Uncovering the History and Origins of Tarot Cards

Tarot cards, with their mysterious imagery and rich symbolism, have captured the imagination of people for centuries. But did you know these captivating cards were originally created for playing games rather than divination? Join us on a journey through tarot’s fascinating history and origins, from their Italian beginnings as playing cards to their evolution into a powerful divination tool embraced by modern culture.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the origins of tarot, the structure of a tarot deck, and the evolution of tarot decks through time. We’ll also explore the art of tarot reading and its impact on popular culture, revealing the enduring appeal of these enigmatic cards.

Short Summary

  • Tarot cards originated in 15th-century Italy and were used for a card game.
  • The French connection refers to the transformation of tarot into a divination tool by Jean-Baptiste Alliette.
  • Tarot’s influence on popular culture is evident today in many forms of artistic expression.

The Roots of Tarot: From Playing Cards to Divination

A tarot deck with colorful cards

The origins of tarot cards can be traced back to 15th-century Italy, where they were initially used for a fun card game called tarocchi, which were tarot playing cards. These cards, known as trionfi or triumph cards, featured four suits and unique trump cards with classical themes. These trionfi cards were used strictly for entertainment and had no connection to divination or fortune-telling.

The association of tarot cards with occult practices and divination didn’t come about until the 18th century in France. French occultist Antoine Court de Gébelin introduced the idea that tarot cards held deeper, hidden meanings and could be used to predict the future and interpret dreams. This marked a significant turning point in the history of tarot, transforming it from a simple card game to a powerful divination tool.

Tarot’s Italian Beginnings

The roots of tarot cards can be traced back to northern Italy, where they originated, likely in Milan in the early 15th century when they were used as a game called Tarocchi. This game was created by adding a fifth suit of 21 specially illustrated cards called trionfi (“triumphs”) and an odd card called il matto (“the fool”) to ordinary playing cards. The trionfi cards featured unique designs and themes, often inspired by classical mythology or allegorical motifs.

These early tarot cards were used strictly for entertainment, without connection to rudimentary divinatory meanings or fortune-telling. The trionfi cards’ designs varied from deck to deck, reflecting their creators’ and patrons’ tastes and preferences.

It wasn’t until tarot cards reached France in the 18th century that their potential for divination and mystical symbolism became widely recognized.

The French Connection

The transformation of tarot cards from a card game into a divination tool can be attributed to French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette, who wrote under the pseudonym Etteilla. Etteilla popularized tarot divination by:

  • Creating a 78-card deck with both Major and Minor Arcana
  • Assigning specific meanings to each card
  • Developing a system of tarot reading that connected the cards to astrology, numerology, and other esoteric knowledge

This marked a significant turning point in the history of tarot, as the cards began to be used for fortune-telling and divination, rather than simply for entertainment. The French connection also led to the spread of tarot cards throughout Western Europe and, eventually, to the modern world, where they continue to captivate and inspire people from all walks of life.

The Structure of a Tarot Deck

A tarot deck with major arcana cards

The structure of a tarot deck is such that it includes 78 cards, which are split into two primary sections: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana, consisting of 22 cards, represents significant life events and spiritual lessons, while the 56-card Minor Arcana reflects everyday experiences and is further divided into four suits.

This structure allows for a wide range of possible interpretations and insights, making tarot a versatile and adaptable tool for divination.

Every card within a tarot deck holds a distinctive meaning and symbolism, which can be deciphered in various ways based on the context of the reading and the reader’s intuitive understanding. This rich tapestry of symbols and meanings has contributed to the enduring appeal of tarot cards, as they offer a window into the complexities of human experience and the mysteries of the universe.

Major Arcana

The Major Arcana comprises 22 trump cards that signify major themes, influences, and messages about one’s life path. These cards represent significant moments and spiritual teachings, often reflecting important life events or turning points that carry profound lessons and insights. Examples of Major Arcana cards include:

  • The Fool
  • The Magician
  • The High Priestess
  • The Empress
  • The Emperor

Each card carries its own unique symbolism and spiritual significance.

In a tarot reading, the appearance of a Major Arcana card can indicate that the situation being explored is of great importance, requiring careful consideration and reflection. The Major Arcana cards also serve as powerful reminders of the universal archetypes and experiences that shape our lives, providing guidance and wisdom as we navigate the challenges and opportunities that come our way.

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Minor Arcana

The Minor Arcana, consisting of 56 cards, reflects the more mundane aspects of life, such as daily experiences, emotions, and relationships. These cards are divided into four suits and include court cards representing people in our lives.

  1. Wands: creativity, passion, and ambition
  2. Cups: emotions, relationships, and intuition
  3. Swords: intellect, communication, and conflict
  4. Pentacles: material possessions, physical health, and financial stability.

In a tarot reading, Minor Arcana cards can provide valuable insights into our everyday challenges and opportunities. They help paint a more detailed picture of the situation at hand, offering practical guidance and advice on navigating the complexities of daily life. Together with the Major Arcana, the Minor Arcana cards create a rich and diverse tapestry of meanings and interpretations, allowing tarot readers to explore the many facets of human experience.

Evolution of Tarot Decks: Thoth Deck and Beyond

Unbenannt 3

Over time, tarot decks have evolved to reflect changing tastes, beliefs, and cultural influences. From the early Italian trionfi cards to the intricate Thoth Deck and the diverse array of contemporary decks available today, the history of tarot is a testament to these enigmatic cards’ enduring appeal and versatility.

One notable example of tarot’s evolution is the Thoth Deck, created by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris in the 1940s. This deck, known for its intricate symbolism and connection to the occult, was inspired by various mythologies, esoteric traditions, and Crowley’s own beliefs.

Today, numerous contemporary tarot decks showcase a wide range of themes and styles, catering to diverse interests and preferences, further demonstrating the adaptability and allure of tarot cards.

Nowadays you can chooce in between a wide range of beautiful taort decks if you want to learn the art of Tarot.

Thoth Deck

An image of the Thoth Deck, a popular tarot deck known for its intricate symbolism and deep connection to the history and origins of tarot.

The Thoth Deck, created by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris between 1938 and 1943, is a prime example of tarot cards’ evolution and enduring appeal.

Drawing inspiration from various mythologies and esoteric traditions, the Thoth Deck is well-known for its intricate symbolism and strong connection to the occult. Each card in the deck is richly detailed, reflecting Crowley’s unique vision and interpretation of the tarot’s ancient symbolism.

The Thoth Deck has significantly impacted the world of tarot, inspiring many subsequent decks and shaping modern tarot practice. Its enduring popularity and influence are a testament to the power of tarot cards to captivate, inspire, and guide people from all walks of life.

Contemporary Tarot Decks

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in tarot cards, leading to the creation of various contemporary decks. These modern decks cater to diverse tastes and interests, ranging from traditional designs inspired by historic decks to those based on pop culture, animals, nature, and fantasy.

Examples of popular contemporary decks include the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, known for its illustrated minor arcana, and the Marseille tarot deck, featuring 56 cards in the four standard suits and 22 cards. With so many options available, it’s easier than ever to find or even create your own deck that resonates with your personal style and preferences.

The wealth of contemporary decks available today demonstrates the enduring appeal of tarot cards and their ability to adapt to changing cultural contexts and preferences. As people continue to seek wisdom, guidance, and self-reflection through the timeless art of tarot, the evolution of tarot decks will undoubtedly continue to fascinate and inspire.

The Art of Tarot Reading

A tarot reader doing a three-card spread

Tarot card reading is interpreting a deck of cards to gain insight into a person’s life or situation, requiring intuition, knowledge of the cards, and the ability to connect with the person being read.

The art of tarot reading involves understanding the rich symbolism and meanings of the cards and their positions in a spread, which is the arrangement of cards in a specific layout. One popular tarot reading method is the three-card spread, representing the past, present, and future.

The connection between the tarot reader and the person being read is crucial, as it enables the reader to gain a deep understanding of the person’s life or situation, providing insights and guidance that can help them navigate the twists and turns of life’s journey. Tarot reading is a powerful form of divination that has captivated people for centuries, offering a window into the mysteries of the human experience and the unknown.

Three-Card Spread

The three-card spread is a popular tarot reading technique that involves drawing three cards from the deck, usually representing the past, present, and future. This simple yet effective spread allows the reader to create relationships between the cards, providing insights into the person’s life and the influences shaping their experiences.

In a three-card spread:

  1. The past card can reveal the root of a current situation.
  2. The present card represents the current state of affairs or challenges faced.
  3. The future card offers a glimpse of the possible outcome or direction in which the situation may evolve.

This spread is particularly useful for better understanding someone’s life, giving a snapshot of their past, present, and future.

Other Popular Spreads

In addition to the three-card spread, numerous other popular tarot spreads can provide unique perspectives and guidance. Some examples include:

  1. The Celtic Cross spread: This is a more complex layout that delves deeper into various aspects of a person’s life, offering insights into the past, present, and future, as well as the factors affecting the situation.
  2. The Horseshoe spread: This is a seven-card tarot spread that can help gain insight into a range of life situations, looking at the past, present, and future, as well as the factors affecting the situation.
  3. The Tree of Life spread: This is a nine-card tarot spread that can be used to gain insight into different life situations, offering a glimpse into the past, present, and future, along with the influences impacting the situation.

These spreads provide different perspectives and can help you explore various aspects of your life and the situations you may be facing.

These various spreads enable tarot readers to explore different aspects of a person’s life and situation, offering valuable guidance and insights tailored to the individual’s unique circumstances. The versatility of spreads is one of the many reasons why the art of tarot reading has endured and thrived throughout the centuries.

Oldest Surviving Tarot Cards

An old tarot card from the 15th century

The oldest surviving tarot cards date back to the 15th century, with the Visconti-Sforza deck being a prime example. Commissioned by the Visconti family in Milan, Italy, this historic deck offers a fascinating glimpse into the early days of tarot cards, showcasing the intricate designs and themes that have captivated people for centuries.

The Visconti-Sforza tarot deck is incredibly significant because it’s the oldest surviving one, giving us a rare look at the history and beginnings of tarot cards.

As we trace the evolution of tarot cards from their origins as playing cards to their modern role as a powerful divination tool, the Visconti-Sforza deck serves as a testament to the enduring appeal and mystique of these enigmatic cards.

Tarot’s Influence on Popular Culture

Tarot has made its mark on popular culture in various ways, reflecting its enduring appeal and mystique. From literature and film to art and music, tarot cards have inspired creators and storytellers, providing symbolism, intrigue, and insight. The mysterious imagery and rich symbolism of tarot cards have resonated with audiences across generations and cultures, making them a popular motif in various forms of artistic expression.

In recent years, tarot’s influence on popular culture has continued to grow, with the increasing popularity of tarot reading and the diverse array of contemporary tarot decks catering to a wide range of tastes and interests. As tarot cards continue to captivate and inspire people from all walks of life, their impact on popular culture is a testament to these enigmatic cards’ enduring allure.

Conclusion – History and Origins of Tarot Cards

In conclusion, the history of tarot cards is a fascinating journey through time, from their origins as playing cards in 15th-century Italy to their transformation into a powerful divination tool embraced by modern culture. The evolution of tarot decks, such as the Thoth Deck and various contemporary designs, showcases these enigmatic cards’ adaptability and enduring appeal.

As we continue to seek wisdom, guidance, and self-reflection through the timeless art of tarot, the captivating symbolism and rich history of tarot cards will undoubtedly endure, inspiring and guiding us through the complexities of human experience and the mysteries of the universe.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who invented tarot and why?

Tarot cards were invented in Northern Italy during the mid-15th century and didn’t become a popular tool for divination until the late 18th century.

What religion do tarot cards originated from?

Tarot cards have been suggested to originate from the ancient Jewish mystical practices of the Kabbalah and various spiritual systems such as Qabalah, Christian mysticism, astrology, numerology, and Hermeticism during the Enlightenment.
These spiritual systems have been used to interpret the cards and their meanings, and to provide guidance and insight into life’s questions and challenges.

When was tarot card reading invented?

Tarot card reading was invented in northern Italy between 1440 and 1450, with additional cards featuring allegorical illustrations being added to the existing four-suit pack. These cards were used for various purposes, including divination game-playing and as a tool for teaching moral lessons. The Tarot deck has since evolved to include various decks, each with its own unique symbolism.

What is the structure of a tarot deck?

A complete tarot deck comprises 78 cards, categorized into two groups: the Major Arcana with 22 cards and the Minor Arcana, comprising 56 cards. A complete tarot deck comprises 78 cards, categorized into two groups: the Major Arcana with 22 cards and the Minor Arcana comprising 56 cards.

What is the difference between the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana?

The Major Arcana represents major life lessons and spiritual growth, while the Minor Arcana reflects daily, mundane experiences.

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Christina Johnson

About the Author

My name is Christina, and I am the founder of centerspirited. Being a physiotherapist for several years I have found that many people, including myself, don’t achieve well-being only from a physical point of view. I’ve always viewed a person’s body, soul, and emotions as a whole construct of beauty. Always being a yoga enthusiast, I finally became an instructor myself. On a secret mission to capture spirituality in all of her beautiful shapes, I found myself being guided on a way through ayurvedic nutrition and lifestyle. Through this platform, I will hopefully be able to help other beautiful souls out there find their inner peace and bond with their spiritual selves.

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