The Fool

fool-140229_1920I have a wide variety of interests, though they’re all related. One of the things I love is the imagery and symbolism of the tarot. As a folklore and mythology junkie, I love exploring the various symbols found in world religions and belief structures.

The tarot is full of symbolism, as anyone well-versed in the system will tell you. The beginning of the journey is the Fool, often numbered 0 or 22. In many ways the fool is like the maiden seen in fairy tales. He is innocent and naïve, and he just flat out doesn’t have a clue about life or anything around him. He can be reckless and irresponsible, and, in literature, he is often seen hanging out by the well of the village.

The fool is the zero of the tarot, the one that comes before the beginning or after the end. He is pictured standing on a cliff with a dog biting his heels. He isn’t aware that he is about to tumble into the abyss, and it’s doubtful that he’d care if he did know.

The fool can grow into many things. He can become the knight and the hero, and he can become the father. If he refuses to grow, he can become the trickster, a person who is so self-absorbed that he is cruel to others.

We find the fool in just about everything that we read or watch. In Star Wars, he is Luke Skywalker, who must leave his home and claim his destiny, losing some of his selfishness along the way. In The Lord of the Rings, he is Frodo, who has to leave the comforts he has cultivated for himself and step into the world outside of Hobbiton. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he is Huck, and in the legends of King Arthur he is Percival and Gawain, both of whom are innocent and unknowing until they have gone on their quests.

In the story “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” from The Arabian Knights, Aladdin is the fool. He is lazy and unfocused, and this causes his father’s death and his mother’s grief. One day he is approached by an evil magician, who claims to be his uncle. This man takes Aladdin to a cave and orders him to bring out a lamp. The magician becomes angry when Aladdin refuses to hand the lamp to him and locks the boy in the cave. Aladdin rubs the lamp and frees the genie, who gives Aladdin everything he could ever want, including the Princess for a wife. Aladdin believes that his life will be nothing but peace and contentment, but the magician and his brother aren’t finished with Aladdin. The magician steals the palace with the Princess inside of it, and the magician’s younger brother convinces the Princess that she needs a Roc’s egg in the great hall of the palace. This request angers the genie, and Aladdin is forced to act on his own before he is allowed his life of peace.

Still, Aladdin never really learns the value of hard work or fending for himself. He is always dependent on the generosity of the genie to survive.

The fool can show us the way to the divine. In many of his aspects he is like the child – full of unharnessed potential – but in the fool’s case it is time for him to choose a path. He can’t wander in the meadow forever. There are stories, like the one about Aladdin, where the fool can maintain his foolishness and survive by sheer dumb luck, but most of the stories require that the fool grow up. He must choose a road and walk it, learning a trade or going into service to others. And this is where we can learn from him. We all have to find a way to support ourselves, and, sometimes, we are forced into careers that we don’t enjoy. But we have to go to work anyway. The fool can teach us to view this as a necessary stepping-stone, and, when combined with the child, he can help us find a way to change our career and lifestyle without losing everything in the process.

The fool is also seen as beginning. He can be the first step on a path, or the first step that comes after the trial of rebirth. Either way, he is full of optimism. He doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘can’t.’ When the child encourages us to go with a new concept, the fool can help us take that first step toward a new goal. He can encourage us to climb the mountains to the divine or our goals, and he can help us get through the trials as we carry our Rings to Mount Doom.

Traditionally, the fool replaced the king in sacrificial ceremonies, and he was the scapegoat for all human folly. He was not a positive symbol, rather, he demonstrated how easy it is for humans to fail. He spoke of human ignorance and the refusal to become wise.

Meditation on the fool can show us where we are being stupid. It can show us how our actions affect others, and it can point the way to wisdom. He can also provide optimism when we are lacking in it, but his optimism is born of ignorance rather than knowledge. He can show us the foolishness of our thoughts and the ignorance of outdated beliefs, but he cannot change these things for us. He can also show us where we are refusing responsibility and failing miserably. On the positive side, he can show us how to pick up and move forward rather than spinning our wheels in a hopeless endeavor.

While the fool, in modern times, is considered a harmless figure, this was not always the case, and it is important that we remember this. The fool can help us begin a new journey, and he can show us where we are stagnating, but he must be used with caution and understanding. And we must constantly remember that the fool has no wisdom or experience from which to draw. He lives by instinct alone.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Fairies in Folklore

woman-1489175_1920Even though we live in a world where belief in fairies is considered quaint at best, they still capture our imaginations. From Disney’s Tinkerbell movies to the elves in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings to creatures in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, magical beings still have the ability to draw us in and hold us captive. But what are these elusive creatures so prevalent in our folklore and literature? There is no simple definition.

The word ‘fairy’, or ‘faery’, calls to mind tiny beings with an ambient glow, iridescent wings, and a trail of fairy dust, but the word actually encompasses a much wider range of creatures.

The most well-known body of fairy lore comes from Ireland. Here, the Fair Folk are descendants of the Tuatha de Danann, a race of god-like beings who arrived in a cloud of mist from islands to the west. They had mastered the use of magic, which helped them defeat the Firbolg in the first battle of Mag Tuireadh and the Fomorians in the second battle of the same name. However, while their dealings with the Firbolg were fairly straight-forward, this was not the case with the Fomorians.

The Cath Maige Tuired, The Second Battle of Mag Tuired, speaks of the Tuatha de Danann’s dealings with the Formorians, including trade and interbreeding. When the Tuatha de Danann were later defeated by the Milesians, they moved into underground hills and formed vast kingdoms where they lived peaceably unless harassed by humans.

While Ireland has the largest collection of fairy lore, the Little People are not restricted to the shores of the Emerald Isle; they are found in some form or another in cultures around the world.

In general, fairies are divided into two main groups: the aristocracy and the peasantry. The aristocracy, said to be descended from the Tuatha de Danann in Ireland, are tall and beautiful with power that far outstrips that of humans. Called the Daoine Sidhe and the Seelie Court, among other things, they live in their kingdoms and tend their cattle. When provoked, however, they react violently. Their arrows cause paralysis and death, and their touch can sicken and kill people and animals. They will damage crops and cattle, the same ones they help propagate when left alone.

The peasantry are more solitary and live in the wilds of nature. They are nature spirits who occupy the dark places of the world. One such place is the taiga forest, which stretches for thousands of miles across Russia. This is a cold place filled with wolves that howl in the night and elk who roam the frozen paths. It is also home to the leshy.

Descriptions of the leshy vary. Some accounts say they are tree-like in size and appearance, while others state they are tiny creatures that can scuttle by unnoticed. Like most fairies, they can change their shape at will, though their natural form is said to be human-like in form with leaf-colored hair and the horns and hooves of a goat.

In Zulu culture, there is a tiny creature known as the abatwa. This being is said to be a hunter who is small enough to hide under a blade of grass and live in an ant hill. They are self-conscious about their size, so if one comes across an abatwa while hunting, it is polite to tell him he was spotted from a good distance away. To insult an abatwa is a death sentence, much like insulting the fairies from Ireland.

If we move on to the folklore of Spain, Portugal, South America, and the Philippines, we find the duende. This creature ranges in size from eighteen inches to three to four feet tall and inhabits houses. While they are neither wholly good nor entirely evil, the duende is a trickster who enjoys tormenting humans. They will steal and destroy property when angered, and their tricks are anything but humorous. They will also torment villages when the mood strikes them.

From Native American folklore, we have Coyote, who might be more accurately considered a god. This spirit is seen as a nature spirit among other things and is known for his trickster attitude. While he’s credited with giving man artwork and fire, he is often portrayed in his more malevolent form. In this form, his tricks come close to being evil, and it’s said he caused misery and sickness to come into the world.

In Italy, there is the Monaciello. This creature is said to resemble a tiny monk similar in appearance to a leprechaun. These creatures supposedly guard wine and treasure. While the typical friar’s clothing is brown, the Monaciello’s is bright red. He lives in houses and takes pleasure in pinching the residents and stealing their clothing. Should the human resident take the Monaciello’s hat, he will be able to claim part of the creature’s treasure in exchange for its return.

On the more malevolent end of the spectrum is the Orculli, also from Italy. These creatures are masters at shape-changing and most identifiable by their stench. They are also cannibalistic and stories tell of them grabbing humans for a snack.

The list of fairy species is enough to fill several volumes, and many have been written, but, in general, they are creatures of magic who are very much connected to the natural world. As man has moved into these natural places, the Fair Folk have been pushed away, as they have no love of industrialization and the trappings of modern life. However, they live on in our stories and imaginations and have a special place in our hearts.

 

FURTHER READING

Appenzeller, Tim. The Enchanted World: Dwarfs. Time-Life Books, 1985.

Appenzeller, Tim. The Enchanted World: Fairies and Elves. Time-Life Books, 1985.

Arrowsmith, Nancy, and George Moorse. A Field Guide to the Little People. Simon and Schuster, 1977.

Bulfinch, Thomas. Bulfinch’s Mythology. New York: Dell Publishing, Co., 1959.

Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Oriental Mythology. New York: Penguin Compass, 1991.

Cole, Joanna. Best Loved Folktales of the World. New York: Anchor Books, 1982.

Hollander, Lee M, trans. The Poetic Edda. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1962.