The History of Tarot

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.1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarot 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.

Etteilla 2)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 3)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  

Othr styles of decks vary depeinding of original interpretation and modern twists. Other common styles are the Universal, the Morgan-Greer. As you can see, one can deciper 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

4)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 tarot throughout the course.

The breakdown of the cards*-

The term trumps is derived from the word trumphi, which is in reference to the 22 trumphi. The latin word Arcana meaning mysterious or secret. This is where the words Major Arcana source from, as the imagery on the cards is symbolic or allegorical in nature.

Each major arcana represents a pictorial, allegorical process of one’s life events. Many contemporary cards will vary the order and progression of the traditional card order.

Early priest writings from the 15th century show the major and minor arcana were used as separate games and were despised for mocking god , ridiculing the christian faith because of their depiction of Angels, popes, and emperors.

Similar to what we use today as playing cards derive from early gambling with dice and cards of the four suits: cups, coins, swords, and staves (also known as the minor arcana). These are where the playing card deck with four suits derives from with the suit of hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs. Since gambling was despised by the church, the games were also.

Roman numerals reference each card as well as social positions (The Emperor, The Pope, etc.), allegorical positions (The Devil, The Hanged Man, etc., virtues (Justice, Strength, etc., astronomical elements (The Sun, The Moon, etc.), two cards of chance (Lovers and the Wheel of Fortune) and the elements of cosmic fatality (Chariot, Judgement, etc). Many writers have attempted to astrologically place the cards, and they vary greatly.

Four suits suggests the four seasons of the year while 12 court (picture cards) suggests the 12 months and the 12 zodiac signs.

There are are comparisons and historical connections with hieroglyphic paintings, the bembine tablet, the Ouspenky writings of God, Man and the Universe, the Mystical number 7, the Torah, the Hebrew alphabet, the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life, the Tablet of Cebes, a connection with Vishnu, Dice, etc, etc. Needless to say it is an auspicious and has a long placement in our historical and worldly culture. 

How these symbols and numbers relate do somewhat have to do with the type of deck and school of thought behind them.. but tarot is an interesting combination of interpretation and non-direct comparison, meaning each deck and book is that one person’s interpretation.

*Much of the historical information was referencedthrough The Encyclopedia of Tarot by Stuart R. Kaplan.

 

If one learns the tarot well enough, you can use the old way of reading, through a regular deck of playing cards (aka the French suits or pips), which is really just the minor arcana. The elements represented in each card are also linked with an elements Some scholars believe the contemporary playing cards derive from the early tarrochi of the knight and page combined to for the jack and the 22 card trumps were dropped, where only the fool survives as the joker.

Suits match up to the minor arcana suits and numurology will give you insight into the meanings of the cards. We will go over this more in our “cheat sheet”.

 

Lesson Topics

References   [ + ]

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarot
2. 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
3. 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
4. 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.