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History of the Tarot

Since it is almost Halloween, I am exploring the history of different mystical phenomenon. One of the practices commonly used to day in metaphysical practices is Tarot reading. There is a long history of using these fortune telling cards, many different types of decks, and wisdom and introspection to be found using the tarot.

Although some practitioners of reading Tarot cards are aware of the ancient usages of the process of divination which dates back thousands of years, the use of Tarot itself is relatively modern in its origins.

The Tarot represents the hero's journey, in which the hero is represented by the Fool card, the first card in the deck. This card represents the questioner, and the journey to find that which they seek.

According to Britanica,

Tarot, any of a set of cards used in tarot games and in fortune-telling. Tarot decks were invented in Italy in the 1430s by adding to the existing four-suited pack a fifth suit of 21 specially illustrated cards called trionfi (“triumphs”) and an odd card called il matto (“the fool”). (The fool is not the origin of the modern joker, which was invented in the late 19th century as an unsuited jack in the game of euchre.)

When the Tarot was originally created, it was used as a parlor game, much the same as any other deck of playing cards. It wasn't until the 1700's that it was used for divination, as it is commonly used today.

Britannica continues,

The adaptation of tarots to occult and fortune-telling purposes first occurred in France about 1780. For fortune-telling each tarot card is ascribed a meaning. The cards of the major arcana refer to spiritual matters and important trends in the questioner’s life. In the minor arcana wands deal mainly with business matters and career ambitions, cups with love, swords with conflict, and coins with money and material comfort. The tarot deck is shuffled by the questioner, and then the fortune-teller lays out a few of the cards (either selected at random by the questioner or dealt off the top of the shuffled deck) in a special pattern called a “spread.” The meaning of any card is modified according to whether it is upside down, its position in the spread, and the meaning of adjacent cards.

As the tarot began to take on a more occult significance, it also was heavily influenced by the Kabballah, the Jewish mystical tradition. This is where the symbolism of the tree of life and other mystic symbols was incorporated. However during this time, Tarot was still being predominately used by upper class families who had time to devote to entertaining themselves with fortune telling.

According to Collectors Weekly,

By the mid-18th century, the mystical applications for cards had spread from Italy to other parts of Europe. In France, writer Antoine Court de Gébelin asserted that the tarot was based on a holy book written by Egyptian priests and brought to Europe by Gypsies from Africa. In reality, tarot cards predated the presence of Gypsies in Europe, who actually came from Asia rather than Africa. Regardless of its inaccuracies, Court de Gébelin’s nine-volume history of the world was highly influential.

This work more firmly gave the Tarot a more mystical slant in its use, and led to much of what we know about the Tarot today. These cards have been used by many for fortune telling since this time, and their use has continued to gain in popularity.

Collectors Weekly continues:

Building on Court de Gébelin’s Egyptian connection, Etteilla claimed that tarot cards originated with the legendary Book of Thoth, which supposedly belonged to the Egyptian god of wisdom. According to Etteilla, the book was engraved by Thoth’s priests into gold plates, providing the imagery for the first tarot deck. Drawing on these theories, Etteilla published his own deck in 1789—one of the first designed explicitly as a divination tool and eventually referred to as the Egyptian tarot.

While some of these assertions were difficult, if not impossible, to prove it does provide an interesting insight into the minds at the time and how the Tarot was being used. By attempting to validate its use in a more ancient tradition, the idea is that people wanted to give credence to belief in use of the Tarot for fortune telling.

Continued fascination with Tarot cards led to the 19th century publications of one of the most famously used decks today, the Rider-Waite deck. This is one of the most basic decks that you will use if you are learning to read Tarot cards today.

According to Learn Religions,

British occultist Arthur Waite was a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn – and apparently a longtime nemesis of Aleister Crowley, who was also involved in the group and its various offshoots. Waite got together with artist Pamela Colman Smith, also a Golden Dawn member, and created the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, which was first published in 1909.

Since the Order of the Golden Dawn was a 19th Century occult movement, this brought additional elements of the occult into the Tarot. This gave more widespread use of the Tarot cards at the time into the growing occult movement.

During the 19th Century, there were many different Occult orders across Britain and the United States. These organizations were a resurgence of mysticism in a time when Science was coming to dominate popular thought. There were other spiritual practices among Occult orders, in addition to reading Tarot. Many practitioners also participated in seances and used psychic mediums.

Tarot Today

If you go to any metaphysical book shop, or store that sells crystals and other spiritual objects, you are likely to find Tarot decks that you can purchase to read for yourself. You may also find psychics who use Tarot cards to assist in telling your future, and be able to get a psychic reading for yourself.

When I lived in Denver, there were many psychic stores, and a yearly psychic fair, where you could visit a variety of psychic shops and practitioners.

These days, you can even get a Tarot reading online. You can obtain readings from professional Tarot readings, or from apps that allow you to virtually pick a card.

According to Mystic Mag, here are the top 5 websites for online Tarot readings:

  1. Kasamba — Get 3 minutes free and test up to 3 tarot readers.

  2. Purple Garden — Enjoy a $10 credit towards your first tarot session.

  3. Keen — Receive the first 5 minutes of your tarot reading for only $1.

  4. Psychic Source — Save with its low rate of $1/min + get 3 free minutes.

  5. PathForward — Explore its competitive rate of $0.83/min + get 3 minutes for free.

There are also a lot of Tarot readers to be found on TikTok, and some will post a daily reading that may be applicable to a wide range of people. Many also provide their contact details so that you can obtain a personalized reading. If you find a reader that resonates with you, then you can obtain your own reading.

If you are interested in learning more about Tarot cards, you can get a deck either at a local shop or online, and learn how to do your own readings. Reading Tarot is a combination of learning to understand the meaning of the cards, and using your personal intuition.

Hopefully this look at the history of Tarot, and options for getting a Tarot reading today is helpful if you are interested in learning more about the opportunities for using the Tarot's insights in your own life. Have questions? Let me know in the comments!

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