The Fool (Folly) -Tarot Symbol Dictionary


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There is an ancient legend about the King of old, who goes among the common people and forgets his origin. The Fool is the King, dressed in rags, ignorant of his divinity. He represents the soul of man at the beginning of life, and at the beginning of the spiritual journey.

The Fool is a creature of contradiction- he is at once botyh fully wise and fully ignorant. The clothing of the fool represents the descent into the material universe, in stages:

  • The white tunic, or undergarment, represents the soul in its purity.The Tunic represents the manifest universe, the tree of life, and creation.
  • The belt, the zodiac, the destiny of the individual, and the cosmic influences on the soul as it nears birth.

The sun in this image is Kether, the beginning of divine manifestation. It is the Ruach, or breath of life, the God-energy that animates the universe. The overwhelming atmosphere of the card is that of air- the element of spirit, of communication.

Kabbalistically, the Fool is symbolized by the Hebrew letter Aleph, the activating principal. The fool symbolizes action without focus- force without direction. Without the formative and balancing influences of the Magician and the Empress, the energy is diffused, useless.

The abyss awaiting the fool is dissolution. To the initiated, it is the goal of the Great Work. To the uninitiated, it is annihilation. The little dog represents culture, and the “taming” of the animal instinct. The rod and sack represent will and the subconscious memory, held separate from the rational mind.

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Name(s) The Foolish man, Folly
Divinatory Meaning/interpretation Foolishness, leaping before looking, serendipity
Hebrew letter/meaning Aleph/Ox
Path on the Tree of Life Kether to Chokmah
Kabbalistic Intelligence Scintillating
Element Air (Aleph), mother leter

The Spirit of Aethyr


Hieronymous Bosch, the Wayfarer, an archetypal image of the “Foolish Man”

The Fool’s origin

In medieval times, the “holy fool” was an emblem of holiness, God unrecognized in the world- even the most lowly and insane could be the Lord in disguise. In other contexts, the fool represented true wisdom- one who knew that wisdom was not to be found in the things of man, and who rightly eschewed them for the things of the divine. (The prophet Elijah eating locusts in the desert, for example)

Etching of unknown origin, circa 1632, depicting a wounded soldier returning home.

See also: the hymn of the Pearl, Galahad




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