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All Fool’s Day and the Tarot

Photo Credit: Kaptain Kobold via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Kaptain Kobold via Compfight cc

“The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.”

 –Mark Twain 

What is All Fool’s (or April Fool’s) Day and what connection, if any, does it have with Tarot?

The most obvious association is with the Fool card in the Major Arcana. Cultures going back to the ancient Romans have celebrated holidays when the normal conventions of behavior did not apply, when people were given the opportunity to shun the rules and play the fool.

Many such holidays occurred near the spring equinox, such as the Roman festival, Hilaria, and Jewish Purim.   While the roots of All Fools Day are lost in the mists of history, the holiday appears to be connected to these lighthearted springtime celebrations.

The spring equinox was celebrated as the beginning of the new year in medieval Europe, and is today enjoyed as Noruz – a sort of Islamic New Year’s festival – by many Muslims.  The spring new year plays a large role in origin theories, as many believe that All Fool’s Day celebrations derived from the switch in Europe from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, a changeover which progressed from France in the 16th century to England in the 18th century. During this time the rural folk, who continued celebrating New Year’s Day at the beginning of spring, may have been considered fools by the more “sophisticated” urbanites who made the switch to a January 1st New Year’s – hence All Fool’s Day on April 1st.

But this explanation for All Fool’s Day doesn’t take into account the fact that the Julian calendar also celebrated New Year’s Day on January 1st, and All Fool’s celebrations in France and England actually preceded the calendar changes.

While January 1st may be the first day of the calendar new year, the spring equinox signals fresh beginnings for the earth (in the Northern hemisphere, at least).  It is more likely that the roots of All Fool’s Day derive from the universal lightening of hearts that follows the bursting of buds from the ground after the cold and dark of winter.  The spring equinox is a sort of solar balance point, when the hours of day and night are roughly equal.  From that day until the autumn equinox there are more hours of day than night, and the extra sunshine naturally lifts people’s spirits, just as the lack of sunshine during winter can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Traditional interpretations of the Fool card fit neatly with All Fool’s Day’s celebrations.  Aleister Crowley perhaps said it best in his Book of Thoth:  “The Fool stirs within all of us at the return of Spring, and be cause [sic] we are a little bewildered, a little embarrassed, it has been thought a salutary custom to externalize the subconscious impulse by ceremonial means.  It was a way of making confession easy.  Of all these festivals it may be said that they are representations in the simplest form, without introspection, of a perfectly natural phenomenon.”  When drawn in answer to a timing question, the Fool could, therefore, indicate early spring.

While the Fool is typically associated with Uranus, in the same text on the Fool, Crowley takes care to mention that the Sun enters Aries at the spring equinox – the start of the astrological year – almost as if Aries is a secondary attribution to the card.  This makes some sense as Aries represents many classic “Fool” traits, such as having a pioneering spirit and the ability to live in the moment.  However, the Aries/Fool impulsiveness can have its downside too.  Partnered with other Aries/Mars influenced cards, one might ask if these tendencies are leading to destructive or constructive results.

Aries, which holds sway from March 21st to April 19th, is attributed to the Emperor, and there is an elegance to All Fool’s Day falling within the Aries/Emperor calendar period, suggestive of state-sanctioned high jinks.  However, the Emperor brings a warning as well.  In The Book of Thoth, Crowley says of the Emperor: “With regard to the quality of this power, it must be noted that it represents sudden, violent, but impermanent activity.  If it persists too long, it burns and destroys.”  Clearly, we Fools must know our limits.  Do we step blindly off the cliff?  Or, like the man in the Three of Wands (another All Fool’s Day card, attributed to March 31st – April 10th), do we take considered risks, contemplating what lies beyond the cliff’s edge?

The All Fools Day concepts of the trickster, lightheartedness and fresh beginnings, with all their pure potential, mesh well with modern interpretations of the Fool.  This makes All Fool’s Day an excellent time to consider how the energies of the Fool are working in your life, or even to play the Fool.  Or just smile at strangers and spread some Foolish good cheer.

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