Education is the inheritance of all human beings. As teachers we join a tradition as ancient as the human heart. It helps to peruse some of the symbology and mythology relating to our practice, so we may see with eyes unclouded the call that we've answered.
This is the second post in a series that links the practice and role of teachers with cross-cultural archetypes and mythology (read the first post: Teachers are Clowns).
The Fool is an archetype that appears in Tarot symbology. It is the primordial card. Unlike the other 22 trumps, The Fool bares no number. He is not the beginning, nor the end. He permeates each of the cards with his essential qualities, three of which we will consider specifically in this post.
The first thing to note about The Fool is that s/he is on a journey. In fact s/he is a representation of one who has answered the call to a quest by leaving behind material possessions. Without destination, but retaining intelligence and determination. That is clear from the Fool's yellow hat, a symbol of intelligence. So, far from wandering aimlessly, The Fool is wondering with an open mind, without prejudice or preconception, without needs or complexes. This is the primary creative force within us all, the potential to create anew, aware of the legacy of all that has come before but not weighed down by it all the same.
Let's relate this to teaching. First, the teacher walks a cyclical path, teaching the same concepts, even the same lesson plans, over and over. There is a danger inherent here, for we know that the students must learn these things for themselves. How does the teacher, having learnt this concept so many times, control the urge to merely tell the students the answers? One way is to embody The Fool. To throw off the prejudice of assumed knowledge and rely simply on the process without knowing to where it will lead. A teacher who is able to do this ends up discovering alongside their students, to their great benefit. Second, the teacher retains intelligence along the way. Of course. Teachers have studied how to teach as much as what to teach. We have a lot of knowledge and skill. And we carry that with us into every lesson. BUT we balance that knowledge with a sense of wonder and newness. We may even pretend not to know an answer so that our students find out for themselves. This brings us to the next attribute of The Fool.
In traditional Tarot, The Fool is followed by a dog, who reaches to hold onto The Fool's tailbone while he/she continues unperturbed. This is a symbolic representation of one who has tamed the ego, without any further need to seduce it in order to dominate its aggressive nature. The Fool has made a loyal friend of the ego. S/he does not admonish nor placate its wishes, rather, s/he travels in company and remains sure to lead the way from a place of freedom, creativity and possibility.
This is linked to the first attribute of the journey, with a few extra considerations. Teachers are constantly at risk of imposing their ego onto students. What do we mean by this? Well, consider what the ego is all about... a sense of 'I' / a set of opinions / a set of judgements / a need for recognition / propensity to take things personally... now consider the consequences of bringing these things into one's teaching practice. We are reminded of John Dewey when he said, "If we teach today's children as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow." Put simply, we are not teachers so that we can clone our beliefs in the minds of our students. We are teachers so that we can light the way of learning, hold open the space for discovery and bandage the wounds of essential failures. Like The Fool we must become aware of the demands of our egos, and like The Fool we must be sure to remain ahead of those demands, so that we may continue to walk alongside our students and not pretend to know which way they should go.
Finally, we arrive at the third attribute of The Fool relating to teaching. Though this is not the last, for The Fool is an inexhaustible mirage of symbols and I encourage you to take the time to sit with the image and see what other lessons appear before you.
This is the third attribute and also to do with the number 3. A significant number in many numerological systems including Egyptian mysticism, Kabbalah, Christianity and Hermeticism. The number 3 appears on The Fool at the top of his staff. Three dots in triangular arrangement. So what do we take from this? In the alchemical tradition the number three represents the trinity of time, space and personality. This trinity is illuminated by the numerology of three in Egyptian tradition, where three is the relationship born out of a duality. For example, two people stand side by side. Between them is the relationship of which they are part. Without relationship there is mere proximity, separation. But in relationship there is unity, the birth of personality from time and space.
So let's come back to teaching. The link is clear. We are teachers and we have students. We have our role and they have theirs. But without relationship, that is, without connection, we remain separate. We remain as two. And if we can inspire connection we give birth to three, to a unity between teachers and students that has the potential to inspire creativity, discovery and wonder. Such is the lesson for us of the number 3.
(not) the end.
Can you see any more links between teaching and The Fool? How might we embody these attributes more fully in our practice? How might we connect to the Fool in other areas of our lives?
Jodorowsky A & Costa M. 2004. The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Cards. Destiny Books, Toronto, Canada.
West, J.A. 1993. Serpent in the Sky: The High Wisdom of Ancient Egypt. Quest Books, USA.
Dorsini C & Poltronieri M. 2013. Sola Busca Tarot: History Mysteries Alchemy. Hermetena, Italy.