Sunday, November 6, 2016


This blog is devoted to the 22 tarot trumps (major arcana) in the context of the times in which different versions of the cards were made and used, as experienced by particular audiences and card designers. This methodology assumes that the meaning of an allegorical image is a function of the times in which it is made, as understood by particular audiences and designers (I say "designer" rather than "maker" because we cannot assume that the two are the same.)

Before the mid-18th century, the only clear evidence of their use is in a trick-taking card game. However  the titles were used in poems and pageants with symbolic intent. Since there were also instructional card games, it is likely that the cards were illustrated with this serious purpose in mind. It has been suggested, for example, that the cards indicated a "stairway to heaven" following Christian doctrine. However, since much the imagery is also occurs in secular contexts, including literature in a pagan context, these contexts, too, are part of the meanings of the cards. There is no one context, in other words, by which to interpret these cards, since use in a card game by itself does not provide any. So the history of a particular card is one of shifting meanings according to historical context at that time.

My first foray into this area was a blog entitled  "22 Invocations of Dionysus," at, which began with Christian interpretations, then went to interpretations in terms of Greek and Roman writings about ancient Egypt that were known during the Renaissance, and then extended these to the context of writings and images from the Greco-Roman cult of Dionysus. I subsequently extended the range to include the contexts of Kabbalah, Pythagoreanism, and Alchemy, all from a 15th-17th century perspective. However the result is rather sketchy. So I have also written separate blogs on each of these perspectives, plus that of Plato as understood in the 15th-18th centuries:
These blogs merely look at how the cards would be interpreted given the interest in those other perspectives at the time and place of particular decks. However there is much that does not quite fit any of these specific contexts,; also, there is the issue of how these perspectives relate to the original Christian perspective, and how all of them relate to the tarot in its later development in the late 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. These will be my concerns here.

When I refer to a "Jungian interpretation", I do not mean only what Jung actually wrote or delivered orally about the cards, which is not much. He did attempt a study of them, enlisting the help of a couple of his students, but it did not get further than a few preliminary notes taken by one participant and one lecture, of March 1, 1933, in which he discussed, briefly, the trumps and, more extensively, the Devil card. From the notes taken by a student of a private discussion with Jung, it is clear that his main source of information was Papus's Tarot des Bohémiens, which included, besides many historical inaccuracies, small black and white images of the Tarot of Marseille and Wirth trump cards. For more on this point see Mary Greer's blog at For extensive quotations from Jung and his students regarding the tarot, see an earlier blog of Greer's,, as well as Gerardo Lonardoni at But in his lecture Jung said more in relatiion to the Devil card than these writers notice, for which see my post on that card. Others have taken up where Jung left off, of whom the most useful to me has been Sallie Nichols in her Jung and Tarot, written in 1980.

The current blog is being filled out card by card, post by post, over time. The date at the top of each entry is not when I first entered that post, but when I set up the blog. In that way. the tarot subjects will appear in their customary order on the right side of the page.  I will put the date I inserted the content, and the date I last modified it, in the body of the post.


This post completed Nov. 5, 2018.

The Fool before 1788

For the Fool card before Etteilla's introduction of the first explicitly cartomantic deck in 1788, I want to address three issues: (1) the card's role in the game; (2) its title; and (3) the images and their symbolism..

In the early years of the tarot, i.e. the 15th century, its main use was to play a trick-taking game, in which players each put in the middle one card, if possible of the same suit as the card led, and the highest card wins. In this situation, the tarot deck has a fifth suit, any of which beats - i.e. triumphs over - any card of the other four, and any card lower than it in this trump suit. (In fact the early name for the tarot was Triumphi (Latin) or Trionfi (Italian), and our term "trump" comes from this use of "triumph".) Given the nature of the game, this permanent trump suit necessarily formed a hierarchy, which in the early years had to be memorized, as neither the number nor the title was on the card itself. Since the Magician is card 1, where does that leave the Fool?

In the earliest list, that of an anonymous monk around 1500, give or take 25 years or so, the is listed last but also given the number 0. He also has the number 0 in the Sola-Busca deck, dated to c. 1491 in the same region (at far left). 16th century lists typically put him at the bottom of the sequence. In the Cary Sheet, in which many adjoining cards on the sheet are cards that also adjoin each other in the Lombard listings of the sequence, the Fool and the Bagatella (Magician) adjoin each other, too. (Unfortunately only the left half of the card has survived.)

On the other hand, according to the first published rules, in France of 1637, this card was described as having the unique property of being playable at any time, to avoid losing a more valuable card, while being able to take no trick, even against the lowliest cards of the four regular suits. Likewise Court De Gebelin in 1781said, "The Fool takes nothing, nothing takes it" (  He also says, "It is of all suits equally", because it can be played whatever the suit of the card led (Artice 3, section 3, in J. Karlin, Rhapsodies of the Bizarre, p. 36. Yet it remains one of the special cards of the tarot, as opposed to those of the four standard suits, and de Gebelin, like the anonymous 15th century preacher, gives it the number zero. So how old is this "wild card" status?

Starting in the late 15th or early 16th century, printed decks started having Roman numerals on their trump cards. Unfortunately no Fool card is among those surviving from this early period. In the 17th century, however, two complete decks with numbers survive from Paris, one Anonymous and the other by Jean Noblet. In both cases, and in all French decks thereafter, the Fool card is unique in having no number at all. In a game in which the trump cards have Roman numerals, there is no place in the sequence for a card numbered zero, because there is no such Roman numeral. If so, the "wild card" status of the Fool probably existed even in the 15th century, given the assignment of zero to the card then.

The card's title was first "Il Matto" in Italy, occasionally "Il Folle". In France he was Le Mat or Le Fou. Unlike the Italian "Matto", the word "Mat" in French has no other meaning except "mate" in chess, i.e. the capture of the king, a term that comes from the Persian for "death". Although some have speculated that the Fool likewise is a "death", in being sacrificed to avoid losing a valuable card, there is nothing game-ending about playing the Fool card. Moreover, the term was applied to the card in Italy before it was the parallel term in France, and it has always been a perfectly good Italian word, applied to persons roughly like what is pictured on the card. But to understand the title more precisely, we must turn to Italy.

While in modern Italian "Matto" and "Folle" are interchangeable, there may have been a distinction earlier, like that to this day between "Madman" and "Fool" in English. In 1821 Abbot Giovanni Romani wrote, in his Dizionario Generale de' Sinonimi Italianince writes of "Follia", a dissent to the standard reading of the terms by the Crusca, a society responsible for numerous authoritative Italian dictionaries (I am quoting from Andrea Vitali in his essay "The meaning of the word 'Tarocco'", with my translation in consultation with Vitali, at
Folle (14), dalla Crusca si fa equivalere a Pazzo, Stolto, Matto, Vano; ma sembra a me che fra questi attributi il più affine a Folle sia quello di Vano. Difatti la Crusca stessa parlando di Folleggiare, derivato da Folle, lo definisce Inconsideratamente operare, ossia Vaneggiare. Tale nozione conformasi alla comune accettazione, giacchè per lo più si qualifica per Folle, Colui che, leggiero d’ingegno, e svanito di giudizio, si perde in vani pensieri, emette ridicoli discorsi, si trattiene in occupazioni inette, e si abbandona a fanciullesche frascherie, per esempio: “In .... vani… . . folleggiamenti spender lo tempo” (Guitt. Lett.). Uno s'era messo a scrivere tutte “le follie e scipidezze che si facessero” (Nov. ant. 74, 1); “Follia non si mescola con sapere” (Dic. div.)

Folle [fool][f. folle / pl.m. - pl.f. folli], (14), for the Crusca, is made equivalent to Pazzo, Stolto, Matto, Vano; it seems to me that the closest among those is Vano. In fact the Crusca itself, talking about Folleggiare [foolishness], derived from Folle, defines it as Operating without consideration, i.e. Vaneggiare [prattling]. That concept conforms to the accepted meaning, as it is mainly described by Folle, one who, of slight talent, and lack of judgment, loses himself in vain thoughts, emits ridiculous speeches, keeps himself in occupations ineptly, and indulges in childish frascherie [foolery], for example: "Spending the time in ... vain .... folleggiamenti [foolishnesses]" (Guitt. Lett.). One was led to write all "the follies and stupidities that are done" (Nov. ant. 74, 1); "Folly does not mix with knowledge" (Dic. div.).
Then for "Matto" he has:
Matto (15), dalla Crusca non definito, nè definibile dagli esempi ch'ella allegò, è dalla medesima equiparato a Pazzo ed a Stolto; ma, stando però alla comune nozione che l'uso concede ad un tal attributo, sembra che sia un misto di pazzia e di follia; giacchè di ordinario si riguardano per Matti Coloro che, per qualche disordine avvenuto nell'organismo del loro cerebro, non più ragionano, nè più operano con quel giudizio e con quel senno di cui sogliono far uso gli uomini sani di mente. La Mattezza pertanto si può riguardare per una Malattia più estesa della pazzia e della follia. È però osservabile che nel comune discorso sovente si adopera la voce Matto colla stessa nozione di Pazzo; ed in questo caso i due vocaboli possono dirsi di egual valore obbiettivo, nè si distinguerebbero tra di loro se non per la circostanza che l'uso assegnò a Pazzo maggiore nobiltà di quella di Matto (16).

(Matto [f. matta / pl.m. matti - pl.f. matte], (15) for the Crusca not defined, nor definable from the examples that it alleged, is equated by them to Pazzo [crazy] and Stolto [dull-witted]; but according to the common notion, however, that the use concedes to such an attribute, it seems to be a mixture of pazzia [craziness] and follia [folly]; since ordinarily Matti are regarded as those who, because of some disorder occurring in the organism of their brain, no longer reason or work any longer with that judgment and wisdom which sane men are wont to use. Mattezza [Madness?] therefore can be related to a more extensive disease of pazzia and follia. However, it is observed that common discourse often adopts the word Matto with the same notion as Pazzo [crazy person]; and in this case the two words can be said to be targeted as of equal value nor will there be a distinction between them if not for the fact that use assigned to Pazzo greater nobility than that of Matto (16). )
In other words, "folle" is more the product of vanity than of mental disease, while "matto" tends toward the latter. "Pazzo" is a generic term usually translated as "crazy". That "folle" and "matto" both were used suggests in practice only a wider range of meaning than either term taken by itself, and similarly inclusive of both "Fool" and "Madman" in English.

Let us turn now to the imagery of the card. In the mid-15th century, whatever the practice later, cards with characters resembling the tarot Fool were not restricted to the tarot. One such deck is the Hofämterspiel, a pack of 48 hand-painted cards in 4 suits, the Fool as number 1, the lowest card of each suit. At left are pictures of the 1 of Bohemia, a male fool, the Narr, and the 1 of France, a female fool, the Narryn. The suits are named after countries and have the appropriate flags. The other countries are Germany and Hungary. The bagpipe played by the 1 of Bohemia, and also by the Sola-Busca "Mato" is an instrument traditionally associated with fools, who like the bagpipe was a bag of air signifying nothing. In Latin, moreover, the word "folle" meant "bellows", "sack", "inflated ball", and the like ( The headpiece is that of the Fool conceived as an entertainer, the court Fool, who of course was anything but, even while acting in a vain or stupid manner for the amusement of the audience

From the same period is the "Liechtenstein'sche" deck, which had five suits (the fifth is Shields). The imagery of the Fool shows up in the court cards, of which there are three per suit: King, Ober, and Unter or Unten. The "Unten" of Cups is a naked male shown urinating into a cup. The female Fool is the "Unten" of Polo-Sticks, walking naked with a stick between her legs, as though it were a hobby-horse. The "Ober" of Polo-sticks carries his stick on his shoulder, with a bag tied around it, similar to the Fools of the Tarot of Marseille tradition.

The stick is another traditional association with the Fool, needed to fend off dogs, predatory animals, and thieves that might attack beggars and the mentally ill, who were often forced to wander the countryside, being driven  from  place to place with no place to call home. The earliest extant Fool card, that of the Visconti-Sforza deck of the 1450s (near right), has such a stick. This particular stick, a rather formidable club, is similar to that held by Giotto's "Folly", c. 1305,  one of seven vices depicted in the Scrovegni Chapel of Padua (far right). 

In the middle above, the "Misero" card of the so-called "Tarot of Mantegna" (not a tarot, but a set of five groups of cards, each numbered from 1 to 10, on five different themes) correspondingly shows a man in rags leaning on his sick, seemingly oblivious to the dog scratching his leg. Or else he is too melancholy to notice.  This is the first of 10 cards of which the next is an artisan at his table, rather like the Magician at his, and the last a Pope. That Sola-Busca Mato (see above,the first image of this post) staring at a crow probably has a similar connotation: black was the color of evil as well as melancholia, and thus crows, from their color, took on the same connotations. Andrea Vitali, in his iconological essay on the Fool,,  quotes Cesare Ripa in his Iconologia, 1613, pp. 371-372, my translation in consultation with Vitali):
L’infortunio, come si raccoglie d’Aristotele, è un evento contrario al bene, & d’ogni contento: & il Corvo non per esser uccello di male augurio, ma per essere celebrato per tale da' Poeti, ci può servire per segno dell’infortunio: si come spesse volte, un tristo avvenimento è presagio di qualche maggior male soprastante, & si deve credere, che vengano gl'infelici successi, & le ruine per Divina permissione, come gli Auguri antichi credevano, che i loro augurij fussero inditio della volontà di Giove. Quindi siamo ammoniti a rivolgerci dal torto sentiero dell'attioni cattive, al sicuro della virtù, con la quale si placa l'ira di Dio, & cessano gli infortunij”

(Misfortune, as Aristotle writes, is an event contrary to the good and of every contentment. The Crow, not by being a bird of bad omen but by being celebrated as such by the poets, can serve us as a sign of misfortune; if, as oftentimes, a sad event is an omen of greater misfortune to follow, we must believe that following unhappinesses, ruins come by Divine permission, just as the ancient Omens were indications of the will of Jove. Thus we are admonished to turn from the wrong path of evil actions to the security of virtue, with which the anger of God subsides & misfortunes cease.)
That Giotto put Folly - actually, the Latin equivalent, Stultuum - as one of seven vices rather clearly suggests a moral dimension to the card; so does the beggar of the "Mantegna: image. Folly is the vanity of thinking one knows more or has more power than is justified, of drawing conclusions that are not warranted and acting in grandiose ways. In the Hebrew bible there is a saying (the opening line of Psalm 52, or 53 in Protestant Bibles) translated in the Vulgate as “Dixit insipiens in corde suo: non est deus, i.e. "The fool [insipiens] says in his heart 'There is no God.'" Presumably the existence of God was thought self-evident, if only from the grandeur of the world around us. But it is not simply an expression of regret that the dull-witted cannot draw the obvious conclusion; there is a moral dimension: it is not simply that he lacks intellectual capacity, he is morally reprehensible for not drawing it. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says (
The word nâbâl here used for fool denotes moral perversity, not mere ignorance or weakness of reason. ‘Folly’ is the opposite of ‘wisdom’ in its highest sense. It may be predicated of forgetfulness of God or impious opposition to His will (Deuteronomy 32:6; Deuteronomy 32:21; Job 2:10; Job 42:8; Psalm 74:18; Psalm 74:22): of gross offences against morality (2 Samuel 13:12-13): of sacrilege (Joshua 7:15): of ungenerous churlishness (1 Samuel 25:25). For a description of the ‘fool’ in his ‘folly’ see Isaiah 32:5-6 (A.V. vile person, villany).
It is also not a question of intellectually denying the existence of God. There is nothing corresponding in the Hebrew to the English "there is", implying existence as such. The same commentary says of the English "There is no God":
This is not to be understood of a speculative denial of the existence of God; but of a practical denial of His moral government. It is rightly paraphrased by the Targum on Psalm 14:1, ‘There is no government of God in the earth.’ Cp. Psalm 73:11; Jeremiah 5:12; Zephaniah 1:12; Romans 1:28 ff.
The fool looks around him and sees no God, i.e. the absence of God in the world, whether or not such a being may exist..

A similar point has been made by the Jewish scholar Ahuva Belkin ("Suicide scenes in Latin psalters of the thirteenth century as reflection of Jewish midrashic exposition“ in Manuscripta, XXXII, no. 2, July 1988, pp. 75-92, p. 75, quoted  by Vitali  in his essay on the Fool already citedl:
The Latin “insipiens” - a translation of the Hebrew “naval” - lacks the wide negative connotation which, in the original Hebrew text, removes the “naval” of the Psalm from the sphere of folly as a mental weakness and places him within a certain category of heresy. The biblical “naval” is not confronted - like folly - with wisdom as an intellectual faculty but rather with wisdom to do the right thing, in an order that harmoniously ties the individual’s life and social behavior with the principle of divine rule.
In the Renaissance,the same disapprobation applies to the beggar: if someone is reduced to begging, unless he is doing so as a member of a mendicant monastic order, it is probably because he acted unwisely in some blameworthy way, perhaps unlawfully, perhaps in not taking the trouble to master a useful trade, or perhaps by wasting one's money in drink or gambling instead of saving for a rainy day. In 17th century Sicily the title of the card is Il Fugitivo, which of course makes the personage morally culpable in itself: he is a fugitive from the law..

Gertrude Moakley observed that the Visconti-Sforza Fool had exactly seen feathers in his hair. That makes him, and Giotto's figure as well, the personification of Lent (The tarot cards painted by Bonifacio Bembo for the Visconti-Sforza family, 1966, p. 114) :
The seven feathers in his hair, and the ragged penitential garments which he wears, show that he is the personification of Lent, which puts an end to the Carnival season. According to custom, one of his feathers will be pulled out at the end of each week in Lent. The figure of Lent himself will be destroyed in effigy on Holy Saturday, when the fast ends.
Giotto's figure has either eaten too much or has become pregnant; either way, he or she has foolishly devoted himself or herself to sensory pleasure and now must repent and re-establish his or her connection to God. Moakley gave as her source Sir G. J. Frazer's unabridged Golden Bough, Part III, "The Dying God", pp. 224-225. These pages are online currently in vol. 4 of the 3rd edition. There Frazer describes the figure as of an old woman, with the feathers stuck in the fruit or vegetable attached to it; the head is not mentioned. Perhaps the fruit will be eaten after mass on Easter. This custom is still remembered in parts of Southern Italy, with the feathers stuck in fruit (see photo above, from Perhaps feathers on the head were Giotto's innovation, putting them next to the chief organ of folly.

Heironymus Bosch did two paintings of such penitent fools, each in ragged clothes and carrying a club similar to that in the Sforza card and Giotto fresco. In one (at left below) he has just left a house of riotous living, of drink and prostitutes, and he faces a closed gate, probably signifying that heaven is barred to him (Lorinda . In the other, he merely wends his way through a world of both joys and sorrows, as well as omnipresent death (the raven, the bones) grimly; here a stream marks the passage from this world to the next, for which there is at least a bridge, however uncertain it is whether it will bear his weight . 

The suffering of the penitent was also seen as a source of wisdom. In Sophocles' renowned Oedipus cycle of plays, the protagonist's folly leads him to honor Apollo to such an extent that he puts out his eyes and becomes a wandering beggar; as such, he becomes a kind of seer, in that he knows better than most what is folly and where it leads. A century later, but still in the Renaissance, Shakespeare would give us the example of King Lear, who descends into a madness that slowly turns into wisdom. Numerous Italian comedies showed fools getting their comeuppance, from which the audience at least gains the knowledge of how unscrupulous, greedy, or lustful behavior leads to ruin.

In this same vein the court fool would speak in riddles; what appeared as nonsense or foolishness would then be revealed as wisdom. Some of the parables of Jesus are of that sort, as well as numerous legends and folk tales. Shakespeare would turn one of them into his immortal Hamlet. On the other hand, some obscure sayings, if taken in the wrong way, could lead one to disaster, as with those told to Macbeth by the "weird sisters" of Shakespeare's play.

Directly opposite to the meaning of the card as moral defect, there is a certain affinity between the face of the Visconti-Sforza Matto and those of  saints painted by the same workshop as the card, that of Bonifacio Bembo around the same time.  Compare the Matto's face and two "Martyr Saints" attributed to Bonifacio or Ambrogio Bembo, c. 1450 (from Bandera and Tanzi, Brera Gallery exhibition catalog, 2013, p. 81). These gaunt faces of unfathomable inwardness are not the way saints were normally portrayed. It is reminiscent of pseudo-Dionysus's account of Moses' ascent on Mount Sinai at the end of his Mystical Theology (newly translated in 1436 Florence). He interprets Moses's climb as that of "walking the heights of those holy places to which the mind at last can rise" (1001A). But then:
...he breaks free of them, away from what sees and is seen, and he plunges into the truly mysterious darkness of unknowing. Here, renouncing all that the mind may conceive, wrapped entirely in the intangible and the invisible, he belongs completely to him who is beyond everything. Here, being neither oneself nor someone else, one is supremely united to the completely unknown by an inactivity of all knowledge, and knows beyond the mind by knowing nothing.
Ps.-Dionysius makes this point in another way in a passage in Divine Names. Citing St. Paul in I Cor. 1:25: “The foolishness of God is wiser than men” (865B), he explains (865C):
And here the divine apostle is said to be praising God for his “foolishness,” which in itself seems absurd and strange, but uplifts [us] to the ineffable truth which is there before all reasoning.
That the Fool card is without number seems to indicate its lack of confinement or limitation in human concepts.  This same idea runs through the later Platonists of antiquity: above the Platonic Demiurge, creator of the univrse, is the Divine Mind, above that the One,  and beyond that something else, which cannot be described in words at all. In this context, the feathers on the Visconti-Sforza Fool's head suggest the wings of a bird or angel, flying close to heaven.

The association to the divine may be why, in one of the many "tarocchi appropriati" - i.e. the tarot appropriated for other use, in this case a sonnet - the poem ends:
Per poter dire i buon tarocchi mej
Saran, s’avien ch’io giuochi, et questi uno
Vo trarre il Matto che ‘è cervel divino.

(So that to be able to say the good tarots will be
Mine, I have to play, and this one card
I draw will be the Fool, which is the divine brain.)
For the whole sonnet, see Andrea Vitali's "Tarot in Literature I" at

It was thought at this time, in the philosophy of Neoplatonism, that God did not need the differentiated understanding of linguistic thought, that for Him all was intuitive understanding of the whole. It was in such a state that the prophets existed in when they could see the future, of which words were a mere approximation. Such was the folly or madness of God-possessed men and women, for example St. Francis, who was called the "Holy Fool", or the "Fool of God".

Such madness was that to which certain poets also referred, for example Leonardo Bruni, who also was chancellor of Florence in the period just before our first surviving record of the tarot there. He wrote, in a 1429 letter that had "already circulated widely even before Bruni published the first version of his collected letters around 1440" (Hankins, Humanism and Platonism in the Italian Renaissance vol. 1 p. 149 n. 21):
For, as we know from Plato, there are two species of madness, one flowing from human diseases--an evil and detestable thing of course--; the other from a divine alienation of the mind.
And also:
This violent seizing and capture of the mind is called Love, a kind of divine alienation [alienato] and forgetfulness [oblivio] of self [in id], a transferal into that whose beauty we admire. If you call this madness [furorem] and insanity [vesaniam], I would wholly agree, so long as you understand that no poet can be any good who is not seized by a "madness" of this sort [huiuscemodi furore correptum], nor can God be well and perfectly worshiped, except through this kind of mental alienation.
This higher madness, paradoxically, looks much like the lower and thus is suitably represented in the obliviousness of the tarot Fool.

In Ferrara, for the d'Este ruling family, probably for the wedding of Ercole d'Este with Eleanor of Aragon in 1486, he was portrayed as an object of interest for young boys, as his penis dangles exposed and he doesn’t mind if they touch it, or at least pull down his underwear. The preachers must have castigated this image; we see his private parts covered in the otherwise similar so-called "Charles VI" image, from Florence of around the same time or a little earlier . Of these two, the d'Este image is certainly the more daring. The boys in that card are fascinated by the mature penis, while in the other they are engaged in the more socially acceptable activity of throwing stones. (7)

Such unembarrassed nakedness puts the Fool in the same class as Adam and Eve in a state of innocence, before they knew they were naked, and also of very young children, who run around without being embarrassed, and of animals. Likewise those of seriously diminished mental capacity were thought to lack the capacity to distinguish good from evil. The fool's cap, suggestive of horns,  become donkey ears in the "Charles VI", help to suggest the Fool's mental affinity to animals; the donkey in particular had a shamefully large genital member.

The Fool's nudity was given an allegorical meaning by Cesare Ripa, in a passage of his Iconologia (1603 ed., p. 478) to which Vitali has called attention in his essay on the Fool, already cited::
Stoltitia: il Pazzo palesa i suoi difetti ad ogn’uono, & il savio li cela, & perciò si dipinge ignuda, & senza vergogna.

(Stupidity: the Madman [Pazzo] reveals his defects to everyone, & the wise conceals them, & that is why he is depicted naked, & without shame.)
That those of diminished intellectual ability were compared to children was noticed by Aristotle in his work The Parts of Animals 686b (again it is Andrea Vitali who has cited this source), where, inaccurately, Aristotle's model for adults of diminished capacity was the dwarf (translation by William Ogle, 1912):
For all children are dwarfs in shape, but cease to be so as they become men, from the growth of their lower part. ... For even among men themselves if we compare children with adults, or such adults as are of dwarf-like shape with such as are not, we find that, whatever other superiority the former may possess, they are at any rate deficient as compared with the latter in intelligence.
Children's "deficiency in intelligence" is for Aristotle a matter of their immature brains, and there were also adults who kept this immature development all their lives. In a simlar vein is the Mitelli Fool of 18th century Bologna, which shows him with a kind of pinwheel that turns in the wind, including the wind generated by running with it. This toy was a popular amusement of children, as shown in a well-known painting by Hieronymus Bosch (near right above,  left wing of the "Christ Carrying the Cross" triptych, c. 1500). Children also, like Mitelli's Matto, liked to run with balloons; in the Fool's case, they also serve to illustrate the state of his brain. .

The Tarot of Marseille Fou or Mat (at left, Noblet, 1660s, and Chosson, sometime between 1672 and 1736, both cards with faded colors) combines many of the themes of the preceding centuries. He has the hat of a jester, the stick and pack of the wanderer, the exposed genitals of the d'Este figure (which later cards will cover up), the menacing animal, and the indifference to all of it on the Fool's face. Chosson, while obscuring the genitals, puts a stream between the Fool's legs, as though to suggest that he himself bridges this world and the next. It is a masterpiece of ambiguity. This antithesis between positive and negative perspectives on a card is one that we will see all through the tarot trumps. It is very much in the dialectical spirit of Ficino, Pico, and Renaissance Neoplatonism, in which one ascends to unspeakable mysteries through the embracing of opposites.

Finally, we must observe that the meaning of the word "tarocco" itself, i.e. the game and deck known as tarocchi or tarot, in its first known appearances strongly corresponds to the meanings of the words "Matto" and "Folle". In Piedmont of the later years of the 15th century there was a style of verse known as Maccheronea which mixed up Italian and Latin, perhaps inventing new words in the process. In a book of such verse, dedicated to Gaspar Visconti in 1499, there appears these lines, given to the poet Bassano Montovano (with Ross Caldwell's translation):
Erat mecum mea socrus unde putana
Quod foret una sibi pensebat ille tarochus
Et cito ni solvam mihi menazare comenzat.

(My mother-in-law was with me, and this idiot thought he could get some money out of her, so he started threatening me).
Here "idiot" is the morally pejorative term, not implying deficient mental capacity but rather the same attitude of vain privilege that applies to the word "Folle".

From around the same time and place there is  another use of the term, in a section of Giovan Giorgio Alione's Frotula de le dòne (Frottola of women), found by Vitali and cited in his essay already cited,
Marì ne san dè au recioch
Secundum el Melchisedech
Lour fan hic. Preve hic et hec
Ma i frà, hic et hec et hoc
Ancôr gli è – d'i taroch
Chi dan zù da Ferragù 
Here, according to Vitali the line containing "taroch" should be translated as "there are still some fools". The rest of the section has to do with what the monks (i frà, the brothers) do with the wife of a certain unsuspecting husband: this (masc.) and this (fem.) and this (neut.) (hic et hec et hoc). In other words, the husband is simple-minded, dull-witted, which is another sense of "folle" and "matto". So in a very historical literal sense the tarot or tarocchi is indeed the game of the Fool.

The esotericists Etteilla, Levi, Christian, Papus, Waite, Case, and Wirth

Etteilla had fun with the ambiguity in the card's position in the hierarchy. In the 3rd Cahier, published 1785, he gave it the number 0, but put it between cards 1 to 21, which correspond to the trumps, and those of the suits, of which the King of Batons was number 22. All 22, including the Fool, he groups together as the "Hieroglyphs majeurs", major Hieroglyphs; the suits are then the "Hieroglyphs mineurs" ( He says of the card: (ibid)
Nº. 0. Le Fol, ou la Folie; cette Carte est la seule qui n’eut effectivement jamais de numéro; ce qui revient assez bien à ce qu’il n’est guères possible d’assigner un nombre à nos chères folies (*13); signifie folie.

(No. 0. The Fool [or Madman], or Folly [Madness]; this Card is the only one that in fact never had a number; which returns well enough to the fact that it is hardly possible to assign a number to our dear madnesses [or follies] (13); it means folly [madness].)
The standard translation of "Follie" on Etteilla decks with English keywords is "Madness".

In the deck he published in 1788 or 1789, however, the card had the number 78, i.e. the last and lowest card of the deck. It is plausible that he meant to say that the 56 cards in between represent the various follies of humanity.  At left velowwe see a 19th century copy of the original, followed by the slightly different version printed in 1838 by the firm of Blocquel/ Castiaux in Lille, and the 1969 dual language version printed by Simon, the successor to Grimaux. Blocquel/ Castiaux added the title "L'alchemiste" to the card, as though to suggest that the alchemist was a madman. As we already know, such madness is not necessarily foolish. I cannot find where he identifies the animal that follows him. It looks like a leopard or cheetah and seems to have grabbed hold of the man's leg, but without reaching for the genitals as the Marseille animal does. This animal will have a few more metamorphoses before we are done.

Altough the card has the same keyword upright and reversed, when the card - or any of the majors - is reversed "alors le pronostic était moindre" (then the forecast was less). There are also the word lists constructed by Etteilla's immediate followers. The one published in 1838 says (p. 188):
Démence. Extravagance. Déraison. Egarement. Ivresse. Délire. Fièvre chaude. Frénésie. Rage. Fureur. Transport. Enthousiasme. Aveuglement. Ignorance. Fol. Insensé. Déraisonable. Innocent. Niais.
Renversé: Imbécilité, Ineptie, Insouciance. Bêtise. Imprudence. Négligence. Absence. Distraction. Apathie. Nullité. Vain.

(Dementia. Extravagance. Lunacy. Bewilderment. Drunkenness. Delerium. Hot fever. Frenzy. Rage. Furor. Transport. Blindness [blinkered state]. Ignorance. Fool or Madman. Absurd. Irrational. Innocent. Simpleton.
Reversed: Imbecility, Ineptitude, Carefree. Stupidity. Imprudence. Negligence. Absence. Distraction. Apathy. Nullity. Vain.)
After Etteilla and his followers came Eliphas Lévi, starting in 1856. He says (Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, Parte 2, 1861 edition, p. 354; Greer and Mikituk translation, p. 400, with my comments in brackets): 
  שׁLe sensitif, la chair, la vie éternelle.
Hiéroglyphe, le fou : un homme habillé en fou, marchant au hasard, chargé d'une besace qu'il porte derrière lui, et qui est sans doute pleine de ses ridicules et de ses vices ; ses vêtements en désordre laissent à découvert ce qu'il devrait cacher, et un tigre qui le suit le mord sans qu'il songe à l'éviter ou à s'en défendre. 

(שׁ‬  The vegetative [more accurately, "sensate"], the flesh, eternal life.
Hieroglyph, the Fool [or Madman]: a man dressed as a jester, walking haphazardly, loaded with a wallet which he carries behind him, and which is no doubt full of his absurdities and his vices; his disorderly clothes display openly what should be hidden, and a tiger who is following him bites him, without his thinking of avoiding it or defending himself.)
"Vegetative" seems wrong to me, since it suggests the life of plants. Levi is talking about the life of animals. Also, "Fou" in French is more inclusive than the English "Fool", including the insane as well as the merely foolish.  

Given the letter Shin, the 21st letter of the 22 letter Hebrew alphabet, the card is in a new place in the order, between Judgment and World, where indeed it appears in his exposition. He does not say why he puts it there. One possibility is that after the Judgment there are two places one can go, to hell with the fools and heaven with the wise. The card after this one, as Levi describes it (Ibid), is much like the Marseille World card. Featuring a crown, the four evangelists, and the figure of Truth, it would seem to indicate the way to heaven. From this perspective, that the Fool card fits the letter Shin is appropriate for two reasons. First, the "sh" sound resembles that of a serpent, the animal of Satan; second, in the Sefer Yetzirah, about which he writes in his next book, that letter is associated with fire, which of course is the predominant element in hell.

The identification of the animal as a tiger biting the man's leg comes from Etteilla's card. But Etteilla does not have the figure dressed as a jester, nor do his clothes reveal what should be hidden. Levi has combined Etteilla's with the ordinary Tarot of Marseille image. The point  about revealing what should be hidden is the allegory, already cited in relation to the d'Este card, given by Ripa.

Levi's follower Paul Christian, writing a few years later (L'Homme Rouge des Tuilleries, 1863, and L'Histoire de la Magie, 1870), was concerned to "restore" the tarot to its supposed Egyptian origin, which he recognized that Etteilla's card did not reflect, given the influx of Egyptian artificats into Paris by his time. So his animal is a crocodile, and the associated Egyptian letter is his supposed "Sichen", the 21st letter of the 22 letter Egyptian alphabet, obviously the precursor of the Hebrew. Christian writes (p. 110 of original, p. 110 of English translation)

ARCANE 0. LETTRE Sichen (S). NOMBRE 300.

S = 300 figure le châtiment qui suit toute faute. Tu vois ici un aveugle chargé d'une besace pleine, et qui va se heurter contre un obélisque brisé, sur lequel se pose en arrêt un crocodile à gueule béante. Cet aveugle est le symbole de l'homme qui s'est fait l'esclave de la Matière. Sa besace est remplie de ses erreurs et de ses fautes. L'obélisque brisé figure la ruine de ses œuvres; le crocodil est l'emblème d'une implacable fatalité, et de l'inévitable Expiation.

(ARCANUM 0. LETTER Sichen (S). NUMBER 300.

S-300 represents the punishment following every error. You can see here a blind man carrying a full beggar's wallet about to collide with a broken obelisk, on which a crocodile is waiting with open jaws. This blind man is the symbol of he who makes himself the slave of material things. His wallet is packed with his errors and his faults. The broken obelisk represents the ruin of his works; the crocodile is the emblem of fate and the inevitable Expiation.)
The introduction of the crocodile was undoubtedly suggested by the animal in the Judgment Hall scene shown in various Egyptian artificats, in which the heart of the deceased is weighed against the feather of Ma'at. He describes this scene later in History of Magic (p. 144 of original, pp. 123-224 of translation):
L'entrée du prétoire de l'Amenthi avait pour gardien un monstre appelé Oms, ou chien de Typhon. C'était un composé triforme du crocodile, de l'hippopotame et du chien, dont les Grecs ont fait leur Cerbère ou chien à trois têtes.... Au milieu d'eux se dressait une balance, dont les bassins recevaient séparément les bonnes et les mauvaises actions, figurées par des poids que déposait le divin Thoth, premier législateur de l'Égypte.

(At the entrance to the judgment hall of Amentis was a guardian monster named Oms, the hound of Typhon. This was a compound between crocodile, hippopotamus, and dog, whence the Greeks derived their Cerberus or dog with three heads. ... In the midst is a pair of scales in which the separately weighed good and bad action represented by weights given by Thoth, alleged first legislator of Egypt.)
Depending on the outcome of the weighing, and the judgment of "trente-deux juges" (thirty-two judges), Christian says, souls judged pure went to a "sphère de bonheur" (sphere of happiness), while those judged "coupable" (guilty) go "se purifier  dans une sphère d'expiation" (to purify themselves in a sphere of expiation).

It is in fact Thoth whom we see on the right, recording the result, the judges are at the top. This is confirmed by E. Wallis Budge in his book Egyptian Religion (London, 1889, pp. 127-129), who gave the number of judges as forty-two Those whose heart weighed more than Ma'at's feather were then devoured by the beast ("Ammut", the Devourer) (p. 143).  Christian apparently did not go that far, preferring to attribute to the Egyptians a Hell or Purgatory.  Its lower parts are those of a lion rather than a dog.

When Papus wrote about this card in 1889, he combined Levi with Christian and added something of his own, a precipice (p. 191 of original, 185 of translation, given here with a few corrections):
Le Mat,
Un homme à l'air insouciant et coiffé d'un bonnet de fou, la besace sur l'épaule et les habits déchirés, marche sans paraître s'inquiéter outre mesure d'un chien qui lui mord les jambes. Il se dirige sans regarder vers un précipice où se trouve un crocodile prêt à le dévorer.

The Foolish Man [or Madman] (Mat),
A  man with a carefree [or oblivious] air and wearing a fool's cap, his satchel on his shoulder and his clothes torn, walks without seeming to worry too much about a dog biting his legs. He heads without looking towards a precipice where a crocodile is ready to devour him.)
However the card that Wirth drew for the book has no precipice, but instead an obelisk, with the crocodile on the other side. This design is closer to Christian, of course.

Papus then explains the allegory (Ibid. with my literal translation):
C'est l'image de l'état où les passions mènent l'homme qui ne sait pas leur résister. C'est le symbole de la Chair et de ses satisfactions. Au point de vue moral les quatre vers suivants d'Eliphas Levi expliquent à merveille ce symbole:

Souffrir c'est travailler, c'est accomplir sa tâche.
Malheur au paresseux qui dort sur le chemin ;
La douleur, comme un chien, mord les talons du lâche
Qui, d'un seul jour perdu, surcharge un lendemain.

(It is the image of the state where the passions take the man who does not know to resist them. It is the symbol of the Fles h and its satisfactions. From the moral point of view the following  four lines of Eliphas Levi perfectly explain this symbol:

To suffer is to work, it is to accomplish one's task.
Woe to the lazy one who sleeps on the way;
 The pain, like a dog, bites the heels of the coward
Who, from a single day lost, overloads the next.)
It is a purely moral interpretation of the card.

There follow a few items that are more obscure, which I think are an elaboration of Levi's introductory words "Le sensitif, la chair, la vie éternelle" (The sensate, the flesh, eternal life):
1  Retour plus actif au Monde divin. La personnalité s'affirme:
Le Mouvement de durée relative.

2. L'intellectualité s'ébauche sous l'influence de l'évolution:
L'Innervation, — L'Instinct.

3. La matière du monde arrive au maximum de sa progression matérielle :
Le Règne animal.

(1. More active return to the Divine World. Personality asserts itself.
Movement of  relative duration.

2. Intellectuality is revealed under the influence of evolution:
Innervation [stimulation of the nerves], - Instinct.

3. The matter of the world attains the maximum of its material progression:
The Animal Kingdom.)
The reference to the Divine World is in keeping with tradition of the Holy Fool, otherwise quite de-emphasized by these esotericists. The second part emphasizes the evolutionary aspect of instinct, that it is a state of more primitive adaptation, and the stronger the less repressed it is. The third part emphasizes the opposite movement from point one, namely toward the animal level and ultimately the maximum disorder of unformed matter.

Waite's design, in 1909, finally acknowledges Papus's innovation of the precipice. There is no crocodile underneath, and the dog is a companion rather than an attacker. There is nothing to suggest the professional fool in his costume, but he certainly has a carefree air. Waite writes, in Pictorial Key to the Tarot (
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.
This is certainly a radical departure from, even the negation of, everything that came before, against which we will see the admonitions of Wirth later.  The Visconti-Sforza's club has completed its metamorphosis and is now a want. And while his Fool looks to the heights, he is dubious about its being the "Fool of God":
 In his Manual of Cartomancy, Grand Orient has a curious suggestion of the office of Mystic Fool, as apart of his process in higher divination; but it might call for more than ordinary gifts to put it into operation.
It is life in the material world that this figure is heading toward, not the divine realm, even if at some point he will return. Like the other esotericists since Levi, Waite puts this card between Judgment and World, even while calling it Zero and attaching no number next to the title on the card. Yet in meaning it is clearly at the beginning of things, or even before the beginning.

Paul Foster Case, in his modification of Waite's card, gives it the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, following the assignments of the Golden Dawn. This innovation of course makes the whole system of letter to card correspondences different in the "English" as opposed to the "Continental" esoteric tradition, because now the Magician is Beth and so on. However it is in conformity with the way the card was seen by the writers of the "tarocchi appropriati" lists of subjects in the 16th century. Case does not put the card only at the beginning, however. This is because while "no-thing" precedes the series, "no-thing" also follows it, and "no-thing" is between successive members of the series. He says (Tarot Fundamentals, 1936, Lesson 2 p. 8):
Thus the zero Key of Tarot represents
1, What precedes the series;
2. What follows it;
3, What may be thought of as occupying the place of mediator between any two consecutive members ef the series.
Moreover, the O "is separated from the other number symbols because it is not really in the sequence of manifested appearances" (Ibid).

For Case the zero associates this card with the Absolute (Ibid, Lesson 3 pp. 1-2):
Key 0 represents the manner in which the Absolute presents itself to the minds of the wise. The Absolute is THAT concerning which nothing nay be positively affirmed. You cannot define it, because it transcends our finite comprehension. You may call it the Rootless Root of all being, or the Causeless Cause of all that is, but these words, or any others we may employ, merely point our minds toward the Absolute, without at all adding to our positive Knowledge concerning it. Speculation as to its essential nature is futile. We shall be much better occupied if we turn our thought toward a consideration of the ways in which the Absolute manifests itself.

Among names which have been given to this manifestation are: Life-power; the One Force; Limitless Light; L.V.X.; the One Thing; the Primal Will....
There follows much discussion of this "Life-power" and "Primal Will", of which I give a couple of representative quotations (from 3-2, 3-3 and 3-8):
The Life-power is NO-THING. It is nothing we can define, nothing we can measure. Yet it really IS, and it is limitless.
The Life-power has within it all possibilities. All manifestation, every object, every force in the universe is a manifestation of the one Life-power. Because its possibilities aretruly limitless, it may be specialized in any particular form of expression the human mindcan clearly conceive. Many extraordinary results may be achieved by purely mental means.
The Life-power is forever young, forever in the morning of its might, forever on the verge of the abyss of manifestation. It always faces unknown possibilities of self-expression transcending any height it may have reached.
In the Sefer Yetzirah the letter Aleph is associated with the element of air. So Case emphasizes the role of air in stimulating the life-power: it is in the breaths that we take, and here he notes the Latin follis (folle is the accusative), meaning "bag of wind", and so related to a "wind-bag", i.e. a "noisy, silly person", but also meaning "bellows", the instrument by which one stirs up a fire. Air is also essential to the act of photosynthesis in plants. It also exists on various levels: besides plant-energy (the green leggings) there is the animal energy of the dog and the red feather, which leads toward the heights, i.e. "cosmic consciousness", symbolized by the radiant energy of the sun.

In this respect, Case says, the dog represents intellect and is friendly to the seeker, unlike in ages past when it was considered inimical to spiritual progress (3-9).
In some of the oider exoteric versions of Key 0, the dog bites the Fool’s leg. When the Tarot Keys were first invented, the intelectual consciousness of humanity, distorted by centuries ef wrong thinking, was actively inimical to spiritual philosophy, and did all it could to impede the progress of higher truths.
Case also associates the card with the Crown on the Tree of Life, i.e. Kether (Lesson 4 p. 1), which transmits energy downward from the heights. The bag then  contains the tools the seeker will need, that is (4-4),
the powers of subconsciousness which depend from, or upon, the self-conscious power of analysis and calculation
of which the chief is memory, which is essentilly reproductive. Hence the symbols on the wallet: an eagle, for the power of subconscous desires, identified with the zodiacal sign of Scorpio (associated by the occultists with the eagle), and the "eye of Horus", which means sight, both conscious and subconscious.

Case has much more to say, but this should be enough to convey the general idea.

Wirth's reflections on the card (at left, the 1927 version) are oddly like Case's, but with a different tone. For him the Fool is indeed a fool, and he approaches the Nothingness of the crocodile's gullet (corresponding to Waite's and Case's precipice) with considerable foolhardiness. Wirth says (Le Tarot des Images du Moyen Age, 1927, pp. 222-223; 1980 translation, The Tarot of the Magicians, pp. 153-154, my correction in brackets):
Les yeux perdus dans le vague des nuages, l'insensé poursuit sa route au hazard de ses impulsions, sans se demander où il va. De sa main gauche, le Fou maintient sur son épaule droite une courte trique grossièrement équarrie à laquelle pend une besace renfermant son trésor de sottises et d'insanités, que soutient une extravangante idéalité, d'où la couleur bleue du deuxième bâton.
(With his eyes lost in the emptiness of the clouds, the foolish man continues haphazardly on his way, following his impulses without wondering where he is going. With his left hand the Fool holds on his [right] shoulder a short, roughly hewn cudgel, from which hangs a bag. his treasure of odd and useless belongings. This sustains a wild idealism, hence the colour blue of the second stick.)
He warns, thinking of Moses' desire to see the face of God (original p. 223, translation p.154, my correction in brackets):
L'infini n'est pas de notre compétence, et quand nous essayons de l'aborder, fatalement  nous déraisonnons. Guardons-nous donc de suivre le Fou, qui, mordu au mullet fauche per un lynx blanc, est contraint de marcher sans  arrèterm car la course de ce Juif errant est sans but ni objectif. Elle se poursuit indéfiniment en pure perte.
(The infinite is not yet within our powers of understanding, so that when we try to approach it, we are in danger of a fatal loss of reason. So let us be careful when following the Fool, who, bitten on his left calf by a white lynx, must perforce walk continuously, for the course of the [this] wandering Jew has no aim or objective.
The crocodile serves to "dévorer ce qui doit retourner au chaos, c'est à dire à la substance primordiale dont est issu le Monde coordinné ("devour whatever is destined to return to [the] chaos, that is, to the primeval substance from which the ordered world was born"). As for the animal behind the Fool (original pp. 223-224; translation p. 154, my correction in brackets):
Symbole de lucidité consciente et du remords qui s'attache aux fautes commises, le lynx retiendrait un être capable de discernement; mais, loin d'arrêter le Fou, la morsure hâte son achemeniment vers son inéluctable destinée. [...] Le fou représente, en effet, tout ce qui est au-delà du domainte intelligible, donc l'Infini extérieur  au fini, l'absolu enveloppant le relatif. Il est Apsou, l'abîme sans fond, l'ancêtre des dieux, que ceux-ci reléguèrent hors du Monde, lorsqu'ils résolurent de se créer un empire.
As a symbol of conscious lucidity and of remorse for faults committed, the lynx would restrain a person capable of discretion [discernment]; but far from stopping the fool, the lynx hastens his course towards his inevitable destiny.  ... In fact the Fool represents all that is beyond the sphere of the intelligible, hence the Infinite outside the finite, the absolute enclosing the relative. He is Apsu, the bottomless deep, the ancestor of the gods, who were sent by those same gods outside the World when they resolved to create supreme power for themselves.
Apsu is one of two original gods in Babylonian mythology, along with his consort Timat. Their children rebel against their parents to usurp lordship. The chief slayer is Marduk, god of storms, who then forms the heavens and the earth from his mother's corpse.

Wirth concludes (original pp. 224-225, trans. p. 154):
Le sage ne saurait être dupe des mots; loin d'objectiver extérieurement la négation verbele de l'Être, il cherche le Fou en lui-même, en prenant conscience du vide de l'étroite personnalité humaine, qui tient tant de place dans nos pauvres préoccupations.
The wise man cannot be fooled by words. Far from an exterior objectifying of the verbal negation of Being, he seeks the Fool within himself, becoming conscious of the emptiness of the narrow human personality, which is so prominent in our poor concerns. Let us learn that we are nothing and the Tarot will have instructed us in its deepest lesson.
Wirth and Case are the pessimist and optimist sides of the same viewpoint. Both identify the Fool with Nothingness. But for Wirth, that associates the card with tne En Sof of the Kabbalists, which somehow is the background on which the Tree of Life is made manifest. For Case, the card is related to Kether, the Crown on top of the Tree. That makes a difference. "Primal will" and "Power of life" can be invested by Wirth in the Magician, whom Wirth associates with Kether, rather than the Fool.

For the one, it is also the final card in the sequence, a humbling awareness after all else of our own emptiness and vanity. For the other, it is the first card, the 0 before the 1, and so the ground of all possibilities, all action, thus our very freedom itself.

Jungian Interpretations

Sallie Nichols’ Jung and Tarot (Weiser 1980), in her chapter on the Fool, makes a several explicit connections to Jungian psychology, although she only quotes Jung once, near the end of the chapter (C. G. Jung, Collected Works, vol. 11, para. 391, English trans. p. 259):
The ego stands to the self as the moved to the mover, or as object to subject. ... The self, like the unconscious, is an a priori existent out of which the ego evolves. It is, so to speak, an unconscious prefiguration of the ego. It is not I who create myself, rather I happen to myself.
Nichols comments (p. 42):
The Fool’s iridescence cannot be caught and impaled on words. But the above quotation seems to capture at least some of his dancing colors. Let us say that the Tarot Fool is the self as an unconscious prefiguration of the ego.
This seems to put the Fool at the beginning of the individuation process rather than at the end, when the ego is already formed. But of course the Jungian self is not only a prefiguration of the ego; as the totality of conscious and unconscious united into a single connected whole, it is at the end as well.

Nichols brings out this point in another reference to Jung’s writings, namely his analysis of the flying saucer phenomenon, the sightings of which were increasingly reported at the time. What is relevant is their circular shape, which for Jung corresponds to the self, so that the sightings suggested that a “new image of wholeness is about to burst into consciousness”, as Nichols puts it (Ibid, p. 41). The circular shape relates to zero, the Fool’s number, which has the form of a circle. But a circle really has no beginning or end, and can also be seen as having both. Nichols says (Ibid):
The idea of the circle as both the beginning and the end of the journey is symbolically expressed by the Uroborus, or Tail Eater, that mythical snake who creates, feeds on, and transforms himself by swallowing his tail. The circular form stands for the original state of unconscious nature, the primeval womb before the creation of the opposites and for the state of wholeness, the union of the opposites, desired at the end of the journey.
One example is at right, from a 10th century Greek manuscript. The words in the middle mean "The One is the All". 16th century alchemical versions usually had a dragon rather than a snake.

But the area of the Fool lies neither in the center nor the circumference of that circle, but in the whole empty space within it. She quotes Lao-tzu: “We make vessels of clay, but their true nature is in the emptiness within”. She adds (Ibid):
To contact this natural emptiness again, to replenish our spirit from its inexhaustible well of silence, this is the object of most meditation exercises. We cannot find a new creative word until we have plumbed the primal silence that existed before the first Word of Creation.
In part to illustrate the point, she reproduces a famous painting by William Blake, The Ancient of Days (Library of Congress version at left), where the inside of the circle is occupied by God. With the compasses he is drawing another circle and creating the ego-world below, in time and space. God, the "primal silence," is beyond time and space.

In that sense, too, I would add, the “primal silence” is within, inaccessible to consciousness. Jung in Mysterium Coniunctionis called it the “unus mundus”, the one reality that unites soul and body. It is also that which is manifested in the very small and the very big, described by quantum mechanics and relativity theory, and may be what is behind so-called psychic phenomena: ESP, astral travel, etc., as well as the synchronicities of everyday experience.

In one place Nichols says the Fool is the archetypal wanderer. What she means is that he has reduced his possessions to what will fit into a piece of cloth, and seems happy anyway, perhaps happier than one for whom possessions have become a taskmaster to whom one is bound. He irritates us; since he is not bound by the social conventions that keep us in possession of our goods. I would add that we also see him as a threat, since cannot be so easily pinned down. But he also liberates us, in the sense of helping us to realize that possessions are just “stuff”.

In another place Nichols relates the Fool to the archetypal Trickster-Hero in fairy tales (p. 34):
It seems evident that the Fool, as Trickster-Hero, can play good or bad tricks, depending on one’s point of view. To quote Marie Louise von Franz: such a figure, “half a devil and half a savior either destroyed, reformed, or transformed at the end of the story”.
This quote is in von Franz's "Interpretation of Fairy Tales": In full it reads (p. 58 of revised edition, 1996):
Then there is the hero-trickster figure, who plays good and bad tricks, and who not only frees his people but at the same time gets them into difficulties; he helps certain people and destroys others by mistake or by thoughtlessness, so he is half a devil and half a savior, and again he is either destroyed, reformed, or transformed at the end of the story.  
For Nichols the tarot sequence is such a story, starting with the “mad conglomeration of energies symbolized by the prancing dancer of card zero” and ending with the “serene dancer moving to the harmony of the spheres” of the World card (Nichols, op. cit., p 34).

So how is the Fool a trickster, and how a hero? How he is a devil, and how a savior? And what archetype is that, unifying both? Or are these merely potentialities, to be realized in later cards? Or projections of our own defenses, as when we prejudge the homeless person as a threat? Here is a summary of Nichols' answer.

The Trickster label applies to the perpetrator of “April Fool” jokes: he is the one who makes us aware of our own failures of judgment: we think one thing, and he reveals it to be something else. As the comedian of the medieval courts, he is also a master of the double meaning. He is also the butt of such jokes: he schemes confidently and then falls on his face. In that way he moves us from unconsciousness to consciousness, consciously or unconsciously. He is a devil when he schemes, and a savior when he brings us gently to consciousness of our own foibles. It is then that we know that we ourselves are the agent of our undoing, like the snake that bites its own tail. 

Nichols' analysis unifies such disparate images as the Swiss jester-fool (far right), who gives us the hand-symbol for “cuckold” (like the “taroch” of the 15th century Frottola of Women mentioned earlier) and the pitiable Visconti-Sforza Fool (near right), whose abject condition is a lesson to us and a bringer of consciousness to him.  In that way we see that the circle that defines our consciousness is itself included in a larger circle – if it makes sense to define it in terms of a geometric figure at all – of other beings and their circles, unconscious as well as conscious. In that way he is both beginning and end - or perhaps, as Case puts it,  before the beginning and after the end - as well as the mediator in relating to the steps on the ladder to our own experience.

But what about the Madman, i.e. the mentally ill person, who even in the Renaissance was recognized as suffering from a disorder in mental processing rather than moral failings? Nichols is silent on this question, perhaps misled by the meaning of “Fool” in modern English, which usually does not include the mentally ill. Here the allegory can be the traditional likeness of the confusion of one who inherently cannot make the discriminations of consciousness to the non-linguistic, all-at-once consciousness of the God of Christian Neoplatonism.

But there is also the person previously normal who develops a mental illness, with visual, oral, or olfactory hallucinations, or strange beliefs or fixations. Jung actually treated such patients when he was in residence at a Swiss mental hospital, and developed his theories in part from that experience. There is in mental disturbances a regressive component, to the pre-ego state of participation mystique with the mother, for example, or to that of an immature ego, who reconstructs the happier days of childhood, or reverts to a former rough-and-tumble survival mode. In fact, according to Jung, such modes of behavior do not have to have been part of one's personal history, as they are part of the inheritance of the human race, the "collective unconscious". To that extent there is in fact a moral basis to the illness, in that it involves an inability/unwillingness (it is hard to distinguish the two) to face one’s circumstances in accord with one's highest level of understanding. A person on that level may know perfectly well that the people around one from whom one gets support are not one’s parents and siblings, while insisting to all and sundry that they are. Becoming mentally ill is one way of avoiding an intractable situation in the present.

In other cases, of revisiting an old trauma, it may be useful to deal with that old trauma as a way of reducing the emotion in the present, even when that old trauma appears in disguised form. This is the birth of what Jung later called “Active imagination”. The movie Pan’s Labyrinth is an example, where a small girl is unable to deal with the trauma of the Spanish fascists except by converting it to a fairy-tale setting; another example is Life of Pi, where a boy cannot deal with his murderous rage except by externalizing it as a tiger. The hallucinatory version may offer solutions that were unavailable otherwise: a tiger is something objective to deal with, as opposed to the abstraction called “rage”.

And perhaps, as in fairy tales, a helpful animal appears, which in reality is an aspect of the person himself or herself. In relation to the tarot card, an example would be the animal, imagined in various ways: as castrating, as keeping one from disaster, as egging one on to disaster, and so on. Understanding the animal is a way of understanding an aspect of oneself. Different versions will be helpful in different ways. The same approach may be used with other cards; in that sense the Madman is a means to the positive, transformative use of any card.


This post last modified November, 2018. Numbers in parentheses are footnotes (which currently - Nov. 5 - are in process of revision, as I have rearranged the text and the notes are now out of order).

Today's students of the tarot may recognize the Rider-Waite-Smith imagery, designed for use in divination, as the “classic” tarot. In fact the imagery of the tarot, of which the earliest known mention is in 1440 Florence, Italy (1), has had a variety of manifestations over the centuries, none explicitly with divination in mind until Etteilla's deck in 1788-17899 (2), about which more later. For centuries the primary, most clearly documented, and possibly only use of the tarot deck was in a trick-taking game, where the cards unique to the tarot, except for the Fool, formed a fifth suit that could beat any card of the other four (3). The Magician was the first card in the suit so defined; its earliest surviving example is that in a Milanese deck probably of the 1450s (4). This card will be discussed later; but first there is the question of its title.

The card’s first recorded title, from an Italian list in the late 15th century, was El Bagatella (5). In the etymological dictionaries, the word is said to be of unclear origin. It is possibly from bagatte, meaning “seller of small things.” There is also bagattino, a small coin, and the Latin bacca, small round thing.  For some (although not mentioned in the dictionaries), there is bacchetta, meaning “little stick” (in French, baguette), also the word for a magician’s wand (6). And besides El Bagatella, there was La Bagatella, meaning "small thing" or “trifle.” With that association, he would differ from a Mago, who was considered to be in league with supernatural powers. The Bagatella merely creates illusions.

The earliest documented use of the term found so far is in a 1298 poem cited by the 18th century historian Ludovico Muratori in Dissertazioni sopra le antichità italiane (7):
Lassovi la fortuna fella /Travagliar qual Bagattella:
Quanto più si mostra bella, /Come anguilla squizza via.

(I leave to you wicked fortune/ Who acts like a Bagattella:
Whenever she seems most beautiful,/ She slips away like an eel.)
Here the Bagatella, like the goddess Fortune to whom he is being compared, is an illusionist and a deceiver.

In French the figure on the card was called the Bateleur, earlier Basteleur, etymologically connected with the French word for “stick,” bâton, earlier baston, and baastel, the instrument of an escamoteur, a conjurer or sleight of hand artist (8).

Historically in France a bateleur was the quick-handed and fast-talking entertainer who attracted crowds so that he or someone else, as a charlatan, i.e. a non-licensed prescriber, or “empiric,” could sell remedies for which he claimed empirical validity even if he didn’t know why they worked, as opposed to treatments based on theory that the medical establishment endorsed. 16th century engravings of the Piazza San Marco in Venice (9) show them at work on the raised platforms that gave them the name saltimbanco, platform-mounter. Another word for them was Cantambanco, platform-singer. For Muratori, Bagatelle, besides being “trifles,” were the “tricks and games” of the cantambanchi (10)

Saltimbanco came into English as "mountebank", a term sometimes used by tarot historians to describe the tarot figure (11). Of an unsavory reputation, in Shakespeare such people could be a source of lethal drugs. Laertes, Hamlet’s foe, relates: “I bought an unction of a mountebank,” such that the merest cut inserting it would bring death. The word occurs again in Comedy of Errors:
They brought one Pinch, a hungry, lean-faced villain,
A mere anatomy [skeleton], a mountebank,
A threadbare juggler, and a fortune-teller...
“Juggle” then meant “entertain with jesting, tricks, etc.” (12).

The Imagery of the traditional card

In the earliest preserved Magician card, of 1450s Milan, at left above (13). he has objects on his table similar to the four Italian suit signs: the wand suggests Staves, in Italian Bastoni; the round objects, perhaps shells, Coins (Denari); the knives, Swords (Spade); and the cups, Cups (Coppe). These four types of object continue in the French tarot decks of the so-called "Tarot de Marseille" (TdM), for example, in the middle below, in the card of Chosson, a card maker in Marseille active starting in c. 1735 but perhaps from a mold done in 1672, the date on the 2 of Coins. The four types of object are made unquestionably clear in the 19th and 20th century, most famously in the Rider-Waite-Smith card, at right (14).
Even in the 15th century, as seen in the illustration below, such objects were used to symbolize the four elements - earth, water, air, and fire - that made up the world and so, symbolically, the conditions in which we find ourselves at birth and after (15).
In this way the card suggests metaphors with multiple meanings. On the one hand, if the four types of object are the four suits, the Magician could be the dealer in a game of cards. Each player receives a certain combination of cards that represent his lot in the life of that hand. So the suit of Coins could correspond to money, as in the illustration at left below. Swords could be the weapon wielded in the second image. They are also the "melancholy humor" and "choleric humor" of medieval "humor" theory.
As for Batons, beside the wooden perch for the falcon shown on the first image in the illustrations, they suggest the fertility of spring and youth (signified by the green club of the Ace or the gloves and sleeves of the courts, as in the Visconti-Sforza Queen and Page, at left (16), and the related emotion of vigor and enthusiasm, the "phlegmatic" humor. Cups associate to water or wine, which then associate to the water of baptism and the wine of the Eucharist; similarly, in the illustration water is associated, without explanation, with the Catholic Rosary and the "phlegmatic" humor. The suits are then four types of capital, in various senses, for the players to use as they will. And the dealer is a kind of little god giving each player his or her individual sets of choices or opportunities in life.

To the extent that the four types of object also symbolize the four elements, the one who manipulates them is a kind of creator-god, creating new things out of more basic elements. It was quite mysterious how something of the earth could be dissolved (water), burned (fire), turned to vapor (air), and be something different when, in sealed containers, the process was reversed. Sometimes the result was healing medicine, other times lethal poison, occasionally some metal. It was called alchemy, a precursor of modern chemistry. Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, was in the 14th century typically represented at a table like the Bagatella’s, with various substances on it and in jars behind it (containing herbs?), upper left Later the alchemist would be depicted similarly, as at lower right (17).

The metaphor easily extends into a spiritual dimension, in more ways than one. The Bagatella at his table, with his round, wafer-like objects and cups, is reminiscent of a priest conducting the Eucharist. The first known Bagatella is not young, and he has baggy eyes and a weary look, like a priest whose admonitions people ignore (see below). At one end of his table is a mysterious object, perhaps a straw hat, out of which he may later pull something, or perhaps it is to cover something, in the way that a cloth covered the Eucharistic cup. If the other objects are the four elements, then perhaps the hat or cloth covers a magical fifth element, the so-called quintessence; for the priest, it was the stuff of eternal life, passing from beyond into the bread and wine. In the French tarot decks of the 17th-18th centuries, the covering is still there, but it is a purse (in the first image in this post compare left with center and right). The 20th century tarots removed all trace of this magical symbol .

A religious metaphor is suggested not only by the table and the Bagatella’s face, but also by that face in relation to other work by the artist of the first known card, Bonifacio Bembo. In his art, similar faces are reserved for the figure of Jesus (18), who besides being a healer and humble stepson of a carpenter was declared in the Gospel of John to be the one by whom “all things were made” (Jn 1:3). Below, compare the face of the Bembo Magician with of two of his  depictions of Jesus done in the same period ,one a Coronation of the Virgin (at left below), the other an Ascension..
In the game that was played with the cards, although he was the lowest trump, the player who had him at the end of the hand stood to get many points. In some places, moreover, there were extra points for winning the last trick with this card. It was an opportunity for allegory: the least is the highest, at the end of the game..

Other allegories were made. Hugh Latimer, a sometime Bishop in 1529 England, later martyr of the nascent Church of England, preached a pair of “sermons on the cards.” He compared life to a game called “triumph.” This game in England was played with the ordinary deck of four suits, of which one was declared “trumps.” Latimer preached that Jesus was the dealer, that hearts were trumps, and what was needed was to pick up the cards of His commandments with one’s trump - one’s heart - that all might be winners, including Jesus. (19)

This was with ordinary cards, of which one was randomly chosen to be trumps. The tarot, originally called “trionfi” or “triumphe,” had a permanent trump suit; the word “trump” is merely a variation on these Italian words.

This fifth suit was seen by some, including two Italian authors writing around 1565, as allegories pertaining to the conduct of life. For Francesco Piscina, he was "l'Hoste" - the Innkeeper -  of the "inn of the fool." Whereas formerly people would go to the "hosteria dello Specchio" - Inn of the Mirror, meaning a place for self-reflection - now they went to the inn whose sign in front said it was "quella dil Matto," that of the Fool, and people came to enjoy themselves (20). For whatever reason, Sicilian cards to this day show a scene on the card that suggests an innkeeper, even if its actual title is "the young men." Moreover, the jurist Andrea Alciati in 1544 even called the card "Caupo," meaning "Innkeeper," in his listing of the trumps (21)

For the other 16th century author, writing anonymously, the Fool card, probably thought of as having the number 0, it was also next to the "Bagattello," with a moral that depended on his having a different profession (22, my explanatory comments in brackets): 
 Gli posa appresso il Bagatello, percioche si come coloro, che con prestezza di mano giacando, una cosa per un' altro parer ci fanno, il che oltre alla maraviglia porge vana dilettatione, non essendo il suo fine altro che inganno cosi il Mondo allettando altrui sotto imagine di bello, et dilettevole promettendo contentezza, al fine da guai, et in guisa  di prestigiatore  non havendo in se cosa premanente ne durabile, con finta apparenza di bene, conduce a miserabil fine.
(He [the deck's designer] placed  the Bagattello next to him [the Fool]: because, like those that play with swift hands, making one thing like another one, causing wonder and a vain amusement, in the  same way the world attracts the others with images of beauty and delight, promising happiness at the end of trouble. As a juggler [prestigiatore, literally quick-hands artist], it contains nothing, neither permanent nor durable, and leads to a miserable end, under the false appearance of good.)
For Anonymous, in other words, the Magician is nothing but an allegory for the deceptiveness of the world. The English word 'juggler" is sometimes used to translate the Italian "prestigiatore"; but it is in only an obsolete sense that this translation works: he is obviously not someone who keeps objects in motion in the air.

Similar to Piscina's comparison of the tarot sequence to an inn, a frontispiece by Hans Holbein in 1523 features a large enclosure in which we see allegorical representations of various virtues and vices and people attending to one or another (22). It reappeared in slightly different form as the frontispiece to various works published in Switzerland. To that extent it is like Piscina's image of an inn with various entertainments. At the entrance are naked infants, souls waiting to enter life. Before they go in they are greeted by a figure depicted with a large hat and a stick in his one hand. not dissimilar to some versions of the Magician card around that time, such as the Catelin Geoffroy of 1557 Lyon (23).  Below I give  Holbein's design, a 1532 variant, and the Geoffroy card.
The work which the frontispiece illustrates is the so-called Tabula Cebetis, Tablet of Cebes, a Platonic-style dialogue of around the first century c.e. printed at the end of the 15th century and popular with teachers of Greek. About this scene it says (24):
 First you must know that the name of this whole place is the Life. This innumerable multitude surging in front of the Gate are they about to enter into life. The Old Man who holds a scroll and with the other  is pointing out something is the Good Genius. To those who are entering is he setting forth what they should do do when they shall have entered; and he is pointing out to them which WAY they shall have to walk in if they propose to be saved in 'the Life.'
At the gate there is also a woman who has the souls drink from a cup she is holding; her name is Delusion ("Suadela," Deceit, in the engravings), and her drink is that of "Error and Ignorance." Unfortunately all who enter must take this drink. Both references are to Platonic allegory. Plato taught that archetypes of the Good, the True, the Beautiful, and other perfections were implanted in our minds before birth: the "good genius" is then the agent of such implantation. He also taught that souls were required to drink the "cup of forgetfulness", Lethe, before entering a new incarnation.

In this allegory the "good genius" who implants in us the knowledge of how to live has some of the features of the tarot Magician, both in his appearance and in his role as initiator of the tarot sequence as a repository of wisdom, something each of us has implanted in us from before birth. However as a slight of hand artist the Magician also has the qualities of the lady Delusion who obscures this knowledge.

The 15th-16th century cards after the first known, the Visconti-Sforza, replace the wide-brimmed hat with one less flamboyant. Besides the Catelin Geoffroy, shown above, some examples are the d'Este, the "Dick Sheet" of Ferrara or Venice, and the Cary Sheet of Milan or France. In other cases the man at the table acquired the tassels normally associated with the Fool, as in the Rosenwald sheet, second from left. While there is some resemblance between the tassles of the professional entertainer on the Rosenwald and a wide-brimmed hat, the two are still fairly different. The fourtypes of object have also been reduced to two or three,(except in the Cary Sheet) :in the d'Este, it is famous "cups and balls" game. It is hard to tell what is being depicted in the other two.
Yet somehow the wide-brimmed hat returned in 17th century France, where in the "Tarot of Marseille" style it achieved a dominance in the 18th century. The earliest example of this style is the card of Jean Noblet in 1660s Paris, shown at right below. Why this comeback? No one knows, but it is possible to make reasonable speculations, i.e. ones consistent with the interests and knowledge of the time, such that it would be easy to give the hat a certain interpretation in meditation or as part of a discussion among friends..

Educated people in 17th and 18th century France had an inexhaustible fascination for ancient Egypt. That some people in the 1780s Paris declared the tarot to be of Egyptian origin was only one expression of that interest. That not much was known only increased the value what was known. Besides sketches made by commercial travelers with antiquarian interests, there was the so-called "Bembine Tablet" (41), which had been acquired by Pietro Bembo (no relation to the card-painters) in 1507 and of which sketches were made and avidly passed around. Court de Gebelin refers to it in his famous 1781 article on the tarot's Egyptian origin. What is of interest for this card is  the strange horizontal horns that correspond to the TdM Magician's broad-brimmed hat. All the priests have them, and so does a small ram.

In this picture it is the ram that tells us what divinity is being served, and the priests show whom they serve through the visual relationship between their horns and the ram's. The significance of the ram in Egypt had been explained by the Greek historian Herodotus: it is sacred to the high god Amon, because the god himself put on the head of a ram (42).
The Thebans, and those who by the Theban example will not touch sheep, give the following reason for their ordinance: they say that Heracles [Herodotus' name for the god Shu, a footnote tells us] wanted very much to see Zeus and that Zeus did not want to be seen by him, but that finally, when Heracles prayed, Zeus contrived to show himself displaying the head and wearing the fleece of a ram which he had flayed and beheaded. It is from this that the Egyptian images of Zeus have a ram's head; and in this, the Egyptians are imitated by the Ammonians, who are colonists from Egypt and Ethiopia and speak a language compounded of the tongues of both countries. It was from this, I think, that the Ammonians got their name, too; for the Egyptians call Zeus “Amon”. The Thebans, then, consider rams sacred for this reason, and do not sacrifice them.
On the other hand, in Lower Egypt, at the town of Mendes, it was goats that were not sacrificed.
All that have a temple of Zeus of Thebes or are of the Theban district sacrifice goats, but will not touch sheep. For no gods are worshiped by all Egyptians in common except Isis and Osiris, who they say is Dionysus; these are worshiped by all alike. Those who have a temple of Mendes or are of the Mendesian district sacrifice sheep, but will not touch goats.
In the "Bembine Tablet", that a goat is being sacrificed doubly confirms that these are priests of Amon.

It is possible that by the 17th century there were also images of a different god, clearly a creator-god, although probably they would not have known it was different from that of the Bembine Tablet. At Dendera, an easily accessed temple on the Nile, the god Khnnm is shown at a potter's wheel making a human child. 
But the 17th century would not have known about Khnum in this context. Instead, from another Greek text, they would have identified it as another god, Thoth.  In the excerpts from otherwise lost ancient Hermetica contained in a work by the ancient anthologizer Strobaeus (a work known by the late Renaissance), there is one, Excerpt 23 in Scott's translation, in which Hermes himself gets the job of forming the human body. Originally, the dialogue relates, the God of all gave the souls the job of forming bodies for themselves out of a mixture of water and earth, in which he had breathed in a certain life-giving spirit. Instead, they created all the various animals and set themselves up as creator-gods. The "god of all" wanted to punish the souls for their audacity, by imprisoning them in matter. He gave the job of fashioning the material organism to Hermes (43):
"And I," said Hermes, "sought to find out what material I was to use, and I called upon the Sole Ruler, and he commanded the souls to hand over the residue of the mixture. But when I received it, I found that it was quite dried up. I therefore used much water for mixing with it; and when I had thereby renewed the liquid consistency of the stuff, I fashioned bodies out of it. And the work of my hands was fair to view, and I was glad when I looked on it. And I called on the Sole Ruler to inspect it, and he saw it, and was glad; and he gave the order that the souls should be embodied."
The result of course was much wailing and weeping on the part of the souls thus imprisoned, but they could do nothing. From this perspective, Khnum drops out in favor of Hermes/Thoth as the potter god. It is also an example of how the Magician as Hermes combines the elements, or at least two of them.

Other ancient Egyptian images of Khnum's headpiece showed, besides the horizontal horns, a circle between two other horn, at right above (I have not been able to determine where it is from). Probably it was painted red, just as the bowl in the center of the Magician's hat was painted red in the Tarot of Marseille and even in the earliest version by Bembo, done around the same time and in the same place as antiquarian merchant Cyriaco d'Ancona, who had done five volumes of sketches of monuments in Greece and Egypt, settled before his death (44). The parallels are at least striking. And the god Thoth was to receive a striking association with the tarot in late 18th century Paris.

1780s Paris: De Gébelin, de Mellet, and Etteilla

In 1781 the French-Swiss antiquarian Court de Gébelin, in the eighth volume of a series named Le Monde Primitif, the Primitive World, advanced his theory that the tarot was Egyptian origin. About the Magician, he points out that the term in French, "Bateleur," derives from "baston", meaning "stick", which of course is the attribute of stage magicians. Gébelin also called him "the player with cups", presumably meaning the game in which one tries to guess which cup the little ball or shell will end up in. In either case he was an illusionist. If the tarot is about life, then the Magician deals with the illusions of life. Gébelin wrote (25):
At the head of all the trumps, it indicates that all of life is only a dream that vanishes away:that it is like a perpetual game of chance or the shock of a thousand circumstances which are never dependent on us, and which inevitably exerts a great influence on every general administration.
"Between the Fool and the Magician, man is not well," Gébelin concludes. This is much like the Anonymous of c. 1565 Italy.

In the same volume of Le Monde Primitif, Gébelin inserted another essay on the tarot, this one by his friend the Comte de Mellet, for whom the tarot was the “Book of Thoth,” the Egyptian god of magic, medicine and wisdom whom the Greeks and Romans identified with their Hermes and Mercury (26). It is then a small step to imagine the Magician of the tarot as such a figure, if not Thoth himself then a follower in his teachings.

De Mellet also outlined a system of divination using the tarot, the first such system in print. It is not, the first system known, as the rudiments of another, associating each card with a specific idea, has also been found in manuscript form buried in a Bologna library, dating to 1750; in addition, there is a record of a woman being subject to legal action for tarot-reading in Marseille of 1759 (27), and divination by the tarot is mentioned in 1770 Paris at the end of a book on fortune-telling with ordinary  (28); its author was a print seller named Alliette, writing under the pen-name "Etteilla." As with the system in Bologna, each card was associated with a particular idea designated by a word or phrase. In 1783 the same author published, after some problems with the censor, a list of such words and phrases for all 78 cards. In 1789 he printed his own unique divinatory tarot deck, with upright and reversed keywords printed on each card. It is still in print, with a few modifications. His system remains one layer of modern cartomancy (29).

Etteilla wrote that he learned tarot divination from an old man named Alexis, the grandson of a better known one, also named Alexis but called “Piémontois” (30). There was in fact an “Alexis Piémontois,” a 16th century Italian humanist who published a book of “empiric” medical recipes. He said that in Naples he and others had collected and tested whatever they could find of folk remedies; those that passed were included in the book, which was translated into many languages; the French version is even online, with his French nom de plume (31). Etteilla’s “Alexis” offered a different kind of medicine, “médecine de l’esprit”—medicine of the spirit or mind, whose justification, when all was said and done, was still that it worked. The mountebank of old is becoming the Jungian card-reader of today, hopefully in touch with the archetypal wisdom inside all of us that the cards may help unlock.

In Etteilla’s deck the card corresponding to the Magician (his card 16) had for both the upright and reversed keywords the word Maladie, i.e. Illness (at right a 19th century reprnt of the original). It is not clear whether the rather imposing figure depicted was meant as cause or cure. But in one of the word-lists made up by Etteilla’s disciples, some of the “associated words” when the card appears reversed are Médecine, Remède, Charlatan, Médecin, Empirique, Mage, i.e. Medicine, Remedy, Charlatan, Physician, Empiric, Magus (32). Here again, "charlatan" is not a derogatory term. A c.1910 explication of this card, probably from an 1826 original, says (33):
Debout, ce no. 15 présage une maladie pour laquelle on dépensera de grosses sommes sans réaltat. Un charlatan viendra enfin, qui, avec une potion légère, vous rendra la santé pour longtemps.

(Upright, number 15 presages an illness for which one will spend large amounts of money without result. Finally a charlatan will come who, with a light potion, will give you health for a long time.) 
For some, it seems, the medical establishment did not have a good reputation.

Etteilla was the first to explicitly associate astrological signs with tarot cards: he associated his cards nos. 1-12 with the zodiac and the number cards of the suit of Coins, cards nos.68 -77 with the planets and a few other symbols. The appropriate zodiacal symbol was put on each card next to the upper left corner of the picture; in Coins, it was put inside the circles representing coins or below them. As number 15,  the Magician card got no such association and no astrological symbol, as can be seen above. (34)

Thus far, the Magician is a mixed bag. Of ill repute and a purveyor of worthless medicines in some Renaissance writings, the historical imagery also suggests a conveyor of wisdom and a healer in the medical sense

The card in modern occultism

Eliphas Levi

In fortune-telling, Etteilla's cards eclipsed the more traditional "Tarot of Marseille" referred to by de Gébelin and de Mellet, until Eliphas Lévi, the founder of modern occultism, included a section on the tarot in volume 2 of his Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic. His account presents the cards in the traditional French order, with much the same subjects as Gébelin, albeit with variations in detail to suit Levi's own purposes.For this card, still of a "Bateleur", he says, in part I of the work (35) pp. 109, 119 of 1930 reprint:
A la première page du livre d'Hermès; l'adepte est représenté couvert d'un vaste chapeau qui, en se rabattant, peut lui cacher toute la tète. Il tient une main élevée vers le ciel, auquel il semble commander avec sa baguette, et l'autre main sur sa poitrine; il a devant lui les principaux symboles ou instruments de la science, et il en cache d'autres dans une gibecière d'escamoteur. Son corps et ses bras forment la lettre Aleph, la première de l'alphabet, que les Hébreux ont empruntée aux Egyptiens; mais nous aurons lieu plus tard de revenir sur ce symbole.

(On the first page of the Book of Hermes the adept is depicted with a large hat, which, if turned down, would conceal his entire head. One hand is raised towards heaven, which he seems to command with his wand, while the other is placed upon his breast; before him are the chief symbols or instruments of his science, and he has other hidden in a juggler's wallet.
His body and arms form the letter ALEPH, the first of that alphabet which the Jews borrowed from the Egyptians: to this symbol we shall have occasion to recur later on.
For Levi the Magician is now not the simple slight of hand artist of former times, but the Magus of antiquity, almost Hermes Trismegistus himself.  He reportedly made a drawing to illustrate the relationship of the card to the Hebrew letter; it appears in a Russian edition of Dogma and Ritual, according to Andriy Kostenko at, note 1. It is reproduced at right.

Then on page 119 Levi tells us:
Il n'y a qu'un dogme en magie, et le voici le visible est la manifestation de l'invisible, ou, en d'autres termes, le verbe parfait est. dans les choses appréciables et visibles. en proportion exacte avec les choses inappréciables a nos sens et invisibles à nos yeux. Le mage, une main vers le ciel et abaisse l'autre vers la terre, et il dit: "Là haut l'immensité la-bas est l'immensité encore; l'immensité est l'immensité." Ceci est vrai dans les choses visibles, comme dans les choses invisibles. 

(There is only one dogma in Magic, and it is this: The visible is the manifestation of the invisible, or, in other terms, the perfect word, in things appreciable and visible, bears an exact proportion to the things which are inappreciable by our senses and unseen by our eyes. The Magus raises one hand towards heaven and points down with the other to earth, saying: "Above, immensity: Below immensity still! Immensity equals immensity." This is true in things seen, as in things unseen.)
About the Aleph, the body with raised and lowered arms, he adds (p. 120):
C'est l'expression du principe actif de toute chose, c'est la création dans le ciel, correspondant à la toute-puissance du verbe ici-bas Cette lettre à elle seule est un pantacle, c'est-à-dire un caractère exprimant la science universelle

(It is the expression of the active principle of everything; it is the creation in heaven, corresponding to the omnipotence of the word here-below. This letter in itself is a pantacle, that is to say a character expressing universal science.)
The word "pantacle" is Levi's invention, which he defines for us above.

Then in Part 2 (p. 345 of 1930 reprint) he says:
L'être, l'esprit, l'homme ou Dieu ; l'objet compréhensible; l'unité mère des nombres, la substance.

Toutes ces idées sont exprimées hiéroglyphiquement par la figure du BATELEUR. Son corps et ses bras forment la lettre Aleph; il porte autour de la tête un nimbe en forme de ∞, symbole de la vie et de l'esprit universel devant lui sont des épées, des coupes et des pantacles, et il élève vers le ciel la baguette miraculeuse. ïl a une figure juvénile et des cheveux bouclés, comme Apollon ou Mercure il a le sourire de l'assurance sur les lèvres et le regard de l'intelligence dans les yeux..

(Being, mind [or spirit], man or God: the comprehensible object; the mother unity of numbers, the first substance.
All these ideas are expressed hieroglyphically by the figure of the JUGGLER [BATELEUR]. His body and arms forme the letter ALEPH; around his head he bears a nimbus in the form of symbol of life and the universal spirit; in front of him are swords, cups and pantacles; he uplifts the miraculous rod towards heaven. He has a youthful figure and curly hair, like Apollo or Mercury; the smile of confidence is on his lips and the look of intelligence in his eyes.)
He is not only the Magus, but the Judeo-Christian God, the metaphysical categories of "being" and "mind," the Pythogorean basis of numbers, and the prima materia of alchemy. With him, too, we get the first explicit mention of the sideways 8, or infinity sign, in place of his wide-brimmed hat," symbol of life and the universal mind [or spirit]."

In calling him "the comprehensible object", Levi is defining him not as the God of the abyss, the incomprehensible No-thing about which nothing could be said, but rather the creator-god, first cause of the creation. If the Fool is defined by absence, the zero, the Magician is defined by presence, but also a presence that points to absence, the unseen creator, just as the Bateleur's illusions point to, without in the least beraying, something unseen that causes the illusion.

The Bateleur is also Unity and, more specifically, the "unity of numbers". This is a Pythagorean-Platonic way of thinking. On the one hand, the four types of objects on his table are the four elements, which Plato's Demiurge (37) mixed to form the universe. They are also the combination of talents and circumstances that form the birth conditions of every human. To a Pythagorean this situation is analogous to the role of 1 with the numbers. By successive addition it is the creator of every other number. It also is every other number, inasmuch as every number is an addition of ones. From this point of view it is obvious that the Magician has to be card one. In fact, we might wonder if the image of a magician was put in the sequence precisely for this purpose, to start things off. Pythagorean thinking was hardly foreign to 15th century Italy.

Kabbalistic associations were integral to Levi's interpretation of the tarot. In both Greek and Hebrew the letters were also used as numbers, in order up to ten, with number eleven as "ten and one", and a new letter for twenty, etc.

Besides identifying him with Aleph, he also made the first explicit association between the card and a metal or planet that I have found. In the quotatin:  he identifies the Bateleur with alchemical Mercury, as part of a broader thesis that the tarot simply repeats some of the concepts of alchemy. He writes (45), p. 171 of original, part 2:
Les figures cabalistiques du juif Abraham, qui donnèrent à Flamel l'initiative de la science, ne sont autres que les vingt-deux clefs du Tarot, imitées et résumées d'ailleurs dans les douze clefs de Basile Valentin. Le soleil et la lune y reparaissent sous les figures de l'empereur et de l'impératrice; Mercure est le bateleur; le grand Hiérophante, c'est l'adepte ou l'abstracteur de quintessence ...

(The cabalistic figures of Abraham the Jew, who gave Flamel the initiative of science, are none other than the twenty-two keys of the Tarot, imitated and summarized elsewhere in the twelve keys of Basil Valentine. The sun and the moon reappear under the figures of the emperor and the empress; Mercury is the bateleur; the great Hierophant is the adept or the abstractor of quintessence ...)
However Lévi did not extend this speculation to astrology or astronomy (47).

We might wonder whether the association to Mercury was Levi's invention or if he was simply repeating common knowledge. In the 15th century, the image of a slight of hand artist, in series of prints or manuscript illuminations known as the "Children of the Planets," was often associated with the Moon, as in the example at right (49). The Moon was identified with the Virgin Mary, taking the place of the Roman Diana. Diana and her nymphs were famous for their virginity; moreover, Diana's cult center was Ephesus, the same place that was associated with the Virgin in her later years. The Virgin was identified in art with the Moon, in that she was represented sitting on the horns of the crescent moon, as in the famous image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. However the association does not actually identify the Bagattella with the moon: he is her "child". Mercury is not the child of the moon-goddess in Greco-Roman mythology; yet in the so-called "emerald tablet" of medieval alchemy, Mercury was held to be the child of the sun and the moon.(49)

A relationship to the god Mercury is also fitting for another reason. Before he was two days old, Hermes (the Greek original of the Roman Mercury) defined himself as a trickster, against his brother Apollo (50). Also, in Renaissance astrology the god governed, among others, people “given to Divination and the more secret knowledge”m albeit sometimes maliciously (50). Since Mercury was associated with eloquence—like that of the mountebank before the crowd--he was also said to govern afflictions of the mouth, throat, and brain, and the herbs to cure these afflictions, as well as herbs that promote divination or have other associations to his myth (51). One example: Lilly says that herbs growing on sandy ground are sacred to Mercury. It was in such ground that the god made Apollo’s cows’ hooves point in the opposite direction to where they were going.

A further association to Mercury is in the Greek' identification of the Egyptian god Thoth with their Hermes. In this context there is also, of course, the legendary Hermes Trismegistus, Thrice-Great, who was imagined either as a descendant of Thoth or somehow the embodiment of the god himself. 

Paul Christian

Levi's follower Paul Christian, in 1863 and 1870, continued most of Levi's characterizations, but reconciled apparent contradictions by saying that the card has meaning on three levels: divine, intellectual, and human (36, p. 114):
A = 1 exprime dans le Monde divin l'Être absolu, qui contient et d'ou émane l'infini des possibles. Dans le Monde intellectuel, l'Unité, principe et synthèse des nombres; la Volunté, principe des actes. Dans le Monde Physique, l'Homme, le plus haut placé des êtres relatifs, appelé à s'élever, par une perpétuelle expansion de ses facultés, dans les sphères concentriques de l'Absolu. 
L'arcane 1 est figuré par le Mage, type de l'homme parfait, c'est-à-dire en pleine possession de ses facultés physiques et morales.

(A-1 expresses in the divine world the absolute Being who contains and from whom flows the infinity of all possible things; in the intellectual world, Unity, the principle and synthesis of numbers; the Will, principle of action; in the physical world Man, the highest of all living creatures, called upon to raise himself, by a perpetual use of his faculties, into the concentric spheres of the Absolute.
Arcanum 1 is represented by the Magus, the type of the perfect man, in full possession of his physical and moral faculties.)
While Levi emphasized what he considered the Jewish aspects of the tarot, (how a woodcut card representing God was permitted by the first commandment, "though shalt.not make graven images" is not explained). Christian claimed to find the Egyptian symbols, including a 22 letter alphabet that like the Hebrew letters did double duty as numbers. Not surprisingly, they are rather similar to their Hebrew counterparts; after all, the Jews had spend many years in Egypt.  

Christian took over Levi's imagining of the card but with some differences:phrases it in terms of moral imperatives (Ibid):
La main droite du Mage tient un sceptre d'or, figure du commandement, et s'élève vers le ciel, en signe d'aspiration à la science, à la sagesse, a la force. La main gauche étend l'index vers la terre, pour signifier que la mission de l'homme parfait est de régner sur le monde matériel. Ce double geste exprime encore que la volonté humaine doit refléter ici-bas la volonté divine, pour produire le bien et empêcher le mal.

(The Magus holds in one hand a golden scepter, image of a commend, raised toward the heavens "in a gesture of aspiration towards knowledge, wisdom and power. The index finger of the left hand points at the ground, signifying that the mission of the perfect man is to reign over the material world. This double gesture means that human ought to be the embodiment of divine will, promoting good and preventing evil.)
"Will" is in fact the one word that Christian uses to sum up the meaning of the card. Other details are his belt of a serpent biting its tail, to represent eternity, a cubic stone instead of a table, and a cross engraved on the coin. He does not tell us what the stone represents until discussing Arcanum IV, the Emperor, where as "the perfect solid it "signifies the accomplishment of human labors". The cross "annonce la future ascension de cette puissance dans les sphères de l'avenir" ("announces the future ascension of this power [the power of the will, which the coin signifies] into the spheres of the future").

Unlike Gebelin, who presented the traditional Platonic/Stoic scorn of the physical world, "in which nothing depends on us" (38), for Christian the material world was the sphere of action, of which the Magician is the rightful master who imposes his will upon it.

This rather romantic view of the Magician defines him as Magus rather than a performer of tricks, hero rather than trickster. Sbstituting a raised staff for Levi's raised arrm it was Christian's image rather than Levi's that was captured in the 1896 "Egyptian" version by Maurice Wegener for Robert Falconnier, adding a comet to indicate the descent from above (near right). (39). The Ibis on the stone is a nice touch: it is the bird sacred to Thoth.

Levi's image of the arms raised above and below, actually more vivid than Wegener's, is depicted  in Waite's version (far right). Waite says of it (40):
This dual sign is known in very high grades of the Instituted Mysteries; it shows the descent of grace, virtue and light, drawn from things above and derived to things below. The suggestion throughout is therefore the possession and communication of the Powers and Gifts of the Spirit.
Here, like Levi, he is not so effusive about mastering the material world as Christian. Waite goes on about the magic powers of the sideways 8.
The mystic number is termed Jerusalem above, the Land flowing with Milk and Honey, the Holy Spirit and the Land of the Lord. According to Martinism, 8 is the number of Christ.

Papus, following Christian in 1889, returned to Levi's orientation toward the Hebrew letters, as opposed to Christian's Egyptian letters. His only concession to Egypt is seeing the myth of Osiris, Isis, and Horus in the cards, in which card one is Osiris. For him Christian's three levels (divine, intellectual, physical) then become God (Osiris), Man (Adam), and the Universe (the Natura Naturans, "nature naturing", a term borrowed from Spinoza, meaning the universe as a self-forming and evolving creation).

Besides continuing Levi's associations to the Hebrew letters, he also assigned the Magician to the sephira Kether, Hebrew for "Crown" and the highest sphere on the Kabbalists' Tree of Life (Levi himself, in  Dogme et Rituel, part 2, p. associated Kether with the World card). In either case Kether is the source of initiative in all the areas expressed by the rest of the Tree. (52).

He also made the four objects prefigurations of what for Papus is the basic pattern of the tarot, which is to go from active (Osiris, the wand, and the Magus) to passive (Isis, the cup, and the Popess), followed by their equilibrium (Horus, the sword, and the Popess, with Horus bird on the her shield) and transformation (the coin and the new Osiris, the Emperor).

For the contemporaneous but English Golden Dawn, in contrast to the French occultists' Aleph and Kether, the Magician was associated with Beth and the path between Kether and Binah. The online Lleweleyn Encyclopedia says (53):. 
The Path of the Magician connects Kether to Binah and is the beginning of material production. The letter Beth means house, and the Magician himself is the house in which the Divine Spirit dwells. He is the director of channeled energy. ... The paths of Beth and Mercury link Kether, the Crown, with Binah. The Magician, therefore, is reflected in the Intellect which stores and gathers up knowledge and pours it into the House of Life, Binah. ...It can help you to develop your ability to express yourself in public, as well as the ability to think clearly. It helps you to develop your intellectual mind, your creativity, your writing ability, your love of science and books, and your effective use of memory.
Binah means "understanding" or "intelligence"; hence the emphasis on "knowledge", and a characterization of the card in terms of clarity of thought. This emphasis is not shared by Levi, Christian, and Papus, who seem to see the card as creativity, initiative, and will power, including the use of intellect, perhaps in certain tools on his table (the sword of intellect or the cup of knowledge), among other things.

Paul Foster Case

The identification with Beth is seen explicitly in the card of Paul Foster Case, which otherwise is similar to Waite's. He writes:
...the earliest form of the letter Beth was a picture of an arrow-head, The sharpness of an arrow-head suggests acuteness and power to penetrate. Thus Beth is a symbol of the mental qualities of nice perception, keen and penetrating insight, and accurate estimation of values.

The fundamental mood represented by this form of the letter, connected as it is with hunting and warfare, is alert intentness . Right use of the mental powers pictured by the Magician calls for alert, watchful atten- tion to the succession of events constituting waking experience. ...

An arrow-head hasas no energy of its own. The force whereby it cleaves the mark is a derived force. The arrow is merely the means whereby power is transmitted. An arrow-head is an instrument which transforms propulsion into penetration. It specializes bow-force into arrow-force.
There is also the meaning of Beth as "house", he says (Lesson 5, p. 2):
The letter-name means ”house,” which is a definite location used as an abode. In the sense used here, it refers to whatever form may be termed a dwelling-place for Spirit, and the form particularly referred to in this lesson is human personalaty, for Personality is a center through which the Spirit or real Self of man expresses itself. Do not be abstract about this . Think of your personality as a center of expression for your own inner Self. Try to realise that this is what Jesus meant when he said, "The Father who dwelleth in me. He doeth the works,”
With this, his interpretation of the card is rather clear:
Geometrically the number 1 is a point, particularly, the CENTRAL POINT; ... the statement attributed to 1 is: ”1 am a center of expression for the Primal Will-to-good which eternally creates and sustains the universe.” The beginning of the creative process is the concentration of the Life-power at a center, and its expression through that center.
It is perhaps of interest that the "primal will" here is not a  limitless set of possibilities, but now limited to those that tend toward the good: it is a "will-to-good". How does that change come about. It is precisely through the concentration of Life-power through careful attention to "the succession of events constituting our waking experience:
The practice of concentration enables one to perceive the inner nature of the object of his attention. This leads to the discovery of natural principles. By applying these, one is able to change his conditions. Hence concentration helps us solve our problems. Thus we may understand why the alchemists wrote, "Our Mercury enables us to prepare the universal solvent.
Better said than done!  In the context of problem-solving:
Self-consciousness initiates the creative process by formulating premises or seed-ideas. Subconsciousness accepts these as suggestions, which it elaborates by the process of deduction, and carries out in modifications of mental and emotional attitudes, and in definite changes of bodily function and structure.
He puts the point about "seed ideas" in another way in the next lecture:
By determining what you want to be and do, you have taken this first step. You have set a mark at which you aim the whole energy of your life.
The Magician card pertains to the first part, the formulation of seed ideas for one's life. The Popess and the Empress have to do with actualizing these ideas in action. This is the process that Papus called Active/Passive/Equilibrium. But for Case it is different:
One important point to observe is that the Magician himself is not active. He stands perfectly still. He is a channel for a power which comes from above his level, and after passing through him, that power sets up a reaction at a level lower than his.
It is the movement from Spirit, symbolized by the upside down 8 as infinity sign (6-5), to Matter, with the Magician in between. However the active Spirit seems to be the Fool, leaving the Magician as an especially attentive observer of one's inner experience. Put in another way:
the act of establishing contact with super-consciousness is the high- est and most potent use of self-conscious awareness.

First we observe what goes on. Then we use inductive reasoning, reasoning from Ob- served effects to inferred principles, to reveal that lies hidden behind the veil of leads to the discovery that the succession of events of which our personal experience is a part is under the direction of a supervising Intelligence, higher than the objective mind of man.
The Magician is helped by the objects on the card. The wand symbolizes libido, which can be experienced sexually but in the Magician's hands is transmuted into mental forms:
The wand is thus naturally associated with the element of fire. He continues:
The cup, made of silver, metal of the Moon, is a symbol of memory and IMAGINATION, and of the element of water. The sword, of steel, is related to Mars; and stands also for ACTION, and for the element of air. The coin or pentacle is related to Saturn; and it also represents FORM, and the element of earth.
These four tools also represent the power of the Word, in particular that of JHVH, one letter for each tool.

Finally, one result of contentrated attention is the realization of our essential connection to others.
In partly developed persons the objective mind creates the illusion that the SELF is peculiar to a particular personality— that the personal "self” is a unique identity, separate from all others. Concentration and meditation lead to freedom from this illu- sion, by enabling us to see that it is an illusion. When you cane to this recognition, you will no longer think and act as if you were a separate being. Then you will know that your personality is an instrument through which the One Force typified by the Fool finds expression.
I for one do not trust my "inner Fool", no matter how carefully I might attend to it. It has fooled me too often. And I am not sure that this is only a personal problem about me. I will address these worries later. 

Oswald Wirth

Wirth writes from the perspective of a more traditinal imaginging of the card, that of the Tarot of Marseille, but interpreting it in a manner consonant with Levi and Christian. Like Levi, he sees the posture as conveying the shape of Aleph. The hat, as in Levi's drwing, resembles the infinity sign and is not replaced by it. Morever, the wand does signify the concentration of energy, not from above as for Case, but from "his surroundings", in the direction of the coin, supplemented by his "personal energy" emanating from index finger of his right hand. He has combined the gesture analyzed by Case with the traditional gesture of the TdM, in which the wand invariably points to the coin.

Wirth expresses the three levels of meaning somewhat differently than Papus and Christian. On the divine level it is indeed God, but it is God "seen as the great suggestive power of all that is accomplished in the Cosmos". So it is an immanent God, not a transcendent one, and Papus's two levels, divine and physical, become one. The level of Man still exists, but as "the seat of individual initiative, the cener of perception, of conscience, and of will power". This is perhaps more inclusive than Case's conception, in that conscience is there from the beginning. As for Case, the Magician represents the development of the "I", the ego, which again is defined as "the mission to create oneself".  However the Magician is not motionless, as he is for Case, but continuously active.
One feels that the Magiian cannot stay in repose. He plays with his wand, he monopolizes the attention of the spectators and dazzles them with his continuous juggling and his contortions, as as much as by the mobility of his facial expressions. Moreover, his eyes shine with intelligence and have long lashes which accentuate their sparkle.
This is the development of the ego as an object for others, what Jung would call a persona, the face we present to others. Whereas the Fool lacked discretion, the Magician is all discretion; he manipulates his audience carefully according to a hidden plan. His activity is mere distraction. In that way, too, he is like the self-creating universe, acting according to hidden laws and plan. Inside himself, he includes the entire time-frame of the universe he has created and so is at rest.

Like the other theorists, Wirth identifies the four objects with the four suit-signs and the four elements. However he also identifies them with a magical formula: To Know (cup), To Dare (sword), To Desire (wand), To be Silent (pentacle). Then the initiated Magician has accomplished four victories:
The victory won over Earth awards us the pentacle, that is to say, the vital point of support for all action needed.
By confronting Air with audacity the knight of Truth wins himself the Sword, symbol of the Word which puts to flight the phantoms of Error.
To triumph over Water is to conquer the Holy Grail, the Cup out of which Wisdom drinks.
Tested by Fire, the Initiated obtains at last te emblem of supreme command, the Wand, the king's scepter for he reigns through his own will merged with the sovereign will.
There thus seems to be a beginning-Magician, creating his ego/persona, and an end-Magician, which merges with the divine.

The Jungian turn

Sallie Nichols in Jung and Tarot contrasts the Fool and the Magician as different expressions of the Trickster archetype. Unlike the Fool, who embodies this archetype in a spontaneous, unthinking way that makes us laugh, the Magician "is interested in discovering the one creative principle behind diversity, so as to manipulate nature and harness its energies," originally for the purpose of meeting human needs and hopes (54)  But he is not an engineer applying what can be rationally comprehended by science. She quotes Jung writing about the Rhine parapsychological experiments (55):
..the test person being confronted with a seemingly impossible task finds himself in the archetypal situation which so often occurs in myths and fairy tales, where a divine intervention, i.e. a miracle, offers the only solution.
It is the "archetype of the miracle" or "archetype of the magic effect." She continues:
It is understandable that the Magician, who lives in the depths of the psychoid level of the unconscious where there exist no divisions of time, space, body and soul, matter and spirit (and where the four elements themselves have not been separated out of the void), should have the power to put us in touch with the great Oneness of perfection, health, and harmony. But since this great void is also the Whole from which all will be born, it of necessity contains all opposites.
By "psychoid" Nichols means that the psyche, which bridges mind and body, is also neither, but in a realm largely unknown to us. She quotes Arthur Eddington, the astrophysicist: "Something out there - we don't know what - is doing something, we don't know what" (56). If that is what is "really real," then what we see is the illusion produced by that reality, and one who accesses the psychoid can produce wonders.

The miracle-worker is that part in us that actually has the power to accomplish them, in the sense of acts beyond ordinary human experience. "Who would have thought we could fly to the moon? Nichols asks.

One comparison she makes is to Prospero in The Tempest (63). A practicing Renaissance Magus, he conjures up a storm to punish those who had underhandedly deprived him of his dukedom, then allows his air-spirit slave Ariel to set them safely on dry land, and in the end grants them forgiveness and frees Ariel, thus, Nichols says, abandoning his "black ends." In the same way the playwright himself has been creating with his words the illusion of a world, in which we can see our own desires for triumph over others exposed and, if we lay them aside, forgiven  At the end Prospero says he is done with magic, and of course the play is the playwright's last.

Along with words, the tarot Magician uses the small objects he carries around with him. With his hands as well as a never-ending stream of words, he creates illusions, in an art so practiced that it appears effortless (64), like that of Prospero's air-spirit Ariel. Words and objects used in service of imagination can be used to deceive as well as enlighten, of course; the "willing suspension of disbelief" that the audience participates in, whether in enjoying a stage magician or an artistic production, can also be misused in creating illusions that are taken for reality, and as metaphors that do not apply to the reality they are dramatizing.

Something in us, a kind of inner playwright, creates stories every night when we dream, albeit sometimes rather chaotic ones (65). In this sense the Magician is the unconscious becoming conscious, if only we write down the dream and engage with it in imagination (Jung calls it "active imagination"). The unconscious takes images from our past - or projects them on neural firings - and shapes them into new forms and situations, with little attention to realism in time, space, and causality.

Nichols urges us, like Jung, to pay attention to the magic in everyday life, in particular the "synchronicities" that occur in our lives, meaningful coincidences that happen without any causal connection between events (66). Like with the magician's tricks, the associations are as though stepping outside ordinary causality. even if in fact they are not but are merely our own unconscious projections. onto what is in front of us. As such, however, they express what the unconscious, coming from some psychoid reality, somehow wants to tell us, for us to use in our conscious lives.

If the Magician "contains all opposites," that includes masculine and feminine. We may think here of the round object in one hand and the stick in the other, pointing at the round object. Nichols' image is of the finger of God giving life to Adam in Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel (57). But she rejects the idea that the Magician is "the original Life Power acting on matter": rather, "it is the result of the Life Power acting upon itself" (58). The external is part of a larger whole, and creation is co-creation by the creator and the created. She finds in Rodin's "Hand of God," at left below, an expression of this idea (59)
"All artists are magicians," she says (60). She compares Michelangelo with the alchemist. Just as the alchemist tried to free spirit from matter, so Michelangelo tries to bring out what is already there in the stone. His "captives" show figures emerging from their stone fetters. Similarly the writer's job is to liberate his or her ideas from their entanglement in in excessive verbiage that obscures the essential meaning.

For Jung Mercury makes his appearance by way of the alchemical Mercurius, both a "world-creating spirit" and the transformative agent trapped in gross matter". (61)  Bringing to consciousness this "cental sun of our inner nature" can change us as individuals and transform human nature. At the same time the alchemists saw Mercurius also as a great poison and bringer of death: If it contains all opposites, that includes what Jung called the shadow, "qualities in ourselves which we prefer not to think of as belonging to us" (62).

There is then a problem. If the life-force is Mercurius, we cannot assume that it is benigh and always acts for the best.  The shadow acts in us without our awareness and can even masquerade as an angel. In "The Spirit Mercurius, Jung in 1942 characterized Mercurius as a storm god, the Wotan of the Germans, obviously referring to the spirit that had taken over Germany at that time. Reflecting on the fairy tale about a boy who finds a bottle containing the "spirit Mercurius," whom he lets go in exchange for certain magical powers, he observes nothing is said about what happens with the spirit (63):
What happens when the pagan god Hermes-Mercurius-Wotan is let loose again? Being a god of magicians, a spiritus vegetativus, and a storm daemon, he will hardly have returned to captivity...The bird of Hermes has escaped from the glass cage, and in consequence something has happened wich the experienced alchemist wished at all costs to avoid. ...  They wanted to keep him in the bottle in order to transform him; for they believed, like Petosios, that lead (another arcane substance) was "so bedeviled and shameless that all who wish to investigate fall into madness thorough ignorance." The same was said of the elusive Mercurius, who evades every grasp - a real trickster who drove the alchemists to despair.
A magician, like a scientist, may like to think his magic is serving human needs. But one human "need" or "hope" may not jibe with another's, for example in love-spells. Also, if we think of ourselves as great Magi, channels for something outside ourselves to work miracles, the shadow is the part that knows we are not so great as all that, nor so pure. I do not think she deals with the shadow-aspects of the Magician sufficiently. She talks about the shadow in the tarot as "the Devil," but the Devil on that card is not in shadow: his horns are visible to all. It is precisely the shadow that is always behind us when we are facing the light. How is the Magician to learn to recognize his shadow? If not at the beginning of the sequenfe, then maybe its end.

There are two other points of Jungian commentary I might make. At the beginning, the Magician's task is the development of a persona, the ego's expansion into the world while keeping something back from that world. The danger, of course, is identifying with that persona. Then one does not see the shadow.
 On the other hand, it is that very hidden part that forms the basis for further development, simply by being inner.

The other point, which has been made by many, is the parallel between the four objects and the four Jungian functions: wands and fire with intuition, swords and air with thinking, cups and water with feeling, and pentacles (coins) and earth with sensation. These, which are also two pairs of opposites (intuition/sensation and thinking/feeling) are then the tools for the development of consciousness, trained mostly outside in the world during the first half of life, and then inside in the second half, with different functions dominating in each of the two. This shift will be examined in more detail in connection with the Devil card. 


1. Thierry Depaulis,  Le Tarot Révélé, La-Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland, 2013, p. 17, which has the quotation.
2. Ibid, p. 5, p. 7, p. 61.
3. For 16th century documents suggesting divination with the tarot, see online Ross Caldwell’s “Brief History of Cartomancy” and the present author’s “Renaissance Philosophy of Cartomancy,” online. The main documents are 1506 and 1527, the first speaks of “images,” which might just mean the court cards of ordinary decks; the second is in a work of imaginative fiction.
4. Sandrina Bandera and Marco Tanzi, “quelle carte de triumphi che se fanno a Cremona”: I Tarocchi dei Bembo, Skira, Milan 2013, p. 50, date the card to 1555-1460. Others date it (and the rest of the deck, except for six cards in a different style) as early as 1452 or as late as the early 1460s..
5. In the Sermones de Ludo Cum Aliis, by an anonymous preacher near Ferrara, c. 1470-1500.. Details online in Tarotpedia.
6. Bagattella, Bagattino: Dizionario Etimologico Online, at Bacchetta: same web-page as notes 1 and 2; see also Tarotpedia (search “tarotpedia bateleur”).
7. Vol. 2, 1751, pp. 171-172, online in Google Books. Translated by Marco Ponzi on Tarot History Forum. Search for the word “swindle” in the Forum’s “Unicorn Terrace” and go to the top of the post; The page from Muratori is in the post just before, posted by Ross Caldwell.
8. Bateleur: Grand Robert Dictionnaire de la Langue Francaise, 1986, p. 886.
9. Evelyn Welch, Shopping in the Renaissance: Consumer Cultures in Italy, 1400-1600, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2005, p. 57. The page is in Google Books’ selection from this book.
10. Muratori: see Caldwell, note 7,
11. Michael Dummett, The Visconti-Sforza Tarot Cards, George Braziller, New York, 1986, p. 102.
12. Oxford Dictionary of English, 3rd edition, 2010, p. 948. See also Philip Butterworth, Magic on the Early English Stage, Cambridge University Press, 2005, p. 185. Both online in Google Books.
13. Dummett, op cit (see note 11), p. 102, reproduced at,find “earliest known magician.”
14. French cards: an online example, Conver 1761, is on the web-page given in note 13.  Waite: deck drawn by Pamela Smith under the instructions of A. E. Waite, published by William Rider & Son, London, 1910. Online, search “Rider-Waite Tarot.”
15. Laurinda Dixon, Bosch, 2003, p. 81. For an example, see again, find “Dixon.”
16. Green clubs: Ace and Knight of Batons in Tarot of Marseille of Jean Noblet (Paris c. 1650) restored by Jean-Claude Flornoy, editions, 2007. Online in Google Images, search “Noblet Batons.” Green gloves and sleeves: Dummett, note 11, pp. 73. 75. 77, 79. Online search “Visconti-Sforza Batons.”
17. Asclepius: De Deorum Imaginibus Libellus, (Vat. Cod. Reginsensis 1290), 14th century, in Hans Liebeschütz, ed., of Joannes Ridevallus, Fulgentius Metaforalis: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Antiken Mythologie im Mittelalter, Leipzig 1926 . For the image online, search “Asclepius Fulgentius“. Alchemist: in Basil Valentine: Revelation des mysteres des teintures essentielles des sept metau, Paris, 1668. Image reproduced in Johannes Fabricius, Alchemy: The Medieval Alchemists and their Royal Art, rev. ed., Diamond Books, London,1989, 13; it is online at (find “Valentine”)
18.  Bandera and Tanzi, op cit. (see note 4), pp. 69-73.
19.  Originally in John Foxe, Actes and Monumentes..., John Day, London, 1563, book V, p. 1369. Also Book XI, p. 1757, of 1580 edition.  Online under “John Foxe’s The Acts and Monuments”; at the website use keywords “triumph” and “trump”.
20.Francesco Piscina, Discorso,c. 1565, in  Explaining the Tarot: Two Italian Renaissance Essays on the Making of the Tarot Pack, edited, translated, and commented by Ross Sinclair Caldwell, Thierry Depaulis, and Marco Ponzi (Oxford, Maproom, 2010), pp.  14-15.
21. Sicilian card: Alciato: Parerga iuris: libri VII. posteriores (Lyon 1544), p. 90.
22: Holbein Frontispiece: Tabula Cebetis A, 1521:,_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger.jpg. Tabula Cebetis D, 1550, information:
23: Catelin Geoffroy:
24. The Greek Pilgrim's progress, generally Known as The Picture, by "Cebes (of Thebes)", trans. Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie (Yonkers, NY: Platonist Press, 1910) at
25. Antoine Court de Gebelin, "Du Jeu des Tarots," in Le Monde Primitif, analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne, vol. 8, Paris 1781. Online at Translation by David Tyson at,BR,0,0,The-Game-of-Tarots%2C-by-Gebelin%2C-translated-by-Donald-Tyson.doc.
26. Comte de Mellet, “Récherches sur les Tarot et sur la Divination par les Cartes des Tarots,, translated at, originally in Gebelin's book of note 24. For Thoth = Hermes, see e.g. Garth Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind, Princeton UniversiHty Press, 1993, pp.22-31, in Google Books.  For classical texts equating the two that were known in the Renaissance, see Ronald Decker, The Esoteric Tarot: Ancient Sources Rediscovered in Hermeticism and Cabala, Quest Books, Wheaton IL,  2013, pp. 28-40.
27. Ross Caldwell, “Brief History of Cartomancy,"
28. Quoted in Depaulis, op cit (see note 1), 57. The mention of tarot is on p. 74 of Etteilla, ou manière de se récréer avec un jeu de cartes par M***, 1770.
29.  Ronald Decker, Thierry Depaulis, and Michael Dummett, A Wicked Pack of Cards, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1996, p. 80.
30.  Etteilla, Manière de se récréer avec le jeu de cartes nommées tarots. Pour servir de second Cahier à cet Ouvrage, Amsterdam 1785, pp. 135-139. Selections online in French, transcribed by the present author with English translations, at; find “Alexis.”
31.  De' secreti del reuerendo donno Alessio Piemontese, Venice 1555. (See also Wikipedia entry for him, which has a link to a digitalized French translation.)
32. “Julia Orsini” (pseud.), Le Grand Etteilla, ou L’Art de Tirer les Cartes,  Tous les Marchands, Paris  (no date, but in fact 1838), p. 161. The original for these lists is probably the Dictionnaire synonimique du livre de Thot published in 1791. (Decker, Depaulis and Dummett, op cit. [see note 23]), p. 110). At least two such series of lists were produced. The others are given in Papus’s Le Tarot Divinatoire. Of the words quoted, it has only medecin, mage, i.e. physician, magus.
33. Le Grand Etteilla, ou L’Art de Tirer les Cartes, Grimaud, Paris, c. 1910, p. 39. That it derives from 1826 is based on the title given to the card, “AARON.” This and other such titles were added in an 1826 version of the cards, as described in Decker, Depaulis, and Dummett, op. cit. (note 28), 144f.
34. Decker, Depaulis, and Dummett of note 28, pp. 87-88, and  plate 2 for examples (for Coins see
35. Levi: Dogme et Rituele de la Haute Magie, tome 2 (Paris: Germer-Bailliere, 1861), 345. Online at
36. Paul Christian, L'Homme Rouge des Tuileries, Paris 1863, p. 90 of reprint (Guy Tredaniel, Paris 1977). Repeated in L'Histoire de la Magie, 1870, translated as History and Practice of Magic, trans James Kirkup and Julian Shaw (New York: Citidel Press, 1963), pp. 98-99.
37. Demiurge (otherwise, Greek for "craftsman"): Plato, Timaeus 28a-33c.A useful outline at
38. Gebelin, note 24.
39. R. Falconnier: Les XXII Lames Hermetiques du Tarot Divinatoire ..., dessins de Mce. Otto Wegener (Paris: Librarie de l'Art Independant, 1896).
40. A. E. Waite, Pictorial Key to the Tarot, London 1909, online at
41. Bembine tablet:
42. Histories II 42, at; the comment in brackets is mine, from a footnote at that site)
43. Hermetica, trans. Walter Scott, Vol. 1 (Boston: Shambhala, 1985),  pp. 473, 475):
44. Ciriaco:.
45. Levi of note 35, pp. 170-171.
46. Golden Dawn:
47. Papus The Qabalah: Secret Tradition of the West, trans. not identified (York Beach, ME: Weiser, 2000), 220.Originally Le Cabbale: Tradition Secete de l'Occident, 2nd ed., 1903, 192. Both online.
48. For the full page, with modern coloring, see
49. Judith Fletcher, “A trickster’s oaths in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes,” 2008, and also the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, both online 
50. William Lilly, Christian Astrology, 1st edition, 1647, Ch. XIII, “Of Mercury, his nature, signification, and property”, p. 76, online.
51 Ibid., pp. 77-79
52. Levi, Clef des Grands Mysteres (Paris, 1861), pp. 199-200, online in Gallica. Papus: Tarots des Bohemiens, 1889, translated by A.E. Waite as Tarot of the Bohemians (Hollywood, CA: Wilshire Book Company), p. 111.
53. Llewelleyn:
54. Sallie Nichols, Jung and Tarot (York Beach, ME: Weiser, 1980), p. 46.
55, Ibid, p. 48, continuing on to 49.
56. Idid, p. 61.
57. Ibid, p. 50
58. Ibid, p. 47
59. Ibid. p. 53. Rodin:
60. Ibid., p. 57. Image from
61. Ibid, p. 52.
62. Ibid., p. 58.
63. C. G. Jung, "The Spirit Mercurius," Alchemical Studies, vol. 13 of Collected Works, trans. R. F. C. Hull, (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 202. Originally given as a lecture in 1942 and published as "Der Geist Mercurius" in the Eranos-Jahrbuch 1942 (Zurich, 1943), revised and expanded for Psychologische Abhandlungen, VI, Zurich, 1948..
64. Nichols, note 54, p. 59
65. Ibid, p.
66. Ibid, p. 68.
67. Ibid., pp. 61-62