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Anatomy Of A Card: How The Fool’s meaning changes across different decks

Exploring the many faces of The Fool tarot card by observing the symbolism across different decks.

By Eleanor Tremeer

One of the most well-known, and best loved tarot cards is the Fool — and it’s easy to see why. As the ultimate introduction to the Major Arcana, the Fool begins their journey at number 0. They’re the spirit of adventure, all potential and possibility, the joy and naïvete of youth. We have all been the Fool at least once in our lives. It’s important to reconnect with this feeling — but we also need to remember that this is merely the start of the journey, and to progress we must move forward.

The Fool has a different meaning to everyone, and so they appear differently in every deck. So let’s take a closer look at the many faces of the Fool, using the decks we at Liminal11 know best…

Modern Witch Tarot: Savvy Yet Distracted

At first glance, the Modern Witch Tarot’s Fool seems like a modern update of the Rider-Waite-Smith. However, when you look closer, there’s plenty of depth to be found. For one thing, this Fool is far more savvy than the RWS’ epitome of innocence. She has exerted control over her appearance and self expression with her flower crown and blue hair — which also demonstrate her defiance of conformity. Grounded in reality, the Fool wants to escape the city that lies in the distance.

The poppies in her crown are at once a symbol of life springing out of hardship, and a warning. For tarot creator Lisa Sterle, poppies remind her of that scene in The Wizard Of Oz when Dorothy (a classic Fool archetype) and her pals wander from the Yellow Brick Road into an enchanted field of poppies. They fall asleep and their journey is nearly cut short, so close to their destination. By including the poppies, Lisa is urging readers not to become distracted and slow down. Stay on the path!

This message is echoed by the earphones the Fool has stuck in her ears — losing her sense of hearing, and with her eyes gazing skyward, does she even see the cliff, and the danger right in front of her? Or should she go with the flow and take the leap?

The Luna Sol Tarot: Into The Unknown

The Fool of The Luna Sol Tarot is light and carefree, walking directly towards us as we view him on the card. He is headed due South, the cardinal direction associated with fire, passion, creativity, manifestation, and sensuality. This association is mirrored by the flower on the skirt of his tunic, representative of creative becoming — from potential to existence, from seed to flower — also expressed as libido.

The wheel on his chest is a Dhamachakra, with the 8 spokes representing the eightfold path of Buddhism, and the path to Nirvana. Arguably, this is also the path the Fool takes through the Major Arcana. On his shoulder is the sun, and on the sleeve is the moon. The solar/lunar imagery is also present at the top of the card — introducing the idea of the Luna Sol deck. Walking between the sun and the moon, the Fool is life itself caught between these spheres: day and night and everything in between.

The dichotomy of day and night is also expressed by the planes the Fool is walking. On the ground, it is daylight. But as we look at the cliff, we notice that instead of a rocky mountain, this plateau is floating through a starry void. As he walks forward, the Fool’s path is taking him into the essence of the unknown — but also, into all the cosmic potential and wonder of the universe. A crocodile, the archetype of primitive instincts and our unevolved reptilian brain, peers into this abyss. It cannot go further, but the Fool can.

Like the others, the Fool’s gaze is directed skyward, but also slightly to the East, implying a slight lack of direction. Is he sure he knows which way to go? And as he walks off the cliff, the dog barks out a warning…

The Cosmic Slumber Tarot: Look Out!

Another Fool, another change in direction. The Cosmic Slumber’s Fool is headed East, the direction of new dawn, air, and ancient wisdom. The dawn symbolism is repeated by the suns on the Fool’s tunic. Beyond them, the Fool’s profile seems to appear in the shape of the clouds. This is a dreamlike environment, where the self is reflected around the dreamer. Eyes closed, the Fool is a sleepwalker, blind to the potential peril of their path. Can they wake up in time?

With one foot fully off the cliff, the scene captured in this card is one of suspended energy. This is a split-second frozen before either tragedy or relief. If the Fool continues, they will fall. Behind them, their faithful canine companion tugs them backward. This adds a note of tension to a card traditionally associated with new beginnings and potential. The possibility of tragedy is always present in the Fool, but the Cosmic Slumber really accentuates the tipping point — you could fall, or you could fly…

White Numen Tarot: The Origin Of Everything

No cliffs here: the Fool of White Numen: A Sacred Animal Tarot is planted firmly in a primordial desert environment. Despite her apparent barren surroundings, the Fool holds a beautiful blue flower, connecting her to life itself. Her eyes are also closed, her head bent to smell the flower. She’s breathing life in before she sets out on her journey.

Around her, the Fool is accompanied by a pack of wolves. Not yet domesticated, they are wild, full of adventure and natural spirit. They aren’t tame, but are independent companions, choosing to join the Fool on her journey in their own right. Facing in all directions, they guard her from danger, allowing her to flourish.

Unlike the classic image of the Fool caught mid-step, White Numen’s Fool is stationary. In fact, we can’t even see her feet: we don’t know the path she walks. The wellspring of human evolution, the Fool is nonetheless taking a moment to connect with life, before she sets out on her journey.

The New Chapter Tarot: Past, Future, Now

In The New Chapter Tarot, the Fool is not represented by just one figure. Instead, the focal point of the card is Janus, the Roman god associated with thresholds and beginnings. This is apt for the theme of this deck, which is all about turning points, decisions, and rebirth. And above Janus is a hare, symbolic of rebirth in many European pagan cultures.

Janus has two faces, one young and one old, one facing the past and the other, the future. This card calls for the reader to consider their past while forging their future: you cannot have one without the other. A new chapter does not mean a new book. Who you were is who you are and lays the foundation for who you can become.

In the corners of the card are the tools of the four Minor Arcana suits: the Cup, Wand, Sword, and Shield. They rest on a colour associated with their corresponding element — blue for water (Cup), orange for fire (Wand), grey for air (Sword), green for earth (Shield). Unlike the Rider-Waite-Smith, which has the tools of the Minor Arcana appear on the Magician’s card, The New Chapter positions them around the Fool instead, making this card one of ultimate potential. Everything in life is in front of you. Move forward, and you will find what you seek.

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