History of Tarot Cards

The History of Tarot Cards runs deep into ancient times. Tradition has it that the beginning of Tarot was in Egypt. Some symbols are recognizable as ancient Egyptian. According to legend, the 78 Tarot cards represent the Egyptian hieroglyphic books, which were comprised of 78 tablets.

Further, the inner meaning of these cards is a book, containing psychological and philosophical content, which can be read in various ways. The first “cards” were medallions stamped with designs and numbers, then came metallic plates, leather cards and ultimately, paper decks.

Written history of the Tarot begins during the second half of the fourteenth century. We know that in 1440, the Duke of Milan requested a number of decks of “triumph” cards, which are hypothesized to have been the original Tarot deck(s).  

Triumph was similar to bridge. The deck contained 22 special cards that were used as trumps, in addition to four suits of court cards, a king, queen, knight and page. About 1530, “triumph” was changed to tarocchi, which is the Italian equivalent of tarot in French.

Because each deck was of necessity hand-painted, the early versions weren’t plentiful. But mid-15th century, when the printing press was available, the cards were reproduced speedily.

It was also around this time that the Church opposed Tarot-related activities and made several decrees prohibiting its use. However, Tarot for recreation and as teaching aids never totally ceased; its workers simply took Tarot underground.

Until around 1770, working with the Tarot was restricted to intimate numbers of initiated people and was a vital tool in esoteric circles, such as secret congregations or mystery schools.

History of Tarot Cards

Gypsies also ignored opposition to the Tarot. They developed the divinatory side of the Tarot and spread it throughout Europe during their Nomadic travels.

From 1500, until about 1770, the Tarot was only used in secret. At the same time, secularization decreased the Church’s power and began the reformation, which segued into Rationalism. Interest was revived in mystical and the Tarot emerged into the light.

Count Antoine Court de Gebelin published an eight volume work that “broke the mysterious silence around the Tarot”. Alliette (Ettelia) a wig maker, fortune teller and “professor of Algebra” designed a deck of Tarot cards that deviated profusely from those of Court de Gebelin.

While others had notable influence in the area, Sir Arthur Edward Waite, a member of Order of the Golden Dawn designed the world’s most used Tarot deck. In 1910, Waite published his book The Pictorial Keys to the Tarot. Though his work seemed radical at the time, Waites “Rider Tarot” set the standard and remains the most popular Tarot deck to date.

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