Reviewing: Finding the Fool by Meg Jones Wall
Finding the Fool is a beginner’s guide to the tarot that embraces a way of working with the cards I’ve seen becoming more and more popular with a particular profile of reader—often queer and/or neurodivergent, social justice inclined, anti-capitalist, and interested in the cards as a tool for personal exploration but highly critical of both dogmatic occult lenses and New Age “love and light” law of attraction type approaches to spirituality. As an audience that I’d count myself among, we tend to be interested in embracing our intuition but not necessarily affiliated with paganism or any particular religion, and we’re nerdy about the potential of the tarot but more into cross-referencing it with personality typing system, psychological tools, and the dynamics of oppression and privilege than we are digging into the esoteric history of the Smith-Rider Waite deck. Some of us have studied under Lindsay Mack, or enjoy reading the archives of the Little Red Tarot blog, and we’re drawn to the archetypes of tarot as filters for our experience but not interested in reading predictively (often because future prediction doesn’t fit our cosmology, but also with respect to the Roma people whose divinatory practices are often appropriated).
While some tarot books have hinted at this approach, Finding the Fool may be the first I’ve seen that’s geared towards the beginner and goes pretty much all in on this direction. While an overview of each card is provided, author Meg Jones Wall is clearly trying to create space around the card meanings through focusing on the energies of the cards and asking a lot of questions to nudge the reader in their own direction. It’s a slightly different approach from some of the modern books that were formative in my own education like Michelle Tea’s Modern Tarot or Bakara Wintner’s WTF Is the Tarot?—rather than modernizing the meanings through personal storytelling, Wall relies more on the energetic structure of the tarot to ground the card meanings. For example, the Empress section focuses on wild creative abundance and the energy of putting things into form, while the Emperor section discusses the organization and structure that one might then apply to the raw creative output. Throughout the card descriptions, there are references to other cards and the way the whole system fits together.
This approach works well with the choice not to discuss any traditional symbolism in the cards, and instead to recommend that the reader choose a deck that resonates most with them as a starting point. This may be a little more challenging for visual learners, or at least require a more DIY method of finding ties between the meanings and the images in a chosen deck without help in that regard, but I appreciate that Wall isn’t holding up the Smith Rider-Waite—a deck grounded in a very specific (anti-Semitic) magical tradition and featuring, let’s be honest, a lot of skinny white people—as a universal reference point.
While I have found learning about the Smith Rider-Waite deck helpful in understanding some of the choices in modern decks, as well as some of the assumptions that commonly show up in guidebooks, there’s something powerful in starting with a deckless lens. The reader gets an opportunity here to explore their own understanding of card meanings before being steered into the biases of a particular tradition, and skip the step of assuming that a traditional interpretation is just an agreed-upon meaning of the card—something I’ve found myself having to help a lot of folks unlearn!
The introductory material puts the reader in an important frame of mind, making it clear that there are no magically correct keywords for each card, and that even the systems for understanding the tarot are flexible and open to play. For someone who doesn’t know much about tarot, this is critical, since it’s pretty easy to approach the deck assuming that there’s some esoteric key a reader is supposed to unlock through study, that there might be a single historical source text that holds all the answers. In fact, tarot is a symbolic language that has some shared meanings, but like any language it’s constantly evolving and culturally relative. Wall includes card keywords, but they tend to be more expansive than the standard set, and the inclusion of keywords for numbers, elements, and signs / planets as well give the reader some space to play.
Of course, it’s impossible to write a book without any point of view, and there are certainly cards covered that I see differently, even at this more energetic level. Since the approach is not to contrast common interpretations or consider imagery, it’s a little harder to read a description and consider whether you would agree with Wall’s interpretation. That said, I thought Wall did a good job of introducing each card with consideration of the interplay of opposing dynamics or takes on certain energies, and in particular with the minor arcana, the focus on number and element (similar to a Marseilles style) allows the reader to adjust their own conclusions from first principles. It’s worth noting that reversals are not included, but I actually didn’t mind this, as I find separate “reversal descriptions” are often the most regressive and annoying part of a tarot guidebook, and it’s easy for a reader to learn to read reversed cards from principles once they understand that basic interpretation.
There are more ways to view the cards than what’s described here, but these interpretations are a starting point that doesn’t necessarily exclude the additional layers of meaning that came to mind for me with specific cards, nor do they limit the reader in a harmful way as I’ve seen some tarot definitions do. There was only one description I really had a qualm with, which was the Devil card—although this wasn’t one of the worst takes I’ve seen, I still was hoping for a more liberatory approach. Some of the other majors pleasantly surprised me, for example a Justice card take that doesn’t rely on interactions with the law or government institutions.
In the minor arcana, some of the card descriptions might be a bit difficult to adapt to the question or suggest something coming in the future that may not be quite right, but there’s a lot more flexibility than in most books, and I appreciate that the suits don’t box the reader in, for example around romance for the cups or money for the pentacles, as some guides do. The court cards are interpreted in a non-gendered way, and while options such as significator cards are mentioned, the courts can be read purely energetically as well, which I appreciate.
Since each major arcana card description includes a section on the numerological and astrological correspondence, I do wish there had been at least a brief note to make it clear that those systems themselves come from specific traditions that aren’t inherent to the tarot. As an astrologer, I found some of the astrological material to feel a little derivative from the card, rather than acknowledging that the Golden Dawn associations are honestly pretty clunky in places. The inclusion of prompts referencing the birth chart is a cool mechanic, but I found it confusing that for cards associated with a sign, the questions start with “Where is [sign] in your natal chart? Which element does it live in?” since the element of a sign doesn’t change from chart to chart.
There’s also a brief section at the end of the book that includes a bunch of different suggestions for how to use the tarot outside of just pulling cards, as well as other tools tarot plays well with. The approach to tarot spreads, also in the concluding material, is particularly clever—rather than focusing heavily on a bunch of unique spreads with different numbers of cards and layouts, which I personally find rarely matters (with a few exceptions for very creative spreads and those where meaning is really tied to the geometry of the layout), Wall gives a whole list of two and three card spreads with single keywords for positions, so the reader has quite a few options to choose from, as well as a list of four-card spreads based on each of the cards of the major arcana. I really like this approach, as I’ve found some of the most powerful spreads to be some of the most simple!
This book is going to be most relevant to those who do want to dive deep into introspection, as the whole point of reading tarot this way from Wall’s point of view is to get closer to our own truth. Wall provides many prompts for self reflection with each card, and always turns things back to the reader’s own experience. These prompts the reader to consider where and how an interpretation might apply in their own lives, and have a kind of “self-therapy” feel that would support a journaling practice even for those who never actually pick up a deck of cards. If you’re more interested in self-exploration and diving into the subconscious than you are looking for a history or esoteric guide to the tarot, this book is for you!
ARC provided through Edelweiss. Purchases using the above link support me, as well as local bookstores!