In a deck of maniacal harlequins, who is wild enough to be called the Fool? This Fool wears motley of many shapes. His costume incorporates the signature patterns of the four courts1, including moons, leaves, and classic diamonds. He’s also covered in feathers and leaves, which he has picked up from his wanderings through wood and field. He does not sneak around, like his fellow dweller of the wastes, the Hermit or Father Time, might. No, he brings the party with him with his pipe and his drum! He is this season’s hottest chart-topping star, coming soon to a lonely pasture or alleyway near you.
The Bolognese deck in the BnF that I am referring to has these wonderful red flourishes2 on some cards, including the Fool. I tried making a version without them, but it just felt flat and empty. They add that certain frenzied je-ne-sais-quoi that is so necessary for this lunatic.
In the Etteilla tradition, the Fool3 takes up the proud mantle of so many buffoons before him.4 Any way you turn him, his meaning is FOLLY, though upright and reversed get different shades of meaning. Upright, he is more of your classic madman, full of enthusiastic burning insanity. Reversed, he is more of a hapless idiot. I think we have all felt ourselves in either position. Upright he is playing some frantic jazzy tune, reversed only a sputtering sound comes through his pipe. Upright you notice his unholy racket, reversed you notice that you can’t seem to find eyes behind the mask.
Keywords (translated from Julia Orsini)
Upright: madness, insanity, eccentricity, unreasonableness, confusion, wandering, drunkenness, delirium, hot fever, frenzy, rage, passion, fury, transport, enthusiasm, blindness, ignorance, insane, senseless, unreasonable, innocent, simple, silly
Reversed: folly, imbecility, ineptitude, insouciance, stupidity, imprudence, negligence, absence, absent-mindedness, apathy, nullity, empty, nothing, useless
1 I’ve used a similar strategy in my previous decks, too. The Fool in Clown Town wears a costume pieced together from the four suits (jester, Pierrot, tramp clown, and American rodeo clown), the Fool in Anecdotes Tarot wears a dress embroidered with representations of the four Aces. Why do I keep doing this? In this way, the Fool is associated with chaotic raw material from which the rest of the deck is derived (see the primary color motif in this Fool and Anecdotes). Alternately, it’s a way of saying that the Fool doesn’t really know who s/he is – or perhaps refuses to decide. After all, the Fool has no official place in the deck.
2 The Grand jeu de l’oracle des dames (aka Etteilla III) also has twining red flourishes on some of its cards, including the Aces. I borrowed them to jazz up some of the Coins cards in this deck already. My motto is, who needs elegant design when you can just splash red paint everywhere?
3 Did you notice, in the Grand jeu, he’s not only The Fool but also The Alchemist? Take that, alchemists! Still, what I’d really like to see is a deck where the Etteilla card (which in the Grand jeu is, humbly, on the card representing God) is moved to The Fool.
4 As with many other cards, I think that the Smith-Waite reinterpretation was distinctly unflattering to the Fool. Instead of a brazen bedlamite or a tricky jester he was glamorized into an elegant beflowered young person reveling in fresh mountain air. For shame!