Updated: Nov 13, 2022
In fictional writing, every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. The hero of each story must navigate this arc, meeting various archetypes, overcoming opposition, responding to obstacles along their way, and eventually learning a major life lesson, if not several. In his 1949 work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell first identified this model as “the hero’s journey.” In the tarot, the Fool’s journey is quite similar, and today I will show you how the two adventure models overlap.
In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell analyzes one of the foundation models in storytelling, the main protagonist’s path. Also coined a “monomyth,” Campbell’s model outlines common phases, assigning them to a template storytellers have been using long before the mid-twentieth century.
When examining the hero’s journey template, Campbell identified 17 different stages that can be summarized into three main parts:
the departure—the embarking upon an adventure that separates the hero from their existing or ordinary world (known) and injects them onto a path of discovery (unknown)
the initiation—the main part of a story; the hero is initiated into heroic distinction through navigating various trials during which their character is cultivated and tested
the return—the hero’s return to where they started—both literally and figuratively—renewed and/or changed, having discovered new ideas about the world and themselves
For the sake of time, I won’t outline each of the 17 stages, however, I found an incredibly interesting and helpful MasterClass article which makes a thorough investigation with relatable examples. It’s titled Writing 101: What is the Hero’s Journey? 2 Hero’s Journey Examples in Film.
When considering the hero’s journey, many popular stories come to mind: Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games. Using Harry Potter as an example, the Boy Who Lived not only navigates each of the 17 stages throughout the individual books, but the young wizard also encounters them throughout the overarching seven-story series.
In my own writing, I’ve used the monomyth structure when writing all of my books. In The Missing Lamb, for example, my main character, Lucky James, leaves her home in Florida and sets out for college at Emory University in Atlanta. Early on, she is redirected from her path by serendipitous circumstances which introduce her to several new people and an entirely different place than the one to which she was headed. By the book’s end, Lucky is a changed girl, her outlook on both her own life and the concept of family completely transformed.
When considering the Fool along a similar journey as Harry Potter or Lucky James, the cards can advance in a myriad of ways. In the below illustration, I have framed the major arcana along a path that mimics the hero’s journey, labeling the three main stages. Please note: the Fool’s journey does not have to follow the major arcana cards in order. It does, however, have to start with the Fool and end with the World, the final of the 22 cards. Depending on the individual story, the various cards can be placed in differing spots along the way. For the sake of showing the Fool’s journey in its original order, I have arranged them from zero to 21 around the template.
So, who are these different archetypes the Fool meets along their journey? On Wednesday, I will examine the cards in detail, aligning each with common archetypes that inspire the tropes writers enjoy writing. For now, I would like to tell you the Fool’s story as I perceive it, so you can see how it overlaps the Hero’s.
The Fool's Story, by Amanda Hughes
The Fool is our main character—they could even be you or me—and they are setting out on an adventure. They have their bag and their furry familiar, along with a nonchalant attitude that yells out ahead of them, “Carpe diem!”
As the Fool prepares for their trip, they must first consult with the people who can help them get started. First, they seek the skill and craft of a magical person (The Magician) with tools and practical advice the Fool can use (and will absolutely need) along their way.
Next, the Fool meets with a wise visionary (The High Priestess) who reminds them of the importance of paying close attention to one’s intuition—those gut feelings that will (almost) never lead them astray. After consulting with these two, the Fool says goodbye to the aspects of home which have provided nurturing love, security, and structure (The Empress, Emperor, and Hierophant, respectively).
While the Fool is equal parts excited and nervous about this new trip, at first they feel like a fish out of water. Like the biblical story of Adam and Eve, the Fool is aware of their freedom and the connection with their responsibility for making the journey (The Lovers). Additionally, they feel supported and courageous, and capable of overcoming any task that comes their way (The Chariot and Strength).
Without warning, the Fool happens on a lone teacher (the Hermit), who is an oracle of knowledge and who warns them of pending ups and downs, helping to prepare them for inevitable turns of luck (Wheel of Fortune) and reminding them of the importance of maintaining balance of thinking, feeling, and action (Justice).
As the Fool endures their first series of mishaps, they recall the wise teacher’s messaging, pausing to reflect on their journey with the hopes of gaining a different perspective (The Hanged Man). They are enlightened by how profoundly changed they feel to this point in their travels and they realize these circumstances have transformed them (Death). While they are still the same person who set out on this adventure, the Fool must balance the person they are becoming (Temperance). Again, they feel strong and capable.
As if emerging from the sky and settling over the Fool like a summer storm, they are faced with a situation that, at first glance, is tempting beyond reason (The Devil). They are seduced by this encounter, seemingly forgetting everything they’ve learned to this point when a sudden and terrifying incident rocks the very foundation of who they know themselves to be (The Tower). Shaken, battered, and bruised, the Fool refuses to be defeated, and resolves to view what has happened as an epiphany, conquering those who would mean them harm.
Recalling the teachings of the visionary, the structure of home, and the wise insight of the reclusive teacher, the Fool has no choice but to rest and recover (The Star), if they are to complete their journey and return home. During this process, they learn of mysteries related to what has happened to them, and after pondering whether to set out on the next adventure or stay the current course (The Moon), they realize that true joy and happiness was theirs all along (The Sun), and they can survive a thousand more adventures, if required, no matter the timing or setting.
In the end, the Fool heeds a calling to share what they have learned in order to benefit others (Judgement) in a profound way. Alas, the Fool does just that, arriving back home in a state of wonder and accomplishment (The World).
Storytelling with the Cards—A Fun Activity
In my post titled Tarot for Writers: Best Practices for Using the Cards, I asked you to look at a three-card spread and decide what story was being told. Today’s activity is an expanded version, with five cards displayed at random along a story arc.
Spread: The Story Arc
What you need:
Your favorite tools for notetaking
Don’t worry about not knowing the tarot. You don’t need any experience with the cards to enjoy this simple activity.
From left to right, what story do you see the cards telling through the story arc format? Write or type it.
From initiation to publishing, as you navigate your own unique writing journeys, you might find the tarot a useful tool. In this blog, you can look forward to additional demonstrations like this post. From planning your outline to filling plot holes, the tarot can help ignite and inspire your creativity.
On Writer Wednesday, I will take you on a deeper dive into archetypes—the individuals the Fool meets along their journey—and how they are represented in the major arcana. Furthermore, because there is so much one can write about the Fool’s journey, starting on February 9, I will share a story around each major arcana card through a series called Tarot Stories.
In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of upmarket, literary, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.
Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. Although she earned a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, she has yet to figure out her family, much less herself.
When she’s not writing, Mandy loves going to the movies, theater, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, margarita-making, and binge-watching The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to promote wellness and enhance creativity. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four boys, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at haintbluecreative.com and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.