51.

“Aleph forms the reconciliation between Mem and Shin so thus stands the reconciling Pillar between the Pillars of Fire and of Cloud; the Yakin and Boat of Solomon’s Temple.” Israel Regardie, The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic, Volume VI, p.140.

“Forget not that this Aleph is the Spiritual and Etherial, and Tau is the Universe, and Mem is the Sacrificial Man, placed between them so as to affirm the Reconciliation of the Natural to the Spiritual through self-sacrifice.” Israel Regardie, The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic, Volume X, p.41.

“Aleph, Mem and Tau, are the three letters representing the three elements of Air, Water, and Earth.” Israel Regardie, The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic, Volume X, p.85.

The Element of Air

The element of air is the second element after the element of fire in the Great Chain of Being, as it separates the element of water from the highest element of fire. So in the traditional sense of this element, we cannot look through the modern lens of what air is in order to understand its alchemical and magical properties and how it relates to Tarot and the Fool. The element of air is all around us. We breath it, we move through it, we pick up smells through it and according to traditional writers of the renaissance we even feel and speak through it. For instance when something bad happens, there is a certain atmosphere that lingers. This can be picked up by sensitive people; which is known to most people as clairsentience. Earlier on, people attributed this phenomenon to the element of air and the ether; which are closely tied together in renaissance thought – which is also why the Fool is called “The Spirit of Ether”. This type of renaissance thought on air and the ether is also the reason why the element of air itself is closely tied to communication!

“This is a vitall spirit, passing through all Beings, giving life, and subsistence to all things, binding, moving, and filling all things. Hence it is that the Hebrew Doctors reckon it not amongst the Elements, but count it as a Medium or glew [glue], joyning things together, and as the resounding spirit of the worlds instrument. It immediately receives into it self the influences of all Celestiall bodies, and then communicates them to the other Elements, as also to all mixt [mixed] bodies: Also it receives into it self, as it were a divine Looking-glass, the species of all things, as well naturall, as artificiall, as also of all manner of speeches, and retains them; And carrying them with it, and entering into the bodies of Men, and other Animals, through their pores, makes an Impression upon them, as well when they sleep, as when they be awake, and affords matter for divers strange Dreams and Divinations.” Agrippa on the Element of Air; Three Books of Occult Philosophy, Book I, Chapter VI.

Imagery of The Fool

Most people will know the depiction of the Fool from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck; where a young man stands at the edge of a cliff. We can see a sense of carelessness as well as wonder in Waite’s and Smith’s depiction of this card.

“With light step, as if earth and its trammels had little power to restrain him, a young man in gorgeous vestments pauses at the brink of a precipice among the great heights of the world; he surveys the blue distance before him-its expanse of sky rather than the prospect below. His act of eager walking is still indicated, though he is stationary at the given moment; his dog is still bounding. The edge which opens on the depth has no terror; it is as if angels were waiting to uphold him, if it came about that he leaped from the height. His countenance is full of intelligence and expectant dream. He has a rose in one hand and in the other a costly wand, from which depends over his right shoulder a wallet curiously embroidered. He is a prince of the other world on his travels through this one-all amidst the morning glory, in the keen air. The sun, which shines behind him, knows whence he came, whither he is going, and how he will return by another path after many days. He is the spirit in search of experience. Many symbols of the Instituted Mysteries are summarized in this card, which reverses, under high warrants, all the confusions that have preceded it.” A. E. Waite on The Fool; The Pictorial Key to the Tarot.

Pictured from left to right: S. L. MacGregor Mathers, Pamela Colman Smith, A. E. Waite

Another depiction known by many would be from Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, illustrated by Lady Frieda Harris. Crowley’s depiction of the Fool is atypical with how much syncretism he put into his own deck. He saw the Fool as both masculine and feminine, which he derived from numerology of the number 0 as well as the Tetragrammaton. The spiral depitcted on this card also signifies the universe. In order to understand Thoth Tarot and Crowley’s Fool, I highly recommend to read his “Book of Thoth”.

“The Fool is of the gold of air. He has the horns of Dionysus Zagreus, and between them is the phallic cone of white light representing the influence from the Crown1 upon him. He is shown against the background of air, dawning from space; and his attitude is that of one bursting unexpectedly upon the world.He is clad in green, according to the tradition of Spring; but his shoes are of the phallic gold of the sun.In his right hand he bears the wand, tipped with a pyramid of white, of the All-Father. In his left hand he bears the flaming pine- cone, of similar significance, but more definitely indicating vegetable growth; and from his left shoulder hangs a bunch of purple grapes. Grapes represent fertility, sweetness, and the basis of ecstasy. This ecstasy is shown by the stem of the grapes developing into rainbow- hued spirals. The Form of the Universe. This suggests the Threefold Veil of the Negative manifesting, by his intervention, in divided light. Upon this spiral whorl are other attributions of godhead. […] Fawning upon him is the tiger; and beneath his feet in the Nile with its lotus stems crouches the crocodile. Resuming all his many forms and many- coloured images in the centre of the figure, the focus of the microcosm is the radiant sun. The whole picture is a glyph of the creative light.” Aleister Crowley on The Fool; The Book of Thoth, p.69-70.

Pictured from left to right: Israel Regardie, Lady Frieda Harris and Aleister Crowley

Another depiction of the Fool shown in the first picture right between Crowley’s and A. E. Waite’s Fool is Godfrey Dowson’s Fool in his The Hermetic Tarot.. As a whole Dowson tried to stay very close to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn; for which he heavily relied on the works of Mathers, Crowley, Case, G.H., Soror, Q. L. and Eliphas Levi. In Dowson’s depiction we see a young man holding a rose as well as a wolf on a leash. Beneath him are dangerous waters as well as a crocodile with open jaws; something anybody would usually deem as dangerous. The Fool however stands there, oblivious to the dangers beneath him.

“The sun indicates a bright spring morning. The two-part triangle in the upper right of the card represents air. The symbol of Pluto appears in the mist to the front of the man. The Foolish Man stands with his worldly belongings at the edge of a precipice, ignorant of the lashing waves and the crocodile with open jaws. The Foolish Man holds in his right hand therose of joy, signifying perfect innocence and he holds a fierce wolf in check by a leash. Behind him sprouts the flower of silence. The higher sig-nificance of this card suggests that The Foolish Man’s perfect innocence is holding the wolf, thus the anger of worldly wisdom is held in check by perfect innocence.” Godfrey Dowson on The Fool; The Hermetic Tarot, p.17-18.

As a final note on the imagery of the Fool, Israel Regardie, who collected teachings tied to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, writes the following:

“In this card the most complete departure from the conventional packs is depicted. Instead of showing a man in motley, striding along, heedless of the dog which is yapping at his heels, we have revealed a naked child standing beneath a rose-tree bearing yellow roses. They represent the golden Rose of Joy as well as the Rose of Silence. While reaching up to the Roses, he yet holds in leash a grey wolf, wordly wisdom held in check by perfect innocence and the divine nature. Waite describes him as a prince of the other world on his travels through this one – all amidst the morning glory, in the keen air. He is the Spirit in search of experience. Probably the finest description of the Fool is to be found in that profound work, The Book of Thoth by Aleister Crowley. Though his designs for the Fool as painted by Frieda Harris differ enormously from the Order version. Nonetheless the reader would do well to study what Crowley has to say in this connection. This alone should shatter any convictions one may have about Crowley’s supposed perplexities. There is more wisdom in this one description and interpretation than in many a tome on all the Tarot trumps contributed by anyone else. I go further than this, and suggest that the student study the Golden Dawn Tarot deck in conjunction with his book, and even with his own version of the Tarot cards themselves. The magical title is the Spirit of Ether.” Israel Regardie on The Fool; The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic, Volume II

Divinatory Meanings

If you ever studied more than one author, you’ll have noticed that divinatory meanings can differ from author to author. However, most of the time they are in line with one another in the general sense.

Here are a few divinatory meanings selected from different authors:

  • Folly, mania, extravagance, intoxication, delirium, frenzy, bewrayment. Reversed: Negligence, absence, distribution, carelessness, apathy, nullity, vanity. (A. E. Waite, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot)
  • Idea. Thought. Sensitivity. The Flesh. Eternal life. Spirituality. Initiative. Folly. Foolishness. Reversed: Bad decision. Indecision. Apathy. Hesitation. (Godfrey Dowson, The Hermetic Tarot)
  • In spiritual matters, represents ideas and thoughts, which endeavor to transcend earth. In material mat-ters, reveals folly, eccentricity, even mania. It represents a sud-den, unexpected impulse. (James Wasserman, Instructions for Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot Deck)

In order to understand the meanings of the Fool and to find deeper meanings withtin the card’s correspondences one has to study, meditate and contemplate.

My own experience with 0 – The Fool

I’ve used all the decks mentioned for divination and whenever the Fool popped up – either reversed or upright, it could mean many things depending on the question asked. For instance once the Fool showed up and indicated that someone was oblivious to their own behavior and how it affected other people in a very negative way. Another time it meant an innocent – and unserious – type of relationship between two people in a love reading; something nice but not real commitment like the Lovers. When the Fool pops up in a reading on myself it could either indicate that I’m gonna have a day without worrying about stuff or that I don’t take something seriously enough. I had both instances, and both times the cards around the Fool clarified the meaning of it!

So my own interpretation and divinatory meanings of the Fool are probably not that much different from the sources I have listed earlier; but I’m sharing them regardless!

Upright: Innocence. Sensitivity. Folly. No attachment/commitment(in a love reading). Oblivious to dangers or serious matters in one’s life. Reversed: Apathy. Vanity. Indecision. Indifference to important things in life. Coldness.

Let me know your experiences with this card down below and thank you for reading!

Occult Literature

  1. “The Complete Golden Dawn System of Magic” by Israel Regardie.
  2. “Kabbalah Unveiled” by S. L. MacGregor Mathers.
  3. “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot” by A. E. Waite.
  4. “The Book of Thoth” by Aleister Crowley.
  5. “Three Books of Occult Philosophy” by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim.

Jewish Literature regarding Kabbalah

  1. “Path of the Kabbalah” by David Sheinkin.
  2. Chabad.org” by the Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center.

Tarot decks mentioned

  1. “Rider-Waite-Smith” by A. E. Waite and Pamela Colman Smith.
  2. “The Hermetic Tarot” by Godfrey Dowson.
  3. “Thoth Tarot” by Aleister Crowley.

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