In my recent studies* I came across some useful “key concepts” for the Fool that go beyond the usual meanings of immaturity or lack of mental clarity (“a period of confusion and disorder”). It was described in part as “a card of impulse and instinct” as well as representing an “inability to commit,” perhaps running away from serious responsibility.” But, following on from the older concepts of “madness upright, bewilderment reversed,” the real zinger of the bunch was “sometimes crazy works.” The idea is that complete freedom from the constraints of reason can produce some remarkably innovative results. Many geniuses who were neglected or even suppressed in their own time fit this description; only much later were their contributions recognized and implemented to good effect. In the Fool’s repertoire there is always the understated mission of “going off to change the world, discovering the world anew.” Think “Don Quixote with better instincts.”
In my estimation, Aleister Crowley (without caving in to the presumption of lunacy or the metaphysical trappings of the “Fool’s Journey”) had the best modern take on this card:
“. . . it represents an original, subtle, sudden impulse or impact, coming from a completely strange quarter. All such impulses are right, if rightly received . . .”
In a reading, it can be tempting to give the Fool short shrift as only showing a new incentive or urge for “something different” entering the matter without acknowledging its slightly dangerous implications as “a process out of control.” If there are no boundaries, the Fool can wander aimlessly and get into all sorts of trouble. To “rightly receive” its influence, we must yoke it to a clear sense of purpose and an intelligent plan of action. In its native state, latent energy is tremendous but focus is deficient and dedication to orderly progress is nonexistent (traits that only emerge with the Magician). Merely interpreting it as “something new” doesn’t give the querent a clue that what might be coming could be anything but innocuous. The Fool “busts out” on the stage, larger than life and twice as unpredictable, ready to start chewing on the scenery.
I’m often challenged to give my clients a meaningful frame of reference for this card. It’s all well and good to say “expect the unexpected,” but if nothing unusual is currently brewing in their life it can amount to overstating the case. The most fruitful tactic may be to advise: “Be prepared to think outside the box” in some matter that is already underway and that may have become entirely too routine, demanding a fresh – and perhaps unorthodox – perspective. On the other hand, I once created a spread titled “The Fool’s Debut: A Pregnancy and Childbirth Diorama,” so there is that possibility to consider, if not literally at least symbolically. “Crazier” things have certainly happened.
*See The Grand Etteilla, No. 78 – Folly, “Modern Interpretations.”