The Fool — Tarot of the Absurd

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Tarot Fool Meaning

The fool has been sitting on my desktop for a few weeks now, waiting for an entry. At last I am ready. For those who have not noticed, I identify with the fool. In the tarot deck, I relate the fool to the concept of beginner’s mind—


 “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

     —Zen Master Shunryo Suzuki


Beginner’s mind is useful to help us learn. There is a famous zen story—


Empty Your Cup

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.” 


The Major Arcana can be viewed as the story of Fool’s journey through life. The Fool, at the beginning of his journey, has unlimited potential. With a mind uncluttered by knowledge, he is ready to learn. Anything can happen. Opportunities await. The Fool does not mind the lack of concrete plan. The only thing he knows is that he is ignorant of what lies ahead. He looks at the world with curiosity and wonder, takes risks, and has faith. Thus, the Fool goes blindly forward.


In the process of trying to print this deck, I have played the Fool, as has my printer. Both of us have learned a lot. Both of us have lost a bit.


I gave him the specs for what I want. He said up front, “I can do it.” He had a very positive attitude. So I had faith. I learned about layout for printing. I learned about paper, offset vs. digital printing, inks, the use of dies vs. cutting machines for corner rounding, machine error, and about thoroughly double-checking a proof before moving forward. And even tho he has been in the business for many years, he learned a lot about many of the same things.


After much effort, we thought we were at a place where my decks could be printed. I gave him a lot of money. He purchased paper. Then, something went wrong. The ink chips off the paper during cutting and corner rounding. The machine error is just a bit too great for the tightness of the design of the cards. In order to avoid an apparent break in the cards, the corners of the decks must be rounded by a machine he does not own.  Thus far, I have invested a huge amount of time and money and seen nothing worth keeping. Four months later, we are back to square one. In order to eliminate the above problems, the decks will perhaps cost me 30% more than the original estimate.


For those of you who have purchased a deck and are wondering where your money went, where your deck is, and whether I have absconded to Quebec to learn French and have my nails done, I apologize. I’m still in Vermont, my French is horrible, and my nails could use a little work. Plus, the deck is still on pre-sale with free shipping until the end of the month! If I quit now, I’m out more money than anyone, and all this new-found knowledge will have gone to waste.


The printer looked so sad after my visit yesterday. He felt, perhaps, the Fool inverted. The deck will be beautiful. I will be proud. You will see.

The Fool — Tarot of the Absurd

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Jessica Rose Shanahan ‘If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.’ —William Blake


Zero is the cardinal number of the empty set and the additive identity of real numbers. It is important in field theory and it is part of every basic algebraic structure by definition.Without zero and the ideas contained in the notion of identities and inverses there would be practically no modern mathematics and physics.


The occult tarot and other metaphysical systems use allegorical significance of numerals rather than mathematical significance of numerals. Metaphysics uses the notion of identities and inverses in a philosophical manner to describe abstract concepts undefinable by means of mathematics. Mathematicians define a (seemingly) completely different set of abstract concepts using the same symbols.*


‘Only two things are certain: the universe and human stupidity— and I’m not certain about the universe.’ —Albert Einstein


The greatest problems in communication occur when people agree on the symbol used but cannot agree on the abstract concept defined by the symbol. Symbols in and of themselves have no intrinsic meaning: in every case, the meaning of the symbol is defined by the viewer. In order to facilitate communication, we try to agree on the meaning of a symbol.


At times this meaning is dictated by society. A large red octagon with a white outline means “stop,” although nothing intrinsic to red-octagon-with-white-outline implies “stop.” It is merely the meaning we have given a rather arbitrary symbol in order to help prevent accidents. In a city, choosing to believe that the octagon is not a symbol for stop may result in injury or death. On a deserted road, the octagon quite often takes on the meaning of “look both ways.”


‘The wise through excess of wisdom is made a fool.’ —Ralph Waldo Emerson


There two kinds of people (there are many kinds of “two kinds of people”): those who define symbols and those who more-or-less follow definitions. Definers-of-symbols are often great thinkers and philosophers or at least great leaders, however—


“Any fool will make a rule, and any fool will mind it.” —Henry David Thoreau.


So what is to prevent us from redefining the entire set of symbols and numbers used in the occult tarot? What is to prevent us from introducing an entirely new set of symbols and numbers to please our fancy? Nothing, other than the fact that this habit tends to frustrate communication. Historically, this has been done time and time again. Each religion defines its own set of symbols and defends this set’s concepts as true.


‘Those who wish to appear wise among fools, among the wise seem foolish.’ —Quintilian


In illustrating my own deck, I needed to determine which symbols meant something to me, which symbols meant nothing to me, and which of my own personal symbols I thought significant enough to introduce into the deck. Unfortunately for those who favor such correspondences, my thought patterns prevent me from incorporating the symbols of astrology, runes, quaballah, numerology, and other commonly associated esoteric systems into my deck. This can make my deck difficult to “read,” if one is used to working within “traditional” tarot systems. I apologize. For me, the endeavor of creating a deck was a beautiful journey of personal exploration and artistic expression. I am grateful to all who adore the fruits of my labor. Thank you.**


‘The fool doth think himself wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.’ —William Shakespeare


*I am neither a mathematician nor a metaphysician.
**Today’s undiscussed question was, “When will my baby be born?”