Tarot cards are likely one of the most popular divination devices in the entire world. They are a bit more complicated than many other such devices, but their mystic and magical feel has made people drawn to them for hundreds of years.
When it comes to cards being used to predict the future, historians say traditional playing cards came about in around 1375 when they were brought to Europe from Islamic sources. But it was 65 years later in 1440 that historians believe tarot cards and tarot decks were first mentioned. The mention was in a letter from the Duke of Milan, who asked for a deck of triumph cards, which were what tarot cards were called.
These tarot cards appeared as some kind of game with 4 suites and were numbered one through ten. There were court cards of king, queen, knight and page, and 22 symbolic picture type cards that didn’t belong to a suit. These kinds of tarot decks were used to play a game similar to bridge called triumph. The game quickly spread all over Europe. By 1530 people began using the French word tarot based on the word “tarocchi.”
Rich families often commissioned artists to create them a set of these tarot cards with their own family members painted on them. It wasn’t to be until the printing press was invented that other than rich people could afford such cards, so only a few sets of these cards still exist today. However, one famous set that does still exist was made for the Visconti family of Milan.
By the late 16th century tarot cards and tarot decks started to evolve from a mere game to using them to predict the future. Then, it was done in a simpler way and it wasn’t until the 18th century that tarot card meanings started to appear.
Tarot Card Meanings Beginnings
It was in 1781 that a Frenchman called Antoine Court de Gebelin is said to have published his analysis of tarot cards and said their symbolism came from mysterious secrets of priests from Egypt. He claimed the ancient information on the cars was brought to Rome and given to the Catholic Church where the Pope tried to keep it all secret. He believed the tarot card meaning was somehow linked to Isis, Osiris and some of the other gods of the Egyptians such as Thoth, the Egyptian God of inspired written knowledge.
A mere 10 years later, a French occultist named Jean Baptiste Alliette created the first tarot deck that was made for predicting the future. But he meant the tarot card meanings to be merely a parlor game, not something to take seriously. Later on, he wrote a book on how to use tarot cards for this purpose but his definition only included a deck that had 32 cards.
The theory that the tarot cards came from Egypt was never proven, even after the Rosetta Stone made it possible to translate the hieroglyphics in 1799, the belief still persisted, and somehow got augmented to say that the Gypsy Romany peoples were related to the Egyptians and they brought the cards to Europe as part of their wanderings.
Some of the First Tarot Decks
One of the first tarot decks was the Major Arcana and the designs for its 22 cards goes back clear to 1440, which is when the 1st known of the tarot decks showed up in Italy. These were also called “Visconti Trumps,” possibly since they were made for that family as mentioned earlier in this article. These are considered as the forefather of today’s tarot cards. They were a game for Nobles until several hundred years later when they began to be used to tell the future.
This deck began to be standardized by card makers in France by the last half of the 15th century. Prior to that card makers put whomever they wanted onto the cards, which sometimes included nobles and their family members. Plus, some of the cards were actually considered offensive, so may have been left out, to include Death, the Devil, and the Tower cards. In fact, those card images were part of why religious leaders wanted to ban the tarot cards.
Another of the tarot decks is the Rider-Waite deck (sometimes known as the Waite-Smith deck due to the artist Pamela Smith) created by a British occultist named Arthur Waite. He was part of a group called the Order of the Golden Dawn. The first printing of this deck was in 1909. His deck was said to be the first to show characters as illustrated images for the lower tarot cards. It showed human figures in the pictures instead of just showing things such as some coins, swords, wands or cups. This type of tarot cards are what inspired most of what is seen today.
Today, thanks to this deck tarot cards are printed in many different designs using Waite’s format and style, but still adapted to the creator’s motif. Today, anybody can buy a set of tarot cards and it is not just something the rich or famous upper class plays with or uses. It’s a simple thing to learn how to use tarot cards merely by buying a book on it or looking up the rules online.
Today’s Tarot cards replicate trends in areas like sexuality, philosophy, religion, and the culture. There are 100s of interpretations, which are everchanging and users can pick tarot decks that reflect their personality. Some tarot decks are more serious, while others more cartoonish, but all are very personal to the user and those who know how to read tarot cards.
All in all, this is only a minor delve into the history of these interesting and mysterious cards and the tarot card meanings and tarot decks have changed dramatically over the centuries, and likely will continue to do so. Many people are interested in the “magic” of being able to divine the future, and tarot cards are just one of the ways to do that.