January 21, 2013
Pamela Coleman-Smith’s artful rendition of an “innocent Fool” archetype (Rider-Waite deck) is often used to represent Tarot in general. Early classical versions of the Fool card, however, portray quite a different character — a person driven by base needs and urges, who has fallen into a state of poverty and deprivation.
In some instances, he is made out to be a carnival entertainer or a huckster. In others, he is portrayed as decrepit and vulnerable — as the cumulative result of his delusions and failures. Not until the 20th century do you see the popular Rider-Waite image of the Fool arise — that of an innocent Soul before its Fall into Matter, as yet untainted by contact with society and all its ills.
Modern decks usually borrow from the Rider-Waite imagery. Most Fool cards copy the bucolic mountainside scene, the butterfly, the potential misplaced step that will send the Fool tumbling into the unknown. Don’t forget, however, that the earlier versions of this card represented already-fallen humanity, over-identified with the material plane of existence, and beginning a pilgrimage towards self-knowledge, and eventually, wisdom. The Fool reminds us to recognize the path of personal development within ourselves — and the stage upon that path where we find ourselves — in order to energize our movement toward deeper self-realization.