Tarot History: Well Kinda

In my pursuit of relearning how to interpret tarot , I decided to read up on the history of tarot. This turned out to be an exhausting and somewhat fruitless endeavor.  As there are not many known facts about the history and origins of tarot. Most of what is written is debated theories. Of course, history is always filled with more stories, opinions than fact especially when we are dealing with ancient and medieval times. What is also debatable is whether learning about tarot history is needed for  becoming a great tarot reader. The argument for researching tarot  history is that one can develop more understanding of its symbolism, message and purpose.  For myself, I have decided to simply touch the surface  of the background of tarot in hopes of enhancing my understanding and connection to the cards.

The origins of Tarot

Theories around the origins of Tarot are highly debatable, sometimes controversial, sometimes eurocentric and even racist. Some English speaking scholars and writers focus on when Tarot and playing cards first appear in European history. While, some attribute Tarot in Europe  to “ G**psies travelers. These writers are clearly unaware that G**** is an ethnic slur. But pushing away, eurocentrism. The leading theory of the origins of Tarot in the west is  they were evolution from playing cards. There are some theories that tarot appeared before playing cards ( brought in by Romani people or other migrations into Europe). However, legal documents around illegal gambling insert playing cards into Europe  history well before the first mention of tarot.  According to historical documentation, playing cards appeared in Europe in” 1370-1380″. (wopc.com) While  divination cards were not mentioned until “ the second half of the 19th century.” (tarothermit.com)  So we can at least concluded that Tarot cards grew from playing cards that turned into divination tools.

Scholars and Tarot enthusiasts  believe that playing cards originated in Egypt, China or India and was then brought to the West from immigrants from one of these countries. It is entirely possible, considering the age and sophistication of these civilizations that playing cards and various divination systems were created by all of them. Furthermore, it is not unusual for inventions to be made around the same time by various peoples. I would guess, that playing cards were introduced into the West by many groups.

Tarot Symbolism origins

While many believe that Tarot came to the West already infused with symbolism of Arabic culture, Egyptian, Indian or Chinese symbolism. Others believe Tarot in West fully formed out of Italian Catholic culture. “ The Tarot deck was invented in Italy around 1440, based on the existing card decks of the time (not the other way around, as popular legend has it). The idea that G*psies introduced cards to Europe is contradicted by the fact that cards were known in Europe for about 40 years before the first appearance of G**sies.” (G-Slur censured  ( http://jducoeur.org/game-hist/seaan-cardhist.html))  Theories of the origins of Tarot do influence how scholars and reader interpret the symbolism of cards. Some believe that the common symbolism derives from Egyptian or Arabic culture including the name “ tarot.” While others see the symbolism as Italian Catholicism.  Either way, Modern western Tarot invokes the symbolism of the church and the  biblical messages of Italian artists who created the oldest “ known” decks but it also has been greatly influenced by African, Jewish, and Asian culture.

Many modern and older  artists have focused on specific culture in creating their own interpretation or rendering of the cards.One of the oldest recorded decks was commissioned by  The Duke of Milan,Filippo Maria Visconti  as celebration of his only heirs’ birth, shows the symbols of the Italian renaissance, journey of Christ and the religious message of the bible. Yet, there are now many decks that  now focus on Non-Christian religious and philosophical journeys.

Attributes of Tarot:

Tarot originally started as Trumps deck only featuring the only major arcana. Then  the minor arcana was added on later. Perhaps the major arcana is  an unique invention but the minor arcana most likely stems for playing cards. A modern deck consists of 78 cards. Tarot cards are most used for  divination through the use of spreads. Spreads are a layout of pulled tarot cards that help answer a question or offer guidance in some way. Tarot cards can also be used to do meditation, rituals, spells and aid in various forms of spiritual growth.

Regardless of original culture influence, Tarot involves various symbolism from astrology, numerology, color theory and various religious symbols include the tree of life from Judaism. Modern decks will often emphasize one or more symbols. For example there  are astrology decks, religious decks, cultural decks, etc.

It would see that modern Tarot incorporates all of its supposed and actual early influences. Further study into any of  these school of thoughts, cultures and religions can only serve to help advance one’s reading skills. The most important task is finding a deck that symbols speaks to one’s own intuition, culture and path.


Introduction to Iconology of the early tarot: The origin of Tarot Cards by Robert Oneill.http://www.tarot.com/tarot/robert-oneill/iconology-of-the-early-tarot-introduction ( according to Oneill, tarot was created in 15th century Italy, using the artistic expression of Italian to deliver the deeper meaning behind the Church ’s message.)

http://tarothermit.com/tarot/tarokarten (overview of tarot history and use readers intrepet based on symbolism, subconscious and concertnation)

http://www.tarotpassages.com/mkgtimeline.htm ( timeline)

http://www.wopc.co.uk/history/earlyrefs.html ( orgins of playing cards)



The Everything Tarot Book (Alexander, Skye)



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