The iconic image of the Fool depicted in the Rider Waite is joyous and adventurous. The Fool that is depicted in the Sorcerer’s Tarot is not joyous. He is wild eyed and vaguely threatening. This image recalls much earlier iterations of the card. The earliest meanings of The Fool are deeply tied to madness and poverty. Early images of The Fool do not reflect the gaiety represented in the Rider Waite. The Visconti Tarot, first published in the 1450’s, show us a somewhat bestial man clothed in rags. He is a wild man, ruled by madness and instinct. The Mantegna Tarocchi, another fifteenth century deck contained an incarnation of the Fool called The Beggar or Misero. This image lives up to its name. The card depicts an old man, his back bent and his clothes torn. There are the familiar little dogs, but they seem to be a nuisance at best. This theme of poverty, madness and strife is continued in the German Hofamterspiel and the Tarot of Marseilles.
The interpretation began to change in the nineteenth century. The Levi deck in 1855 describes it as “the sensitive principle, the flesh, eternal life.” Here we begin to see the transition from insanity and poverty to the divine fool. The change is seen in dramatic fasion with the Golden Dawn in 1888. Here “The Fool signifies the consummation of everything. When that which began his initiation at zero attains the term of all numeration and existence. This card passes through all the numbered cards and is changed in each, as the natural man passes through worlds of lesser experience, worlds o successive attainment. Finally, we arrive at the Rider Waite deck in 1910. In this final iteration we see the familiar Fool imagery, though the meanings intended still reflect elements of the original intent.
The symbolism of Fool is inexorably tied to its history, and this is true for the Fool of the Sorcerer’s Tarot more than most. The Fool is sitting in a bare room, one leg crossed over the other. He is wearing dark robes and a light cape over red and green striped leggings and carries a worn bindle. The way his legs are arranged is reminiscent of the bent leg of the Hanged man in the Rider Waite deck. The colors of his leggings are another tie to the Hanged Man. Traditionally the Hanged Man is dressed in red, blue and yellow. The Fool’s leggings are orange and green, combinations of the colors of the Hanged Man’s clothes.
There are books on the floor and a jar with a writing pen. The look on his face is far from the blissful countenance of the Fool in the Rider Waite deck. His eyes are wild, show far too much white and confront the reader with a malicious grin. As frightening a figure as he seems to be, there is also a childlike quality to him. He clings to his bindle like a favorite toy. His cape seems like a beach towel wrapped around a child’s shoulders so he can pretend to be a super hero.
The broach that holds his cloak is not a natural leaf. In fact, it appears to resemble a Leaf of Lorien from the Lord of the Rings movies. In the film, the broaches marked the bearers as “Elf Friends.” Very little in this image looks completely natural when observed closely. The books on the floor don’t appear to be bound by gravity. One stands on its edge, unsupported by anything tangible. The other book’s covers are either damaged or opening of their own accord. This Fool is not bound by the same rules that we are because his reality is not ours. He has been carried off by the fairies. Because his world is so different than ours, his actions are motivated by things we can’t see and wouldn’t understand. The consequences of his actions can’t be predicted easily and even he may not know what they will be.