words + playlist: Zoë Madonna
Okay, I lied. Maybe your deck of playing cards does have a Major Arcana card in it.
The Fool is a card of new beginnings, of infinite potential. Think of the Joker in the pack of playing cards; it can be any card you want it to be. The Fool is free from societal constraints, from others’ expectations, from anything that holds you back.
Some apocryphal tales say that in European noble courts, the jester (also known as the fool) was the only person who could make fun of the king or criticize him, couching his barbs in laughter. This may or may not be true, but the story has persisted. Similarly, the normal rules don’t apply to the Fool in the Tarot because they are a blank slate, a new beginning.
In the Tarot de Marseille, a French deck dating to the 18th century, the Fool wears motley multicolored clothing that you’d probably recognize from Renaissance fairs, Medieval Times, or old sword and shield movies. He has a traveling stick slung over his shoulder. A dog has bitten the seat of his pants off, but he doesn’t appear to notice.
In the Rider-Waite-Smith* (RWS) Tarot deck, which is probably the most popular deck in the United States if not in the world, the Fool still has their bag, but they’ve lost the jester hat, and the dog is no longer pantsing them. Instead, it’s leaping up as if to get the Fool’s attention. The dog could be trying to warn them, or the dog could be encouraging them. In the bag are all the tools the Fool needs for the journey, but they haven’t opened it yet.
Unlike the other Major Arcana cards, the Fool doesn’t have a number assigned to it. Its “number” is 0, the concept of absence. This is because the Fool has not yet established most of their identity.
When we start a new job, move into a new phase of our lives, or throw ourselves into a new passion like there’s nothing else in the world, we are the Fool. When the fulfillment of newness is enough for us, we are the Fool, because just like newness does not last, that fulfillment is not sustainable. At the end of the Fool’s journey, the fulfillment of newness will be replaced by the fulfillment of completion.
So when a song makes you feel invincible, like the air shimmers with potential and you want to fling yourself into the unknown, that’s a Fool song. “Joyride” by the Swedish pop band Roxette might be the most literal example. (“She says hello, you fool, I love you…”)
“Read my Mind” by the Killers, with its quiet but insistent heartbeat, carries strong personal memories of falling into my first crush at age 13. The melange of quick images before the chorus gave me a feeling like being on a spinning carnival ride, overwhelming and dizzy and joyful. I didn’t know rejection. I was ready for anything. (I never admitted my feelings to my crush.)
Speaking of being ready for anything, there’s the Boss of my home state, not knowing anything but that he was born to run. Staying put is no longer an option, even though he’s not certain of the outcome; all he knows is that he has to move.
Songs by artists at the beginning of their careers, like Indigo de Souza’s innocent, experimental “big fall,” often say “Fool” to me.
As you might imagine, Tarot was popular with the counterculture in the late 60s and early 70s. Pamela "Pixie" Colman Smith's original artwork (look her up, she's amazing!) entered the public domain in 1966, and decks inspired by her work boomed. Maybe for that reason, the more innocent side of psychedelic music, like "Sunshine Superman" from that era feels very Fool-ish to me.
Take a listen to Björk's "Human Behavior" and it's a reminder that sometimes looking through the eyes of the Fool can help us realize how silly, confusing, and even unnecessary the complications and fluctuations of human interactions can be.
And finally, when I hear the riff of The B-52's “Roam” soaring, and Kate and Cindy singing in those crazy day-glo harmonies, I can’t help but move. The Fool roams, without anything but the love they feel.
No matter what progress one makes, one can always return to being the Fool for the moments when it’s necessary. When expectations would get the best of more experienced cards, the Fool dances on forward. Movement and discovery are enough.