Friday, June 26, 2015

Introductory Post: The Fool

I started reading the tarot back in 1990, back when I first got into the goth scene. I was walking around Philly with a friend when I saw a sign advertising tarot readings. We walked up narrow steps to the reader's apartment where a woman, decked out in gypsy fare, turned and looked at me. I'm not sure why I reacted the way I did, it was just something about the woman, the atmosphere, the way she looked at me, but I turned around and ran down the stairs and out on to the street. I was seventeen at the time. Maybe it was my Christian upbringing, although I'd always been fascinated by the esoteric. Maybe it was the woman's vibe. Maybe I just had a flare for the dramatic. Still, my friend offered to give me a tarot reading. She had a deck but could barely read the cards and was consulting the accompanying little booklet the whole time.

After that, I was fascinated. I bought my own deck. I read for myself and anyone else that would let me. I would bring my cards to work with me. After I moved out to Berkeley, I would occasionally plop a box down on Telegraph Avenue and sell readings. I would sit in Flagstaff coffeehouses, studying the cards, as curious strangers came by. I read for friends. I read for everyone I knew. After awhile, I stopped reading for other people so much and mostly used the cards as a kind of directed meditation. Twenty-Five years later, I still read the cards.

What better time to start a blog about tarot cards?

I'll start by going through the deck, beginning with the Fool, but I reserve the right to segue into other tarot-related topics, such as spreads, myths about the tarot and so forth.

Above you can see The Fool from Aleister Crowley's Thoth tarot. A more traditional rendering of the tarot shows a young traveller about to step off the edge of a cliff with a young dog nipping at his heels, no doubt trying to warn him of the foolishness of his plight. Indeed, the querent's typical reaction to The Fool in a spread is to respond with a sort of "oh no…" reaction, fearing they are or about to do something foolish. Indeed, The Fool can mean something foolish and impractical, but not always.

In fact, The Fool is a card of innocence, impulsivity, spontaneity; it's taking a leap of faith. In some situations this can be a sort of folly but not all situations. For example, if you're asking whether or not you should buy a piece of property that your real estate agent swore up and down is a "steal" and "won't last," then perhaps the action is foolish. On the other hand, there are some situations in life where all you can do is take a leap of faith and hope for the best. If you're asking whether or not you should pursue an MFA in Creative Writing or run off to some exotic island with a romantic prospect that you only met last week, The Fool isn't such a bad thing. You already know what you're doing is risky and impractical (at least you should). You know you're taking a gamble. The Fool is simply describing what you're doing, describing the childlike enthusiasm you're bringing to the venture.

Of course, there are a lot of gray areas where The Fool's meaning is not obvious. How can you tell when the cards are acknowledging your joie de vivre and when they're warning you that you're about to make a mistake?

One way is through the other cards in the spread. I did a reading for someone recently when The Fool, The Moon and The Tower showed up in the spread. I'll get into those cards later on, but The Moon implies deception, especially self-deception and The Tower, well, saying that The Tower is simply "liberating us from our false beliefs" may be a popular way of reframing this card but, make no mistake, it's a euphemism for what is going to be a very rough ride. In that case, we perhaps want to think carefully about just how much we're willing to risk. Associated with more positive cards such as The Star or The Ace of Wands and it may just be the fun change of scene we're looking for.

Another way to interpret it is to look at the position in the spread. If, for example, it shows up in the "obstacles" position of a spread, obviously whatever action being considered needs to be tempered with a bit of prudence. On the other hand, in the alternate path position (especially when the current direction is less than promising) it can indicate a fun way to get out of present difficulties.