Like many of the details on historic tarot decks, it is not always evident which details were deliberate or which resulted from inaccurate printing techniques or the slip of the artist's hand; and it remains unclear whether the Fool and Death cards of a tarot deck were ever intended to have the opportunity to face one another either as they appeared in a hand for play, or in a spread for interpretation.
However, I argue that it doesn't really matter and the fact that some decks do allow for a face off, even if it is a happy accident, is the ideal. It's not a deal breaker for me if the Fool and Death cards of a particular deck don't share this configuration, but I do appreciate a deck that does.
In historic decks which have not been labeled for modern readers, both of these characters are essentially outsiders. The Fool is a card with a name and no number, and Death is a card with a number(#13) and no name.
Although The Fool is among the living, he is decidedly unfit for polite society. (I'm strictly speaking TdM here, not the carefree youth of privilege created by the Hermetic order of the Golden Dawn and the Waite Smith Traditions). And while Death is not among the living, he likewise, is probably not preferred dinner talk in gentile settings. They each share a type of disconnect from the other cast of characters in the deck and in a sense, from we who peer into their world for clarity.
The Fool is a risk taker, and there is no one as dangerous or as free as a person who has nothing to lose, except perhaps the Grim Reaper himself. Death represents and presents the ultimate freedom that many of us dread paying the price for and reminds us that choices and behaviors have consequences, and in the end, no matter how carefully or carelessly we live our lives, eternity will claim us.
Who knows if it was intended, and that is part of the mystery and intrigue that is tarot. I know of no other rabbit hole that has led me to such profound thinking. Except maybe the universe and the stars themselves, and there's a card for that!
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