Another long break since last time. I’m working on a posting schedule to keep things a little more consistent around here, so hopefully I’ll be able to go no more than a week between posts. Truth be told, I’ve been feeling a little out of it with regard to my Tarot practice and my spirituality in general, but that conversation is outside the scope of this blog, so, back to business!
Today at lunch I took some time to sketch out a quick-and-very-dirty preliminary for the next card in the series: The Fool.
I mentioned up there that I was working on a posting schedule, and while I haven’t got anything baked quite yet I’m about 99% certain that at least one post a week is going to be a detailed analysis of a single card. I thought that, since I’d chosen The Fool for my next painting, I ought to do some research and work up a post to go along with it.
The Fool has a long history, dating all the way back to the earliest Tarot cards (the playing card kind, not the divinatory kind). Clearly the jaunty, colorful fellow predates today’s Joker, but his story goes way beyond the Joker’s introduction in the mid-to-late 1800s. In fact, the earliest known “modern” Tarot deck, the Visconti-Sforza deck, painted ca. 1451-1453, included a card that eventually became The Fool we are familiar with: a beggar, dressed in rags, with feathers in his hair and an unkempt beard, and a stick slung over his shoulder.
In the German card game Hofämterspiel, painted between 1453 and 1457, each of the four houses (or suits) contains a card depicting a Fool, which may have acted as Jokers in a trick-taking game. The so-called Mantegna Tarocchi, which is not a traditional Tarot deck (and was likely not engraved by Mantegna) but shares many similarities with modern Tarot cards, begins its series with The Beggar. Some other early European decks refer to him as Le Mat or Il Matto, archaic terms meaning “the madman,” or “the beggar.”
In the Tarot de Marseille, The Fool is, for the first time, depicted as a jolly man, his belongings on his back and a dog nipping at his heels, tearing his breeches. This is the beginning of the tradition that leads us to The Fool most commonly depicted in modern Tarot decks (in fact, the TdM is more or less the standard by which modern Tarot packs are designed). The Fool is unnumbered in this deck, but many later representations use the Arabic numeral 0, as opposed to the Roman numerals in use on the rest of the Major Arcana. Some other versions give him the number 22. For my purposes, I have chosen to take the more traditional route and leave my Fool unnumbered. Interestingly, A.E. Waite, one of the fathers of contemporary divinatory Tarot, numbers The Fool with 0 but discusses him in his book, The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, between Judgement and The World—weird, right?
Anyhow, many modern interpretations and depictions of Il Matto use many of the symbols present in the TdM and the Rider-Waite-Smith decks, and since I’m basing most of my interpretations on those sources, I am choosing to do the same. My fool will be a merry bard, plucking his lute and singing a tale, unaware of his dangerous proximity to the edge of the cliff. I’m not quite sure where I’m going to work in the rose, but the dog will be pretty easy to find room for. His possessions will be in his satchel, slung around his shoulder, and the cloudless blue sky will hold nothing but promise and adventure for the happy wanderer.