Le Mat - The Fool
Pictorial Key to the Tarot
S. L. MacGregor Mathers
General Book of the Tarot
A. E. Thierens
Le Mat - The Fool
Folly, mania, extravagance, intoxication, delirium, frenzy, bewrayment.
Divinatory Meanings - Reversed
Negligence, absence, distribution, carelessness, apathy, nullity, vanity.
With light step, as if earth and its trammels had little power to restrain him, a young man in gorgeous vestments pauses at the brink of a precipice among the great heights of the world; he surveys the blue distance before him-its expanse of sky rather than the prospect below. His act of eager walking is still indicated, though he is stationary at the given moment; his dog is still bounding. The edge which opens on the depth has no terror; it is as if angels were waiting to uphold him, if it came about that he leaped from the height. His countenance is full of intelligence and expectant dream. He has a rose in one hand and in the other a costly wand, from which depends over his right shoulder a wallet curiously embroidered. He is a prince of the other world on his travels through this one-all amidst the morning glory, in the keen air. The sun, which shines behind him, knows whence he came, whither he is going, and how he will return by another path after many days. He is the spirit in search of experience. Many symbols of the Instituted Mysteries are summarized in this card, which reverses, under high warrants, all the confusions that have preceded it.
In his Manual of Cartomancy, Grand Orient has a curious suggestion of the office of Mystic Fool, as apart of his process in higher divination; but it might call for more than ordinary gifts to put it into operation. We shall see how the card fares according to the common arts of fortune-telling, and it will be an example, to those who can discern, of the fact, otherwise so evident, that the Trumps Major had no place originally in the arts of psychic gambling, when cards are used as the counters and pretexts. Of the circumstances under which this art arose we know, however, very little. The conventional explanations say that the Fool signifies the flesh, the sensitive life, and by a peculiar satire its subsidiary name was at one time the alchemist, as depicting folly at the most insensate stage.
21.--which, however, in most of the arrangements is the cipher card, number nothing--The Fool, Mate, or Unwise Man. Court de Gebelin places it at the head of the whole series as the zero or negative which is presupposed by numeration, and as this is a simpler so also it is a better arrangement. It has been abandoned because in later times the cards have been attributed to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and there has been apparently some difficulty about allocating the zero symbol satisfactorily in a sequence of letters all of which signify numbers. In the present reference of the card to the letter Shin, which corresponds to 200, the difficulty or the unreason remains. The truth is that the real arrangement of the cards has never transpired. The Fool carries a wallet; he is looking over his shoulder and does not know that he is on the brink of a precipice; but a dog or other animal--some call it a tiger--is attacking him from behind, and he is hurried to his destruction unawares. Etteilla has given a justifiable variation of this card--as generally understood--in the form of a court jester, with cap, bells and motley garb. The other descriptions say that the wallet contains the bearer's follies and vices, which seems bourgeois and arbitrary.
Le Mat - The Fool
The Foolish Man - Folly, Expiation, Wavering.
Divinatory Meanings - Reversed
Hesitation, Instability, Trouble arising herefrom.
Symbolism of the Keys
The Foolish Man - A man with a fool's cap, dressed like a jester, with a stick and bundle over his shoulder. Before him is the butterfly of pleasure luring him on (while in some packs a tiger, in others a dog, attacks him from behind). It signifies Folly, Expiation.
Le Mat - The Fool
Description and Meaning
The average stage of man in the present stage of Earth-evolution is 'human,' but not yet at the stage of wisdom, consequently that of the 'unwise man.' To us, creatures living upon the Earth, this globe cannot be observed by us in toto, and the Fool is represented as a man walking without paying attention to himself. There is something of absolute Fate about this figure, which reminds us of the old saying of astrologers: "The wise man rules his stars, the fool obeys them." On the point of this fatality all authorities agree. For the rest the explanation does not seem very satisfying. To us there appears to be no doubt regarding the nature of this Fool, presented as a final 'principle,' if we may call it that, after those of the planets. A principle, however, without a number, a principle of nothing, nothingness.
The planets give us the symbols or ideas of organs of consciousness, the zodiacal signs denote modes of substance, from which consciousness is derived. So the zero-principle is the symbol of unconsciousness. In fact he who is unconscious, of himself or of Self, will obey every intimation from without and obeys 'his stars'--his senses, stupidly, blindly.
Of course this card has much to do with foolishness, spiritual dumbness, but it bears also the meaning of that which cannot be helped and which we do best to leave altogether aside; or that which will come right of itself and need not be heeded by us: that to which we are subject, as to the Earth course in its orbit. It does not need our personal assistance. Realising the latter fact this 'fool' might after all appear to be wiser than a good many other people, who in their human vanity imagine they are greatly needed for carrying out the intentions of their God, of Whom they claim a sort of personal knowledge. A proverb says, that children and fools tell the truth. Taken as a whole, the card signifies that which will prove to contain more truth than appears; that which cannot be helped; those who are unconscious (of certain things, e.g.,) or unreasonable or foolish, disregarding logical propositions and actions. Also that part of our surroundings over which we have no control or which we do not master; that which we have to obey or which we ignore.
The Hebrew letter Shin is brought in relation with this card, and Papus says it means "the Motion of relative duration," but his explanation does not throw any particular light on the card nor on the relationship. The picture seems to hint also that the fool "is hurried to his destruction unawares." (Waite) And there may be a good deal in it. In divination it may hint at persons suffering under this tendency.
The question may be asked, why the planetary cards have been named in this order. When we agree that Mercury, Temperance, has been put in the place of Jupiter, which after all has been used in a higher octave, we see first named the three planets outside the place of the Earth, governing the building of the physical mould and having to do with the birth and death of it. Then follows the planet of cosmic electricity and of the birth of human spirit in the physical building, which it eventually destroys. Next come the three planetary principles functioning on the spiritual side, which have their meaning only after the birth of human spirit. The Moon takes the place of Mercury-Vulcan, and the order is that of reckoning from the Earth, consequently in a continuous line from the outside: Venus--Moon (for Mercury-Vulcan)--Sun. They have to do with the growth of body and soul. Finally the principle of deliverance from the prison of the body: Jupiter, and that of the cosmic ocean to which the particles return, Universal solvent; ocean which constitutes the real ground for our practical unity in the world. The Fool as the denial of all sense, nonsense.
There may be other explanations of course. The one offered here seems to have the advantage that it is in the line of the suggestion, made before, viz. that the whole system of the Tarot is a sort of symbolism, expressly adapting cosmic principles to human life and to man's personal interests, not always even in the highest sense.
There exists a remarkable difference between the degree of clearness with which concrete particulars of the Lesser Arcana are given, and the diffuse teaching of the Greater Arcana, which appears to have been rather covered and veiled, than divulged. It was in the first place the Lesser Arcana, with which the diseurs de bonne aventure wanted to please their clients, so it naturally had their chief attention.
It is still more remarkable that all explanation about the 'why' of the Lesser Arcana fails. We ought perhaps to take into account a meagre effort made by Papus in his Tarot of the Bohemians, (p. 235-237), where he tries to assign each of the cards to one of the decanates of the zodiac; but he makes no further use of the hypothesis. For the rest I venture to say that it does not hold good at all and does not in the least correspond with the traditional significances given, as the authors tell us, in respect of the Bohemians. Another equally unsuccessful effort at explanation has been made recently by a pupil of Eteilla, d’Odoucet and Papus, a Frenchman calling himself Ely Alta, in a book entitled Le Tarot Egyptien (1922), which bears a close resemblance to that of Papus or speaks of the very same source as the latter. In fact Alta reproduces a treatise of Eteilla's disciple and co-worker d’Odoucet and gives more than Papus in so far as he preludes every significance of a card in the Lesser Arcana with a sort of explanation in a would-be cosmogonical sense. The fact is, that these explanations all fall short of explaining the traditional significance. So they cannot be more than a sort of drapery of eloquence, hung over the tableaux by later commentators, perhaps by Eteilla himself. And the only thing they divulge without any doubt at all is that the key to these 'lesser' mysteries has been lost or has never been given out to those to whom this practice of divination has been presented "as a bible which would make their living at the same time," as Papus has said somewhere.
But the striking fact is, that these traditional significations cover almost exactly and in almost every card the theory expounded by us. So we may be fairly certain that this theory contains or is the very key. We shall verify it systematically and card for card.