The Wisdom of the Fool

+ Fool on Hill April 15 Blog 21849003_sApril Fool’s Day has come and gone, and I’m ok with that. Hoaxes and practical jokes aren’t particularly my type of humor. Though it’s meant to be in good fun, I fully admit I’m not the best sport about being tricked and made to feel foolish.

Traditionally, fools have had a pretty bad rap. When we call someone a fool, or feel the fool ourselves, there’s an implication of stupidity, witlessness, or being overly silly. The fool is thought to act without good judgment or good sense and is easily deceived and duped. No one wants to be considered this kind of a fool.

But the Fool as an archetype is a different story. Cue the Beatles…

Day after day, alone on the hill 

The man with the foolish grin is keeping perfectly still

But nobody wants to know him

They can see that he’s just a fool

And he never gives an answer


But the fool on the hill

Sees the sun going down

And the eyes in his head

See the world spinning ‘round

Here the Fool is an enigmatic soul. His “foolish grin” puts people off. They assume he’s a simpleton because he doesn’t respond to them in expected, conventional ways. We sense that the people around him don’t really trust him and basically make him a social outcast – “nobody wants to know him.

And, yet, the Fool in the song doesn’t seem to take offense to this. He’s portrayed as being content. Innocently, from his place of “keeping perfectly still,” he sees “the world spinning ‘round.” What better description is there of Buddha-like non-judgment, centeredness, internal stillness, and neutral observation? Isn’t this what we’re cultivating in our spiritual practice? This is a Fool I can identify with!

This classic song teaches us about the Fool through its music as well as its lyrics. Paul McCartney underscored the outer and inner state of the Fool by using an interesting harmonic technique, musically cuing us that there’s more going on with the Fool than meets the eye.

The song begins with a charming, light tone. The instrumentation includes a calliope organ-grinder-type sound that is innocent, playful, jesting. The harmony is in a major key and feels happy, bright, lighthearted. This is the musical quality for the verses – the lyrics that describe the Fool as he’s seen from the outside.

But, at the bridge into the chorus, which describes the inner workings of the Fool’s thoughts and perspective, the harmony switches to minor. Suddenly, a cloud passes over the sunny major harmonic terrain that’s been established, and we sense the inner, more complex landscape of the Fool. Following the subtle shifts between parallel major and minor, we track the Fool’s outer and inner dynamic.

Another archetype of the Fool is found in the Tarot deck. Here, too, he is considered the innocent, not the idiot. This innocence implies purity and potential waiting to be molded.

Like the Beatles’ Fool on the Hill, the Tarot Fool is also unconcerned about what others say and think. In his carefree approach to life, he is able to stay aligned with what is right for him.

I admire this “Beginner’s Mind” attitude of the Fool. Without worrying about being criticized and censored by others – or by our own inner critic – we can innocently experiment, explore, and try out new approaches to life. How freeing it is to be willing to try, to fail, to laugh at and with ourselves rather than to live in the stifling fear of being judged. The wisdom of the Fool inspires us to hold all our endeavors with neutrality and simple observation, to give it a shot, to simply go another way if we’re not successful.

There’s one aspect of the Fool that we should generally avoid – playing the Fool. When we put on a front pretending to know less than we do, of being less than we are, we are acting the part of the Fool and denying ourselves the full honor of who we really are. Playing the Fool helps us avoid stepping up to the plate, lets us deceive ourselves.

I believe the Archetypal Fool knows his full wisdom, and consciously chooses how, when, and to whom he will reveal himself. I think he also breezes a little more lightly through life than I do, holding things with open hands and a more playful spirit.

There’s a lot for me to learn from this Fool. I think I’ll join the Fool on the Hill – being the Fool, but not playing the Fool. It seems like a wise way to live.


  1. Eileen McCluskey says

    I had not thought so deeply about The Fool on the Hill, Janet. Thank you for helping me understand more clearly my affection for the song.

    When I was in the 7th grade I submitted anonymous essays for our class newsletter. My pen name was the Wise Fool. And no one ever knew it was me! (Only my teacher, and she never said a word.) (My essays were sophomoric musings on existence; years later I discovered that “sophomore” means “wise fool.”)

    • Spiral Energies says

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Eileen. I’m pleased that the essay expanded your perception. It is a good Beatles song! And, the Wise Fool is a wonderful pen name!

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