April Fool’s Day is April first as my readers well know and a simple cursory Google search will reveal that April Fool’s Day is amazingly older than many imagine. While it surged back into popularity in the 1950s, scholars believe that the core theme of the festival is far older and may be linked to the Roman festival of Hilaria or the Feast of Fools. In my own anthropological and folkloric studies, I find that a feast or festival during which merry-making and playing the fool is actually fairly common world-wide, although the dates and purpose varies as wildly as the methods of which the festival is celebrated.
Running on that linked topic, I bring up the court jester. The often motley dressed entertainer of royals, nobles, and common folk alike. In Medieval Days and Ways by Gertude Hartman(1) writes the following:
Nobles were also in the habit of keeping a fool – or jester – to provide entertainment. He wore a cap and bells and a costume, half of one color and half of another. During meals he told jokes to amuse the company, and his antics and capers were a source of much merriment.
Telling jokes was not the only thing jesters might do. They often could juggle, perform acrobatics, told or made up stories, sing or play an instrument, sleight of hand or magic tricks, or perform a myriad of other entertainer’s roles. Such jesters were widely sought after and were regarded like prized pets. Even jesters with a limited repertoire were sought for as entertainment was hard to come by and travel was not something many attempted to do.
While the court jester was an entertainer and did play the fool for the amusement of their audience, the court jester often had a deeper, more involved role. Many of the best or most cunning of jesters only played at being a fool and instead could criticize the court (but not too much or risk punishment) and were sometimes used to deliver news others feared to do so. Some scholars go so far as to separate fools into the natural fool or licensed fool. Natural fools were often people with deformities or mental challenges whereas licensed fools were a profession, skilled entertainers and clever men who tread the line to mock nobles, court policies, or general politics. Early political satire, so to speak.
I could keep going, there’s a great history for jesters and fools and there’s several guilds of jesters out there for those folks who are looking to get into a new trade. (And it’s serious business competition, just like any other entertainment field). Jesters are a common literature troupe, having appeared in all sorts of media including the book series A Song of Fire and Ice, the TV show Game of Thrones (2), and the video game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (3).
Of course, I have to mention the Tarot. The first card in the Tarot is The Fool and often the Fool is represented not only as the beginning of a journey (often a journey or plunge they’re unaware of) but also the careless naivety of youth, an escape of the real world or responsibilities, foolish bravery (or not knowing to be afraid), and even the beginning or the end of everything. This last interpretation actually has historical relevance as the Fool card is set something apart of the rest of the Arcana, given the number zero but often mixed up when in discussion. Waite talks about the Fool between Judgement and the World. (4) In addition, some version of the Tarot give the Fool other card numbers.
Death also is sometimes seen dressed as a Fool in some Tarot decks. This heralds back to the idea that death is the ultimate equalizer and Death always gets the last laugh. The Death card is one of the most varied in appearance in the Tarot deck so this shouldn’t come as a surprise to some. Additionally, Death’s way of clearing the field or humbling everyone is akin to the jesters role in being able to mock everyone accordingly.
When I was determining and designing my calendar, I wanted to set aside a special time for the Fool. My festival, simply called The Fool, takes in all of the above into account. The festival, starting March 30th and running until April 3rd, is a time set aside to be the fool. While fun and games likely will be taken into account, so are acts of wild and foolish bravery. This festival is a time to break out and try something new, ride that nervous thrill of something something so stupid and yet amazing. It’s also a time to set up and consider the world around me and the politics and relationships that affect me. While taking stock, I might even take a few pot shots at people, in the name of satire (not that calling people out on their shit is something I’m accustomed to doing but I make a point of it during these days to try and pass it off as both criticism and a joke).
During this time, entertainment is the highest order of the day, mixing media at will. As a symbol of the medieval origins of the festival, I often accompany this with ‘hidden’ foods like pies, ravioli, or tuck into surprising flavors into what appears to be a normal dish. Food that appears as something else like cupcakes or cakes decorated as fast food or something else is another favorite of mine. I also wear colorful clothing, often in bright or contrasting color as well as don on jingling jewelry in addition to my normal bell jewelry. On occasion, I’ll even put my hair into unique styles to create an illusion or just for the look of it.
Specifically, it’s a time to also play the fool. During these days I endeavor feign ignorance or innocence, if only to see where it gets me, or to behave in a foolish way (such as doing something I wouldn’t normally do). In company, during these days I make it a priority to entertain as needed.
This kind of festival is not only a huge stress reliever but also somewhat necessary now that spring’s come to the Northern Hemisphere. People want to shake out the cobwebs of both their homes and their spirits and my The Fool festival is perfectly designed for just that.
- Hartman, Gertude. Medieval Days and Ways. Macmillan Publishing Company. New York. Original publication: 1937. Edition publication: 1965. Pages 48-49.
- There are several jesters in George R.R. Martin’s works and other characters who are forced into the role of a fool. I won’t say much since case of spoilers but it’s a total THING.
- Circeo anyone?
- Waite, Arthur Edward (Waite, A.E.). The Pictorial Key to the Tarot. U.S. Games Systems, Inc. Stamford, Connecticut. Original publication: 1910. Edition publication: 2000. Pages 152-155.
I would also like to apologize for the silence around here. My shop had a sudden burst of complicated orders and it was hard to keep up and not drop other things at the same time. As of this posting, I’m currently several states away from home serving as priest, healer, confident, and spiritual balm to a client and their family. It’s very high stress but it seems the worse has passed and I’m now ready to publish the above piece which I wrote a while back. Thanks for your understanding in this.