Join Date: 11 Nov 2008
a FooL's errand
Every story begins with a fool, inasmuch as we choose to accept the story’s premise.
Consenting to be fooled by the storyteller’s craft, we allow ourselves to journey through imagined realms, relive epic deeds, and penetrate the mysteries of creation.
Humans, it has been observed, possess remarkable powers of self-deception.
And sometimes the fool is a devil in disguise.
In any case, a kind of trick is played - a method of fooling oneself into a degree of belief necessary for evoking the power of dream within our waking lives, weaving together a reality unto itself, no matter how absurd.
Neither truth nor lie, the fool is a cipher - arranging from a mere jumble of letters or utterance of sounds, an architecture of meaning we may choose to inhabit, or ignore. The story stands or falls on its own, an artifact of human interpretation that survives the ages only so long as we find it compelling enough to be retold. The lifespan of any myth as determined by our willingness to believe. And belief, though sometimes stubborn, has a way of adapting to novel conditions - changing the premise, hatching new stories, rewriting ancient themes.
Yet the fool remains.
A constellation known to the ancient Hebrew as Kesil, the “Fool” was in Jewish lore: Nimrod - the founding King of Shinar, where from the city Babel rose a Tower to reach the heights of Heaven. Midrash legend elaborates upon the Biblical tale, punishing Nimrod for the construction by pinning him forever to endless night, affixing him to the sky with the belt of stars we ascribe the Hunter, Orion - a FooL for all the World to see.
Opinions may differ as to what his Tower was meant to represent.
From a literal standpoint, there could of been a crumbled ziggurat from which the story evolved - a heap of rubble older than memory explained away with the words of foreigners and an admonition from above.
As etiology, Babel’s edifice collapses with a birth of languages, serving as rationale for the peopling of Earth and their mutual distrust of one another. Taken to extreme, this Biblical tale posits a wrathful deity, akin to a war god, who smites humanity for daring to work in concert.
Yet, during the time of their Babylonian captivity, the Hebrew changed their alephbet from a collection of pictographic glyphs (resembling the symbols still attributed their letters) to the sequence of box script characters from which the contemporary Hebrew alephbet is presently derived. Perhaps the tale of Babel’s fall is an adapted memory, alluding to this confusion of letters - an influence which proved to outlast the Babylon empire.
From an allegorical perspective, the Tower is poised precariously between our potential as a species and the limits of our ambition. For reasons unexplained, YHVH, having observed that humans working in unison were capable of achieving anything that they could agree upon, messed with our ability to reach collective consensus.
Does the 11th chapter of “Beginnings” portray an edifice whose construction must beget a fall? Surely, anything built to reach heaven’s door is doomed to crumble before the humbling power of the presence behind “the Name”, insofar as an ego confronted with the ultimate totality of all being would, in theory, dissolve before this realization of the infinite.
In this sense, the Tower may serve as a symbolic edifice comprising personal conviction - the architecture of one’s worldview as constructed through a lifetime. Whether demolished by mystic union with the divine, or cast away like corporeal form at the moment of death, this temporary housing is inevitably torn down every time it is built. In its wake lies the confused Babel of mixed up letters, spread across creation, concealing an ancient unity.
Survivors interpret the event from its ruins, unable to articulate an experience which, by its very nature, is beyond words - transcending mortal logic & reason in ways that language or text can only allude to. Without the pretense of assumption, there is no edifice of belief - there is only the eternal wisdom of knowing nothing. And, despite the ancient rabbis’ scorn, Nimrod, the FooL accused of building Babel’s Tower, reached heaven nonetheless. Being the King responsible for its construction, is he not also be the mystic for whom the Tower has outlived its’ purpose?
As icons of the Tarot deck, the Fool and the Tower are cues to consider the poetry of this myth - an esoteric riddle at the root of interpretation itself. Naturally, scholars will disagree as to whether this was intended, but that may be ‘the point’ - the only means of honestly appreciating the irony of Babel’s Tower among Tarot’s 22 trumps. It may also be why the fortune tellers have long intuited it a card of ill-omen.
Like the Chariot, and Judgment, the Tower is drawn from an apocalyptic episode within Biblical tradition - catastrophic upheaval of accustomed surroundings triggered by a divine intervention to correct unjust conditions. Nimrod erects a Tower in Babel that cannot breach the threshold of heaven, while Ezekiel’s account of the “Merkabah” heralds a prophecy of the First Temple’s destruction at Babylonian hands. His vision of YHVH’s “Chariot” portrays a power no edifice could ever capture, just as the Holy of Holies never truly housed anything more than a Name.
To behold the Divine, all such mediums are abandoned.
No matter how many times the Law is written, or the Temple rebuilt, they are always fated to be destroyed, as if to fulfill some allegorical purpose for the edification of future generations: a lesson written in time for any who would approach the throne of heaven.
“Judgement” refers to a different order of cataclysm, foretelling a resurrection at the fall of Babylon - an apocalypse characterized not by a building razed, but by the end of a morally-bankrupt civilization, the very context wherein our actions are appraised. Certainly precedent was already set with the story of the flood, but there is a thread linking each instance of apocalypsos depicted within the Tarot. The Tower & FooL, the Chariot, and Judgement each share in common an etymology rooted in Babel/Babylon/Βαβυλὼν.
As a set, they tear apart the boundary conditions of form from 3 distinct vantage points.
TOWER: a bridge between heaven & earth collapses, splitting the many from the one.
CHARIOT: the vessel of YHVH transcendent of his Name’s physical dwelling.
JUDGEMENT: the ethos of the World made anew, outmoded ways abandoned.
What cannot be contained by the Tower of human industry, or housed within a golden Cube of shared rituals & belief, is encrypted within the whole of the World - one whose divinity lies concealed behind the veil of perception, beyond the medium of perception itself. Where stories of Tower & Chariot view their events from afar, the opening of one’s eyes to Revelation bears witness to an apocalypse from within its’ edifice. The veil as lifted from oneself: Truth looking ‘out’ unto Truth.
Thus, a FOOL-
who knows nothing, is nothing.
A no account pun on Nimrod’s punishment.
And a cipher to boot.
He is a King who takes his place among the stars, ascending a Tower by Chariot to open our Eyes, revealing an ancient secret hidden in plain sight. Yet, to behold this mystery is to let one’s Tower fall.
Like a circle, complete.
tempore patet occulta veritas
Last edited by Yygdrasilian; 12-07-2012 at 15:16.
|12-07-2012||Ask a Professional Tarot Reader Top #1|
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Join Date: 21 Sep 2006
Location: Normally, one place at a time.
Kwaw has also written on Orion, the fool: http://newsletter.tarotstudies.org/2...ol-alef-orion/
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Join Date: 11 Nov 2008
A feast of fooLs
When the icon of the fool was chosen for the deck, he had long played a role in the folk culture of Europe that had meant more than mere idiot. He was himself a herald to the ludic rites of carnival - those feast days of medieval holiday descended from celebrations of dimly remembered pagan tradition. Presiding over time outside the austere norms of feudalism and orthodoxy, outside the confined structures imposed upon medieval folk culture, he was a master of ceremonies when church and state allowed merriment among the people, when authority itself was turned upon its head and made the fool.
It may even be that it was humor that guided the wordsmiths to apply his name to cipher, for by his inversion of customs he may also have betrayed the arbitrary nature of any code. His folly being our own whenever we abide by any rule. And, were it safe to assume a tradition of pun and synonym were likewise attached to this character, we might even draw connection to the Hebrew fool, “Kesil”, by way of Ensifer – the latin name for Orion's stars. For this 'sword-bearer' of Roman astronomy possessed the instrument of cleaving any metaphor from nothing: a blade which may part the opposing twins from whose juxtaposition meaning itself is made. Thus he implies a unity divided, much like the people scattered by a Tower's fall.
tempore patet occulta veritas
Last edited by Yygdrasilian; 12-08-2012 at 18:36.
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Join Date: 29 Dec 2003
Location: Nr. Ephesus, Turkey
The Hebrew root [SPhR or SFR] can be found in several Hebrew words such as for example those we find in the Sefer Yetzira [SY]:
And also of course Sefirot. The word Sefirot in the SY introduced a new noun into the hebrew language, meaning among other things 'counting'. According to Kaplan it is derived, like the English 'cipher' and 'zero', from the arabic a'sfr.
Outside of the SY, the oldest known reference to 'ten sefiroth of nothingness' is in a midrash of the latter half of the 8th century, when Hindu numbers had already been introduced into the arabic world. The age of the SY itself is estimated by most scholars as belonging to between the 2nd and 6th centuries c.e. Some date it as late as the 10th. In all probability there is an 'old' core text, maybe as old as the 2nd century. By intention or by error over the centuries it was added to or possibly commentaries included by error or intention of scibes. If the word 'sefirot' as used in the SY is connected to the arabic root a'sfr as translation for the hindu 'sunya' [zero], it is unlikely these references are prior to the 750's. According to some scholars the sephiroth chapter is the last of the additions to the SY, being added to the core text sometime between the 6th and tenth centuries.
The connection with the Arabic root sifr (nothing) and Sefirot seems on one level of interpretation to be made particularly clear in the SY which explicitly and always refers to the Sefirot as "Ten Sefirot of Nothingness" [SY 1:2 et al, though it should be noted BLI MH (without things) has several alternate interpretations]. If also goes on to say [SY 1:4]:
Ten Sefirot of Nothingness
Ten and not Nine
Ten and not Eleven
On one level and perhaps the most obvious is that we simply interpret this as meaning that there are ten sefirot, no less and no more. On another level however I believe we could also interpret it as:
Ten not nine = 10-9 = 1
Ten not eleven = 10-11=-1
Thus reiterating the statement "Ten Sefirot of Nothingness".
"And before one, what do you count?" [SY 1:7]
Language and history testifies to the 'nought' value of the fool, and the association of the fool with 'ass' (an emblematic symbol also figurative of nothingness, naught, a zero).
The fool or worthless fellow in 13th century french was called a 'cipher', a nothing or zero. In the (15th century) steele sermon 'nulla', worth nothing. The ass-eared Bishop of Fools was named Bishop Nullatensis.
In Old English a 'nowt' [from Norse] is a fool, nought and an ox [as Hebrew aleph is an ox and Ain - nothing].
In 12th and 13th centuries vagrants, worthless fellows and criminals were marked with a Theca [a circle with upwards chevron in centre], a symbol for nothing in numerical computations.
The festival of fools was also known as the feast of the ass. The connection between folly, ignorance and the ass go back to classical roman time, we may see it repeated in Boethius, possibly the vehicle of the Christian neo-platonism references we see in the tarot sequence.
"Dost thou understand, or art thou dull as an ass to the sound of my lyre?" wrote Boethius.
On good and evil fortune [a source for the idea of animal figures upon the wheel of fortune?] " Boethius wrote:
"In like manner, wickness itself is the reward of the unrighteous. Unrighteousness degrades the wicked below man's level. Thou canst not consider him human whom thou seest transformed by vice. The covetous man surely resembles a wolf. A restless, wrangling spirit is like some yelping cur. The secret fraudulent schemer is own brother to the fox. The passionate man, frenzied with rage, we might believe to be animated with the soul of a lion. The coward may be likened to the timid deer. He who is sunk in ignorance and stupidity lives like a dull ass. He who wallows in foul lusts is sunk in the pleasures of a hog."
Or as the King Alfred anglo-saxon version has it "And the dull man who is too slow thou shall call an ass more than a man." [as by Trans. into modern English by Samuel Fox]. Boethius Latin original: Segnis ac stupidus torpet: asinum uiuit.
Because Balaam was foolish, a foolish beast in the ass spoke with him, because he despised God Who spoke with him. Thee too let the pearl reprove in the ass's stead. The people that had a heart of stone, by a Stone He set at nought, for lo, a stone hears words. The Pearl IV. 2-- Seven Hymns on the Faith, Ephraim Syrus
All wordly wealth for him too little was;
Now hath he right nought, naked as an ass.
Sometime without measure he trusted in gold,
And now without measure he shall have hunger and cold.
Lo, sirs, thus I handle them all
That follow their fancies in folly to fall.
From English Tudor play 'Magnificence'
"Fortune's fool possesses no principles: these derive from the perception of sequence, the fit, the immitiagable relation of things...
"...To say, blandly:
Now then, we'll use
His countenance for this battle,
That eyeless head of thine was first fram'd flesh
To raise my fortunes,
All with me's meet that I can fashion fit, to say, in effect, that human beings are so many ciphers, their sum a point d'appui 'To raise my fortunes', is to make a cipher of oneself. For if a man cannot percieve the operation of sequence, if he miscalls it flux presided over by a blind and whimsical goddess, what is he then but a prisoner in flux.
The wise man for his part perceives that chance and caprice are only the facade of things. So perceiving, he turns hsi back on Fortune. He understands, with Plutarch, that 'as for the power of Fortune... it bringeth downe those men that of their owne nature are cowards, fearfull and of small courage'. He knows that, in all last things, Fortune's power is conditional."
From Shakespeare's Poetics In relation to King Lear by Russell Fraser:
"I am a diviner, but a poor one."
Last edited by kwaw; 12-08-2012 at 20:08.
|12-08-2012||Ask a Professional Tarot Reader Top #4|
Join Date: 11 Nov 2008
a fool's PaRaDiSe
In Renaissance imagination a medieval folk humor flowed.
The lineage of the fool in the practice of conundrum may provide our key to penetrating what meaningfully coherent designs lay behind the earliest decks' creation. A game within a game for the chosen and lucky few versed enough with their studies to read the play of puns.
In the spirit of carnival jest, the “zephero” may have blown with the western wind – the force of “nothing” exerted from that direction unto which the World turns. In addition to its symbolic ties with the Ox, the letter Alef has, like Zephyros, been imbued with the element of Air.
In Sandro Botticelli's Primavera (c.1482) he gusts upon his sister, the Greek nymph Chloris, as vines sprout from her mouth, growing out to entangle her Latin counterpart, Flora – a riddle in rhyme of the cipher behind the confusion of tongues. A commission for the Medici, this riddle is posed in an orchard of golden fruit. At the opposite end of the painting is a youth stirring up storm clouds with a wand, as if to bring the lighting bolt of Zeus down through the branches of the trees. Unto this direction, the allegory flows.
Beside Flora stands the goddess of love and beauty, Venus, in whose planetary aspect another golden fruit may be known. For, in her alignments with Earth & Sun, a pentagram is traced upon the ecliptic – a geometric form containing the golden mean at the heart of every apple. In the symbolic interplay of letters within the Cabalists' tree, this apple is found in the Eye of the maker - an esoteric secret alluded to in the name of Jewish exegesis, PaRDeS - an “orchard” formed by an acronym for its' practice:
Peshat, the literal meaning of biblical text.
Remez, its symbolic value.
Derash, the questions they evoke.
Sod, their mystic revelation.
Above the goddess, a Putto aims his arrow at the 3 Graces – a trinity of virtues who appear within the earliest known deck. Perhaps, like the cardinal virtues who roamed among the earliest decks' ranks, they serve to ask us where virtue truly belongs. As with the golden section revealed by the morning star, Aristotle asserted in his Nicomedean Ethics that they lay at a harmonic mean between extremes.
Is this why the Putto also aims his arrow where Lovers meet?
In another commission for the Medici, Pallas & the Centaur, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pallas_and_the_Centaur) Botticelli painted a curious symbol, one also bound to the origins of Tarot: Borromean rings embroidered upon a dress barely veiling the goddess of cunning - who devised a system of Justice for Orestes - as she comforts the wounded centaur, Chiron. And it was he who sacrifices his own immortality for the sake of Herakles – the hero tasked in his 11th labor to steal the golden apples of Hera's orchard. His constellation kneels upon the slayed guardian of those trees, Ladon, a Draco of “strong flow” coiled around the polar axis of the World.
When used as a cipher for the Hebrew alphabet, the numerical sequence of Tarot is in sync with a method of using the letters' attributed symbols as puzzle pieces that may be fit together to find the golden mean. Perhaps such a use of language, derived from an esoteric use of letters, informed artistic traditions in the Renaissance imagination - a riddle played out in the apocalyptic carnival of tarrochi triumphs - commissioned allegories composed of emblems whose meaning played out in the mythological conundrums of a fool drawing parodies from the fairy tales of antiquarian study.
Is, then, our fool's PaRaDiSe a mappaemundi for an esoteric teaching cleverly lurking within the artworks of the Renaissance and celebrated through the feast days of ritual calendar?
tempore patet occulta veritas
Last edited by Yygdrasilian; 13-08-2012 at 09:58.
|13-08-2012||Ask a Professional Tarot Reader Top #5|