A jester is a member of a profession that came into popularity in the Middle Ages. Jesters are always thought to have worn brightly colored clothes and eccentric hats in a motley pattern. Their hats were especially distinctive. Made of cloth, they were floppy with three points, each of which had a jingle bell at the end. The three points of the hat represent the donkey’s ears and tail worn by jesters in earlier times.
The jester was a symbolic twin of the king. All jesters and fools in those days were thought of as special cases whom God had touched with a childlike madness; a gift, or perhaps a curse. Mentally handicapped people sometimes found employment by capering and behaving in an amusing way. In the harsh world of medieval Europe, people who might not be able to survive any other way thus found a social niche.
In societies where freedom of speech was not recognized as a right, the jester could speak frankly on controversial issues in a way in which anyone else would have been severely punished, and monarchs understood the usefulness of having such a person at their side. Still, even the jester was not entirely immune from punishment, and he needed to walk a thin line and exercise careful judgment in how far he might go, which required him to be far from a fool in the modern sense.
In Tarot, The Fool card represents the Spirit, God, and Absolute Being. The depiction includes a man juggling unconcernedly or otherwise distracted with a dog at his heels. This image represents a number of human conditions such as innocence, truth, confidence, freedom from earthly desires or passions but also perversity. Some versions of the dog on most interpretations of the card depict him biting at The Fool. The dog symbolizes the natural world, a path to knowledge and a valuable ally. The Fool is often shown walking off a cliff. This raises the question of whether The Fool is making a mistake or a leap of faith.
The Fool is the spirit in search of experience. He represents the mystical cleverness bereft of reason within us, the childlike ability to tune into the inner workings of the world. The sun shining behind him represents the divine nature of the Fool’s wisdom and exuberance. On his back are all the possessions he might need. In his hand there is a flower, showing his appreciation of beauty.