Thursday, January 22, 2009

Jokers, Fools and Magicians

The evolution of the Fool and Magician cards contain a deep insight that is useful to understanding the true meanings of the cards.

The Fool was a traveler in the broader sense of the word. More the shaman who could travel between the worlds, rather than a foolish person. The Fool was not merely someone off on a lark, but rather someone who could communicate with spirits. The imagery of this card also originated in a time when most people stayed close to home and venturing farther out in the world was really a big event that many people would not even consider. His journey may been fraught with danger as well as excitement. The Fool was living on the edge, out there in the general mix of strangers, thieves and wanderers. In other words, rootless people who survived by their wits and had knowledge and abilities that seemed magical to those who spent their whole lives staying close to home. In another context, the shaman is said to be able to walk between worlds communicating with the spirit world as well as this physical world. The older model of the Fool might have been more of the trickster, or the jester, incorporating more of a spirit of Loki, Manannan Mac Lir, Hermes, Krishna, or Coyote. The Fool is always pictured as being on the road. He is one who crosses boundaries. It is when we cross boundaries that we find out what our real capabilities are, and we are encouraged to go beyond our comfort zone. In the old game of tarot, the Fool was a card that gave a player a pass: no gain and no penalty, just one free turn. The Fool is the one card from the major arcana that survived the transition into the playing card deck as the Joker.

The magician was changed into more of a ceremonial magician when Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Coleman Smith redesigned the tarot about 100 years ago. At the beginning, if we look at the design of early decks, the Magician was more like today's stage magicians, the entertainers, carnival hustlers, showmen. In another guise, in another era, he would also be the troubadour or the bard. He could make magic happen in other ways than the ceremonial magician. He was a smooth talker, a medicine man, like in snake oil salesman, or today's financial con men. It is about creation, will power and desire. The magician is about the uses of power, both good and bad. The magician can make things happen, but what is it we want to happen? The adage, "be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it" comes to mind.

Interesting to consider then, how the symbol of the Fool was more powerful in the oldest decks, but newer versions would seem to favor the Magician as the more powerful person. If you are looking for a key to differentiate, consider this. Both have power and skill. But which is the greater skill, the ability to manipulate things to amaze audiences, or the ability to walk between the worlds?

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