Re: The Fool

Thanks Steve, very interesting.


The ant has made himself illustrious
Through constant industry industrious.
So what?
Would you be calm and placid
If you were full of formic acid?

Ogden Nash. :fool
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

Re: The Fool

translation of mid-fifteenth century anonymous poem Italian court of Ferrara:

It seems that the angel, star, sun, and moon,
Hardly possible, that this is from "mid-fifteenth century" ... :-), should be an "error in the system" ... printing error, earlier error, lay-out error, translation error ... whatever, it contains the word "tarocchi", which is not possible, otherwise hundred of eyes would fill with tears ...

... :-) ... Well, it appears within the section "Fool", I understand the joke.
Per poter dire i buoni tarocchi mej
Saran, s'avien ch'io giuochi, et questi uno
Vo trare il Matto ch'è cervel divino.

Re: The Fool

Huck wrote: Hardly possible, that this is from "mid-fifteenth century" ... :-), should be an "error in the system" ... it contains the word "tarocchi", which is not possible, otherwise hundred of eyes would fill with tears ...

... :-) ... Well, it appears within the section "Fool", I understand the joke.
mid-sixteenth century, have corrected it, thanks for pointing out the error.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: The Fool


What is the significance of the animal on the Noblet Fool card? I pick the Noblet in particular because it is the only one where the animal is clearly reaching for the man’s testicles. Later ones cover up this detail. Also, this is the only one in which the animal has webbed feet. I think it is important to call it “the animal” rather than “the dog.” In an earlier post on this thread (viewtopic.php?f=23&t=383&start=20#p6495) I suggested it might be an imaginary animal. I gave some 15th century engraved examples, some of which were as closely related to dogs as the Noblet animal is.

I have been looking at 16th and 17th century alchemical illustrations lately, to see whether there is any relation between them and Noblet. I found the following,


It is from Johann Daniel Milius’s Philosophia reformata, 1622. Admittedly, this animal is not reaching for any testicles. However the lady is probably a symbol of something for which testicles might be another symbol. This animal is more fear-inspiring than the one on the card, less domesticated-looking, and it doesn’t have webbed feet.

Here is what de Rola, from whose Golden Game (p. 172) I get this image, says about it (p. 180):
Every fixation of the Volatile (the fleeing maiden caught by the monster) is followed by a volatization of the Fixed until Perfection is reached.
I am not sure what “fixation of the volatile” and vice versa mean, but it would seem to be something that pertains to the whole of the work, from beginning to end. As such, it is suitable for a card that has no definite place in the sequence. I would guess that “volatile” is a term that would fit the Fool. A madman is someone who overreacts to everything, reading everything with suspicion one minute and with total innocence the next, and either overwrought to the point of mania or over-depressed to the point of suicidality. Helping him to achieve a state of calm and steadiness is a worthy endeavor, and not just for alchemists: countless psychiatric treatment centers have tried and failed. Removing the testicles used to be standard treatment in mental institutions.

I looked for other representatives, in de Rola's commentary to Mylius's work, of fixed and volatile and their interpenetration. (The images alone are at ... /index.htm.) In other emblems in the same work, the fixed is usually a male lion (#4, #5, #16, #23, #26, #4 of 2nd series). In one it is a king (#11), and in another it is a hermaphrodite on a tomb (#14). The volatile is a winged dragon (#4), a queen (#16), a serpent (#5), a winged lioness (#23), the god Mercury (#26), and an eagle (#14 and #4 of second series). In #11 it is unclear to me who the volatile is. In #4 of the second series, their reconciliation is a salamander ( ... 622_52.htm). The salamander supposedly could live in the fire unaltered by it (see e.g. Emblem XXIX at

In Mylius’s Anatomia auri, 1628, the Volatile is represented by Mercury as a winged-footed Queen; the Fixed is a fire-breathing King. These are shown on the bottom branches of a tree and thus at the beginning of the Work (de Rola p. 207, or, among many sites on the Web).

I looked for representations of fixed and volatile in other engravings by the same publisher and family of engravers as Mylius. In Michael Maier’s Symnbola Aureae mensae, 1617, the second emblem shows a small, tailless, doglike creature on the ground, chaining an eagle:


De Rola’s comment is “The Volatization of the Fixed, and the Fixation of the Volatile, constitute the whole of the Work” (p. 114). He also observes that the alchemist looking on is Avicenna. Fabricius, in his discussion of the engraving, quotes Maier’s commentary on the engraving: “The eagle flying through the air and the toad crawling on the ground are the magistry” (Alchemy, p. 55). The doglike creature is actually a toad.

So the toad is a symbol of the Fixed. (It also is one image for the “first matter” of alchemy, as Adam MacLean explains at Our images thus are that which O’Neill could not find, to connect the "prima materia" with the Fool, in his Tarot Symbolism, p. 276. See my post at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=647#p9670.) From this image of the Fixed as a toad, I think I can say more. I recognize that toad from alchemist George Ripley’s Vision, 15th century, and art historian Laurinda Dixon’s analysis of Bosch’s Adoration of the Magi.

Here is Ripley’s Vision.I have indicated the most relevant lines in red:
When busie at my Book I was upon a certaine night,
This Vision here exprest appear'd unto my dimmed sight:
A Toade full rudde I saw, did drink the juice of Grapes so fast,
Till over charged with the broth, his Bowels all to brast:
And after that, from poyson'd bulke he cast his venome fell,
For greif and pain whereof his Members all began to swell;

With drops of poysoned sweate approaching thus his secret Den,
His cave with blasts of fumous ayre he all be-whited then:
And from the which in space a golden humour did ensue,
Whose falling drops from high did staine the soil with ruddy hue.
And when this Corps the force of vitall breath began to lacke,
This dying Toade became forthwith like Coale for colour blacke:
Thus drowned in his proper veynes of poysoned flood,
For tearme of eightie dayes and fowre he rotting stood;
By triall then this venome to expell I did desire,
For which I did committ his carkase to a gentle fire;

Wich done, a wonder to the sight, but more to be rehear’st,
The Toade with Colours rare through every side was pear’st,
And White appeared when all the sundry hewes were past,
Which after being tincted Rudde, for evermore did last.
Then of the venome handled thus a medicine I did make,
Which venome kills and saveth such as venome chance to take.

Glory be to him the graunter of such secret wayes,
Dominion, and Honour, both with Worship, and with Prayse. AMEN.
(from Lynn Thorndike, A history of magic and experimental science, vol. IV, p. 353.)
To put the process briefly: A toad eats some grape juice and starts excreting poison from his bowels, which kills it. So as to expel the venom, Ripley subjects the toad’s body to gentle heat; it turns various colors, starting with black, then white, and then red again, where it stays. The resulting fluid is now a potent medicine.

In other words, the venom, extracted from the poisonous body and excreta of the toad, becomes the elixir. But it is a rather odd elixir: it sometimes kills, or so I read the third-to-last line.

Toads had a symbolic life outside of alchemy. Dixon tells us that they were a symbol of human sinfulness (Bosch, p. 224):
Chemical theory relegated toads to the lowest sphere of creation, for they were believed to arise spontaneously form the action of heat on rotted substances. Their low nature is also reflected in Christian iconography, which associated toads with sin and heresy. Chemical texts picture them as symbols of nigredo, upon which the entire process rests. Like Christ, they must be killed before their resurrection into perfected substance.
In this tradition, Hieronymus Bosch's Adoration of the Magi shows as one of the gifts a small golden sculpture of the sacrifice of Isaac. The sculpture is supported by toads. Below is the relevant detail (Dixon p. 208).


To see this detail in contact, look to the lower right on the ground in the reproduction at ... bosch.html.

The sacrifice of Isaac was seen as a precursor to the Crucifixion. Hence the sculpture symbolizes the redemption of the toads beneath. A similar redemption is implied in the alchemical transformations described by Ripley: the end result of the toad's transformation is the elixir. If the toad is human sinfulness, the alchemical sequence could also be an "imitatio Christi” within the human soul.

My thought is that the creature on the Fool card is symbolically equivalent to the toad. But it is more than sinfulness; it is also the material basis of salvation.

The juice of the grape, as in the poem’s fourth line, is the fruit of the tree of knowledge, by which humanity plunged into sin. But it is also the “happy fault” by which humanity, after much purifying suffering, may regain immortality. Even after purification, salvation is up to God. The elixir is the Last Judgment, which is death to some and life to others, by God’s grace. Grape juice is also the sacrament of Christ’s blood, transubstantiated wine.

On the Noblet Fool card, the animal is grabbing for the Fool’s equivalent of the grapes, his testicles. The animal is the fixed, which needs to become volatilized. Eating the grapes will do that; their effect is like wine.

In my earlier post (viewtopic.php?f=23&t=383&start=20#p6495), I compared the animal to the goat that was sacrificed in the Roman-era Dionysian rites. According to Virgil, its sin was eating the young grapes on the vine. (In that regard he is like the “little foxes” in the Song of Songs, who also would eat the Shulamite’s grapes, so to speak, before their time.) So the goat, who as an individual is probably innocent of the crime, must be dismembered, boiled, roasted, and eaten, all in a sacred way. That is exactly what happened to the young Dionysus-Zagreus at the hands of the Titans. The creature is thus the god whose sacrifice atones for the sins of his fellows.

In my view, Ripley’s toad, and the creature on the Fool card, are Christianizations of this Dionysian tradition. The transformations of the toad are the transformations of the Christ-spirit within humanity, imbibed in the eating of God the Father’s spiritual testicles (the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge). The tarot sequence accomplishes similar transformations. In the Death card, for example we see not only Death but also dismemberment, with human body parts on the ground.

Toads, most of them, do not have webbed feet. They are merely animals that are at home both on land and in the water, amphibians. So why does the creature on the card have webbed feet? I think it is to make the relationship to water evident: the creature represents the element of water, to the Fool’s fire. The application of water on fire calms the fire. The chemicals present in the water then transform it.

I get some confirmation of my theory, with additional alchemical imagery, from the illustrations to another Ripley poem, the “Scrowle." Although apparently written in the 15th century, perhaps with some sort of illustrations (if it was originally intended as a scroll), a very handsome version was done in 1588. The entire illumination, from which I am focusing on salient details, is at ... Scroll.JPG. In addition to this one, many other copies were made, including printed ones (although some discreetly omitted the details I find of most interest).

Here is the toad, near the bottom of the long, narrow sheet.


You will have noticed the webs. In this version, the toad is being eaten by the dragon: a case of the fixation of the volatile. What spurts out of the toad’s mouth is a red liquid called “the tayming Venome.” That phrase corresponds to a couplet in Ripley’s poem ( The poet is speaking in the person of the Stone, which here is in the form of a dragon. I--the poet says--
...That sometyme was both wood and wild,
And now I am both meeke and mild;..
So the outcome is much as I have speculated about the calming of the Fool.

I cannot read what is written below the dragon. I think it has something to do with the “Sonne,” who nught be Christ. In the poem, it appears that eating the toad kills the dragon:
And downe in his Den shall lye full lowe:
Iswel'd as a Toade that lyeth on ground,
Burst with bladders fitting so round,
They shall to brast and lye full plaine,
And thus with craft the Serpent is slaine:
It is the same as in the “Vision,” but with the addition of the dragon.

The poem also makes a very clear allusion, in its only mention of fixation, to the blood of Christ.
Now maketh hard that was lix,
...And causeth him to be fix.
Of my blood and water I wis,
Plenty in all the World there is.
It runneth in every place;
Who it findeth he hath grace:
But in much of the scroll’s illumination--its most interesting aspects, in fact--I do not see an equivalent in the verses at all.

In the top portion of the scroll is a very toad-like woman—with webbed feet, even—reaching down to a somewhat toad-like man.


The woman is labeled “Spiritus” and the man “Anima,” that is, spirit and soul. The woman has a tail, suggesting the serpent in the garden of Eden—in other words, the bringer of death; but since she is climbing the tree, in the direction of heaven, she also represents eternal life.

Above the tree, at the very top of the scroll, a very demiurgic, God-the-Father-looking, enormous alchemist holding a flask with representations of the various operations—and the toad again, spewing his life-giving, life-taking venom.


On the tree itself, you will have noticed clusters of grapes. At the base of the tree, in the middle of the scroll, a man and a woman seem to be eating from them.


This pair is not the same as the pair further up, because they are labeled Sol and Luna rather than Soul and Spirit, and the man has a beard. They are the alchemical equivalent of Adam and Eve. The monks looking on are alchemists, identifiable by the flasks they hold.

To find “Spiritus” and “Anima” again, we have to go down one more level, below Sol and Luna’s water bath. Here is what we see:


The two figures have their feet in a pool of fire. Here is a closer look, in case the labels are hard to read. They are soul and spirit, with the large man in the middle as body.


They are clearly the pair that transform into toadlike humans further up. Notice that the woman is also labeled “water.” She is the agent-to-be of a water-based fixation process. And since they will be ascending the tree, what is fixated is also being volatilized.

The Noblet Fool card thus seems to me an example of the tarot borrowing imagery and symbolism from the alchemical emblems of the time. It is not a question of the designer of the card having seen the “Scrowle” and used what he saw; it is simply that an alchemical convention for indicating fixation by water-based solution was adopted by the Noblet designer to indicate, for those inclined to see, the corresponding spiritual process.

Re: The Fool

JMD has an answer to what this Noblet animal is and now I can't recall--something like a weasel--and good reasons for that identification. It's somewhere over at AT, or it was--I'll try searching but it'd be better if someone with a better memory pops in.

I don't see why the alchemical toad would be in the Noblet tarot, is what I''m saying.

eta: Not a weasel--a civet. Looks like Flournoy calls it a civet as various friends and neighbors from this forum and AT have discussed (JMD, Rosanne, Prudence, Bernice). My memory isn't what it was. Well it never was.

Dog eat dogs

Hello all,

Here is a civette picture:

Mammifère carnassier d'Afrique et de l'Inde, au corps allongé, au pelage gris parsemé de taches noires et dont la taille varie de celle du chat à celle du chien :
Les civettes tiennent en quelque façon le milieu entre les chiens et les autres genres. Elles n'ont qu'une dent plate en bas et deux en haut, dont la dernière fort petite. Le talon de la dernière tranchante est fort grand.
Cuvier, Leçons d'anat. comp., t. 3, 1805, p. 161.

This small animal has a grey fur spotted of black spots. It size between a cat and a dog.

But on Noblet it remains only an hypothesis. See how many various version we have of "the animal" on historical decks.

YLM :o3
Personne n'est au dessus de l'obligation de dire la vérité.
Nobody is above obligation to tell truth.

Re: The Fool

Thanks for the reference, Debra. I am always ready to hear other interpretations.

Searching on ATF, all I could find for "civet" was this, not by JMD, but by "eltarot78": ... tcount=115

eltarot78 attributes the identification of the animal as a civet to Flornoy, but in reference to the Dodal, not the Noblet.

Looking at the Dodal, I do not see any webbing between the toes. It could well be a civet. But why that in particular? We have to ask, what is the symbolic significance of that animal? Apparently Flornoy says they were used to kill rats. Is the Fool then a rat? I am more of a Fool-sympathizer than that.

If there is something on the Web about the Noblet, I would appreciate a more specific reference. I once took JMD's on-line course on the Noblet. There he said that the animal is something like a lynx, a species of wild cat, although "the lines especially of its head seem more canine-like than feline." He suggested that such an animal, jumping at the Fool's genitals, was put on the card to suggest a painful experience, "far more of a painful experience than the paws of a dog." It is
A painful experience that will likely give great laughter to the casual observer--unless empathetic... and generally a fool is not someone one with which to sense such. In our contemporary time, this has metamorphosed with the acts and 'pain' of the clown, another aspect of the jester-cum-fool.
I do not wish to deny this very sensitive interpretation, except perhaps for the species of animal, which I continue to think is imaginary (a view that JMD's waffling between cats and dogs also seems to point toward). JMD's description doesn't fit lynxes. They have padded paws, except in warm climates like the SW United States, according to Wikipedia. Their main weapon is their teeth.

Most importantly for me, JMD's interpretation doesn't address the webbing. I was trying to account for the webbing, other than by saying that the animal was done by a bad artist, and in a way that also accounted for his grabbing of the testicles. Both details on the card are quite distinctive. The only places I found symbolic webbing between toes in that historical time period was in the "Ripley Scrowle" toad and upper lady. In each case, it suggests a creature at home in both the water and on land, i.e. a capacity to be both volatile and fixed. The upper lady is similarly menacing, like a Siren luring unsuspecting sailors or the serpent on the Tree of Knowledge. And the lower toad is in the right place (at the bottom of the frame), and so is the enchaining one in the Mylius illustration, with a symbolic meaning that fits the card. That last toad in turn is in the same place as the doglike animal in the other Mylius illustration, jumping at the lady. I am doing interpretation by a small chain of associations (2 or 3 degrees of separation), and for the webbing it seems to pass through alchemy.

Re: The Fool

I wrote, on the civet:
Apparently Flornoy says they were used to kill rats. Is the Fool then a rat? I am more of a Fool-sympathizer than that.
On this note, there is this image, from O'Neill's web commentary on the Bagatto ( ... ll/bagatto):


It would seem to me that the Fool/Bagatto here is identifying with the mice or rats, as perhaps indicative of his own likely fate if he persists in his foolery/trickery. In this case the animal would be cat-like, but equipped to deal with bigger prey, and so more like a civet. Civets, as the quote in French says, have characteristics of both dogs and cats. I see on Wikipedia that civets are native to South Asia and tropical Africa, although they also can be found on the Iberian peninsula (brought by the Arabs?). So if they were used to hunt rats in France, they must have been brought in for that purpose before the Dodal was made.

I haven't found out anything about the cutting ability of their claws, as opposed to their teeth. They are classed as omnivores, but at least one type seems to prefer a diet of nuts. I also haven't found any accounts of their being used to kill rats, although that was true for their close relative the mongoose, until people noticed that they killed all the small fauna without distinction. In any case, the woodblock-cutter gives the animal long claws. Who knew about civets, or cared? Aiming for the testicles rather than the leg alone is then a bit of crude humor, as JMD suggests.

This association has the Fool as a rascal like the Bagatto--not such a narrow view, if you think of all sinners as to that extent cheaters, headed after death for a second death in hell, unless they repent and do penance. And for a more positive take on the card, there is the unjust cruelty inflicted on St. Paul's "fools for Christ" (I Cor. 4:10).

O'Neill doesn't identify the source of his image, but I would guess that it is from Brandt's Ship of Fools.

This interpretation still doesn't deal with the webbing on the Noblet animal.