The History Of Tarot

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       Tarot cards, in the images we are most familiar with today, evolved from a kind of table game played in 15th century Italy, becoming popular throughout Europe over the next four centuries. Tarot originally would have been a pastime of the leisure class, those with the time and money to spend on games. Certainly at that time the cards were handmade and illustrated by artists, and each set would vary with the individual artist's representation of the card's images. Especially from the 15th to the 18th centuries in Europe, variations of Tarot games were wildly popular, enjoyed by people of some wealth and intellect, very much like chess or bridge. Through the 1700's Tarot was an absolute craze across the entire continent.

       There are several Tarot decks that have come to represent a familiar iconography, each with their own history, interpretation and devotees. The 15th Century Italian Visconti-Sforza deck is probably the earliest surviving deck of this era, with original cards in the collections of several museums around the world. These beautiful, artistic images are reproduced frequently. A 19th century version from the south of France, known as the Tarot de Marseille, is a very popular deck in Europe.

       In the United States, the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck is the most commonly used today. It was conceived by the well-known Tarot authority A. E. Waite, and published in 1902 by the Ryder Co. The simplified graphic style of this deck retains the historic symbolism of earlier decks, but seems fresh and accessible to modern sensibilities.

       Other Tarot scholars are convinced that Tarot has its roots in an even earlier time. They see relationships to the Kabbalah, or to Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Cards, for games or prophesy, were used in China centuries before they found their way to Europe in the 14th Century, and may have been the original incarnation of the Tarot.

       It may be more likely that the Tarot was brought to Europe through card games that were popular in the old world Arabia. In 18th Century France, Antoine Court de Gebelin, promoted the concept that the Tarot was derived from mystic practices in Ancient Egypt, which he described in his multi-volumed work, Le Monde Primitif. Another Frenchman, Etteillla, is considered to be the first to recreate the Tarot as a "fortune-telling" device. He is essentially the first Tarot reader. Reproductions of his Book of Thoth Tarot and other publications by Etteilla are still available today. Tarot reading emerged as a new construct during the Victorian Age's embrace of spiritualism and the occult, setting the foundation for what would become the New Age school of thought on Tarot that we know today.

A Short Guide To Tarot

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       Tarot cards possibly originated in Europe in the 1100s, and the earliest known specimens of tarot card decks are said to be from North Italy. These could go back to the early-to-mid-15th century. These were called carte da trionfi or "cards of the triumph" and were later used to play a game called "Tarocchi." These could have been derived from playing cards that came into Christian Europe between 1375 and 1380. First discovered in China, these cards probably came through the Arabic route to Islamic Spain and then spread across Europe. These were similar to the 52-card pack in use today. There are usually 78 cards in a deck of tarot cards. Special motifs were assigned to cards, taken from different ideas in philosophy, poetry, and astronomy. They were also borrowed from Roman, Greek and Babylonian mythology.

       The two main types of tarot cards are the major arcana and the minor arcana. The major arcana have 21 trump cards along with a fool card. The minor arcana have 56 cards, going up from the ace to 10. There have four different suits - the wand, cup, sword and the pentacle. There are also four court cards: the page, knight, king and queen. Tarot cards are connected to the occult and divination. Tarot card readers tried to divine a person?s past, present and future. Some of the earliest known tarot card readers were Etteilla, Marie-Anne Le Normand and Antoine Court de Gebelin.

       Etteilla was a French occultist who lived before the French revolution. His actual name was Alliette, but it was with this changed name that he became famous as a seer and card diviner. The first set of cryptic symbols were designed by him. Many of these were a derivation of the Marseille designs. The Hermetic Revival in the 1840s made tarot readings more popular. Eliphas Levi is attributed with using the cards as a mystical key to see the future. He is also considered the real founder of the true Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie or the Transcendental Magic school of tarot. These interpretations are also linked to the Kabbala. In 1910, the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot came up with symbolic imagery with divine meanings, increasing the popularity of tarot card divination. There are many who consider modern day tarot cards more interesting as these have grown and evolved through centuries of interpretations.

       Today there are special symbols for feminists, cat lovers, computer specialists in Silicon Valley, baseball players and many other groups of people in modern life. Carl Jung, the famous psychiatrist and psychologist, used tarot cards to help patients. He was probably interested in the archetypes that the tarot cards represented. It is still used by some psychiatrists who might ask a patient to choose a card representing himself or someone else. It is based on the fact that essentially symbols are archetypes.

       Tarot cards have inspired many stories and films. The tarot practiced by witches has been used in the James Bond movie Live and Let Die. T.S Eliot used it extensively in his poem The Waste Land. The video game "March of the Black Queen" has tarot cards woven into the game. In this age of hi-tech science, there is still a place for the magic of tarot!