No I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous--
Almost, at times, the Fool.
T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Fool is consciousness without self-consciousness. He is first card of the Major Arcana and, in many ways, the rest of the Major Arcana are the actuality that follows from the Fool's potential. Because he is a clean slate, the Fool knows nothing, completely ignorant of the customs and ways of the world around him. This is not always a disadvantage, however: those who's sight is colored by the life they lead and the things they have learned often miss truths that the Fool can see as plain as the nose on his face. This is why in the Shakespearean tradition of Drama, seen especially in King Lear, the Fool is often the only one who speaks the truth.

Perhaps the most relevant part of the quote from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is not so much the statement of the narrator that he is the Fool, but rather that he is "at times" and even then only "almost" The Fool. The entire selection has him speaking of himself with his own voice, defining himself and defining himself as, "politic, cautious, and meticulous," three things that are as far from The Fool as one can possibly get. But at times, at times the speaker is still almost ridiculous, almost The Fool. At times the speaker comes so close to becoming the Fool that he can feel it within himself, and for a moment his self consciousness passes away.

This is the nature of The Fool. Very few of us can remain so foolish all the time, so completely out of touch with the world around us and with our own histories that we are consciousness untouched and unspoilt. Instead we are pressed upon by society and by our obligations. Every once in a while, however, even the most self-conscious of us has a chance to let ourselves be carried away into a state of unspoilt purity, the land of The Fool.

The concept of fana from Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, resonates very much with The Fool. In Arabic, fana means "passing away" not in the sense of dying so much as in the sense of simply ceasing to be. When one attains fana one has let one's ego pass away, the matter of one's life simply melting off of the core consciousness. Similarly, many forms of Buddhism refer to what they call beginner's mind, which involves the mind passing into the state it was in the beginning, before learning everything it did. This idea crops up in the Christian tradition as well. In many of the gospels, both those in the Bible such as Gospel of Matthew, as well as more apocryphal works, such as The Gospel of Thomas, Jesus implores his followers to become like children.

The Fool is a symbol of a person who is not defined by his surrondings. The Fool stands outside the progression of the cards from one to twenty-one, himself the zero-th card of the Tarot. The Fools stands outside of the real numbers largely because he is both a point of beginning and a point of ending. This is often literal, as we all enter the world as complete Fools and in our old age our minds are taken once again from us, but it is also true from a path of spiritual development, for as we travel along our path to enlightenment we carve more and more of the world out of our consciousness, until the only thing left is the purity of our souls standing apart from the body, the senses, and even the thoughts that rage in a tempest around it.

taken with permission from