Monday, February 15, 2010

Celebrating The Fool

     In the early Roman festival of Saturnalia, The Fool played the role of a mock king who presided over a merry festival of pranksters. He was the "Lord of Misrule"performing in a wild masquerade party. Does this sound like Mardi Gras? All the rules of order and morality were put aside at that time. Eventually the dark side of all that burlesque frivolity may have ended in a crescendo with the sacrifce of the king. These festivals evolved into various European celebrations such as "The Twelfth Night" (Jan.6th), the parades and festivities of Carnival, and capers of Shrove-Tuesday. (There is more to read about Saturnalia in James Frazer's book "The Golden Bough" (MacMillan, 1922) pp. 675-679.)
     In the time of the pagan gods, Saturn was the Roman god of sowing and husbandry (the Father-time of New Year's Eve). The person who played The Fool at these celebrations was known by various names such as the "Lord of Misrule," or the mediaeval "Bishop of Fools" and "King of the Bean." Ah, is that where the idea for the movies and TV show of "Mr. Bean" originated?  Some mediaeval feasts included baking a cake with a bean inside and the person who found the bean became "King of the Bean" who led the parade of merry chaos. Brian Williams (1958-2002) created the wonderful "Ship of Fools Tarot" (published by Llewelyn, 2002) based on the writing and art of Sebastian Brant's "Das Narrenschiff (The Ship of Fools) "emphasizing humanity's capacity for foolishness." Williams compares the images of the "Ship of Fools" to the classic decks of Marseilles and Rider-Waite-Smith in his drawing facsimiles of the art in Brant's book.