Playing the Fool

Have you ever encountered something that everyone else really seems to love but you can't quite wrap your head around? It's not that you dislike it, per se, but you just don't understand the hype. "What's so great about this thing anyway?" you might wonder. "And what's wrong with me that I don't see it?"

This has been my experience with The Fool card in tarot. For those who are unfamiliar with the structure of a traditional tarot deck, The Fool is the first card in the deck, and it represents the beginning of the journey through the Major Arcana or Trump cards, the twenty-one cards that represent bigger events and forces in your life. It stands for qualities like naiveté, innocence, foolish bravery, and faith. The Fool is the person who rushes into a new venture without care or thought for what could go wrong, which is often either the best decision you could make or the worst.

 
   The traditional Rider Waite Fool.

The traditional Rider Waite Fool.

 

Intellectually, I see the appeal of The Fool. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, after all. And I am quite partial to the idea of being bold, taking risks, and going off on adventures as the whim strikes. Yet, when the card pops up in a reading, my initial reaction is to recoil. Perhaps this is because I am turned off by the clown or jester-themed artwork found on many interpretations of the card. Perhaps it's because I spent a lot of my childhood feeling foolish and being teased for my innocence, sensitivity, and perceived lack of experience. Perhaps it's my anxiety rejecting the idea of taking risks without extensive (over)preparation or balking at the idea of doing something that might make others think less of me (at least according to my brain's convoluted logic). Realistically, it is probably a combination of the three with a dash of other factors thrown in for extra risk-averseness flavoring. Whatever the reason, while the Fool is not my least favorite card, it certainly isn't in my top five.

 
   Depictions of The Fool in James R. Eads' "Light Visions" and "Prisma Visions" tarot decks. The booklet calls the wolf Foolish for swimming out too far, but I've always thought pelicans were pretty Foolish - they look awkward but fly far.

Depictions of The Fool in James R. Eads' "Light Visions" and "Prisma Visions" tarot decks. The booklet calls the wolf Foolish for swimming out too far, but I've always thought pelicans were pretty Foolish - they look awkward but fly far.

 


It is for that very reason that, when ruminating on which card's characteristics I wanted to try and bring into my life in 2016 (a practice that I commit to in lieu of a list of resolutions), The Fool immediately popped into my head. I suppose it makes sense; I already made the arguably Foolish decision to quit my day job in December to further pursue my acting career and attempt to support myself through my tarot practice, and tackling a card that makes me squirm seems like an appropriate challenge in what will undoubtedly be a year full of challenges of all shapes and sizes. It's not the first time I've done something that would be considered foolish by conventional standards either, so while a part of me balks at the idea of throwing myself headfirst into a life of risk and adventure, there is an equally large part of me that craves it. I am, I after all, the same person who packed up her entire life (and her cat) and moved halfway across the country with only an inkling of how I was going to find work and permanent lodging once I arrived. While I do like to be in control and have everything planned out whenever possible, once I get an idea into my head I tend to charge full-steam ahead with only a passing consideration for logistics. I've found that's the best way to drown out any anxieties and doubts: just jump in before I can reconsider. It's how I've wound up with multiple piercings, two tattoos, and a second cat (all of which were fantastic decisions, in my opinion).

   Me emulating Maggie Stiefvater's image of The Fool on top of Masada in Israel.

Me emulating Maggie Stiefvater's image of The Fool on top of Masada in Israel.

So, I've decided to embody The Fool as best I can this year, wherever it winds up leading me. So far it's serving me well. In the first month of 2016 I have done tarot readings for money, flown to another continent, climbed a mountain before sunrise, eaten flaming brandy-soaked raisins at midnight on New Year's Eve while making a wish for my future, and done battle with the New York Health Exchange despite my extreme aversion to talking on the phone. I've made new friends, ridden camels, slept under the stars, floated in the Dead Sea, asked for something well above what I feel I've earned, tried, failed, and committed to trying again. I still have so many challenges before me and so many moments where I will have to commit myself over and over again to Foolishly striving for the impossible rather than giving into my doubts, but whenever I begin to question my choices I will look at the artwork of the Fool (perhaps in a deck with a less traditional depiction, like Maggie Stiefvater's Raven's Prophecy tarot), take a deep breath, quell my fears, and boldly strike out towards the next adventure.