This week I’m learning more about the major arcana, and one of the exercises from LittleRedTarot is to try and put together your own understanding of the Fool’s Journey – or, what is learned in the progress through the major arcana. Obviously, this kind of thinking needed a cup of tea before I started (thought about cropping it off the photo of the cards, but decided against it!).
A fluffy chick, perched nervously on a branch, considering taking flight. This is the start of the journey, the beginning, all potential and possibility. The lesson here is that all journeys start somewhere, all knowledge starts in ignorance. It can be frightening to make a start – stepping off a branch is, quite literally, a leap of faith – but the alternative is stagnation.
The first person the Fool meets, the Magician is a card of power, of making things happen, of drawing on the abundant resources around you – tangible and less so – and discovering your own capacity to affect the world around you. There is, too, a gentle warning against illusion; the Fool is still choosing their path, and the Magician could guide one towards doing great works, or towards snake oil and flash cotton.
The High Priestess
The second person the Fool meets. If the Magician is about channelling power outside oneself, the High Priestess is about mastering inner power. Her lesson is that the Magician’s work is as nothing without inner wisdom and finding your own calm guidance. Sometimes you don’t need to run around making things happen – sometimes you need to sit calmly and confidently in your own power, and know that what matters will come to you.
The third person the Fool meets is the Empress, which I used to refer to when I first left home as the ‘call your mother’ card. Standing for maternal energy and fertility, she is a card of abundance, sensation, growth, warmth, compassion, and love without expectation. Just as a baby’s relationship with its mother sets it up to learn about and to anticipate love in the world, this is the Fool’s first step in learning about love and compassion – unconditional love is an extraordinary force, and to be propelled out into the world with that at your back is a powerful thing.
The fourth person the Fool meets – if the Empress is the mother of the tarot, the Emperor is (unsurprisingly) the father. He is a card of protection, stability, clarity of mind and decision-making; if the Empress in this deck is a warm sheltering tree in the uncertain dark of the night, the Emperor is a tall tree in the clear morning sun; with his support you can see for miles. One of the important roles for fathers for their children is to provide a caring ‘bridge’ from the mother to the exciting outside world; the Emperor is beginning to lovingly nudge the Fool towards independence, teaching her to think for herself and make her own decisions.
The fifth person the Fool meets, the Hierophant, speaks of the value of teachers and mentors, of learning from the wisdom of those who have gone before or already trodden a similar path. The Hierophant teaches the Fool that she is part of something bigger, that there are always lessons to be learned from others, and to keep a sense of humility with your confidence – seek help or guidance when you need it.
The Fool finally steps out on her own, and begins her journey through the world by discovering desire and love; the lessons she has begun in compassion and confidence, wisdom and stability, stand her in good stead to form a strong and equal partnership. She learns the beauty of love, sensuality and sexuality.
Riding high on her newfound independence, the speed and confidence of the Chariot marks the Fool’s discovery of the strength of her own will. She is assertive, bold, and in control of her own life; she has begun to take decisions about her path, rather than just having things happen to her – she has a momentum of her own.
The Fool is faced with her first major decision. Now that she is choosing her own path, she must also take responsibility for her choices, and for the consequences of those choices. Her future hangs in the balance, and she must find the path that is fair, just, compassionate and wise.
The Fool has chosen to seek wisdom from within; to undergo a period of quiet contemplation and meditation, in the hope of receiving insights. She is beginning to question the world around her, to consider its values and rules.
Wheel of Fortune
After seeking insight, the Fool begins to see more clearly how the world is structured; the way fortunes can change from one moment to the next, the way that everyone has their own rags-to-riches AND riches-to-rags story, depending on how you tell it. The Wheel of Fortune marks a turning point, a bend in the road taking her closer to her destiny – she has learned a little more about how luck or fate touch us all.
The Fool is stronger now than she has ever been, but must learn how to apply that strength with all the lessons she has learned so far – it’s not just about brute strength, but about the strength of compassion, the power of justice, the confidence of truth.
The Hanged Man
Now, the Fool faces her first real challenge, and it seems too difficult to bear. She must make a sacrifice, let go of something – or someone – she loves, in order to move forward. She finds it hard, she resists, yet that doesn’t make it any easier; eventually, when she accepts her situation and lets go, she finds herself freed from the worries and pressures she had before – she has turned her world upside down and found clarity and freedom.
All beginnings are ends and, likewise, all ends are beginnings. Death marks the Fool’s great transformation, as she brings to a close things that were of value to her former self but no longer serve their purpose. It is no easy process, but the opportunity to acknowledge and say goodbye to the past is crucial.
The first thing the Fool chooses to consider in her new life is the value of temperance, of balance, of walking a path between the extremes. Just as virtue ethics holds that all virtues have corresponding vices as both lacks and excesses (courage, for example, balances between foolhardiness and cowardice), so the Fool now chooses to take a gentler path than the excesses – emotional, mental, physical – of her youth. She learns how healing and restorative self-restraint can be.
Despite her best intentions, after discovering the value of moderation, the Fool is now tempted; although she has worked hard to learn more about herself, her strengths and her weaknesses, she has one remaining Achilles Heel that she has not yet conquered. She gives in, making the choice that she knows is the wrong one, but the opportunity is just too seductive for her to pass up.
Disaster strikes. The Fool has brought herself low; she suddenly sees, like a lightning bolt, the devastating consequences of her poor choices, and her world is falling apart. But the energy of the Tower is immense, and only a power this huge could have broken the protective walls around her comprehension. She could not have progressed any further without this new and humbling understanding of her own weaknesses.
After the devastation of the Tower, the Fool recovers and reaches serenity, the calm after the storm; she is full of hope and optimism, calmly looking to her future with confidence. She knows she does not have the answers yet, and she knows she is flawed, and she knows that all is as it should be – she is full of love and hope.
The Fool is so full of serene calm that her mind and heart are fully open – she is able to access, now, her deepest unconscious; finding there her immense imagination and creativity, her strange and beautiful ideas, but also her greatest fears and mysteries. It is hard for her to tell dream from reality in her moon-struck ‘lunatic’ state. All the insights she’s gathered so far are jumbled in with strange half-remembered beliefs and fears.
The bright light of the Sun brings everything into stark relief for her at last. Now she can see clearly – she feels the warming and healing light of the sun melting away the worries that went before. The fears of the night are dispelled by the sunrise, and she is left with her truly creative inspirations and her genuine insights. She is full of energy and vitality; the powerful life force of the sun is running through her.
She must now pass honest judgement on herself. She must reflect on her own life with the same compassion, clarity and honesty she would extend to and expect of someone else – has she lived up to her own ideals, has she learned the lessons she hoped to learn? Can she acknowledge, recognise, and forgive herself for her mistakes? She finds that joy and love and, truly, at the heart of all things. Truth and forgiveness are extraordinarily powerful; here, she learns to wield that power accurately. The Fool is freed to rise up and become her highest self, to discover her true destiny.
Finally, the Fool reenters the World, after her transformative journey to enlightenment. As her best self, with a true comprehension of her powers and her role in the universe, she has achieved a sense of wholeness and completion. She is ready to make a meaningful contribution and to share her talents with the world, and her work will be well rewarded. This marks the end of a cycle, but the beginning of a new one, too; she is ready for a new journey, full of fulfilment and understanding.