About the Tarot

The history of the tarot

Wheel of Fortune    The_Star

The history of the tarot is also shrouded in mystery… and there are a number of theories as to where they came from.

Mystics have speculated whether they were brought back by Italian merchants from the Orient or whether gypsies acquired them from the ancient Egyptians.

The first known documented tarot cards were created between 1430 and 1450 in Milan, Ferrara and Bologna in Northern Italy when additional trump cards with allegorical illustrations were added to the common four-suit pack. But it is believed tarot was being used as long ago as the 11th Century.

But current research reveals that tarot cards were not the oldest known. The ordinary playing card deck, with many variations, most probably preceded tarot by approximately 50 to 75 years.

The belief of divinity associated with Tarot focuses on the idea that whatever cards are dealt to the questioner will be revelatory. There is evidence of this use in documents from 1540 and manuscripts from 1735 and 1750 provide divinatory meanings for the cards of the tarot.

In fact, Casanova wrote in his diary that in 1765 his Russian mistress frequently used a deck of playing cards for divination. But all playing cards have been used for divinatory purposes (cartomancy).

During the Renaissance, the Tarot was part of a growing interest in the studies of the mystic arts, such as Kabbalah and alchemy. It has a definite symbolic and esoteric structure and is capable of being studied to great depth.

Tarot was not widely adopted by mystics, occultists and secret societies until the 18th and 19th centuries. The tradition began in 1781, when Swiss clergyman Antoine Court de Gebelin published a speculative study which included religious symbolism and its survival in the modern world.

De Gébelin asserted that symbolism of the Tarot de Marseille represented the mysteries of Isis and Thoth. He further claimed that the name “tarot” came from the Egyptian words tar, meaning “royal”, and ro, meaning “road”, and that the Tarot, therefore, represented a “royal road” to wisdom. Idries Shah, in The Sufis, believes that tarot is a derivation of the Arab word turuq, which means “four ways.”

Today, as an oracle, the tarot is the most practised art of divination in the world.

About the tarot

The Major Arcana (greater secrets), or trump cards, consists of 22 cards without suits: The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, the Emperor, the Heirophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, the Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, the Devil, the Tower, the Star, the Moon, the Sun, Judgment, the World and the Fool.

The Minor Arcana (lesser secrets) consists of 56 cards, divided into four suits of 14 cards each; ten numbered cards and four court cards. The court cards are the King, Queen, Knight and Page/Jack, in each of the four tarot suits. The suits are swords, wands, pentacles and cups.

I use the colourful and user friendly Rider-Waite deck… Arthur Edward Waite (the creator) and Pamela Colman Smith (the illustrator) were members of the Order of the Golden Dawn and students of the study of the Hermetic Kabbalah.

In this deck all the cards are illustrated in accordance with Kabbalistic principles, and bearing illustrated scenes on all the suit cards. The images on the cards were drawn by the artist to the instructions of mystic and occultist Waite and were originally published by the Rider Company in 1910. Its imagery, especially in the Major Arcana, is complex and replete with esoteric symbolism.