The History Of Tarot Cards

Some say tarot cards orginated in ancient Egypt, others say Gypsies were the first to use them. Learn about the history of Tarot origins through Rider-Waite fortune telling cards.

Tarot cards, commonly used for prophesying, have become a popular Western hobby, found everywhere from dimly lit Fortune Telling shops to adolescent slumber parties. The true history of Tarot cards is as mystic and controversial as the cards themselves.

The "Visconti Trumps" appeared in 1440 as a card game favored by the Italian Noble class. The twenty-two cards of the Tarot called Major Arcana are believed to be based on these cards. The Visconti Trumps were not used for purposes of prophecy; they were created merely as a game for passing the time.

Later, in late 15th century France, the Trump cards re-appeared. The newly standardized deck was highly controversial as many nobles were offended by the presence of cards such as The Devil, Death, and The Tower. Religious leaders warned against using the cards and claimed that the Devil Himself created the Trump cards. Although at this time, the cards were still probably only used for playing games, conservative leaders of the time were convinced that playing with the Trump cards could cost you your soul.



The Trump cards seemed to all but disappear until the late 1700's. At this time, the cards are for the first time used for divination. Antoine Court de Gebelin, at the forefront for the Tarot card rebirth, claimed the cards were of Egyptian decent (specifically, designed by the Egyptian god, Thoth). Many secret societies embraced the Egyptian occult. These typically upper class societies used and produced their own Tarot cards. The idea that Tarot cards originated in Egypt continued for some time. Even after 1799, when the Rosetta Stone was translated and did not lend any support to this theory, people still believed in their Egyptian roots.

In 1770, Jean-Baptiste Alliette (aka "Etteilla") was the first person to publish the hidden meanings of cards. Although his first publication was about regular playing cards, he later published on the meanings of Tarot (Trumps) Cards. Etteilla created the first deck of cards available to the public for the sole purpose of Cartomancy.

The belief that the Origins of the Tarot were Egyptian continued until the late 1850's, when "gypsies" became popular. It was said that gypsies, Roman descendents of Egypt, carried their Tarot decks with them throughout their nomadic travels in Europe. Another theory that quickly followed the "gypsy-theory" was that the Tarot was related to a Hebrew system of mysticism. The continuity of the Tarot cards to so many different times and places in human history confirm the universality of their symbolism.

The Tarot cards we use today are highly artistic and symbolic in nature. This is thanks to revisions done at the turn of the 20th century by Smith and Rider-Waite. The popular Rider-Waite cards (which included Minor Arcana) allowed the diviner to extract meaning from the clear symbols on the cards themselves. Tarot card readings could now be done by just about anybody. Today, there are literally hundreds of different decks of Tarot cards. The art on the cards incorporate more modern values in religion, sexuality, and human nature. Tarot cards have become a medium for beautiful works of art.

Many people today believe that the origins of Tarot cards lies somewhere in the gypsy culture, whereas others believe the ultimate beginnings were with the Nobles of 15th century Italy, or even the inhabitants of ancient Egypt. Tarot cards are mystic and beautiful reminders of the importance of symbolism to the human spirit across time and space.

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