The Fool in Tarot is unnumbered in the Marseilles Tarot deck or 0 in other Tarot decks such as the Rider Waite. Some decks place the Fool in the beginning order of the major arcana and others at the end of the major arcana. Arcana means secrets or mysteries. The Fool learns these secrets as he goes along in his journey.(picture: The Fool, Mythic Tarot)
Who is the Fool? The Fool looks like a very scruffy yet fancy jester with embellishments i.e. bells, tassels etc.
We mostly see the embellishments above the waist and the shabbiness below the waist. The Fool has been described as a vagabond which is to say that the Fool is a traveler, nomad, or wanderer (someone without a homebase). In the Marseilles Tarot the Fool is Le Mat, (or Il Matto in Italian) which is madman, beggar. It doesn't seem like a nice thing to say about a person, but there are many traditions and stories about individuals who wander about without any direction to be insane or have madness and yet seen as elevated spiritually or as a mystic. (picture: WiX)
When we look at the Fool, we see someone aloof, carefree and not watching where they are going. Sometimes we think the Fool is going to walk off the edge of a cliff and it doesn't seem
to bother him, nor does the animal nipping at his heels or pants. What we can sense from the card is the energy. That energy that makes one want to move in whatever direction the energy takes them. We can't really tell where the Fool is going because he's not looking in the same direction as his feet. He's looking up. It looks like he is not paying attention to the direction or are he is hearing a message - maybe a "calling" Is this "calling" directing him where to go? Or is he distracted? (picture: WiX)
As mentioned, the Fool is a very energetic card, but has no number value. The Fool card is like a wild card because there are so many possibilities and when the Fool appears in the spread the limits and potentials are boundless. This is a new journey, a new beginning. We may have walked away from a wonderful situation with lessons learnt, experience, and tools from our last journey all wrapped up in the little sack or bundle that is tied at the end of the rod held across his shoulder. We are feeling optimistic and whatever naivety we have, it will work in our favour. We have a fresh start.
Or, we could be leaving a difficult journey where the struggle was brutal and we're pleased that we have survived it! On the negative side, we could be leaving a situation too soon to start something new that we may not be ready for because we haven't learnt the lessons we needed to or we abandoned someone. (picture: WiX)
When reading the tarot cards whether it is the Rider Waite, Marseilles Tarot, Visconti or any deck, we need to understand that Tarot is a language. When we use English as our method of communication, it consists of words used in a structured way; this is for Tarot as well. When Tarot cards are chosen for a reading, the cards with its numbers, symbols, and energy give a message to the Tarot reader who then passes the message to the querent. To understand what the message is in the Fool card, we have to take into account the other cards chosen in the reading; but if we just look at the Fool card itself we can see the following: (picture: The Fool from the Spanish Tarot)
The Fool has no numerical value: the Fool is a wildcard. The Fool indicates a significant instance of a change whether it's the start or the end of a journey. Wherever this card lands in the spread, the reader must interpret the card as a beginning or end of the journey. Is the card indicating that the querent has learnt all the lessons required and are they ready for the next new journey? Or has the querent abruptly left a journey with unfinished tasks to start something new? Is it indicating a start or an end to the journey?
Direction: The Fool's feet and body are moving right in the Marseilles Tarot which is forward so the Fool is advancing/progressing. However, the Fool is not watching where he is are going. This indicates signs of aloofness, or not understanding responsibilities or risks. It can also show freedom from worry. (picture: from Visconti Tarot) . The Fool is about to wander off a cliff in the Rider Waite - a sign of relying on "Fool's Luck" and risk taking. Is the querent being risky or careless? On the other hand is the querent in a situation where there is no need for control and it would be better to just to adopt some spontaneity?
The Fool's Clothes: The garish looking costume the Fool is wearing in the Marseilles Tarot gives you the impression of madness and someone who is worry-free of the judgement of others. In the Visconti Tarot, the Fool has unkempt hair with feathers stuck in his hair and no shoes. The shabby and unkempt appearance indicates the Fool doesn't care for belonging to a group or to anyone or anything; and is unattached to any convention or fashion. The Fool is free and has the freedom to "think outside the box" and look for ways to solve a problem or other fulfillments that are unconventional. The torn clothes can symbolise a weakness or vulnerability.
The Animals: represent our instinct. The animal in the Fool can be a dog, cat, or wolf and often in the colour brown. Brown indicates the things that are permanent in our lives that we have to use as tool to get through challenges such as instinct. The Fool puts their trust in using instinct where the lack of control or planning can make a journey very risky.
The Sack Tied to the Rod: The Fool carries what matters to him for the next journey. In the sack could be the tools acquired from the last journey, experiences, wisdom, knowledge. On the negative side, is the Fool carrying unpleasant memories which can be a burden like a heavy weight on the shoulder? The rod in the Marseilles Tarot resembles a spoon or ladle and other decks it's a rod or stick that can be used as a tool such as a fishing rod. This shows that the Fool is ready to use what he has for whatever situation comes his way.
The above are suggestions for reading the Fool card and are not the only meanings that the Fool Card can have. You must look at the surrounding cards chosen by the querent in the reading. Whatever meaning you get from the Tarot card will be dependent on the deck you use, other cards in the spread and the question (the reason why the querent is having a Tarot reading)
The following is a sample three card reading:
The querent is making plans for studies in the near future and is unsure what path he is to follow. He loves writing, literature and is interested in a program that is out of his province. Is this something that is right for him?
In the centre of this reading the Fool is progressing towards a new chapter. The querent is ready for a new beginning and has the feeling he is being summoned to something that speaks to his heart. The program the querent is interested in will help him develop into a writer. Where the querent is vulnerable is the emotional ties to home and he is hesitant (the Page of Cups facing left is reflective). Perhaps he is worried that his dreams are impractical. His interests in studying writing and literature are sincere but he is still hesitant and this is most likely because he will have to leave home. Is he ready to leave home? There is some fear that he isn't mature enough to leave home. On the other hand, this is his opportunity for growth. The Ace of Coins indicate that this is his opportunity to grow and gain independence.
The Marseille Tarot Revealed, A Complete Guide to Symbolism Meanings and Method by Yoav Ben-Doav 2017 Llewellyn Publications
Reading and Understanding the Marseilles Tarot by Anna Maria Morsucci and Antonella Aloi 2018 Lo Scarabeo