As I got my Rider deck, one card jumped at me immediately: the Fool. I had seen it before. In my continuing research in the history of psychiatry and concepts of madness I had often seen the image of "the traveling idiot" in strange clothes, carrying a staff and a pouch (or bladder, as they say) attached to it, often accompanied by a dog.
Back in the 14th century the fool was pictured with a tree branch, also known as the staff of madness.
The fool in a 14th century manuscript
Giotto: The Seven Vices: "Foolishness", 1306
In later imagery the fool is seen carrying a wider range of long, wooden objects. In some cases he leans onto a simple cane, in others he carries a child's pinwheel, with or without a pouch attached to it. (The staff or wand is also seen in imagery of witches flying on broomsticks.) The fool was often associated with the wild man, the man who lives in the forest. The branch or the wooden staff would fit this imagery. In some images his coat is also made of leaves, and in others, he wears a headpiece made of feathers.
In all images, the fool's attire is questionable. Apart from wearing leaves and feathers, he is also shown in ragged or otherwise ridiculous clothing. By his appearance, he portrays someone who has lost all normalcy by abandoning proper clothes and a proper habitat. He is, then, in denial of all order, and of God. (Those who deny Christ are "foolish", according to Hans Holbein the Younger's 1547 work on illustrated Psalms.)
The fool has often shared his imagery with the madman, especially the melancholiac. The planet Saturn has been linked to sadness and melancholy since the first century by the poet Manilius, and here lies the connection to the fool's common companion, the dog. The dog is an old symbol of melancholy and the planet Saturn. A 16th century author even called the fool's pinwheel "the Saturnian pinwheeler". In this sense, the fool becomes the representative of the sad and the morose.
Detail of Daniel Chodowiecki's plate "The physiognomy of illness and deformity", from Johann Gaspar Lavater's Physiognomische Fragmente, 1774-1778
Detail of Charles Aubry: Album Comique de pathologie pittoresque, "Saint Guy's Dance", 1823
Jean Louis Alibert: Physiologie des Passions, "Portrait of Anselm", 1826
The myth of the traveling fool seems to occupy the meanings attached to the Fool of the Tarot: the card depicts the journey of man through life, his childlike connection to the workings of the world. The rose the fool carries has come to symbolize his appreciation of beauty, and the meaning of the dog has changed from that of melancholy to the call of the physical, material side of the world. The number given to the Fool is zero, nothing.
Images: Sander L. Gilman's Seeing the Insane, and Wikipedia.