The Quality of the Fool
The Way of the Fool: Part V
A Series On the Inwardness of Becoming
“The Fool is not a philosophy, but a quality of consciousness of life.”
– Cecil Collins
The characterisation of the Fool which has begun to emerge is not the same as our general understanding of him.
In Biblical use, the fool was applied to vicious or impious persons. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a fool as “one deficient in judgement or sense, one who acts or behaves stupidly, a silly person, a simpleton” and also as “one who is deficient in, or destitute of reason or intellect; a weak-minded or idiotic person”. The jester and clown are defined as “one who professionally counterfeits folly for the entertainment of others”. The OED also mentions how “The ‘fool’ in great households was often actually a harmless lunatic or a person of weak intellect” which makes it hard to distinguish between the “village idiot” and the “professional jester”.
In popular culture, the fool – jester, harlequin, clown, village idiot – is associated with humour, slapstick, silliness, even lack of wisdom. His words and actions, the way he sees things are odd, dim, daft, silly, from left field, diametrically opposed to rational thought; fools bring forth our sympathy and they make us laugh.
But these are all surface impressions of the Fool who does not have the last laugh; his business is not lightness and laughter. Laughter might make him palatable at first, give him an in, and there is of course much fun and magic in the Fool, but his end is not entertainment. The Fool’s business is wholeness – radical, uncompromising, and, if it must be and it generally must be, also painful wholeness – until it no longer hurts, until the Hero no longer resists. Then, we pass through a portal and not just glimpse but experience wholeness which is to say the “I am”, the ego at the centre of our consciousness, accedes that will power alone is not how life happens to us. There is something greater out of which the ego has emerged like the tip of the iceberg above the waterline.
That is when a question begins to shape at the back of the Boy’s mind. What exactly is he suffering? Is he suffering himself? Is he suffering external circumstances? Is he suffering the relationship between the two? Or is he suffering his attitude to both?
Against the external forces which for their own reasons attempt to impose a shape on the Boy’s life from the outside in, the Fool guides the Boy to explore his shape from the inside out. And so, their journey together which will eventually lead into the light, first begins inside the Boy at the darkest point in the deepest underground cavern as far away as possible from the Boy’s well-adjusted external persona; it is the place where he keeps the collection of things about himself which he has tried to disown, to discard from his being. He pushes them out of sight and thus out of ego consciousness, represses them, but they don’t quite go away. They live on, unseen, and a pressure builds up in that shadowy place.
Yet, just as there exists in him a space of shadows, beyond it lies an even darker place where something lurks which came before, which already was the Boy before the Boy knew he was the Boy. However much the Boy tries to control who he is and how he appears to the world, there is some dynamic force outside of his conscious will which pilots him on his journey through life. This force not only came before the Boy knew he was the Boy but also knows his potential for the journey into the future. Yet, it is still a long way from here for the Boy to concede that he is not actually in charge. As Jung wrote:
Human nature has an invincible dread of becoming more conscious of itself. What nevertheless drives us to it is the self which demands sacrifice by sacrificing itself to us.
Something in him, outside of the Boy’s ego consciousness, knows his limits and his potential. This capacity which drives him through sacrifice, as the Tao lives the Master, appears to the Boy, for now, as the Fool.
Daryl Sharp expresses these insights of Jung thus:
Mature consciousness […] is dependent on a working relationship between a strong but flexible ego and the Self, regulating centre of the psyche. For that to happen one has to acknowledge that the ego is not in charge. This is not a natural process; it is a major shift in perspective, like the difference between thinking the earth is the centre of the solar system and then learning that the sun is. This generally doesn’t happen until later in life, when you look back on your experience and realise there was more going on than you knew. Ergo, something other than “you” was pulling the strings.
This realisation that the ego is not in charge is one of the Fool’s central messages and it makes him the dedicated anti-hero; both Hero and Fool aim for freedom but with a different understanding of how to get there. Jung’s advice is clear:
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
The Hero sails into the light, the Fool stumbles into the dark. But who to follow, the Boy must wonder.
Jung contended that we often mistake the ego for the Self because of that bias which makes us all live from the ego, a bias which comes from overvaluation of the conscious mind. That is why the ego has to suffer to allow the Self to express itself. Jung sees the hero myth at work in nearly all individuation processes, and he described it thus:
Individuation is an heroic and often tragic task, the most difficult of all, it involves suffering, a passion of the ego: the ordinary empirical man we once were is burdened with the fate of losing himself in a greater dimension and being robbed of his fancied freedom of will. He suffers, so to speak, from the violence done to him by the self.
And so, we must suffer, until we recognise, as Henry Miller puts it, that:
Suffering is unnecessary. But one has to suffer before he is able to realise that this is so. It is only then, moreover, that the true significance of human suffering becomes clear. At the last desperate moment – when one can suffer no more! – something happens which is in the nature of a miracle. The great open wound which was draining the blood of life closes up, the organism blossoms like a rose. One is ‘free’ at last, […] with a yearning for ever more freedom, ever more bliss. The tree of life is kept alive not by tears but the knowledge that freedom is real and everlasting.
The darkness is dark only because not illuminated; pain of a particular kind is our truest friend; what we have learnt to be afraid of is indeed our own true nature which we have banished and forgotten how to recognise. Where the Hero thinks he is in need of a map, the Fool offers us a mirror. Where the Hero wants to sail across the seas, the Fool teaches us to breathe under water. Where the Hero aims to fly over any opposing obstacles, the Fool stumbles into the dark, trusting his inner nature.
If humanity is like a sailing boat adrift the seas, then these people in whom the Fool is alive are the keel stabilising our journey, keeping us connected to what lies below decks: the collective unconscious. The flow in human culture between consciousness and the collective unconscious occurs by way of their works which are made in the Fool’s Laboratory, his great workshop, where each one must work in his own essential solitude.
This imagination of the Fool at work down below in the keel of the ship of humanity echoes with Marie-Louise von Franz’s view who equated the Fool with the Jungian inferior psychological function.
In Jung’s model of typology, there are four psychological functions:
- Sensation establishes what is actually present, tells us that something exists (through the senses)
- Intuition tells us whence it comes and where it is going (i.e. it establishes its possibilities)
- Thinking enables us to recognise its meaning (its definition)
- Feeling tells us whether it is agreeable or not (its value).
Intuition and sensation are the functions are empirical and have no filter. They tend toward “absolute perception of the flux of events” and, therefore, Jung called them the irrational functions. Thinking and feeling, on the other hand, he described as the rational functions because they are decisively influenced by reflection.
They two opposite pairs are arranged as on a personal compass where the inferior or fourth function lies in the unconscious south and opposite to the superior or primary function in the north, the most developed and generally most conscious function. The fourth is necessarily the least differentiated of the four psychological functions and behaves like an autonomous complex; its activation is marked by affect and it resists integration.
Here is Von Franz’s comment with regard to the Fool and the psychological functions:
If one studies the individual cases, one can see that the inferior function tends to behave in the way of such ‘fool’ heroes, holy fools, or idiot heroes. It represents the despised part, but also the part that builds a connection to the unconscious and therefore carries in itself the secret key to the unconscious whole.
Henry Miller, who arrived at the experience that suffering was no longer necessary, has more to say about this as Maria Bloshteyn notes:
Miller admits that suffering is potentially dangerous and that only ‘budding geniuses’ can affect the ‘transmutation of suffering permitting us a work of art,’ while others end up ‘insan[e]… or psycho[tic],’ but he still sees it as the prerequisite to gaining the freedom necessary to become a great writer.
The suffering of the Hero, the conscious attitude, is caused by the Fool, out of the unconscious, as long as the ego-self axis has not formed and thus no understanding of wholeness as an experience yet exists.
Miller makes that point that not everybody is cut out for the adventure but that there is always the possibility of the transmutation of suffering. The various psychotherapeutic approaches work with this possibility of transmutation in different ways.
One of the approaches which spoke to the Boy was Victor Frankl’s logotherapy which was founded upon the belief that striving to find meaning in life is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans. Frankl described “three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life. The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed. The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone.” In a world focused on achievement (external world focus), experience (internal world focus) can be just as meaningful. “Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life”:
Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.
Yet, Frankl cautions us not to assume a masochistic attitude with regard to suffering:
If it is avoidable, the meaningful thing to do is to remove its cause, for unnecessary suffering is masochistic rather than heroic. If, on the other hand, one cannot change a situation that causes his suffering, he can still choose his attitude. […] The priority stays with creatively changing the situation that causes us to suffer. But the superiority goes to the “know-how to suffer,” if need be.
Looking at Miller’s view of suffering through Frankl’s lens, it appears that his view of suffering was not as differentiated as it might have been. But, as the Boy thought about it, Frankl’s position, too, seemed to miss out on the reality of a much bigger dimension. While logotherapy is based on an existential analysis focusing on Kierkegaard’s will to meaning as opposed to Adler’s Nietzschean doctrine of will to power or Freud’s will to pleasure, achieving meaning for oneself is, ultimately, a redemption of suffering. This cannot be achieved through rational means because it is a transrational experience and Frankl’s psychological framework, like Freud’s and Adler’s, seemed to the Boy to be hemmed in by some quality of narrowness which defeated the object.
In this light, Hermann Hesse attempted to summarise what he saw as the universal truth of the stages of human journey through life:
The path to becoming a human being begins with innocence (paradise, childhood, irresponsible preliminary phase). From there it goes on to sin, to the knowledge of good and evil, to the demands of culture, of morality, of religions, of the ideals of humanity. Whoever lives through these stages seriously and as a differentiated individual, they end inevitably in despair, namely, that the realisation of virtue, a complete obedience, an absolute servitude do not exist, that justice is unattainable, that being good is unachievable. This despair will either lead to demise or to a third realm of the spirit, to the experience of a state beyond morality and law, an advance to grace and redemption, to a new, higher kind of irresponsibility, in short: to belief.
He was well aware that his articulation in this form appeared to suggest a European and quasi-Christian perspective and therefore he made sure to show that it was equally relevant from Eastern standpoints. With regard to Hinduism and Buddhism, he suggested that the order of the stages of life could be viewed as follows:
The naïve human being ruled by anxiety and desires yearns for redemption. The method and path are to be found in yoga, the education towards mastery of desires. It does not matter whether yoga is practised as material and mechanical penance or as the highest spiritual atonement exercise – they always mean: education towards contempt of the illusory world of the senses, reflection on the spirit, on atman, who lives within us and is one with the world spirit. Yoga thus corresponds exactly to our second stage which is the striving for redemption through deeds. The people admire and overestimate it as the naïve always lean towards seeing the penitent as the holy man. Yet, yoga is only ever the second stage and must end in despair. […] Only when yoga makes way for grace and is recognised as means to an end and as desire and hunger, when the individual awakens from the dream of an illusory life and recognises himself as eternal and indestructible, as spirit of the spirit, as Atman, may he become indifferent spectator of life and can do or not do as he pleases, enjoy or forsake, without his essence, his I, being touched by it. The “I” has become “Self”.
Hesse also observed that a similar pattern existed in Taoism where the “path” is the path from the striving for equality and justice to no-longer-striving and not-doing, and from guilt and morality to the Tao. For Hesse it belonged to his most important spiritual experiences to realise that across all peoples and their beliefs, there was a shared inkling of a central problem confirmed and described in analogues symbol systems.
Hesse’s observation of three stages to the universal human journey thus detects a teleological development: it is a purposeful journey of sense making towards “a third realm of the spirit” which is a progressive advance of consciousness out of undifferentiated unconsciousness to individual consciousness, from I to Self.
The journey, according to Hesse, is either successful, i.e. ends in belief or Self, or is unsuccessful, i.e. ends in demise or continued suffering. Conflict and the overcoming of conflict is an inherent part of the progression out of innocence into despair and out of despair either into grace and redemption or into demise. Yet, Hesse says little about what appears so crucial: the gap between belief and demise.
There is a perspective here which the Polish psychoanalyst Kazimierz Dąbrowski referred to as positive disintegration, a framework which views psychological tension and anxiety as necessary for growth. These “disintegrative” processes are therefore seen as “positive”, whereas people who fail to go through positive disintegration may remain for their entire lives in a state of “primary integration”, lacking true individuality. Advancing into disintegration and into the higher levels of development is predicated on having developmental potential, including overexcitabilities, above-average reactions to stimuli. In his own words:
Psychoneuroses ‘especially those of a higher level’ provide an opportunity to ‘take one’s life in one’s own hands’. They are expressive of a drive for psychic autonomy, especially moral autonomy, through transformation of a more or less primitively integrated structure. This is a process in which the individual himself becomes an active agent in his disintegration, and even breakdown. Thus the person finds a ‘cure’ for himself, not in the sense of a rehabilitation but rather in the sense of reaching a higher level than the one at which he was prior to disintegration. This occurs through a process of an education of oneself and of an inner psychic transformation. One of the main mechanisms of this process is a continual sense of looking into oneself as if from outside, followed by a conscious affirmation or negation of conditions and values in both the internal and external environments. Through the constant creation of himself, though the development of the inner psychic milieu and development of discriminating power with respect to both the inner and outer milieus—an individual goes through ever higher levels of ‘neuroses’ and at the same time through ever higher levels of universal development of his personality.
Jung offers us a similar perspective which clarifies further what might determine why one person becomes neurotic while another does not. Jung’s answer is that the individual psyche knows both its limits and its potential. If the former are being exceeded, or the latter not realised, a breakdown occurs. The psyche itself acts to correct the situation:
There are vast masses of the population who, despite their notorious unconsciousness, never get anywhere near a neurosis. The few who are smitten by such a fate are really persons of the “higher” type who, for one reason or another, have remained too long on a primitive level. Their nature does not in the long run tolerate persistence in what is for them an unnatural torpor. As a result of their narrow conscious outlook and their cramped existence they save energy; bit by bit it accumulates in the unconscious and finally explodes in the form of a more or less acute neurosis.
Earlier, we heard Cecil Collins say that “there always exist in society some men and women whom the Fool touches, who respond to the Fool”. What Plato, Lewis, Hesse, Frankl, Miller, Freud, Adler, Dabrowski, Jung and others quoted above are pointing to is a relationship between the Fool, suffering and meaning, and a process of life that leads to overcoming the existential suffering, making the suffering meaningful, making our way out of the cave and into the light, accomplishing a creative act, arriving in a state of grace and redemption, of belief.
Hesse’s summary of the three stages is a leitmotiv that weaves its way through natural philosophical and protoscientific tradition where it is known as the Axiom of Maria, attributed to the third century alchemist Maria Prophetissa:
One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth.
What was a three-stage process in Hesse’s observation now has a fourth element to it and as this four-stage process for C.G. Jung it expressed the journey of individuation in which One stands for the original, paradisiacal state of unconscious wholeness (e.g. childhood) which Hesse referred to as innocence; Two signifies the loss of innocence occasioned by a conflict between opposites (e.g. persona and shadow) which Hesse referred to as sin; Three points to a potential resolution, the point at which for Hesse the road forks into demise or belief; the Third is the transcendent function, described as a “psychic function that arises from the tension between consciousness and the unconscious and supports their union”; and the One as the Fourth is psychologically equivalent to a transformed state of conscious wholeness, relatively whole and relatively at peace.
Jung’s elucidation of the Axiom of Maria shows that the fourth element is not added at the end of Hesse’s three stages but, rather, is inserted before the Fourth as that which gives birth to the One but now as the Fourth.
In The Psychology of the Transference he writes of the fourfold nature of the transforming process using the language of Greek alchemy:
It begins with the four separate elements, the state of chaos, and ascends by degrees to the three manifestations of Mercurius in the inorganic, organic, and spiritual worlds; and, after attaining the form of Sol and Luna (i.e., the precious metal gold and silver, but also the radiance of the gods who can overcome the strife of the elements by love), it culminates in the one and indivisible (incorruptible, ethereal, eternal) nature of the anima, the quinta essentia, aqua permanens, tincture, or lapis philosophorum. This progression from the number 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 is the ‘axiom of Maria’.
What the Boy discovers in the tension between the Hero and the Fool is what Jung put thus:
It is not I who create myself, rather I happen to myself.
The Fool’s Journey of individuation, simply put, thus is a kind of circular odyssey, a spiral journey, where the aim is to get back to where you started but, this time round, knowing where you’ve been. The Axiom of Maria interpreted in the light is an alchemical analogy of the process of individuation from the many to the one, from undifferentiated unconsciousness to individual consciousness.
The trinity has to be a trinity until we are capable of stepping back into the space which St Francis of Assisi put this way:
What we are looking for is what is looking.
There is a Fourth which we cannot see until we have passed out of the Third as One in the Fourth. Our teleological journey stretches from before the child knew that it was a child into its future potential. Ego consciousness can now cede control as it recognises a quaternity which requires the “One as the Fourth” event which Miller described as “transmutation of suffering”. At this point, suffering is no longer necessary. Looking at it from the other way around, suffering is no longer necessary when we realise that our attitude was not fit for purpose. This process may never be complete, after all we arrived in the place of One again, and yet it we have also reached another stage in the journey: the Fool has uncompromisingly, painfully, faithfully and lovingly delivered the Boy to the place of the Divine Child, the Boy within the Boy, a child born in his dreams as a symbol of unity out of his struggle with opposites. That is who the Boy is: the Divine Child born to this man on his Fool’s Journey.
As Jung put it:
The quaternity is the sine qua non of divine birth and consequently of the inner life of the trinity.
It is the inner experience of an I looking on to the trinity which, when it becomes aware of the greater whole by building relationship with “what is looking”, the Self, becomes a conscious whole and thus transforms into a quaternity, and thus the Cross squares the circle. The divine birth of Christ, the Son, requires God, the Father in Heaven. And though the dogma still overlooks it for its own reasons, it also requires Mary who is the Mother who is also Earth. All maybe tainted in one way or another to the 21st century observer by Christian history. However, each on their own, already is the richest of symbols and also together they transcend Christianity’s particular story and are found in many other symbol systems around the world.
To see in this way means to be able to see in the dark and its inversion to have seen the light, symbolised more famously by the halo and perhaps less famously by the aurora, the northern lights, the light within the darkness, the luminous night, the black light.
I have said above that the Fool’s business is wholeness and I have referred to Hesse, Jung and others with regard to how the Fool visits us and affects a journey through in life in stages. In the descriptions above there appears to be an end to the journey. The Fool helps us see something, but he is not the bringer of light: as we shall explore in the next chapter, the Fool is the one who takes us to the North Star and that is where the Fool’s Journey ends, and another journey begins.
End of Part V.
The Way of the Fool – Part VI
Pathways through the Mandelbrot Set
To continue to part VI click here: