Tarot History: The History of Tarot Reading and Tarot Cards
First and foremost, I am not a historical expert, nor do I find it necessary to go into great detail regarding the origins of the tarot cards. There is a plethora of information available to those who wish to explore the history of the Tarot in greater detail and I can suggest some great books for those of you who would like to embark on a great historical journey.
For our purposes, however, I believe it may be useful to get a brief background on the tarot cards. It certainly has been useful for me to understand such a genesis.
The rich imagery of the Tarot has its root in many different religions and philosophies. The first records of the Tarot Cards date back to the 15th century. Although there are no records that identify the exact geographical region where the Tarot originated, most scholars believe the Tarot originated in northern Europe. The cards were primarily used for a card game known as Tarocchi. This was a game of chance and the deck consisted of numbered cards (1-10) in four suits, court cards (page, knight, queen, king) and 22 trumps cards. These 22 cards are now associated with the Major Arcana. The popular term for this early card deck was called carte da trionfi, or Triumph Cards, and it became an extremely popular game for the wealthy and noble.
It wasn’t until the 18th century, however, that the Tarot were used for divinatory purposes. Jean-Baptiste Alliette (French occultist) was the first to create a tarot deck used for this purpose. He included new symbolism and imagery that incorporated the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and astrology. It became a popular tool for fortunetelling during this time. In 1910, the Tarot became truly mainstream when the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck was first published. The Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck was the first deck to include symbolic imagery in all 78 cards.
Much of the symbolism in the modern tarot deck has its roots in astrology and the Kabala, but bear in mind that there are many religions, myths and legends symbolically depicted in the Tarot. This is because the cards were developed in a time imbued with symbolic imagery that was influenced by many cultures, languages and historical references. After all, it was the time when the dark ages where ending and the Renaissance was beginning. Certainly there is a great deal of allegorical symbolism referencing the Christian teachings of those times, and we certainly see a great deal of Greco-Roman imagery as well. The list goes on. Knowing the symbolism and tarot card meanings can be quite helpful, but remember the intention of the Tarot, and all of it’s magical imagery, is to stimulate your intuition.