The Fool’s Journey
Every tarot card has a story to tell and can be a powerful symbol or inspiration for the next steps on your own journey.
Beautiful, beguiling, and infused with mystery, the tarot may resemble an ordinary pack of playing cards, but it is so much more. Yes, there are obvious similarities, like the four suits of cups, pentacles, wands and swords, which relate to the hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades in the playing cards, but it is the distinct differences that makes these colorful decks so captivating.
Unlike playing cards, the tarot is formed of two sections called arcanas. The major arcana contains an array of standalone picture cards, while the minor arcana houses all the suits. Together, these two parts make a whole pack containing seventy-eight cards, which can be used in a number of ways. Traditionally the tarot was thought of as a fortune-telling tool. Cards would be selected at random and laid out in different spreads to predict the future (divination).
While this might sound simple, there are many facets to a tarot reading, not just divining what destiny has in store. Over the years readings have developed to encompass other aspects, like insights into the past and present, spiritual advice and even suggestions for taking action. The cards are commonly used as a problem solving tool, but in their simplest form they can provide inspiration and something to reflect upon. It’s no wonder the tarot speaks to us at a deep soul level.
At first glance you’ll notice the intricate pictures. In most decks these are colorful and vibrant to catch the eye, making them a joy to behold and also inspiring should you wish to use them creatively. Look a little closer and you’ll connect with the heart of the card. You’ll see that each carefully crafted image is littered with signs and symbols that, if deciphered, will help you understand its true nature.
Put the cards together in order and you’ll see a story unfold, a narrative that not only helps you connect with the meanings but is also something you can identify with. This is because the tarot deals with issues and experiences we have all witnessed or encountered, so rather than being some otherworldly tool or occult mystery as they are often considered, the reality is they’re accessible to everyone. As such, the cards are a gift that can brighten and enlighten your world.
Stories have long been used as tools to help us make sense of the world, allowing us to experience things objectively and develop different perspectives. They also help us retain information, because they sit in the memory and are easy to recall, so the tales behind the tarot will also help you remember the meaning of each card. The stories are not set in stone, and every tarot reader will have their own ideas of how the tale might unfold, but while the narratives might differ in character and plot, the tone and concept are the same. The tarot is a wonderful tool that can stoke the imagination and help you express yourself in new and creative ways.
The most important thing to remember as you delve into the divinatory world of the tarot is that it is a personal journey, not unlike that of the Fool in the major arcana. Your experience of each card is as unique as you are.
The most influential deck in the world, and the one upon which many modern tarot packs are modeled (including the image here), was created by two members of the Golden Dawn: the mystic and spiritual seeker A.E. Waite, and the clairvoyant artist and illustrator Pamela Coleman Smith. Together they fashioned images that drew upon Egyptian and Christian symbolism, along with astrological attributions to craft the deck. At the time Smith’s name was replaced by the publishers, but has since been reinstated, and the cards are now known as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.
0 The Fool
Once upon a time there lived a Fool, a young boy with the world at his feet and a dream in his heart. So full of joy was he, that he walked in a daze and lived in the here and now. Some might say his head was full of air, but they would be wrong. The Fool was fully aware of every single thing, for he engaged all of his senses and moved through life with ease. It’s true he had much to learn, but he also had much to teach, for when you wander as a fool, you wander freely with openness, and this allows you to fully connect with your surroundings.
The Fool was flamboyant. He dressed in bright colors, with artistic flair, and he carried in his hand a white flower as a symbol of his youthful innocence. It wasn’t an image; it was simply the way he was. Everything was on show, for the Fool was not accustomed to the ways of the world and had yet to begin his spiritual journey. This excited him greatly. He had been waiting for the right moment, the optimum second when he would take a leap of faith into the unknown. Those who knew him would say he was a dreamer, and those who didn’t assumed it was fear that held him back, when in fact it was the opposite. The Fool was brave and bold, a spontaneous soul who was prepared to take a chance.
He packed lightly for his journey, for what was the point of weighing himself down? He had no preconceptions or expectations. This boy was a book waiting to be filled with adventure. His only companion was a small, white dog, a faithful and loyal friend that had come to wave him off on his travels.
The Fool hadn’t planned for this quest, for how can you plan for the future? His blind faith would keep him safe, and he hoped that his encounters would be fortunate. There was no guile in his manner, just an optimism that most who met him found contagious. He had always been a playful boy, the type of character who could find fun anywhere, and because of this he had built a reputation and been given his name—the Fool.
And so it was that on a glorious summer’s day when the sun had set the sky alight with its golden rays, the Fool said his goodbyes to all he knew and loved. Today was the day for a new beginning. He could sense it and, driven by the slightest of whims, he decided to take the plunge. With his knapsack over his shoulder, he stepped out into the world. Taking long, purposeful strides, he embraced the air and gulped it down into his lungs. He turned his face upward and delighted at the warmth upon his cheeks. He held the white flower aloft, as if it was an offering to the gods, and he continued to walk one foot in front of the other.
It was almost like a dance for him, a performance, and he enjoyed every second. His steps formed a rhythm that matched the beating of his heart, and soon he had picked up speed and the walk became a trot. Light of foot he sprang forward, as the mountains rose up behind him. To any onlooker this might have seemed a foreboding omen, but not to the Fool. He was oblivious, so caught up in the excitement of the moment that nothing else mattered. His little dog galloped at his side, yapping with glee; he was the only one that could match his companion’s enthusiasm. Together they were lost in the dance, which is why the Fool never noticed the edge of the cliff as it loomed closer. He didn’t notice the sheer drop that could have been the end of the world, and would have been the end of him if he had fallen. Instead, he flounced toward the precipice with a wide smile upon his face. I am free, I am excited, I am filled with joy. Let my spiritual quest begin!
These were the thoughts that played like a mantra in his head, and like any magical chant, the words held a power of their own, a power so potent that it was enough to launch him off his feet. He lifted up into the air, closed his eyes and flew. Like a feather floating lazily on a gentle breeze, he drifted up, up, and away, with all his dreams intact. If anyone had witnessed the spectacle besides the little dog, they would no doubt say it was magic, and perhaps it was, for the Fool had a magic running deep within his soul that he didn’t even know about. Like any hapless child, he was unaware of his true nature and the things he could manifest.
As it was, he was on his own in a land of dreams and about to learn the secrets of the universe. Tossing and turning as the wind picked up, the Fool never opened his eyes. He had complete trust that all would work out as it should, that he would eventually find his feet and be able to move on.
Gradually as the breeze settled, so too did the Fool, his soles grazing the dusty ground beneath. Once more he was standing upright, with the earth to support him. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes and surveyed the landscape. The vista before him was full of potential; a blank canvas from which he could create anything. The town of his birth was gone, the mountains too. Everything was different and new. It was now he realized; the moment had come. His quest had at last begun!
The Fool card marks the beginning of a new cycle or journey. Keep your head up, and step boldly into the future!
Excerpted with permission from The Tales Behind Tarot (Leaping Hare Press, an imprint of The Quarto Group, 2023) by Alison Davies. Learn more at quarto.com.
Alison Davies lives in Norwich, and runs workshops at universities throughout the UK showing academics, students and early years practitioners how stories and narratives can be used as tools for teaching, healing and learning.