The Fool is our first example of the secrecy of the deck; it is not based on the Golden Dawn image, but a more traditional European design such as the Marseilles Tarot.
The Golden Dawn radically amended the Fool image to be that of a small child beneath a rose-tree, accompanied by a wolf. But Waite could not reveal this symbolism, and took his oath of secrecy seriously.
As Pamela was not of the grade where this would be revealed, restricting Waite further, she would have been given the standard design, not the Golden Dawn version.
The rose of joy and the rose of silence that are upon the Golden Dawn symbol have been partially and coincidentally reflected as the white rose of silence in this design.
We give the symbols as they would have been utilised by Waite & Smith, then look specifically at the work of Waite on the Majors and where Pamela drew upon for her images in her real life.
White Sun: The white sun is the light of Kether, the highest and first Sephirah of the Tree of Life, the pure point from which everything emanates, and to which, by definition, everything returns.
The Mountain: The heights of the mountain, its edges and peaks, are symbolic of the mountain of initiation, and the trials and tribulations of the journey we each take up that mountain.
Young Man: The Fool is the seeker, the “prince of the other world” and the soul. He is the “spirit in search of experience” and the protagonist of all stories and myth. He is the Hero of a Thousand Faces in the archetypal journey.
Tunic: The tunic is decorated with the rich opulence of the world of experience. It denotes that the things of experience are as a garment to the soul; protective yet not intrinsically part of our soul.
Feather: The feather here is the symbol of Air, to which this card corresponds.
A Secret Revealed
There is a secret here, in that the red feather also appears on the head of the child in the Sun card. The Sun card was designed ten years later by Waite in his Waite-Trinick deck more explicitly as Christ.
The Sun and the Fool are both aspects of Christ for Waite; the glory of Christ and the hidden Christ; the becoming and returning of the divine Soul (in each of us) to God.
Wreath: The wreath, which we see in several other cards, denotes the triumph of the pure spirit over all the adversity of the world. It is transcendence, the ability to rise above all things to which we might be attached.
In Greek mythology the laurel was sacred to Apollo, the sun god, and symbolised victory. The outward display of the laurel wreath demonstrates an inner strength that overcomes negative influences. In a reading it is urging a “rise above it” attitude, to get out there and win!
We can also see the Laurel wreath symbol in the Ace of Swords and the Six of Wands.
Circles with Eight Divisions: These are the symbols of the rising sun of the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn is the precursor of the “everlasting day” of spiritual enlightenment.
A Secret Revealed : They are actually the Japanese Military Flag symbol of the Rising Sun, from Pamela’s use of the Kimono worn by a real-world exemplar of “innocence” and ideal for an obvious symbol of a “rising sun”.
Staff: The “costly wand” of the Fool is the symbol of a fulfilled life, authentic, and true to purpose. It carries no regrets or confusion. A wand can be imbued with valuable magic or energies, that can be protective in nature.
Cirlot writes that “its significance derives from the magic power attributed to it, which in turn derives from the concept of every stick or wand in a straight-line, embodying implications of directions”. The wand will therefore protect and guide one along the way.
Wallet: The bag holds the experiences of the soul, which we carry with us yet do not belong to us. Waite says very little about this, as we see above it is the wand that is of value, but makes a point of saying that “other descriptions say that the wallet contains the bearer’s follies and vices, which seems bourgeois and arbitrary”.
Rose (held by Fool): This is the white rose of silence.
Eagle head: Another symbol of Air.
Small Dog: The small dog is faith, the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). It accompanies us throughout our journey, as a guard, a tormentor at times, and a faithful companion. Yet it is the very last thing which must be sacrificed before the Abyss can be crossed that separates us from divine union. Faith is the only thing that can take us to the edge, and the only thing that can be truly sacrificed to step over that edge into the darkness of divine union.
In a Reading …
The Fool can signify the seeker, freedom, extravagance and enthusiasm. In a reading this could speak of lessons to be learnt by an individual – that we are working through the physical experience in order to learn and develop. Life is a journey where we do not know the final destination until we arrive.
Key Words and Concepts: Seeking, silence, secrecy, purity, innocence.
According to A. E. Waite …
The Fool card was arguably the most important card to Waite. In his Waite-Trinick images, he placed the Fool as connecting Da’ath and Tiphareth on the Tree of Life; knowledge and beauty.
This card is the wisdom of this world, which is “foolishness with God”.
& as Executed by Pamela Colman-Smith …
To Pamela, this card was the joy embodied by the young Edward Gordon Craig, “Teddy” dressed in Ellen Terry’s Kimono, given to her by the artist Whistler.
The Kimono bore the repeated icons of the Japanese military flag of the “Rising Sun”, a suitable symbol of the “golden dawn” of this image.
There are several photographs of Teddy dressed in the Kimono, and Pamela utilises the icon in other drawings of this eternal wayfarer in his journey through the everlasting day.
& Another Name to go with Snuffles the Cat on the Queen of Wands …
Pamela painted a dog named Ben as her model for the dog on the Fool card, who was seen in photographs of Pamela’s time at Smallhythe jumping up in the same pose Pamela painted in the card.
It is coincidental and neat that Ben means “son” in Hebrew, so the name of the dog modelled here is that of the “son” of the divine, the pure spirit on earth.
Secret Significance: This card is the truth that we are all, always, already free.
A Reading Tip
When the Fool is present, it is modified by the cards closest to it. Imagine how the colours of the closest cards would stain the white rose of the Fool, using the symbolism we have elsewhere given for colours.
What might this signify to the effect that the situation is having on the spiritual life of the seeker?
Whilst this may not be spoken out or of immediate relevance to the situation, it gives you as the reader a deeper understanding of the impact and lesson of the question to the querent.
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Learn More about the meanings of this card in everyday readings in Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot and over at our free sister-site, My Tarot Card Meanings where you can also download a free guide to card meanings and spreads, Keys to the Tarot by Andrea Green.