Symbols - What does heaven look like
The Fool is a card in the Tarot, often given the number zero and regarded as the most ‘important’ card in the pack. W B Yeats in his Phases of the Moon noted that of the three important ‘roles’ - the Fool, the ‘Hunchback’[the Hermit] and the ‘Saint’, the Fool is by far the most important and at the farthest limits of spirituality.
The root of the word "fool" is from the Latin follis, which means ‘ that which contains air or Breath’ . The origins of the word buffoon may be similar originating from the old Italian "buffare", meaning to puff out one's cheeks, again the breath of life – spirit – filled with the spirit or as the New Testament might have put it ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’.
In effect, the Fool is already divine and is there to make a difference on earth by being an agent of change. Since change often requires destruction as well as creation then the Fool has a somewhat ambivalent role.
A Fool is a ‘god’ who has agreed to become human in order to make a difference, thus it is a role of sacrifice.
The Fool symbolically exists outside the Wheel of Fortune or any of the Wheels in fact and is to be found symbolically at ‘the centre’, at the hub. Spiritually this person has already achieved annihilation on the spiritual path, but they have been brought into play in the Great Work because they are needed to effect the change required. They are often portrayed as innocent because they are not of this world – unworldly.
The reason that this role was called ‘the Fool’ is because this role was often taken on by people who were often classified by others as ‘mad’ – different. The Fool’s role was as a consequence an extremely onerous one as the person concerned could be persecuted and hounded for being different. It is certainly a very lonely role.
The Fool is different because they are very open to spiritual input. They are also often perceived as being innocent in its nicest sense, almost childlike. In order to complete the task given they have to be.
The Man who mistook his wife for a hat – Oliver Sacks
What is it then, that is especially interesting in the simple? It has to do with qualities of mind which are preserved, even enhanced so that though mentally defective in some ways, they may be mentally interesting, even mentally complete, in others….. What is this quality of mind, disposition which characterises the simple, and gives them their poignant innocence, transparency, completeness and dignity – a quality so distinctive we must speak of the world of the simple as we speak of the world of the child? … If we are to use a single word here, it would have to be ‘concreteness’- their world is vivid, intense, detailed, yet simple, precisely because it is concrete; neither complicated, diluted, nor unified by abstraction. Having been simple from the start, they have never been seduced by the abstract, but have always experienced reality direct and unmediated, with an elemental and at times overwhelming intensity
Essentially therefore a ‘fool’ is not a fool. He or she is just a sort of non conformist – in the sense that their behaviour is simply unexpected – ranging from the eccentric to the truly bizarre. And perhaps of more importance they may extremely priveleged access to the spiritual world on an almost ongoing basis. Geniuses can be Fools.
Diderot - These reserved and melancholy men owe their extraordinary, almost godlike acuteness of insight to a temporary disturbance of their whole mechanism. One may notice how it brings them now to sublime and now to insane thoughts
In the early Middle Ages, the concept of the Fool as a uniquely gifted individual was well understood. Mattello, for example, the court ‘fool’ to Isabelle d’Este the Marchiness of Mantua was classified as ‘mad’. His name, derived from the Italian word matto, means ‘mad’
As time went on however, the mentally ill became both feared and revered. Although they tended to be treated badly – they were often homeless, placeless and forced to beg for food clothing and shelter – they were still also believed to be uniquely gifted ‘seers’.
Then their fortunes took a turn for the worse. Just after the Middle Ages, an era set in when the Fool suffered appalling abuse, principally because of the Church’s insistence that a fool was actually ‘possessed by demons’………
Manic Depression and Creativity – D Jablow Hershman and Dr Julian Lieb
To the philosopher's of the Enlightenment, mankind was no longer a discard from the Garden of Eden, expelled for disobeying God and condemned to be congenitally prone to sin for eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The philosophers' acceptance of human nature eventually had profound consequences for the treatment of mental patients. Deviant behaviour was no longer attributed to possession by the devil. Consequently, it was no longer imperative to tie patients down, whip them and subject them to a variety of colourful rituals to drive out their resident demons. Followers of the Enlightenment believed that mental illness was as natural as physical illness, the difference being that reason could cure those with mental infirmities. Theory as usual, took a while to become practise, but by 1791 Philippe Pinel introduced the humane treatment of patients to French asylums. While chains and torture continued to be applied to mental patients in some institutions through much of this century, Pinel had indeed inaugurated what Dr Fieve termed the first revolution in therapy for mental illness.
But although Fools were persecuted in Europe, other cultures did not lose sight of the value of ‘Fools’. Whatever they may be called, they are still – in many cultures - celebrated in festivals and used as advisors.
An account of a Government Mission to the Fiji I slands, in the years 1860-61 – Berthold Seeman 1862
The Kaulau Rere which I witnessed with its high poles, streamers, evergreens, masquerading, trumpet shells, chants and other wild music is the nearest approach to dramatic representation the Fijians seem to have made, and it is with them what private theatricals are with us. They are also on other occasions very fond of dressing themselves in fantastic, often very ridiculous costume; and in nearly every large assembly there are buffoons or court fools attached to the chief’s establishment.
Musical Myths and Facts Volume II – C Engel 1876
The Negroes in Senegambia and Upper Guinea have buffoons, who delight the people with their antics and acting in processions and public festivities. Buffoons are popular even in Mohammedan countries, where dramatic performances are generally considered objectionable…………….. The real dramatic performances of the Burmese are acted by professional players, generally in the open air. The principal characters of the piece usually consist of a prince, a princess, a humble lover, a slave and a buffoon...... Morier states that in Persia the princes, governors of provinces etc as well as the king, have a band of ‘Looties’ or buffoons in their pay, who are looked upon as a necessary part of Persian state. They attend at merry makings and public festivals and some of them are endowed with great natural wit.
So if we summarise. Very misunderstood, often persecuted, otherworldy, unconcerned with anything material, uninterested in the concepts of wealth or possessions, often incapable of looking after themselves, they also show signs of unfathomable genius. As Aldous Huxley once said ‘barely viable’.
W B Yeats – A Vision
Hunchback and Saint and Fool are the last crescents
The burning bow that once could shoot an arrow
Out of the up and down, the wagon wheel
Of beauty's cruelty and wisdom's chatter
Out of that raving tide – is drawn betwixt
Deformity of body and of mind
Only the pure of heart are fools. They are almost incapable of performing evil acts. They are also often very childlike with considerable childlike innocence, gullibility and a charming naivety.
Incidentally any Tarot card portraying the Fool with his right foot forward is symbolically wrong and whoever designed the card does not understand the symbolism of the fool. All fools are symbolically or actually left handed.
One of the best films to show the characteristics of a Fool is ‘Being There’ which starred Peter Sellars as Chance. It was based on Jerzy Kosinski's English novel Being There which itself is similar to the best-selling Polish novel The Career of Nicodemus Dyzma by Tadeusz Dolega-Mostowicz.
In the final scene, as the party elite discuss their choice of Chance as their preferred candidate in the upcoming presidential election, Chance is seen wandering over the estate. He comes to the edge of a lake and then proceeds to seemingly defy gravity by walking on the surface of the water, and not sinking into it. Film critic Roger Ebert mentions this scene in his 2001 book The Great Movies, stating that his film students once suggested that Chance may be walking on a submerged pier. Ebert writes, "The movie presents us with an image, and while you may discuss the meaning of the image, it is not permitted to devise explanations for it. Since Ashby does not show a pier, there is no pier — a movie is exactly what it shows us, and nothing more."
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