All about archetypes: The Innocent + The Fool

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As a novelist and screenwriter, I spend a lot of time thinking about character. All my stories hinge on a character, a fictional someone I find relatable or compelling for one reason or another. Only once the character is clear in my head does the plot grow up around them like a vine, placed on a trellis to fit their shape, designed specifically to challenge and change them. 

Not all writers work this way; others may be inspired by a premise, a world, a specific line or scene. Some have a story arrive in their head, fully formed, while others have to carefully plan, drawing out each thread of thought until they can weave it into a tapestry. Regardless of how you go about constructing your story, it doesn’t change the fact that everything pivots around character.

Throughout the history of storytelling–which is as long and varied as the history of humanity–people have theorized about character. One more modern model that has persisted through the years is Carl Jung’s twelve archetypes. The word “archetype” can be defined as both a typical example of a person or thing and a recurring motif in literature and art. In this case, it’s both. Jung theorized that these twelve archetypes exist within all of us, so it seems logical that they would also exist in the stories we tell. 

As a modern witch, I use tarot in my everyday life to help me seek clarity about my thoughts, experiences, and behavior patterns. Some people believe that tarot is a direct, literal message from the universe that can be interpreted to guide your actions or even tell the future. Others believe that it can be used to understand messages from your own mind or subconscious. Others still just think of it as meaningless fun. Regardless of your personal views on tarot, I think it can be a useful storytelling device for just about anyone, because of the way it relates to character archetypes

Tarot has archetypes as well; 22 major arcana cards that represent a circular journey through life, starting with The Fool (representing the beginning of a journey) and ending with The World (representing an ending or pause.) Obviously, these major arcana cards approach archetypes differently than Jung’s work; with 22 cards, there is no perfect one to one correlation between them and Jung’s 12 archetypes. Tarot is also much older than Jung, with roots all the way back in the 15th century, and it illustrates just how long people have been thinking about character archetypes.

Today, and in an upcoming series, I want to examine the links between Jungian archetypes and tarot, looking at the specific, universal archetypes that pervade storytelling. Before we proceed, a disclaimer: I am neither a psychologist nor a philosopher. Jung’s work and his views on femininity and masculinity have been critiqued by feminists more qualified than I, and I do not personally believe that Jungian archetypes are particularly useful while discussing real human beings. However, as a lens through which to develop fictional characters, I think archetypes, when used thoughtfully, can be a helpful tool for writers. I am also not a tarot expert, but rather a practitioner who sees the benefits that tarot has for my own creative and spiritual life. As with anything, it is up to you to take what works for you and leave the rest behind.

With that out of the way, let’s dive in. Today, we’re starting at the beginning of the tarot deck, with card number 0: The Fool. The major arcana represents The Fool’s journey through life, hence the number 0. He can be placed anywhere in the cycle of the deck.

The Fool represents the beginning of a journey. In the traditional Rider-Waite deck, The Fool is portrayed as a young man standing on the edge of a cliff, the crashing ocean below him. He is dressed in extravagant colors, face tilted towards the sky, the sun at his back. He is about to take the first step on his journey, and he is brimming with optimism and potential. He carries a small sack in one hand, and a white rose representing innocence in the other. At his heels, there is a small white dog, representing protection and companionship. 

The corresponding Jungian archetype is The Innocent. Also known as The Child, The Youth, and The Dreamer, you are likely already understanding why I am linking these two archetypes together. Often, in literature and movies, The Innocent is a side character, while in tarot, the whole journey belongs to him. This is not to say that in books and movies we never see The Innocent as the protagonist; think about Forrest Gump, Oliver Twist, Buddy the Elf, and other innocent, often naive characters. Seeing the world through the eyes of The Innocent can be interesting, refreshing, illustrate social injustices, or provide comedic relief. Sometimes we see The Innocent as a moral compass, someone who illuminates the moral and ethical center of the story. Think of Peeta Mellerk in The Hunger Games, who is gentle, romantic, and hopeful. Like The Fool in tarot, Peeta goes through a transformative journey that ends with him being less naive without losing the optimistic worldview that made readers and viewers fall in love with him.

Despite his name, I don’t think of The Fool as being foolish. There is so much beauty in the way that a young, innocent person looks at the world. When you are on the first step of a great journey, there are endless possibilities and potential outcomes at your fingertips. The Innocent archetype is a character who seeks safety and happiness, believes in doing things the right way, and sees the inherent goodness and beauty in people and the world. While naivete is part of that, I certainly don’t think it’s foolish. 

It reminds me of myself when I first started pursuing writing professionally. At the time I was brimming with excitement and possibilities. If I knew all the mountains I’d have to climb in my journey to seek publication, I might not have taken that first step, so I am so glad that the younger, innocent version of myself was unaware of all the trials that were yet to unfold. I wouldn’t have taken the first step of my creative journey if I’d known about all the tears, devastating rejections, or sleepless nights that would be part of the process. Instead, I was picturing myself already at the mountain top, having accomplished what I set out to do. I saw joy, potential, and opportunity. 

The Fool is a card that I think of when I’m beginning a new creative project. My deck often shows it to me in the moments when the seeds of a story are beginning to sprout. It reminds me to remain optimistic, to not focus too much on the unforeseen roadblocks ahead, but rather on the joy of creating and the exciting possibilities that can only happen when you let yourself be vulnerable enough to create art. 

How do I incorporate The Innocent in my storytelling?

While The Innocent (or The Fool) can be a powerful archetype to include in your storytelling, you need to be aware of its difficulties, too. An underdeveloped or poorly written Innocent archetype can come across as simplistic, overly passive, or silly. Even with this hopeful, youthful archetype, it’s important to carefully consider this character’s motivations, hopes, and fears to lend them depth and complexity. They should have a character arc that makes them grow as a person as the story progresses, learning more about the world and becoming wiser. This doesn’t mean they lose the hopefulness or optimism that is inherent to this archetype; think carefully about how growth is possible without losing the traits that make them them

Jung’s work provides guidance as to what The Innocent wants and needs. He posited the existence of four cardinal orientations, representing a range of motivations. Each cardinal orientation has associated desires and mottos. The orientations are Ego, Order, Freedom, and Social. The Innocent falls under Freedom. The Innocent fears abandonment and seeks safety. Their fatal flaw is their naivete, and they are prone to being in denial about the harsh realities of the world.

The Fool tarot card encourages you to take a leap of faith, put your trust in the universe, and forget about all that could go wrong as you begin your journey. This powerfully optimistic card is exciting to see when you need a message of positivity and new beginnings. When I am writing a character based on The Innocent archetype, I often find myself spending time with The Fool, reflecting on his attributes and what makes him special. In my favorite tarot deck, The Botanica deck, The Fool is represented by a delicate dandelion. These flowers are brimming with hope, growing seeds that will each take their own journey through the air. Some will take root and go on to flower themselves, repeating the cycle, while others will die without ever having the chance to grow. This is the nature of all lives and all journeys. The Innocent and The Fool are, in some ways, wiser than us all, as they have let go of the burden of worrying about the future.

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi


Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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