Traditional Meaning of The Fool
If we take a moment to study the picture of the tarot card above we see the image of a young man about to walk off the edge of a cliff. Far from being panicked about this, his facial expression and body language indicate that he doesn’t have a worry in the world. He is almost prancing towards the precipice, unaware of what lies ahead of him. He carries an impractical little bag, wears clothes that look too fancy for walking far distances, and holds a single white rose, as if he has just been smelling the flowers and decided to wander from the garden to this location. His dog has followed him, either jumping happily along or desperately trying to warn him that “hey man, you’re about to fall off a cliff!”. The sun shines in the background, lighting up the whole card with its golden rays, and jagged mountains can be seen in the background.
The Fool is a card of promise, new beginnings, and innocence. This card speaks to us about embarking on new journeys and the risks and rewards that await us on those journeys. Many times in life, we don’t know what we are getting ourselves into when we start something new. Whether that is a relationship, business, school, or career – we often enter a stage in our life as novices, unaware of what lays ahead. We may be unprepared like this character, or we may have our head in the clouds daydreaming rather than using practical knowledge or skills, but just like this figure, we have to take the leap to get anywhere in life. Friends may try to warn us, like the little white dog, but if we don’t go ahead, we will stay stuck. So ultimately, this card is promising us a new future, a new learning experience, and a way to grow by taking risks and keeping our eyes open as we gain more knowledge on our journey.
Harry Potter as The Fool
Using the description above, Harry Potter is the perfect representation of The Fool from the Harry Potter series. When his story begins (minus the first chapter when he’s a baby), Harry is on the cusp of his 11th birthday. He lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin as a sort of unwanted addition to their family. He is treated poorly, but despite this, seems to maintain an inner good-naturedness and naiveté that is endearing to the reader. Strange things happen around him, but Harry seems only vaguely aware of the these occurrences until an invitation from Hogwarts, addressed specifically to him, comes to the house. His uncle tries to keep them from him, but they begin flooding into the living room in overwhelming force. As Vernon tries to avoid the letters, Harry is dragged along with his aunt and cousin to an isolated island in the middle of a lake. Hagrid, an envoy from Hogwarts shows up, tells Harry he’s a wizard, and whisks him away from his abusive “family”.
Just as the Fool hangs on the precipice in the card, we see Harry stand before the entrance to Diagon Alley. This is Harry’s first first glimpse of the wizarding world. It is the first time he takes the plunge and drops off the cliff so to speak. But where we really see similarities to the Fool card are at King’s Cross Station on Platform 9 3/4. In the artwork above, Harry stands amazed (and a little confused). He has his belongings with him, including his white owl Hedwig, but he has no idea where to go or how to get to the Hogwarts’s Express. Once the Weasley’s turn up and show him how it’s done, he takes the ultimate plunge and runs headlong into what seems like a solid wall.
Just like the Fool, Harry has to risk it. He has to risk running into a solid wall, going off on his own away from the only family he has ever known (even if they are total crap), and he has to trust that everything Hagrid has told him is true. Again, like the Fool, Harry has absolutely no clue what awaits him on the other side. He is going into a world he is unfamiliar with, one that he knows almost nothing about, and on for which he is completely unprepared. Harry embraces the Fool’s energy because he just kind of goes along with the change. He doesn’t overthink it, emotionally overreact, or hesitate too long, instead, he just kind of says ‘ok, let’s do this’ and runs.
Along with this is Harry’s innocence and awe that permeates these early scenes of the books. Not only does Harry not know anyone at the school or in the wizarding world, he has no clue who he is within that context or what he will be up against. Like the Fool, he is embarking on a journey with no plan, no context, and no goal. But as we see, this works for Harry. He makes friends and allies, faces and overcomes challenges, learns and grows, and by the end of the books, he is a full-fledged grown man with a career, family, and sense of self.
How Harry as The Fool Helps Us Read Tarot
Harry as The Fool helps us read tarot because as we think about his beginnings, we can think about our own. Let’s look at a few questions about Harry in these early chapters of book one. They are asked with Harry and The Fool card in mind:
- Does Harry’s lack of awareness about his origins help or hinder him on his journey?
- Is Harry an exceptionally brave person, or is he foolhardy?
- What would have happened had Harry turned away on Platform 9 3/4 instead of running through the doorway?
- What doesn’t Harry’s story tell us about the rewards and setbacks of taking risks, especially those we take blindly?
- If Hedwig could talk, and warn Harry of what was to come, what would she tell him? Would he heed her words?
- Ultimately, what does Harry’s journey teach us about starting on our own journeys in life?
How We Can Ask These Same Questions of Ourselves
As we ponder the above questions about Harry, we can turn these questions towards ourselves. This is helpful as a fun way to self-reflect, but more importantly, if we contemplate these questions, we can tie them into any tarot reading where The Fool comes up. Whether is for yourself or a querent, think about these questions when The Fool shows his face in a reading:
- How much do you know about this new venture/stage/journey in your life? Do you feel you should jump in unaware, or would you benefit from learning more first?
- Do you need to embrace courage and bravery to take a risk or do you feel you’d be silly and foolhardy to start this journey as is?
- If you don’t take this risk, what would happen in your life?
- What benefit could you gain from ‘jumping off the cliff’? What might you lose?
- Do you have anyone in your life cautioning (or encouraging) you to start this new thing? What part of their words or warnings strikes a nerve with you?
- Does anything about The Fool’s Journey or Harry’s journey speak to you about your own life? Do you ultimately think its worth taking the plunge?
This post should get your started thinking about The Fool, Harry’s journey, and your own ‘Fool’ moments in life. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear any observations you have from the stories or in how this helped you read The Fool card in tarot!
Next week we will explore Albus Dumbledore as card number I, The Magician.
Listen to the podcast episode of Harry Potter as The Fool :