Greater Arcana Study Group—The Fool


I looked through the study groups and didn't find one so I'm starting this one. The material on the Secret Doctrine was fairly heavy and hasn't generated much interest so maybe this is a better place to start. I'll post Waite's comment from the PKT and let's see where it takes us.

With light step, as if earth and its trammels had little power to restrain him, a young man in gorgeous vestments pauses at the brink of a precipice among the great heights of the world; he surveys the blue distance before him—its expanse of sky rather than the prospect below. His act of eager walking is still indicated, though he is stationary at the given moment; his dog is still bounding. The edge which opens on the depth has no terror; it is as if angels were waiting to uphold him, if it came about that he leaped from the height. His countenance is full of intelligence and expectant dream. He has a rose in one hand and in the other a costly wand, from which depends over his right shoulder a wallet curiously embroidered. He is a prince of the other world on his travels through this one—all amidst the morning glory, in the keen air. The sun, which shines behind him, knows whence he came, whither he is going, and how he will return by another path after many days. He is the spirit in search of experience. Many symbols of the Instituted Mysteries are summarized in this card, which reverses, under high warrants, all the confusions that have preceded it.

In his Manual Of Cartomancy, Grand Orient [Waite himself writing under a pen name] has a curious suggestion of the office of Mystic Fool, as a part of his process in higher divination; but it might call for more than ordinary gifts to put it into operation. We shall see how the card fares according to the common arts of fortune-telling, and it will be an example, to those who can discern, of the fact, otherwise so evident, that the Trumps Major had no place originally in the arts of psychic gambling, when cards are used as the counters and pretexts. Of the circumstances under which this art arose we know, however, very little. The conventional explanations say that the Fool signifies the flesh, the sensitive life, and by a peculiar satire its subsidiary name was at one time the alchemist, as depicting folly at the most insensate stage.​


Waite's description of the Fool always reminds me of the Prince in the Hymn of the Pearl. Here are the opening verses:

When I was a little child,
and dwelling in my kingdom,

in my father's house, and was content with the wealth and the
luxuries of my nourishers,

from the East, our home,
my parents equipped me (and) sent me forth;

and of the wealth of our treasury
they took abundantly, (and) tied up for me a load

large and (yet) light, which I myself could carry,...​

It is a beautiful Gnostic poem from The Acts of Thomas. It is an allegory of the soul's journey in the world of experience. The Prince in the story can be anyone. Among other things, he forgets his supernal origin and his reason for being here, but his father the King sends him a letter which reminds him of his origin and mission, which he accomplishes, and finally returns to his home.


The first line, "With light step . . ." probably owes a lot to one of Waite's favorites: Pseudo-Dionysius: "Then, freely and untrammeled by anything beneath him, he returns to his own starting point without having any loss. In his mind he journeys toward the One."

And this, from Waite's Azoth (1893):
And radiant on the hills the Morning* stands,
Her saffron hair back blown from rosy bands,
And light and joy and fragrance in her hands.
This is the Soul's awakening.
Now the Soul awakens after the manner that the sun rises,
for in herself she never sleeps.​

*Morning=Goddess of the Dawn, Aurora

“Eternal Youth is the consciousness of Immortality.” Waite, Israfel (1886)

The well-known poet Robert Creeley quoted Waite's Fool description word-for-word in his book, Pieces (1969).


Why is his wand "costly?"


Why is his wand "costly?"
Oh, he paid too much for it, maybe he should return it for a full refund, and put it back into his wallet. lol

On a serious note; maybe he paid a high price ( immortality ), prearranged agreement to come into the body ( spirit ) to experience and learn what's it's like to be human ( mortal ) and life.

Other than that, I haven't got a clue. lol


That is what caught my attention he first time I read the description - he's well dressed, his wand is costly, he's a "prince of the other world." This fool is described as attractive, intelligent and valuable. The dog seems like friendly pet.

It's very different from the TdM and Wirth decks, where the fool is more on the low end of society and an object of ridicule. He's dressed more like a jester, but doesn't look hopeful or eager. His pants are ripped or pulled down. The animal is threatening, and is actually biting the Wirth fool.

It reminds me of how Waite was supposed to be directly involved in the development of the fool, and his description is very specific.


I believe Mary found a parallel between the Fool and one of the characters in Tobit (one of the Biblical books in the Apocrypha), a story of which Waite was fond.

Michael Sternbach

Waite's Fool is somehow reminiscent of Siddharta Gautama, the Indian prince who left the royal court to become a wanderer seeking enlightenment, and who eventually became the Buddha.

This extremely trim Fool indeed doesn't seem to have any predecessor. In the Sola Busca (Waite's model for some of the Minors), the "Mato" is a musician - no resemblance there.

Book T is anything but explicit about the Majors. In the LWB accompanying the Initiatory Golden Dawn Tarot, Giordano Berti writes the only GD document that describes the Majors (although incompletely) is an unofficial one of 1904, written by Soror Quaero Lucem (Harriet Miller Davidson). Does anybody here know something more about this?

Besides aforesaid deck, I checked out three other "GD decks" (Wang, Cicero, Zalewski), and they all show the Fool as a little boy with a wolf and some roses. So perhaps that's how the figure was presented to the GD members.


The Hermetic shows a man with a wolf and flowers.