The History of Tarot (Free Sample Lesson)

the house of twigs tarot school of ritual erika fortner

Tarot card designs have been circumventing the globe for over 500 years, all keeping with the early trump traditions, including the Major arcana and their own personal interpretations. The earliest known cards were referred to as the tarocchi (or trionfi) in Italy, consisting of 22 Major Arcana (aka the Greater Arcana) and 56 Minor arcana.

The first deck, and probably the prototype, is called the Cary-Yale Tarot (or Visconti-Modrone Tarot) and was created between 1442 and 1447 by an anonymous painter for Filippo Maria Visconti.(( The cards (only 67) are today held in the Cary collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. This deck would have been hand-painted and passed down in families due to the value of such a detailed item

Etteilla ((The pseudonym of Jean-Baptiste Alliette (1738 – 12 December 1791), was the French occultist who was the first to popularise tarot divination to a wide audience (1785), and therefore the first professional tarot occultist known to history who made his living by card divination)) was the first to issue a tarot deck specifically designed for occult purposes. In keeping with the misplaced belief that such cards were derived from the Book of Thoth, Etteilla’s tarot ((Etteilla published his ideas of the correspondences between the tarot, astrology, and the four classical elements and four humors, and was the first to issue a revised tarot deck specifically designed for occult purposes (1791)) contained themes related to ancient Egypt.

Here you can see examples of one of the most commonly known tarot decks, the Rider-Waite tarot (originally published 1910) *it still is one of the most popular tarot decks.

rider waite magician 

queen of pntacles rider waite  

Other styles of decks vary depending of original interpretation and modern twists. Other common styles are the Universal, the Morgan-Greer. As you can see, one can decipher the symbols fairly easy because of the traditional symbolism of the decks.

the magician universal four of swords universal tarot

two of cups universal tarot lovers universal tarot

ace of rods morgan greer magician morgan greer

queen of swords morgan greer three of cups morgan greer


If you know the base design of the cards, one can easily see a pattern of symbolism. Here is an example of the early French Marseille style decks in comparison to the Marseille Cat tarot deck.


marseille tarot queen of swords marseille tarot two of cups

marseille the tower the hermit marseille

cat marseille the magician cat marseille the hermit

cat marseille ace of swords

((Michael Dummett’s research led him to conclude that {based on the lack of earlier documentary evidence} the Tarot deck was probably invented in northern Italy in the 15th century and introduced into southern France when the French conquered Milan and the Piedmont in 1499. The antecedents of the Tarot de Marseille would then have been introduced into southern France at around that time. The 78-card version of the game of Tarot died out in Italy but survived in France and Switzerland. When the game was reintroduced into northern Italy, the Marseilles designs of the cards were reintroduced with it. All Italian-suited tarot decks outside of Italy are descended from the Milan-Marseilles type with the exception of some early French and Belgian packs which show mixed influence from Bolognese tarot. The earliest surviving cards of the Marseilles pattern were produced by Jean Noblet of Paris around 1650.))

We will see more examples of modern interpretations of tarot throughout the course.

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