An Extravagance of Popes and Fools

The reason The Tarot works for me is because my brain is just wired to find lateral connections and synchronicity almost anywhere. You could say my brain has a certain extravagance. This kind of thing brings me much delight. Here’s one I came across today.

The word extravagant generally refers to spending more money than is wise, but the dictionary of etymology gives me a bigger picture:

late 14c., from Medieval Latin extravagantem, originally a word in Canon Law for uncodified papal decrees, present participle of extravagari “wander outside or beyond,” from Latin extra “outside of” (see extra-) + vagari “wander, roam” (see vague).


Horatio, Hamlet and the ghost
Horatio, Hamlet, and the ghost (Artist: Henry Fuseli, 1789

In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses the word extravagant  in reference to the dead king’s wandering spirit – wandering outside the bounds of where a normal dead person should be.

The extravagant and erring spirit hies
To his confine: and of the truth herein
This present object made probation.

Tarot De Marseille - Le Pape

Connecting both The Hierophant with his extravagant decrees and The Fool with his errant wanderings to a random word feels like the jackpot of lateral connections to me. I love it! Further digging pulls up one of Eliphas Levi’s letters to a student in which he describes the attitude of The Church to his work. It’s an extravagance. That is, it exists outside the accepted boundaries of the Church’s realm.

In The Hierophant we have an image of The Pope dressed in his papal finery, an extravagance by modern usage of the word. Yet he exists as part of the Fool’s wandering; an extravagance of spirit. If The Heirophant acts as a bridge between the divine and the mundane, then anything that strays from this path, the path towards enlightenment, could be considered an extravagance.

But perhaps The Tarot as a whole which has continued to exist outside the bounds of church and state for so long, offering so many countless wandering journeys to so many seekers is the biggest extravagance.


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