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History of The Tarot: A Brief Look At These Amazing Cards, Then And Now

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

Tarot Cards

When tarot cards were developed in the 15th century, they were made for playing a card game. But tarot cards soon took on additional meaning and are now a powerful part of many psychic readings.

Consisting of 78 cards that signify major and minor events in life, today’s tarot cards can reveal hidden truths if you take them seriously.

Tarot’s Beginnings

Card games became popular in 13th and 14th century Europe, and tarot cards weren’t far behind. The first recorded use of tarot cards was in 15th century Italy among wealthy families. These early cards had suits, trump cards and even pips. Since they pre-date the printing press, they were hand-painted, each a unique piece of art. As you can imagine, cards were expensive and had to be specially commissioned.

The Visconti-Sforza deck, created in 1440, is the oldest surviving tarot card set. Made for the Duke of Milan, the cards were used for a game called tarocchi – similar to bridge – that was popular among the nobility and some others of the time. The designs on this deck are whimsical and may have been inspired by carnival parade characters and their elaborate costumes.

Versions of the tarocchi game spread to France and Switzerland by the 16th century. Since only a few people had the money to hire a painter to create tarocchi or tarot cards for them, the game and the cards associated with it spread slowly for decades. Widespread availability of the printing press eventually allowed less expensive mass-produced cards to be created.

Tarot For Telling The Future

Use of tarot cards for predicting the future began in the late 1700s when French occultist Jean-Baptise Alliette, who used the pen name Etteilla, wrote a tarot card guide and released his own deck with it. He specified meanings for each card that stemmed from his beliefs about the four elements and astronomy. For much of the text, Etteilla relied heavily on inspiration from the Book of Thoth, an Egyptian work credited to the god of wisdom himself.

Ettiella assigned cards a specific order and spread. By the time he published a revised edition of his tarot manual in 1791, he was becoming known as a professional tarot reader, the first in the world. As other glimpses into the occult became prominent in Europe, tarot gained prominence too.

Misinformation and expanded definitions of tarot spread as it increased in popularity. A novel called The Tarot of the Bohemians spread the incorrect idea that Romani travelers invented tarot while French writer Eliphas Lévi linked tarot symbols to the Hebrew alphabet and the Jewish kabbalah tradition.

Tarot In The United States

The Theosophical Society and the Rosicrucian Order are credited with popularizing tarot in the United States in the early 1900s. American tarot readers of that time often favored the Waite-Smith deck, produced in 1909 by the British Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and now considered the bestselling deck of all time. Many American psychic readers use this deck today. Others prefer the Book of Thoth deck, which dates to 1944.

Decks usually come with instruction manuals. The Rider-Waite deck, for example, comes with a manual interpreting each card and explaining its meaning. When the deck’s cards are arranged together, they create an intricate scene and narrative.

When the popularity of tarot readings increased in the United States in the 1970s, it coincided with the release of an updated Rider-Waite-Smith deck with new instructions from paranormal investigator Stephen Kaplan.

Getting To Know Today’s Tarot Deck

Like the original tarocchi cards uses for game-playing, today’s tarot deck includes 78 picture cards. The cards are pulled from the deck and laid out on a table by a fortune-teller to help tell a client’s future. They are divided into a Major Arcana with no suits and a Minor Arcana with four suits.

The Major Arcana, which explores life’s greatest secrets, universal themes and life lessons, consists of 22 numbered and highly meaningful, easily recognizable cards: The Fool (0), The Magician (1), The High Priestess (2), The Empress (3), The Emperor (4), The Hierophant (5), The Lovers (6), The Chariot (7), Strength (8), The Hermit (9), Wheel of Fortune (10), Justice (11), The Hanged Man (12), Death (13), Temperance (14), The Devil (15), The Tower (16), The Star (17), The Moon (18), The Sun (19), Judgement (20) and The World (21).

Cards stand for love, hope, faith in one’s own talents, tradition, deity and similar concepts. All cards of the Major Arcana are numbered except card zero, the Fool, often represented by a young man near a cliff. But it doesn’t represent anything foolish at all; its presence in a reading means a client may have a new beginning, an unexpected journey or a chance for change.

The Minor Arcana includes 56 cards that represent commonplace, everyday topics in life. It’s divided into 4 suits with 14 cards each (10 numbered cards plus court cards that include a King, Queen, Knight and Page):

  • The Suit of Cups represents emotions, feelings, intuition and creativity.

  • The Suit of Pentacles represents work, finances and possessions.

  • The Suit of Swords represents actions, words and thoughts.

  • The Suit of Wands represents passion, motivation and energy.

The court cards in each suit represent personality characteristics.

When taken together, the cards tell a story about the client’s future. The Fool, if present, can be considered the character of the story that’s receiving or participating in the story. The Fool can be viewed as traveling through the Major and Minor Arcana – or secrets – that are shown in the other cards. If the Fool isn’t present, then change or new beginnings aren’t major factors in the story.

Each tarot card reader makes interpretations about card meanings for themselves, and your psychic consultant may give the cards in their deck somewhat different meanings based on their training and experience.

Powerful Cards For A Better Life

The long history of tarot involves many more details than a brief article can convey. Some small facts are disputable or unclear, but that doesn’t limit the authority or usefulness of these cards. The power of tarot cards to predict future events can’t be denied. Thousands of psychic readers and other believers rely on them every day for wisdom and guidance.

A tarot reading can help show you a path, provide you a warning or guide you through a difficult time. There is no such thing as a bad reading. When you get to know tarot cards and the psychic readers who use them to provide guidance and advice, you’ll understand that these cards are positive tools that have evolved through the centuries to help you have the best life possible.

Don't Live Life In The Dark...

Master Psychic Rachel


Tarot by Rachel Spain

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