Tarot: History & Mysticism

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A brief history of tarot and an introduction to readings for beginners.

Tarot: A Brief History

Tarot derives from the Italian word Tarocchi. The root word Taroh means "foolishness." Taroch was used in the 15th century when Trionfi , which was a 70-card game inspired by theatrical festivals, emerged. These cards were hand painted and featured gilded decorations. In France, the game was known as Taraux; which eventually became what we know as Tarot today.

The game was played similar to games of bridge. Each deck had 4 suits. The original suits were swords, batons, coins, and cups. Each deck also contained trump cards. The trump cards outranked all of the other cards in the deck. At the end of each game, points would be added up based on the value of each of the cards that were played.

It wasn't until the 18th century that the cards started being used for divination. In 1781 a French Freemason, and former Protestant minister, Antoine Court de Gebelin, published an analysis on Tarot. In this analysis, he said that the symbolism and artwork of the cards were connected to the ancient Egyptian Gods. The Catholic Church was afraid of this knowledge and tried to keep it secret. There was no evidence to support this claim, but people jumped on the idea and ran with it.

In 1791, a French occultist, Jean-Baptiste Alliette, who was inspired by de Gebelin's work, published the first tarot deck specifically designed for divination. He also wrote a book explaining how each card could be used for divination and the meaning behind each card and its illustrations.During this time, Tarot became associated with the Kabbalah and Hermetic mysticism.

Arthur Waite was a British occultist and a member of the Golden Dawn. He and another Golden Dawn member, Pamela Colman Smith, created the Rider-Waite tarot deck, which was originally published in 1909. Waite suggested that Smith use the Sola Busca as inspiration, and Smith became the first artist to use human characters as representative images on the cards in the minor arcana. The images were heavy on Kabbalistic symbolism, and for that reason tend to be used as the default tarot deck in books and informative material on tarot. The Rider-Waite deck is also often referred to as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, in acknowledgment of Smith's contribution and artwork.

Today you can find tarot in hundreds of designs, but most of them still follow the style and format of the Raider-Waite deck. However, they adapt the cards to suite their own motifs and designs.

Information on Decks & Card Readings:

  • A standard Tarot deck is 78 cards. 22 Major Arcana, 56 Minor Arcana.
  • Lots of swords in a reading can relate to conflict or strife.
  • Lots of wands in a reading can relate to big changes that are on the way.
  • Lots of pentacles in a reading can mean possible financial issues, or financial changes.
  • Lots of cups in a reading can relate to love and relationships, or possible problems in those areas depending on the other cards in the reading.
  • Lots of Major Arcana cards in a reading can relate to the outcome being controlled by someone other than the individual for which the reading is for.
  • Lots of 8s can mean changes or movements in life.
  • Lots of Aces in a reading can relate to the element of power for each of suits.

Easy, Beginner Tarot Spread:

The 3 card spread: Past, Present, Future.

  1. Shuffle your deck.
  2. Pick up the top 3 cards from your deck and place them in a horizontal row.
  3. Read the cards from left to right, and use them to reveal insight into your past, present, and future.

References & Further Reading:





Added to on Dec 02, 2020
Last edited on Aug 13, 2021
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