The Fool card, which is numbered "0," is the first of the Major Arcana cards. The most commonly known version of it, which is from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, is of a young man who seems either unconcerned by or oblivious to the fact that he is about to step off the edge of a cliff. A small white dog accompanies him, a white sun shines above him, and in one hand he holds a stick with a knapsack at the end, while in the other, he holds a white flower.
Two of the most familiar interpretations of this card seem at first glance to be diametrically opposed. One view of this card is to see it literally as a foolish risk, in which case it is an admonition to look before you leap.
Thus, we might say that the Fool is a buffoon who refuses to face reality or who is unable to foresee the dire consequences of his course of action. On the other hand, this card may depict a leap of faith, which implies the proverbial promise "leap, and the net will appear." In that case, this card has a deeply spiritual meaning wherein the white sun overhead signifies our divine potential as well as the divinity that watches over and protects those who are innocent and pure of heart, such as children and fools.
So how shall we reconcile these two disparate views of this card? Certainly, both interpretations have their place. There are times when we face a foolish risk that we should avoid, and there are other times when we should take that leap of faith. The trick is to know which is which.
The difference between a foolish risk and a leap of faith lies in the soulful-ness of our intentions. Are we following the dictates of our heart and soul, or are we acting out of fear, desperation, or greed? Every time we come to a precipice in our life’s journey, we would do well to consider this question, for there is a spiritual aspect to everything we do, regardless of how mundane our course may seem. So our answer to the question, "Is this step part of my spiritual journey, or have I strayed from that path?" can tell us if we should take that leap.
This is, of course, a deeply personal decision that no one else can make for us. In fact, a leap of faith usually looks like a foolish risk to other people, for our connection to the divine source requires a free spirit and an independence from conventional ties. It is precisely when we march to the beat of a different drummer, unfettered by society’s traditional structures, that we are able to hear the soft, gentle voice of the Spirit of the Universe.
Consequently, a profound piece of advice that this card offers all of us is to search with a pure and innocent heart for our true path in life, then follow that path faithfully, even if other people think it is foolish. And when we come to a precipice along the way, take a leap of faith, trusting that the Universe will catch us and carry us where we need to go.
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James Ricklef is a Tarot reader, lecturer, and writer. He has been a frequent workshop presenter at Tarot conferences and symposia from Los Angeles to New York. He is the author of several Tarot books, including Tarot Tells the Tale which was first runner up in the General Interest category for the 2004 Coalition of Visionary Resources (COVR) Awards. (A revised version of that book is now available as Tarot Reading Explained.) He is also the creator of the acclaimed Tarot of the Masters deck.