In the vast majority of Tarot decks, The Fool is the first of the Trumps and is numbered zero. From there decks move into number I for The Magician and II for the High Priestess, and so on. It’s all in order and makes perfect sense.
Once upon a time, The Fool lived in between Trump XX Judgement and XXI The World. I learned Tarot with The Fool at the ‘beginning’ of the Major Arcana, so this placement seems very odd to me, at the far ‘end’. Then again, the Majors are circular. In the RWS arrangement, you move directly from The World into The Fool again. So really, when The Fool is moved to the ‘beginning’, he’s only been moved one space – to the other side of The World. What a difference a day makes!
When you Google the history of numbering of The Fool, you see statements like ‘the Fool is unnumbered. It’s zero.’ Now, I am not a mathematician, but it doesn’t feel quite right to say that Zero is not a number. The RWS was the first deck to assign it Zero, which means that in the Marseilles decks, it is the only Trump to not have any number at all. We go from nothing – no mark at all – to Nothing, the concept of Zero. That seems to me to be a substantial change to the deeper meaning of the card.
On the Tree of Life, The Fool cannot represent pure Nothingness because Nothingness in that context is the home of Spirit. It’s the ‘place’ on the other side of Kether, before even that Sephira comes into our awareness, even though when we do think about Kether, it’s less as a solid something than a not-nothing.
We want to discuss what’s beyond Kether, but we don’t know what’s there. We think it’s emptiness which, like nothing, is not an absence but a vast potential. To be able to discuss we have to describe it in terms of what it’s not. We’re working with material minds here, and where we live in Malkuth, the laws of physics, shall we say, are completely different. So if we can’t put a name to something, we can say what it isn’t: that Spirit is not material; Spirit is not finite; Spirit is not a dual thing, nor is it a one thing. We might define that place beyond Kether as not-life, and what we mean is not that it’s not alive, but it’s not life as we know it. Out of this springs The Fool.
The Thoth Fool looks like he’s leaping or falling through some kind of aperture. The perspective is similar to those pictures you see that are taken of a cat from the underside of a glass coffee table – all paws, with the body and face coming next. There are three rings around him that represent three levels of Divinity behind him – the Ayin, Ein Soph, and Ohr Ein Soph – three levels of increasing nothingness as they move back and back away from even Kether. Of course, we don’t know those levels exist. It’s a system that lets us discuss how something as divine as Spirit can change in order to become directly comprehensible. So even if we assign The Fool the number Zero and put him at the top of the Tree of Life, the assumption is that there’s still a whole lot more than that, beyond.
So what is The Fool if it’s Zero? Is it some lower level of the Ohr Ein Soph? It comes from Kether, so if we see Kether as closely related to Ohr Ein Soph, that might work to some extent. In some versions of the Tree of Life, Kether is considered to be still too Divine to be manifest at all on the Tree of Life. It’s still behind the veil. Even if we visualise Kether on the Tree, that concept helps, I think, to understand how Divine it still is. So if The Fool springs from Kether, especially if Kether is still behind the veil, he would indeed be the first appearance of something we can conceive of. No wonder the Thoth Fool card has a lot going on that’s hard to come to grips with. He’s springing right out of heaven. It’s blinding.
I was also thinking about what might happen on the Tree of Life before the RWS deck moved The Fool to the top. If the Majors start with 1, what I would (as a non-mathematician) call the first proper number, then things move around a little bit. Let’s put The Fool back at the ‘end’ of the Majors for a minute. That means, if we stick to the order of the Divine Lightning that we’re used to, moving from Kether to Chockmah, to Binah, etc., we would put The Magician on Path 11 at the top between Kether and Chockmah. The High Priestess would go on Path 12, connecting Kether and Binah. The Empress would move to path 13 and connect Kether and Tiphareth. And so on until you get to path 30, which would normally be Judgement. Here we would put The Fool, followed by The World – the only card that would stay in the position it’s in currently.
I don’t know if anyone ever worked with the Tree of Life and Tarot with this arrangement. It may be that I’m too accustomed to the RWS arrangement, but it feels awkward to me almost right away. The High Priestess just fits so well on the path between Kether and Tiphareth!
Moving the cards around like this would of course also change all the Hebrew letters on the Tarot. The letters on the paths don’t change, but if we move the cards, their correspondence changes. Instead of The Fool being Aleph, Air, it would be the Magician. Okay, that seems fine. The High Priestess would be Bet, House, The Empress would be Gimel, Camel, the Emperor Dalet, Door. The Hierophant would be Heh, Window, and The Lovers would be Vav … the thing is that the Hebrew alphabet is vast. I can see the Hierophant being associated with a window, and I can see the Lovers being associated with the Nail of Vav, since their energy is the alchemical dividing and bringing back together. It would be interesting to see what happened in Tarot, if those correspondences were moved along for the whole deck.
It leads me to something else I’ve been thinking about for a while: changing the direction of the Divine Lightning. Say that the lightning goes to the left first. The left pillar is the Pillar of Form. It receives and contains, and guides. The pillar on the right is the Pillar of Force. It shines out, extends, and motivates. The energy goes back and forth between them as it goes down the Tree of Life so that it stays in balance and doesn’t stray too far in one direction or the other. If the Divine Spark extends out from Kether to the left and into Binah, it would be received first. Honestly, it makes sense to me. What do you think?
Putting The Fool back on path 11 between Kether and Chockmah: if the Divine Lightning moved to the left into Binah, then The Fool would not be on the Lightning Path. Just as now with the arrangement we usually use, The Magician is not on the Lightning Path. If the lightning goes to the left, The Magician would be the first path on the Tree of Life. And this is really interesting because I’ve read about The Magician as the Demiurge – a god form that does the creating on the Tree of Life and afterwards. Not that it would be a second Divine figure, not at all. But it would be a concept that acts as a kind of container maybe, in the way that the Sephiroth are all containers. It’s the essence of the god we can picture, in other words, since we can’t picture the real One.
Still with me? Okay. Back to The Fool one last time and his number Zero.
I like The Fool being numbered Zero because Zero is both nothing and everything. It is a definition, which places him solidly somewhere at least, whereas having no numeral at all means he could go anywhere. With Zero, we’re getting somewhere. It’s the absence of something, if you’re counting (or getting ready to count) but also the vast everything that we can’t even put a name to. It’s a circle, with no end and no beginning.
The Fool doesn’t just act as the new or renewed cycle of the Majors; he includes all the other Trumps in himself. I’m sure there is some deeply hidden clue to this in the RWS Fool but this chaotic beauty is just right there on the Thoth Fool. How can you see it and not want to open your arms and catch him?
 It makes me wonder what might happen if we read with two ‘Fool’ cards – one before and one after The World.
 On these Trees of Life, the topmost triangle is formed by Chockmah, Binah, and Da’ath.
 See my previous blog post “Turning The World Upside-Down: The Thoth Tarot From A New Perspective”
 I’ll start a new post for this topic because there are several permutations we can try and see what happens.