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Tarot History ► See how this divination tool came about

Tarot magic has been attracting people’s curiosity for centuries. Currently, you can find this deck with the most varied designs and styles. but you know the Tarot history?

Even with this immense variety of Tarots, which use the most varied references, from “The Lord of the Rings” to zombies, the cards always have the same meanings. What changes are the reading methods.

Let’s take a look at some of the hypotheses on how Tarot came to be, how cards became more than just a parlor game, and see some of the early Tarot decks.

Tarot History

It is not known for sure how Tarot came to be, but there are dozens of hypotheses about the history of Tarot. One is that of historian Tom Tadfor Little.

According to him, the first time traditional playing cards were seen was in 1375, in Europe.

However, according to Tom Tadfor Little’s hypothesis, this deck would not have been created in Europe, but rather brought from Islamic societies.

The Tarot deck probably came later, but no one knows for sure when. There is a letter from the Duke of Milan, dated 1440, in which he asks for several decks of playing cards. “trump” to be used for a special event.

Trump is a game similar to bridge and these trump cards could be an early version of Tarot.

By 1530, this game had spread rapidly across Europe and people had come to refer to it as tarocchi – an Italian version of the French word Tarot.

In its first version, the Tarot had four suits in cards numbered from 1 to 10. There were also court cards: queen, king, knight and jack. The deck also included another 22 symbolic cards, which did not belong to any suit.

Still in Tom Tadfor Little’s version, followers of occultism discovered Tarot cards around 1781. The images contained in this card gave them many visions, so they started using this deck as a divination tool.

Later, they wrote accounts of how to play Tarot for this purpose, making this deck definitely part of the occult philosophy.

How the Tarot came about – version 2

There are also those who believe that the Tarot story originated in Egypt. In some circles, Tarot cards are believed to be the only surviving “book” of the great fire that burned the libraries of ancient Egypt.

In this theory, cards are considered the hieroglyphic keys to life.

French and Italian Tarot

A third version of Tarot history claims that the deck emerged in the 14th century, created by European artists as a game.

The cards in this deck also contained four suits very similar to the ones we still use today: clubs, coins (diamonds), cups (hearts), and spades.

After a decade or two of use, in the mid-1400s, Italian artists added other cards to this deck, with larger and more impactful illustrations.

People liked these painted cards so much that wealthy families even placed orders for what was then known as trump cards. Members of the nobility asked the artists to illustrate the cards with their own images.

Many decks were created for the Visconti family of Milan, which included several dukes and barons. Some of these decks still exist today.

Tarot as Divination

In all versions of Tarot history, this deck was initially created to be a parlor game, not a divinatory tool.

There is also a certain consensus that Tarot began to be used for divination in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. However, it was played in a simpler way, quite different from the way Tarot is played today.

Tarot and Kabbalah

There is material published in 1781 by a French Freemason named Antoine Court De Gebelin in which he gives a complete analysis of the Tarot.

In this analysis, the also former Protestant minister reveals that the Tarot symbolism was extracted from the esoteric secrets of Egyptian priests.

According to De Gebelin, this hidden knowledge had been revealed to the Catholic Church at the Vatican. However, the popes desperately tried to keep this knowledge a secret.

In his study, the author links the meanings of the Tarot to the legends of Isis, Osiris, and other Egyptian gods.

Even though De Gebelin’s work had no historical evidence to support it, wealthy Europeans produced many Tarot de Marseille decks in the early 19th century based on the French’s analysis.

The first Tarot deck designed specifically for divinatory purposes was then released in 1791 by French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette.

As the occult interest in Tarot expanded, it became more associated with Kabbalah and the secrets of Hermetic mysticism.

In the late Victorian era, occultism and spiritualism became popular pastimes for bored upper-class families.

It wasn’t uncommon to attend a house party and find a session in progress, or someone reading palms or tea leaves in the corner.

The Rider-Waite Tarot deck

In 1909, a British occultist named Arthur Waite teamed up with artist Pamela Colman Smith, both members of the Order of the Golden Dawn, to create the Rider-Waite Tarot deck.

At Waite’s suggestion, Smith drew heavily on Sola Busca’s artwork to illustrate his cards.

To represent the lower cards, she was the first to use human figures as images, not just the symbols of cups, coins, clubs or swords.

The images are thought of in Kabbalistic symbolism. Because of this, they are typically used as the default deck in almost all Tarot instructional books.

As we talked about at the beginning of this article, now, over a hundred years since the Rider-Waite deck was released, Tarot cards are available in a virtually endless selection of designs.

In general, many of them follow the format and style of Rider-Waite, although each adapts the cards to suit its own theme.

As we can see in this article, the history of Tarot is uncertain. There is no effective proof determining the origin of this deck.

The important thing is that it is no longer only the rich and the upper class who master this divination tool. Tarot is available to anyone willing to take the time to learn it.

To start your studies, you can start by taking the Major Arcana and that of Minor Arcana of the Marseille Tarot.

In the courses, you will learn more about the origin of the cards, what each element drawn on a card represents, how to play the cards and how to interpret them.

With Knowledge Comes Wisdom

Walk comfortably in both Darkness and Light with these digital Books of Shadows:

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