The Fool is one of the major arcana cards in the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot and other tarot decks based on the Latin tarot (also known as the Tarot de Marseilles). This card may appear in other tarot decks and may be called by alternative names, such as The Jester, The Idiot, or The Innocent. In all decks, The Fool has a similar meaning.
The Fool Symbolism
The Fool is the first card of the major arcana. In the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, he is depicted as a golden-haired youth dressed in brightly colored clothing. In his left hand, he carries a white rose. In his right, he holds a kerchief tied to a stick in which he carries his belongings. He stands trustingly at the edge of a rocky cliff with a white dog at his feet. His eyes look upward to the horizon as the sun rises behind him. These images depict rich symbolism that offer clues to what The Fool means when he appears in a tarot spread.
Placement in the Major Arcana
Historically, the tarot was developed as a deck of playing cards with the major arcana serving as the trump cards for games. Since these cards stand apart from the minor arcana cards and suits, they have special meaning within a tarot reading. Therefore, the querent should pay special attention when major arcana cards appear in a spread.
The Fool is the first card in the major arcana. This placement is important and offers a key clue to The Fool's symbolism. He represents the beginning of a journey through the cards of the major arcana when possibilities are endless, especially if he moves with trust and awareness on his journey. In this position, he is an empty vessel, utterly without experience or expectation, open to whatever the journey brings him.
The Number 0
Major arcana cards are numbered 0 through XXI (21 - The World), moving from innocence to worldliness and from naïveté to wisdom. The Fool at number 0 represents the beginning of this journey and embarking on it with a clear heart, a clean mind and openness to whatever the journey brings.
In numerology, the number 0 represents potential, all that is, and infinite possibilities, reinforcing the theme of this card.
Archetype of the Fool
Psychologist Carl Jung identified 12 major archetypes that exist in the collective human consciousness. The Fool may represent either the Joker or the Innocent archetype in Jungian psychology. Both of these archetypes journey into the world innocently, ready for any possibility that the world might bring.
Clothing and Kerchief
He carries a kerchief on a stick, which is a symbol of travel, indicating the Fool has embarked upon a journey. The Fool archetype is further reinforced by his clothing, which is frivolous and unsuitable for travel. This represents his optimism as he begins his journey. He carries his belongings for travel in his right hand, which represents the subconscious mind. This indicates he is not yet consciously aware of where he is headed in his travels.
Cliff and White Dog
The Fool stands perched on the edge of the cliff, looking trustingly to the horizon instead of noticing his feet are at the precipice of disaster. The white dog at his feet rears up to warn him of impending danger. The white of the dog is a reinforcement of innocence and optimism, while a dog represents awareness. The white dog, then, is one of the tools The Fool can use to guide him on his journey as he combines optimism and awareness as he moves forward. In using these tools, he can keep from falling off the cliff due to his naïveté.
The white rose in his left hand (which represents the conscious mind) depicts innocence and the unfolding of the mysteries of his journey. It also suggests he pay careful attention on his journey so he can move forward deliberately while maintaining his purity and optimism.
Putting It All Together
When The Fool appears in a tarot spread, it suggests endless possibilities, taking a leap of faith, or taking a calculated risk. The card suggests you do so optimistically but with conscious intent in order to avoid potential disaster.
The Fool Reversed
When The Fool is reversed, it suggests taking things a step too far or behaving irresponsibly and making unwise decisions.
A Positive Card
In general, The Fool is a positive card in a tarot spread as it suggests moving forward into possibilities with a combination of optimism and awareness. It often appears as encouragement to take a leap of faith into the unknown.