A Brief History of Tarot
No matter if you’re a skeptic, die-hard enthusiast, or simply “just looking”, tarot has something for everyone. Tarot cards aren’t about psychics gazing into a crystal ball, nor will they tell you your future, BUT! The cards will offer insight into your higher self and innermost wisdom, providing an evolved awareness of what you already know deep within yourself. All this while being tiny, intricate, and beautiful works of art. Tarot readings are often referred to as “divination”, truly though, tarot cards are simply a tool. How you utilize that tool is completely up to you.
Divination is the practice of seeking knowledge about the unknown, by various natural, psychological, or other techniques. Cartomancy is divination via the use of cards, such as tarot. Tarot readings, the interpretation of divination cards, and the practice of cartomancy, is incredibly dynamic. The cards' meanings shift over time, and are shaped by each era’s culture, as well as the needs of the individual user. The power of tarot isn’t bestowed from some supernatural source, it comes from the ability of the cards’ static images to clarify our most complex dilemmas and desires. Divination cards offer a way to project certain ideas, subconscious or not, and toy with potential outcomes regarding important decisions. Perhaps this is why the first tarot deck was a “choose your own adventure” type card game. That original set is said to be created in Italy in the 1430’s. This was done by adding a fifth suit, later referenced as the Major Arcana, to the existing four suits already in play. 21 specially illustrated trionfi, or triumphs, and il matto - The Fool - were introduced to the deck, creating what could be considered a modern day bridge game.
The adaptation to divination occurred in France around 1780. The Etteilla Cards were created by Jean-Baptiste Alliette in 1789 using the writings of French former Protestant pastor Antoine Court de Gébelin as inspiration to transition to a more “traditional tarot”, which he linked to Egyptian mysticism in an effort to lend more credibility to the art. The Major Arcana was created to explore spiritual matters and important trends in the querent’s (Latin root meaning “the person who seeks”) life. The Minor Arcana consists of 56 cards in four suits with 14 cards in each suit. This includes four court cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Jack) accompanied by 10 numbered cards. The wands explore business or career concerns in the querent’s life, the cups traverse matters of the heart, swords evaluate conflicts, and pentacles reference money as well as material comforts. These decks depicted then familiar allegories or events, and were often made to order for the wealthy.
In 1909 William Rider commissioned Pamela Coleman Smith to illustrate the deck created by popular mystic A.E. Waite and himself. This collaboration brought about the rise of 20th century tarot used by mystical readers referred to as the Rider-Waite deck. In 1977 Stuart Kaplan, owner of U.S. Games purchased the rights to the Rider-Waite deck and wrote the book entitled “Tarot Cards for Fun & Fortune Telling”, which renewed interest in cartomancy for the alternative culture, who were looking for answers to the civil chaos all around. Today tarot cards have been reimagined by countless artists, yet each deck clearly builds off the more than 600 years worth of decks before. Tarot is not the only option one has for cartomancy though.
Oracle decks are the younger, more laid back cousin of tarot. They allow additional freedoms and far less “rules” than traditional tarot readings. Oracle decks are free flowing, giving readers and querents various levels of interpretation. Tarot and oracle decks are often used in conjunction with one another. The reader may pull an oracle card at the beginning of a reading to set intention for the rest of the reading, or draw one at the end of a tarot reading, validating or amplifying the card's message. Both divination decks are used to gain insight, clarity, or perspective toward personal growth in the querent’s life. Catastrophes of the modern world are a heavy burden on the collective human psyche. More than ever, people both young and old, seek answers in alternative expressions of spirituality. Tarot, as well as oracle decks, speak the universal dialect of the human soul. So, what are the cards saying to you?