Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Fountains of Youth Tarot: Card 0, The Fool—Ponce de Leon

Anybody who would go exploring in Florida dressed like that has got to have a strong foolish streak! But in the tarot, you have to do more than dress funny to get labeled as The Fool.

Despite the nicer and more optimistic portrayals of this card that are often in vogue in New Age circles, The Fool is not about starting off on a new journey or simply being oblivious to your surroundings (although a certain degree of cluelessness is a trademark of this card). No, when The Fool shows up, it’s because somebody is being a jerk or an a**hole, according to my first tarot teacher. The Fool doesn’t even get a numbered card—he’s a zero! If you’re using the tarot as a predictive tool, this card represents foolish ventures. In the reversed or upside-down position, the card indicates someone who is being consciously stupid—throwing caution, and possibly sanity, to the winds.

If you are wise, you don’t dance on the edge of a mountain—as The Fool is classically portrayed—or go looking for magical fountains of youth based on local gossip, which is what legend tells us Ponce de Leon was doing when he landed on Florida’s shores in 1513. But that legend isn’t true.

What Ponce was really looking for was gold and a way to salvage his reputation after being ousted by Christopher Columbus’s son from his post as governor of Puerto Rico. The myth about searching for fountains of youth was tacked on to Ponce de Leon’s biography after the explorer’s death, but the myth stuck and continues to percolate in our collective memory, so much so that Florida’s fountains of youth have provided a pervasive inspiration for artists, writers, and creative types for hundreds of years.

I chose Ponce as The Fool not because his exploration of Florida is steeped in myth, but because he represents what I think is the true foolishness of human existence that will haunt us until we finally give it up—the idea that we humans can control Mother Nature, that She exists only to serve our needs, and that continuing to do business in Florida the way we have for 500 years will never come back to bite us in the butt. That idea, what one friend calls the Myth of the Extractive Economy, is the hallmark not only of Ponce de Leon’s foolishness, but also of our own.

We see this foolishness everywhere—in the elevation of big business and big agriculture to objects of worship by our elected officials, in their continued calls for growth at any cost, and perhaps most of all in the nonstop issuance of water permits by the boards of our water management districts, even as our lakes and springs dry up, algae blooms, and the magnificent Floridan Aquifer shrinks beneath our feet.

The tarot has been described as The Fool’s Journey. Shall we see where this journey leads, here in the land of the Fountains of Youth?

My photo of the statue of Ponce de Leon, above, was taken at the Fountain of Youth attraction in St. Augustine, Florida.

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