Mar 2, 2014

The Fool of the Abyss

image of The Fool of the Marseilles Tarot Deck

When I walk by neon PSYCHIC READINGS signs, I think, "If the person opens the door and motions like they've been expecting me, then I'll go inside."

So, I've never seen a fortune teller.

Divination in general seems rather silly, whether derived from so-called astrology, numerology, palm reading, Tarot or whatever-else-have-you. Mind you, this isn't to say that these organizational systems are without merit, because some of them are quite useful when not profaned by cold reading con artists in the role of spiritual guide to the lonely and gullible of Earth.

Whether you believe Consciousness to be the primum mobile of existence or the culmination to-date of Evolutionary process, the inherent link between Mind and Matter seems stupefyingly obvious. Therefore, the notion of a Secret Language of Consciousness, or Logos, behind the veil of Maya, or buried in the genetic code of the species, is not so outrageous.

Adepts of Hermetic Qabalah and its countless bastard children propose to have stumbled upon The Lexicon of such a pictorial language in Tarot: that pre-Jungian blueprint of the House of Consciousness which incorporates the symbology of The Zodiac, numerology and the Tree of Life, built by a hand seemingly extraterrestrial/superhuman in skill, ostensibly with no greater purpose than to play a little game...

This Is Not a History of Tarot

Any intricate concept becomes instantly more confused the moment you introduce human understanding of same. The very genesis of tarocchi is the subject of much (useless) debate. Various occultists, usually with vested motives, have laid claim to "unique insights" into relationships between The Cards, pronunciations and spellings of Hebrew terms, all delivered by Ancient Spiritual Entities and Who Really Gives a Fuck.

If you're interested, read far and wide. There is no end to literary materials on the topic. Find what you like and what makes sense to you. I'm not so foolish as to say who is "right" or "wrong" about this stuff. I do recommend the writings of Aleister Crowley and Alejandro Jodorowsky above all others on the topic, simply due to the comprehensiveness of both authors' work. Particularly, Crowley's The Book of Thoth may be the single most enlightening text on Tarot's connections to possibly any and every religious or philosophical school of thought worth consideration. When paired with Dion Fortune's The Mystical Qabalah, another landmark text, the door practically opens itself.

My aim is to introduce at least the Major Arcana, one card at a time, with a brief overview of its significant themes as pertaining to the life of Self. Why the Major Arcana? Because, in decks which serve a purpose higher than novelty, the image of each Trump (except, arguably, The Moon) depicts human forms, hinting at the card's representation of a Mode of Consciousness accessible to homo sapiens, in actuality or as theory. In other words, the MA is an aspect of yourself or Self. Meditation upon the core suggestions offered by these pictures will yield vast rewards. Should one fail to glimpse the usefulness of such self-examination, one may feel free to quit reading this article now, but there are some pretty pictures to look at just ahead.

Everything from Nothing

alchemical illustration of the Everything in Nothing

People are always asking The Big Questions: Why are we here? How are we here? How can existence exist? Qabalah suggests that Life is, essentially, inevitable. For existence to not exist, there would have to be nothing, which is inconceivable. The very word we use to refer to our pathetic concept of Nothing betrays our inadequacy towards understanding it. "Nothing." "No Thing." The only way we can talk about non-existence is by referring to existence but there can not be Nothing, or, Nothing can not be.

But let's say that Nothing could exist. That's what it says in The Bible, which some scholars say is an oft-misread Qabalist text. Before it was filtered to fuck-all through repeated (mis)translations, the gist was that All was a formless void of chaos, or, nothing. If Nothing "existed," then it would be infinite, by definition. Infinity, by definition, includes everything. Qabalists illustrate this Infinite Nothing as three circles of Nothingness, which obviously interact to produce Everything. Confused? Well, that's why you're not God.

How I am best able to approach understanding here is through Crowley's mathematical equations: 0 = 2 and 2 = 0. The "2" is the addition of -1 (or, Nothing) and +1 (or, Something, and, therefore, Everything.), which any 5th grader could tell you adds up to zero. In other words, a concept of Nothing as the result of adding a positive to a negative is more useful to us than the concept of No-Thing. In my own words, The Universe is a balancing mechanism. The existence of anything (or Everything) implies the existence of The Opposite.

Why am I going on and on about Nothingness? Because these ideas are integral to and shape the nature of The Fool. Every Tarot Trump is assigned a number and The Fool is zero, which isn't a number at all...

The Fool of The Abyss

image of The Fool card of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck

Traditionally, The Fool is shown as a wanderer, clothed in rags, but seemingly happy, if not down-right delirious, in His obliviousness (!) to peril, through assault by an animal or, should the image be unfrozen in Time, His next step plummeting Him over a cliff. Why is He without care? My term, The Fool of The Abyss, is meant to imply His origin, not His place of residence. The Fool has escaped The Abyss, so any experience is a positive (!) one. 

Save for the profiling afforded by clothing, it is likely The Fool would be drawn naked, for His is the Intelligence with which we enter The World, "...the Scintillating Intelligence, because It is the Essence of that Curtain which is placed close to the Order of the Disposition, and this is a Special Dignity given to It, that It may be able to Stand before The Face of the Cause of Causes." That's quoted from the Sepher Yetzirah and pretty much means The Fool's thoughts never stray far from the Abyss which is His Mother, the Cause of Causes, and this dissociation from All is how, and why, He is able to carelessly walk the tightrope of Life suspended over the Chasm of Death. 

Every humanoid form in Tarot should be thought of as The Fool in disguise or costume. Truly, every person in existence, under their cloak of Personality, is The Fool. It's been said, "all The World's a stage, and all the Men and Women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and One Man in His Time plays many parts." The Fool is that "One Man." It is only the absolutely unique experience of every Self, or its history (His Story?), which leads that Self to believe it is an Individual. I think Rust Cohle might have said some shit pretty similar to this on True Detective...

The Fool is the Blank Mind at the Core of every ego, sadly experienced only in the odd "moment of clarity" in many adults' lives. The Fool exists without such dichotomies as Life and Death, Good and Evil, Right or Wrong. In tales throughout history, there is usually a Fool character, dispensing hidden wisdom or gaining advantage over others through unconventional statements or actions. It is a timeless narrative device, because it is based in Truth. Consider Andy Brennan, deputy of Twin Peaks, dunce extraordinaire, and the only person in the room to see the Owl Cave glyph as a map. Consider Karl Pilkington, an "idiot" given to occasionally saying something truly profound. 

Phantasmagoric Beauty

Without exception, every Major Arcanum painted by Lady Frieda Harris, under commission of Aleister Crowley, is the most beautiful rendering of each Trump. While clearly interesting to look at, I say this not for purely aesthetic reasons. Sometimes called the "Crowley deck," the Thoth deck is a result of one man's life obsession with all things spiritual and occult. 

Aleister Crowley's virtual destruction of The Golden Dawn is the stuff of legends. It's difficult to discern what stories are apocryphal but what's clear is that Crowley's grasp of the occult vastly outweighed that of the entire Order, though he probably did adopt several aspects of their system when designing his own. Sensationalism aside, this was Crowley's tantamount gift to the world, his ability to glean and assimilate the seed of Truth in all religions or structured belief systems, tying them all together into a neat metaphysical package that might as well have a bow and "DO NOT OPEN UNTIL X-MAS" card on it.

image of the Fool card from Crowley/Harris Thoth Tarot deck

Crowley's Fool is suspended inside the three circles (of Nothingness, mentioned above) left behind by one of several symbols of Life: the caduceus of Hermes, said to Wake the sleeping and send the awake to Sleep; the dove from Jesus' baptism; an obscured vulture, which, in legend, reproduced its species by aid of the Wind (Air signifies Intelligence or Mind in Tarot), also a sign of the goddess Maut, a precursor to Nuit and Isis (Note that "Le Mat" is the traditional name of The Fool); the butterfly, an obvious agent of transformation. 

The crocodile and tiger pose as two dangers to The Fool. The tiger is animal desires: lust and ego and obsession with the mundane. To submit to the animal mind is to forget One's true nature and enter into the perilous labyrinth of Identity. The crocodile acts as Death, fear of which could cripple The Fool to inaction, should He forget that Death is The Abyss which birthed Him. The Blank Mind fears neither Death nor the entanglements of Life.

The prism reminds us of the refraction of Light, the inverse of the concept of Nothingness diverting Itself into Existence. Light is another avatar of Consciousness. Our icon of Light is The Sun, placed over the androgynous (look at the size of that rack) Fool's genitals to demonstrate that Consciousness is the Seed of Life. All fertility cults, therefore, are cults of Mind. The flowers on the shirt of the Rider-Waite Fool above and the Dionysian horns here refer to this fertility. The Fool of The Abyss is the Phantasmagoric Beauty of Everything from Nothing. 

Those last three paragraphs contain enough information to send interested parties down the deepest of Wikipedia rabbit holes and I barely scratched the surface of meanings evident in the picture. The beauty of using Tarot (and especially the Thoth deck) as a filing system for occult ideas is such that integration of the entire framework is enhanced, facilitated and validated by the student's investment of time into research of any individual deity of major world religions, animal parables, philosophy of numbers, alchemy, etc. This is why Crowley's Fool is shown to be holding a sack full of Coins (or, Disks, or, Pentacles) imprinted with the signs of The Zodiac. To comprehend the One is to comprehend the All. To study the All is to study the One.

Walk the Paths

The benefits of focusing your mental energy on the relationships between these symbolic devices are beyond explanation. Scholarly study of Tarot is interesting, sure, but a purely intellectual approach to the cards is missing the point. This is a diagram of the Life you are currently living; you already live inside the Tarot, whether you realize it or not. So why not take note of some landmarks to help you find your way? Pick a card at random, sit, and stare. Follow your mental wanderings wherever they may take you. Eventually, harness your realm of thought to a specific vision or idea. 

Allow me to share one of the most effective tools  I've found for shifting modes of awareness. It's a kind-of short circuit to the Foolish Mind that I found through The Tiger. I had shut my eyes and opened my thoughts to everything pertaining to tigers: Chinese beers, William Blake, Buck Owens, The Jungle Book... Following the thread all the way back, to before The Tiger was an archetype, to why The Tiger is an archetype, to when The Tiger was the reality of walking through the forest, hearing a sound and turning to find orange Death hurtling towards your face. Live this moment, again and again, through serious meditation. 

Thank you for your time. Are there any questions?


<<< XI - The Aeon
I - The Magus >>>

Recommended Reading:

Dion Fortune - The Mystical Qabalah
Aleister Crowley - The Book of Thoth
Alejandro Jodorowsky - The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards
Naomi Ozaniec - The Kabbalah Experience
Joseph Campbell - Tarot Revelations
Paul Foster Case - Tarot Revelations
Lon Milo Duquette - Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot


  1. Anonymous11:33 PM

    Absolutely thrilled that one of my favorite writers is going to show the world a thing or two about the tarot. Thanks for taking the time to write this and look forward to the rest of the series!

    1. Well, many thanks to you and to everyone else reading this I promise that I'm not leaving these comments on my own blog.