The Fool and Me

It never occurred to me that this 1974 hard-rock song from Robin Trower’s Bridge of Sighs album, co-written and sung by the late, great James Dewar, most likely had its roots in the tarot; the timing was certainly right for a veiled New Age allusion. With lyrics that seem to play off the Fool’s heedless ways, it’s difficult to see how it could have been otherwise.

Running like the wind and laugh at the crowd, the fool and me
Howl at the moon yeah out loud loud, the fool and me
And oh oh where ever we go
We keep the spirit free
Oh nobody knows
No one but the fool and me

Which brings me to the point of this post: the Fool’s Journey.  The blueprint for this allegorical voyage of self-discovery was apparently (I haven’t read Sallie Nichols’ book Jung and Tarot yet) an earlier variant of Joseph Campbell’s 1949 examination of the monomyth, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” and serves as one of the cornerstones of modern thinking about the cards of the Major Arcana. (For a less psychological perspective, read Cherry Gilchrist’s TdM-based book, Tarot Triumphs: Using the Marseilles Tarot Trumps for Divination and Inspiration.)

In Campbell’s words:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

Tied in with Jung’s concept of individuation, it makes perfect sense that Jung inspired Campbell’s approach, at least at a theoretical level. But I sometimes wonder how many of us have really personalized the underlying philosophical foundations of this model, or simply treat it as a rather abstract “quest” narrative with little practical divinatory value and move on. I know I haven’t given it a great deal of thought; the closest I’ve come to analyzing my understanding of its import is in the introduction to my unpublished book of tarot spreads:

“Metaphorically, the Holy Grail of the Fool is the attainment of self-awareness and, ultimately, self-mastery by dint of a symbolic odyssey that slowly transforms him from a callow neophyte into a wise and seasoned adept.”

The core of the Fool’s venture into self-realization resides in the first nine numbers, reaching its apex with the self-reliant Hermit; the Wheel of Fortune and Fortitude/Strength (or Justice in Waite’s system) are transitional cards that open the way to greater socialization, with the Hanged Man portraying a period of preparatory gestation suggestive of a butterfly in its cocoon and Death bringing on the eventual metamorphosis into something entirely new and radically different from the crawling, earthbound caterpillar. What the Fool does with this newfound existential freedom is symbolized by Temperance, with a detour into self-indulgence (the Devil) that ends with a dramatic rethinking of priorities (the purgative action of the Tower) and culminates in a more exalted cosmic focus (Star, Moon, Sun, Judgement) shorn of its egocentric bias, ultimately returning to terra firma with the World. I like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s observation that all of the cards bounded by the Wheel of Fortune and the Sun are a repetition of one of the first nine numbers (and zero) with a leading “1.” It’s where I got the fanciful notion that the Wheel of Fortune is “driven by the Magician with the Fool in the back seat.”

Although it’s typical to consider the sequence of trumps as cyclical, returning with its freight of accumulated wisdom to the Fool’s original “jumping-off place,” I can’t help but think of it as more of an ascending spiral than a circle, re-emerging on a “higher arc” for the next go-round. I even created a 23rd trump card that displays a departure from the wheel of endless repetition into the open-ended realm of Cosmic Consciousness. I was thinking of the scene from Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey where the surviving astronaut completely exits the normal space-time continuum and enters a new reality (and, truth be told, the chase scene from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, where Barf exclaims “They’ve gone to plaid!”) . . . and I need to stop here before I entertain the wild-eyed supposition that this newly-minted Fool needs to trade in his motley for tartan at Douglas Adams’ haberdashery. I can almost here Ronald Reagan chiding “There you go again.”

Spiral Arm Card.jpg

As a postscript, here’s something to chew on: the trump cards laid out in a spiral arrangement with the Fool appearing at the interstices in accordance with Cherry Gilchrist’s idea that he can pop up anywhere in the procession as a kind of “wild card.”

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