Buckle up; this one’s a whopper.
Part I of The Book of Thoth introduced us to the Tarot according to Crowley. The focus was on the Qabalah and the Tetragrammation, among other things, and how the cards fit onto these structures. Part II, titled The Atu (Keys or Trumps) is all about the Major Arcana. It begins with chapter 0: The Fool.
First of all, Mr. Crowley attributes the Fool to the letter Aleph, a matter which, you may recall, he vehemently justifies in his introductory chapters. Aleph signifies an ox, or more specifically for Crowley’s purposes, the phallic ploughshare. On the Tree of Life, Aleph occupies the path which connects the Sephora Kether, the Crown (1) to Chokmah, Wisdom (2).
Somewhat paradoxically, the Fool also represents the Veil of the Negative from which the Tree of Life emanates. This is denoted by his number 0. Thus are we introduced to one of the profound mysteries of Crowley’s Qabalistic Tarot: 0=2.* Of the three mother elements, the Fool represents Air, equated in this instance with empty space or a vacuum.
Of all the Atu, the Fool’s chapter is the longest by far. Much of this length comes from what DuQuette calls a “whirlwind tour of the greatest hits of Greek, Roman, Hindu, pagan, and Christian mythology.”** Crowley begins this tour with a (somewhat far-fetched, IMHO) association of the card’s original title of Il Matto or Le Mat with the Egyptian vulture goddess Maut, whose spiral-shaped neck supposedly represents the shape of the Universe. More significant is that the vulture was once thought to be impregnated by the wind in a sort of immaculate conception. The Fool, as a representation of both Air (and the ploughshare) and of Maut, is therefore both father and mother (“in the most abstract form of these ideas,” says Crowley on page 53). Paradoxes abound.
This business about the Fool being both Father and Mother leads Crowley to revisit his discussion of Tetragrammation, or the four-fold nature of the Tree of Life. In summary,*** to formulate 0, one must postulate the equation Zero equals plus one minus one, or the union of the active principle and the passive. This union can obviously regress back to Zero, or it can “go forth into matter” and produce a “son” and “daughter.” The court cards of the Tarot are the most concrete example of Tetragrammation, and these four abstract principles of Father, Mother, Son and Daughter are represented by the Knights, Queens, Princes and Princesses, respectively, of the court. The Knight conquers the old king and weds the Queen; she produces the Prince and Princess, who in turn become the Knight and Queen, and so on, ad infinitum. This ever-regenerating cycle is what makes the world go ’round, so to speak.
What (I think) Crowley is saying by bringing all this up in this chapter is that the Fool is representative of both the Knight and Queen (and by extension, the Prince and Princess). In the old fairy tales, it is easy to identify the Fool as the masculine Knight, and Crowley expounds upon this quite a bit. However, “all such symbolism defeats itself; the soft becomes the hard, the rough the smooth. The deeper one goes into the formula, the closer becomes the identification of the opposites. The Dove is the bird of Venus, but the dove is also a symbol of the Holy Ghost; that is, of the Phallus in its most sublimated form. There is therefore no reason for surprise in observing the identification of the father with the mother,” explains Crowley on page 56 (sorry for another block quote in this series, but frankly, I couldn’t parse apart that Gordian Knot with my own words if my name was Alexander). The Fool is thus a composite symbol for the entire Tetragrammation.
With that, Crowley resumes his mythical greatest hits tour. At his most primal, the Fool is represented by the Green Man, the April Fool and the Holy Ghost, all of which are connected to the festivals of frivolity and fecundity that accompanies Spring’s rebirth. Fairly straightforward.
Next is Dalua, the “Great Fool” of the Celts. Or, so the section is titled. Crowley mentions neither Dalua nor the Celts here, but instead goes into detail about how humanity requires a “savior,” whatever that may mean to a given culture. Unfortunately, salvation is hindered by reason – it is only through “madness” that salvation can be attained. Such divine madness is incomprehensible to mankind, so in order to fit the bill, the savior must be extra-ordinary, even to the point of requiring a virgin mother and a god for his father. Even better if god materializes in the form of some sacred animal, as ol’ Zeus is wont to do. This savior must be incomprehensible by nature, but in order to denote him in his ineffability, he is often depicted as a wandering lunatic or fool, because who better than those simpletons who in simpler times were thought to be “touched by God?” Knowing nothing about this “Dalua,” I’m left to assume he is akin to the messiah of the ancient Celts.
Following Dalua is Percivale or Parsifal, the foolish and pure knight of Arthurian legend who won the Holy Grail and cured the Fisher King and his realm of its blight. This is an advancement of the theme of the foolish savior above, and it connects back to the primitive fecundity of the Green Man through “maximum innocence (i.e. madness) developing into maximum fertility (page 59),” which is symbolized in the legends as Parsifal obtaining the lance (puberty) and plunging it into the grail ( … we all know what that means, right?) to redeem all that is awry.
Up until now, all of Crowley’s examples have their origins in the British Isles, with a healthy dose of Christianity thrown in because, after all, what we know about the ancient Celts and Brits comes from Christian sources. It is at this juncture that he returns to Egyptian myth to illustrate what is essentially the same point with a different cultural language (it is during the following sections that Crowley also alludes to Hindu myth, but I’m not going to bring that up in this post because I’m already going cross-eyed over it all, and I have no doubt that only the most tenacious of my readers are going to get even this far).
Sebek, the crocodile god who is the son of Set, is used by Crowley to epitomize all ancient fish gods. This fish (a symbol to which Crowley often alludes) is, like the Fool, a symbol of both the male and female. The crocodile is similar to Maut the vulture, in that it was supposed to reproduce by some mystical asexual means, and is therefore a supreme symbol of generative power. Crowley digresses here a bit into the mystical properties of the letter “N,” but because that ultimately falls under the domain of Atu XIII, we’ll leave it alone for now. Suffice it to say that it has a lot to do with water, and the fish or crocodile represents the “god through whose virtue man passes through the waters of death (page 60).” There is, again, a female counterpart/component to this doctrine, and while I am willing to accept this paradox, I can’t explain it to any degree of satisfaction.
Next on the docket is Hoor-Pa-Kraat or Harpocrates, who is the newborn “dawn” aspect of Horus, the Egyptian savior-sun god. Harpocrates (his Hellenistic transliteration) is the god of Silence, which sparks such a digression from Crowley that he appends it to the end of Part II instead of just footnoting it or rambling for an extra paragraph here (more on these appendices at another time – there are several for the Fool, as well as some for others of the Atu). Hoor-Pa-Kraat is integral to Crowley’s magic(k)al doctrines, so it comes as no surprise to see such space devoted to him here. In essence (so far as I can figure it), this silence is the silence of Zero = Two, just before it manifests itself as Three. It must be silent, because the third Sephiroth Binah, called “Understanding,” does not yet exist.
Crowley spends some time describing Harpocrates in his typical depictions. This is significant, because no other figure in this chapter gets such a thorough treatment.**** What is important for our purposes, though, is that Harpocrates represents that divine innocence which is the theme of this card. He is a child, either yet-unborn or newborn, who is closely associated Sebek and the Nile – he is essentially one with the waters of oblivion, simultaneously master of them and at the mercy of them, a sublime paradox that really resonates with me.
To be honest, this stuff about Harpocrates seems to make fair enough sense as I read it, but I am really struggling to put it into an intelligible summary here. It is very heavy on the paradox stuff, which is of course a theme of the entire chapter and is naturally confusing. Suffice it to say that there is quite a bit packed into the ~3 pages about Harpocrates, and if I had to distill it to its essence, I would say that, as the god of Silence, Innocence, and the Dawn (metaphor for rebirth), he epitomizes the Fool for Crowley. I don’t mean to cheat Harpocrates of his full depth of meaning, but all of these mythical characters are essentially just analogies for the Fool, and the minutae isn’t necessarily always important for our purposes here. At any rate, I think the Fool may take many years of re-reading and meditation before I can fully unpack him. And, if I can fully unpack him, I will have missed the point of the card.
But, like Crowley, I digress.
And with that, we move right along to Greece. Zeus Arrhenothelus is the hermaphroditic aspect of Zeus. Apparently, this version of Zeus is more prevalent in Alchemy than in mythology (at least insofar as I am familiar with it, but it is true that Crowley’s encyclopedic knowledge of mythology far surpasses mine), and it symbolizes “that the original god is both male and female (page 64).” As soon as the male aspect is conceived, the female is immediately generated. This is a primary Crowley rule: each symbol contains within itself its own opposite, and it’s another reiteration of the paradoxical theme of the chapter. Zeus is also, interestingly, an Air deity. Crowley talks a bit here about the association of Air with Spirit (and it’s not the first time he’s done so), and why Air should be Zero when it is generally thought that Fire is the original element, but again, much of this discussion went over my head.
Next is Dionysus Zagreus and Bacchus Diphues. The essence here is that Bacchus was driven insane and represents madness and intoxication. He is also the offspring of Zeus, which is interesting in that it suggests the Fool, as Zeus and Bacchus, is both father and son (see the part about Tetragrammation above). Crowley has much more to say, but it’s all more or less in the vein of madness and it’s associated bacchanalian symbolism; overall, this part is pretty straightforward.
The last stop on the tour is Baphomet, about whom Crowley assumes a general knowledge on the part of the reader. This I unfortunately lack, outside of Baphomet being the goat-headed figure that graces Satanic pentagrams. He does show up again in Atu XV, so I’ll save my speculations about why he’s really important to the Thoth Tarot for then. Why Baphomet has anything to do with the Fool is honestly beyond me at this point.
Crowley finally wraps up this chapter with a discussion about the contradictory and generally reason-defying nature of the Fool. The goal of studying the Fool, or any of the trumps for that matter, is supposedly to train the mind in thinking “clearly and coherently in this exalted matter (page 67).” The last thing that happens in this chapter is a description of the card itself, but because I’ve posted a photo of it, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to repeat any of it here.
Despite my occasional lapses in comprehension, I am quite pleased with myself for the depths of understanding I’ve managed to plumb from this chapter. This post took me well over the time I expected to write it, but if I get as much from the subsequent chapters as I did from this one, I’ll be able to consider myself a serious Thoth initiate in no time. Of course, Mr. Crowley doesn’t even have half as much to say about any other card as he does about the Fool, and that is telling. There is no other card as important to the mystery of Tarot and the Qabalah as this one. It sets the stage for everything that follows. It is the thesis of Tarot.
To sum up, I would say the most important takeaway is the paradox inherent in this card. DuQuette says about the Fool, “[he] propounds the ultimate riddle. Creation and the meaning of life are an incomprehensible joke. The Fool is more than God. The Fool is the ‘nothing’ we refer to when we say, ‘Nothing created God. Nothing is beyond God. Nothing is greater than God.'”***** Everything beyond that, while interesting, is just details.
Sorry about this slow burn of a read. I doubt anything else in this series is going to be this languorous. It was all for my own good, though, and if you’re reading this, I hope it was helpful for you, too.
*Here is a perfect example of why it’s a good idea for me to write this series. I puzzled for a week and a half over how the Fool could represent both a path on the Tree and the Void surrounding it. Of course, Crowley’s bit about comparing the apparent contradictions in Qabalah to the mathematical impossibility of hitting a golf ball echoed in my ear, but that’s ultimately just clever rhetoric. It was only as I wrote this out that it hit me: Crowley’s whole thing is 0=2, so it is actually very fitting for the card numbered 0 to occupy the space between Sephiroth 1 and 2. As I discussed before, it takes 3 to finally differentiate between all previous points. Mind-bending.
**DuQuette, Understanding Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot, page 97.
***I surmised somewhat already in a previous installment, but for the sake of keeping my understanding of Crowley’s Thoth thorough, I’ll reiterate here.
****Dalua be like, wtf am I, chopped liver?!
*****DuQuette, UACTT, page 97. You know, I find DuQuette’s writing to be the perfect companion to Crowley’s. It’s light and playful where Crowley’s is heavy and serious. But while I have found DuQuette’s book to be an indispensable guide to the Thoth, this series has proven to me that there is no substitute for the original. As DuQuette says himself on page 5, “I strongly recommend that, if you are serious about your study of the tarot, you not only read The Book of Thoth but reread it regularly.” I get it now.