Fools and Misrule

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As spoken by Meerschaum, Serious Scholar:


Why did you choose a Pagan path? Did you have a philosophical disagreement with your previous faith’s hierarchy over a political or moral issue? Were you seeking a way to become closer to nature? Perhaps you never felt a strong connection with the faith of your family, if your family even practiced one. It also could have been a desire to have more structure and ritual in your worship . . . or less, for that matter.


However you came to call yourself a Pagan, and whatever your reasons are for embracing a Pagan path, I must caution you, gentle reader, to avoid the greatest peril that hovers at the edge of our ritual circles: I speak, of course, of the Fool.


Known to many as Card Zero in the Major Arcana of traditional tarot decks, this character managed to get a so-called holiday named after himself during the Middle Ages. Blithely surging forward without any concern for consequences, the Fool creates and augments chaos wherever his feet do lead him, and I assure you that those feet are extremely random in their leadership.


Is your interest piqued? Are you at all curious why I see such danger in this seemingly innocuous being? Let me give you some background on Foolishness, and perhaps it will become clear why I bid you avert the Fool.


In the tarot, the Fool represents naïve choices, a disregard for planning, embracing change for change’s sake, and a general disdain for all things serious and adult-like. He skips gaily ahead, heedless of the dangers represented by the cliff before him, and likewise ignoring the dog that so desperately seeks to pull him back to his proper path of Seriousness and Order. In his colorful garb he is an affront to the proper adult approach to life, as was handed down by the wise sage Greyface in 1166 BCE.


It is no surprise that the Fool managed to insinuate himself into the tarot, for during the Middle Ages and before he cropped up continually, and was even rather well regarded! The Roman feast of Saturnalia permitted the Saturnalicius princeps (or Lord of Misrule) to rule for a day, and they also celebrated Hilaria with all manner of silliness. The British town of Gotham was reputed to be packed to the gills with Fools that engaged in such activities as fish-drowning. True, it is said that the bizarre behavior of the townsfolk was a farce, intended to discourage the King from entering their home (and, by doing so, claiming the very road beneath him as his property), but the behavior of the Gothamites is held in disturbingly high regard by the emotionally immature of the scholarly community.


I can see you shaking your head as you read this (mostly because I am a clairvoyant prophet) and ask yourself, “But don’t we Pagans admire humor in our religion?” Yes, and that shall be our downfall; this is the very essence of the alarm that I desire to raise! One cannot properly honor the Gods if one is laughing; if they wished us to have fun in Their presence we would be holding rituals at a comedy club! Remember, gentle reader, that it is from our knees that we best pray!


Consider that self-described religion disguised as a joke, Discordianism. This order-resisting movement claims links to Paganism, but simultaneously disproves those claims by relying heavily on a revealed text, the Principia Discordia. This book directs its followers to upset the apple cart of good, clean Order; they are directed to declare themselves Pope, worship their own pineal gland, deify fictional characters, and assume names and titles of a most ridiculous nature, such as Paternosterprime, Avatar of Santa, Disciple of Bill the Cat, and Keeper of the Small, Grey Lump. They appear as ordinary as any other person, but once they start their tricks, you’ll never have your coveners attending to your words in quite the same way again.


Sometimes a well-meaning Priest or Priestess (often at the sly suggestion of a stealthy Discordian in the group) will decide to invoke the Lord of Misrule for a ritual. It may be for Yule, in keeping with the tradition of Saturnalia, or perhaps the gaiety of Beltaine seems appropriate. Such a plan must be avoided at all costs! I cannot tell you how many proper, rigid, serious rituals I have seen come apart at the seams because this unrelenting force of chaos showed up, noisemakers and all, and started . . . playing. Joking. Giggling. Tickling. Singing off-key. Acting, in other words, like religion should be fun. The very memory of such tragedies brings a lump to my throat . . .


As Spoken by Paternosterprime:


Okay, I can’t do this anymore. I don’t believe my readers are gentle, nor do I believe that the scholar Meerschaum is real. Unlike that scholar, I don’t have to be convinced of my own exist in order to have an opinion, so like a church full of space ponies, I’m making gravy without the lumps! I am a Fool and love the power that Foolish ignorance brings. The power of the Fool is to try new things, because no one ever told him not to. He is not constrained by the assumptions of what is and is not possible. He breaks the rules so that others may see where the rules make sense and where they are just so many words on paper. As Misrule I have mocked priestesses, cast circles backwards, and broken a Maypole. He is our reminder that humor is a part of the Universe that should be honored, not forgotten. Foolishness is something we should all be willing to embrace, if only a little.


I do have a word of caution to add: it really can be problematic if you invite the Lord of Misrule to your party. He isn’t going to follow a script no matter how nicely you ask. I’ve seen rituals that fell apart because they weren’t strong enough for his presence. However, if you have a strong leader, a well-trained group of practitioners, and a ritual that promises to forge ahead regardless of what Misrule may come up with, his presence can actually bring your coven or circle together as a worshipping group and make them appreciate the majesty of serious ritual all the more. And all the less; that’s the beauty of the Fool.




Alex Beese, 'The Origin of April Fool's Day', The Museum of Hoaxes, 2002, <http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/aforigin.html> [accessed 17 April 2007]


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