Arcanum 0 “The Fool”

0 The Fool: IGNORANCE: (Above to Below) (AIR)

Esoteric Titles:
The Lord of Misrule
The Green Man
The Fool on the Hill

“He who persists in his folly becomes Wise”William Blake

Ignorance, as we all know, can be bliss and sometimes a folly to be too openly wise. But how long can any human being sustain a state of idiotic or innocent disregard or ignore the real purpose of their life? The Fool begins his journey gazing optimistically into the bright clear sky from which the Sun always shines on his back. Far away in the distance is a band of Himalayan peaks. Clearly, he has much further to go in life’s journey. In his left hand he holds a white rose – a symbol of innocence and purity, whilst perched delicately on his right shoulder is a staff from the end of which hangs a leathern bag. The bag contains the secrets and alphabetical letter forms of the Tarot – the archetypes contained within his subconscious self. The bag is attached to a staff, a reference perhaps to his role as both the young Hercules or Perseus both legendary heroes of Greek mythology. So, the “bag” could also be the receptacle perhaps for the head of Medusa? Please note also that the only card in the pack that faces him is Trump 13 “Death” – the final frontier that he must confront or transcend. It must also be noted however that in some packs, notably those of French origin, The Fool is located between trump 20 and 21, and assigned the letter Shin, not Aleph. This is in accord with the idea that the Fool is ruled by the planet Pluto, not Neptune and that as a youth he encounters the last card 20. Judgement and thereafter every card in the series backwards. However, above him flutters a butterfly which momentarily attracts his attention and may cause him to plunge headlong into the abyss below. What might one ask does this bag contain and why is he so oblivious of the danger which faces him but just one more step away? A small mongrel dog barks incessantly at his heel, driving him unwittingly to a precipitous cliff’s edge, it resembles a gestalt for the Hebrew letter Aleph. He appears to be taking a deep in-breath of AIR but will he notice in time that he could at any moment plunge headlong into the Abyss? As already mentioned the descent on the Tree of Life is represented by Trump numbers 1-11, the ascent by numbers 12-21. The zigzag lightning path is reversed moving through spheres 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10, while on the upward paths in the sequence 10, 9, 7, 8, 6, 4, 5, 2, 3 and finally back to Kether at 1. The abyss is represented by spheres 1, 6, 9 and 10. The Fool, representing the innocent naïve adept, travels through the pack adding to his experience and value of the other cards in the Major Arcana. Numerically, the application of zero to any number will automatically increase its’ value without taking anything away by virtue of the multiplication of 10, 100, 1000 respectively. However, only two other cards actually contain a zero – 10. The Wheel (descent) and 20. Judgement (ascent). By his left facing posture one must deduce that if placed at the beginning of the Tarot pack he inadvertently walks away from the next card. In placing him at the end of the Tarot sequence of cards we see that he effectively walks into the card No: 21, – “The World” – there are good reasons to suggest that symbolically he is born into the world because the world stage is where he must receive his education not unlike most of us. In another sense, the Fools’ journey only really begins when he turns his back on the world of appearances and undergoes a resurrection or rude awakening symbolised by the Trump 20 -Judgement.

Numerical Significance 0-22:

It has already been shown, and now largely taken for granted, that the 22 cards and their gestalt images correspond to the 22 letters of the Etruscan and Jewish alphabets. In retrospect one might even find this idea itself remarkable as well as puzzling, if we did not in many respects take it for granted. From what we now know of the megalithic culture and the origin of their numerical scales, weights and measures, they were invariably linked to some natural or supernatural correspondence. If we take for example the art of Palmistry, we might easily postulate that the 5 fingers of the human hand bear the hallmark of a grand signature. The art or science of semiotics relies heavily on there being an innate human response to images that evoke a greater truth or reality. Existential truths are often sealed or rather entombed in metaphors or analogies which protect them from perversion and misuse. The fact that human beings have two hands extends this natural analogy even further giving rise to the myriad speculations about the esoteric significance of the numbers 0-9, or in some systems 1-10. The ancient Druids would not have failed to see an important correlation between the number of digits on each hand and the order of the Universe. The idea that Man was a microcosm which was identical in every respect with a macrocosm existed even well before the advent of Christianity. It is the very foundation stone of Occult Science. A set of mysterious Neolithic “stone balls” carved into the form of the 5 Platonic solids were found in Scotland which were dated 1,000 years earlier than the time of Plato. The study of spherical co-ordinates equates well with the construction of ancient stone circle astronomical observatories such as Stonehenge or Maes Howe and suggests an interest in cosmic phenomena well before the Egyptians took it upon themselves to construct the Pyramids. The esoteric significance of the 22 Trumps and perhaps the allocation of the Fool to the 22nd path in the French system may have some bearing on the number of bones which make up the crown of the human skull. As already laid out in the above introduction the sequence and order of the 22 Tarot Trumps is directly related to calendrical symbolism but they are also numeric gestalts that evince ever more ripples or currents of understanding below the surface of mere reason or mathematical symbolism. The question we need to ask therefore is whether the ancient necromancers were aware themselves of this correlation and if within this apparent coincidence there might not inhabit a greater mystery.

Whenever we examine in detail the work of the pseudonymous “William Shakespeare”, his plays and poetry and take note of the inclusion of so much of 15th and 16th century occult science hidden within it then it would not be unusual to assume that the playwright had more than a passing acquaintance with the divination system in Europe known as the Tarot. When I realised that the author of Shakespeare’s Folio (Edward de Vere) had travelled to Italy and France where the Tarot was already flourishing it would be safe to assume that he had acquired his own deck of Tarot cards and indeed probably used them in a creative manner. By 1450 the first 78-card deck was commissioned by the Visconti-Sforza family and in France by 1392 Charles VIth commissioned Jacquemin Gringonneur to create three hand-painted packs. However, the first list of the Major Arcana in Europe was found in a Latin manuscript entitled “Sermones de Ludo Cumalis” (1500) and by 1540 in Italy it is defined and described as a divination system by Marcolino (“Le Sorti”). Furthermore, as I have subsequently discovered Edward de Vere was a member of the Rosicrucian Order as well as a Freemason and he would without doubt have come across a divination system originally known as ROTA. With this thought or prognosis in mind I have drawn numerous correspondences between the plays of “William Shakespeare” and the 22 Tarot Trumps. This year in a series of posts I hope to highlight and compare each Tarot key with a Shakespearean play to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s Folio. The 1623 First Folio edition features 36 plays, 14 are listed as “Comedies”, 10 as “Histories” and 11 as “Tragedies”. Shakespeare’s plays regularly feature fools of every type and description. Let us examine just one of them, in the play “Timon of Athens”.

Timon is depicted as a noble soul who suffers at the mercy of fair weather friends and sycophants who then desert him in his hour of need and adversity. However the fault is entirely his own as he becomes a victim to his own follies and the need to be flattered and appraised by others. Being a playwright this theme would have appealed to Shakespeare as Timon is in no sense a prophetic or “Holy Fool” but a motley one, (bespattered and cursed) who, due to his disappointments and delusions in life eventually becomes extremely misanthropic and plots his revenge on his scurrilous associates. We are reminded of the prodigal in Medieval plays and the moral theme of the play recalls the final passage from Sonnets to Sundry Notes of Music (VI):

“Every man will be thy friend,
Whilst thou hast wherewith to spend;
But if store of crowns be scant,
No man will supply thy want.
If that one be prodigal,
Bountiful they will him call:
And with such like flattering
‘Pity but he were a king.”

At first Timon’s forbearance and benevolence is applauded and he even agrees to financially support the marriage of his servant Lucillius to a merchant’s daughter. But by act 4, scene 3 the philosopher Apemanthus says to Timon: “thou hast cast away thyself, being like thyself-A madman so long, now a fool”, and later “thou art the cap of all the fools alive!”. The Fool has been a subject of controversy in Tarot, in terms of its value, position and planetary attribution but in Shakespearean drama he appears under many guises and in the most unexpected places. Essentially Shakespeare warns that a man is a fool who does not choose his friends wisely, is improvident or is swept along by idle flattery. The most famous of all being the sycophantic character of Falstaff in “Henry IVth Part 1” and the apparent wastrel role that Prince Hal plays alongside him. In melodrama traditionally there is the young fool denoting arrogance and rebellion, and the old fool symbolising ignorance and impracticality. While the Holy Fool, although appearing jocular is wise enough to dispense good counsel and yet disguise himself in his folly or even on some occasions feigning madness (such as occurs in “Hamlet” and “King Lear”). It would appear that the character of Timon is actually based on a cynical impression of the Earl of Oxford’s own bohemian and aristocratic lifestyle, he too was financially generous to poets, translators, dramatists, actors and playwrights. Edward de Vere also sold much of his estates both to pay outstanding debts to the Crown and to finance the building of the Globe, as well as to patronise several drama groups such as his own St. Paul’s Chapel Boys as well as rescuing and amalgamating numerous failing drama groups (eg: Worcester’s Men and the Earl of Warwick’s Men). In purely theatrical terms the concept of the fool has several manifestations according to his attire. The type of hat and costume worn by the fool is a clue to his status or quality, we have for example the 4-fold, 3-fold and 2-fold styles of headgear and striped, chequered or spotted pants. Various characteristics attributed to the stage or court fool, include a lack of seriousness and dissolute frivolity (inanis). However, according to the crude classifications listed at the time the Fool might be dull-witted or lack sensibility (stultus, a dolt, clod) or he might be retarded in intellectual development or mentally deficient (imbécile, dotard). He may be slow and lack comprehension (insipiens), or that he is different from normal men (idio, eccentric). Then there is someone deprived of the use of speech or words (tor), and someone who babbles incoherently (fatuus). There is of course the noisy, clumsy clown lacking in restraint or discipline when merrymaking (buffone), or devoid of appropriate behaviour and etiquette (ineptus), and the emotionally naive (naturale), and one who is innocence of heart, the so-called simpleton (fauve). All these character facets attributed to fools were explored in circus routines, mime and street theatre between the 20’s and 40’s by comedians/stuntmen such as Charlie Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton and Max Ball.

The melancholy aspect of the Fool

The numerous fools found in Shakespeare’s plays like Trinculo (“The Tempest”), Launce and Speed (“The Two Gentlemen of Verona”), Lavache (“All’s Well That Ends Well”), Launcelot & Gobbo (“The Merchant of Venice”), Costard (“Love’s Labours Lost”), Pompey (“Measure For Measure”) and Cloten (“Cymbeline”) are not fully explored or developed very deeply. For Shakespeare they are portrayed as simple, rustic, courtly, domestic, and usually sad or ironic individuals. Yet comedy cameos persist in his plays despite the occasional appearance of these clichéd characters. At best there are some extremely funny comedy sketches such as the night porter in Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth” when Mac Duff asks him:

“What three things does drink especially provoke?”

Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and
urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and un-provokes;
it provokes the desire, but it takes
away the performance: therefore, much drink
may be said to be an equivocator with lechery:
it makes him, and it mars him; it sets
him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him,
and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and
not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him
in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.

But in Elizabethan theatre there was the knockabout clown and tumbler as in Will Kempe, the songster/comedian or as in Robert Armin and the witty fool as in Tarleton. Folly, being the companion of worldly vice, the fool was always a motif of springtime and the portrayal of the Seven Noble Virtues and 7 Deadly Sins became popular as theatrical archetypes from early medieval times. The court jester Richard Tarleton published his own synopsis of these in 1585. As polar opposites they were described as:


April Fool’s Day which, as many people know takes place on the Ist. April and in the Pagan and orthodox beliefs, still represents the forces of chaos or ignorance to which we are all at some time in our lives regularly subjected to. April the first was an ancient French festival marking the beginning of the year and more akin to “First-Footing” in Scotland. So, we have the Spring, Summer and Winter Fool who might be gay, happy or sad. From this we can say that the fool is careless, sanguine or wise. Although in folklore there was another type of fool or jester, the so-called “Colin” or country rogue who was artful, cunning and full of mischief.

But “Timon of Athens” is no heretic or clown and neither does he possess a sublime wisdom-quite the contrary he is a patron of heartless libertines, as the pragmatic Apemanthus points out:

“What a coil’s here!
Serving of becks and jutting-out of bums!
I doubt whether their legs be worth the sums
That are given for ’em. Friendship’s full of dregs:
Methinks, false hearts should never have sound legs,
Thus honest fools lay out their wealth on court’sies.”

The question is did Shakespeare have some particular person in mind when he developed the character of Timon, a fool surrounded by debauched parasites and scroungers? Perhaps he had in mind the newly crowned Scottish King James Ist who might match our description well or one of the many aristocrats in his circle. James was well-known to have described himself as “the Greatest Fool in Christendom” and to have drawn a coterie of sycophants and dependents from literary circles such as Ben Jonson. He was fond of bestowing expensive gifts to his court favourites in the hope of admiration and support. Foreign merchants and money-lenders were rife during his reign as he had inherited a deficit from Elizabeth and his reckless extravagance brought the kingdom into ever deeper debt.

Divinatory Meaning of this Card:

The 11th path on the Tree of Life links Kether (Brilliance-Neptune) with Chokmah (Intelligence-Uranus), a positively directed journey from the central pillar to the right hand side suggesting the pure, unsullied consciousness or innocence of the child. This path is known in Tarot as the “Admirable or Hidden Intelligence” because it is beyond any known rules, primitive logic, rational ideas or regulations. It is therefore the way of the mystical fool, clown or court jester. It exists on the supernal triad as undefined perpetuity or eternal self-effulgence, whilst charged with the 3 elements of air (life breath or Ruach), fire (spirit) and earth (matter) extending into manifestation. Paradoxically, it is also a void or vacuum, the function of zero, the mathematical principle of phi (Φ), as yet neither negative nor positive in value, by gender as androgynous, yet potentially it may be seen as the Father and the Son or supraconsciousness (Aether). It is both laughter and tears, it is sublime joy or mirth or it is sadness and despair as well as the object of ridicule, admiration or praise. In some respects it may be seen as the cosmic, scintillating intelligence, but in another context the wicked genius of the practical joker, the madness of the idiot or the undisciplined motley fool. It is the path or point from which all and everything evolves and into which everything eventually returns. It links the Crown Chakra with the mental faculties of the mind through the intake of prana.

Positive: Around you there are a maze of possibilities or choices, or some unforeseen potential. You are about to begin a new journey, out with the old and in with the new. The time favours innocence, optimism, the power of humour to remove karma, perhaps reckless behaviour or simply an encounter with the bizarre, ludicrous nature of life.

Negative: Inconsiderate action, reckless or impulsive behaviour, and the wasteful dissipation of creative energy. Blindness, lack of knowledge, folly and ignorance. New beginnings and fresh starts.

SPHERE 1 Kether (Crown) Brilliance (First Swirlings) Aleph – An Ox
(Admirable or Hidden Intelligence) The Primum Mobile Pure Energy
Astrological: .Pluto or Earth.
Constellation: The Milky Way
Sacred Gemstone: Agate or Malachite

The next Arcanum in this series can be viewed by clicking on the following link:

“Arcanum I, The Magician”

“We all love Shakespeare, whoever he was…”

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The links to my publications 
“Shakespeare’s Qaballah”,
a Companion to Shakespeare Studies and my anthology of poetry,