The custom of trying to divine the future by utilizing tarot cards — which entails laying the cards down of a tarot deck, one by one, and interpreting the outcomes — is frequently considered as a cliche of New Age culture, and a trapping of witchy stories generally. Tarot cards often appear in TV and movie in order to supply some creepy atmosphere; for instance, the Showtime show Penny Dreadful, which can be chock full of vampires, werewolves, demons and other occult characters, even offers a do-your-self tarot deck on its site. And even if you’ve been part of a tarot card reading, you are probably familiar with a few of the gorgeous characters on the cards: the Magician, the Wheel of Fortune, the Tower, and the Lovers among them.
But tarot has a stranger — and much more benign — history than you may have thought. It’s not only for witches or the spooky; it wasn’t necessarily used to answer questions about life and the long run; tarot cards have been considered by many to be works of art; and the game of tarot reading has been played, in one form or another, for thousands of years.
Wondering where tarot cards came out, and why so many people believe they can offer insights to our lives and futures? Then keep reading for five details about the history and evolution of the tarot card which may alter how you think about these.
- Playing Cards Were Brought To Europe By Islamic Soldiers
To start at the beginning: Though many people associate playing cards together with European culture, the first playing cards were not from Europe. Rather, they had been brought to Europe by Islamic soldiers that were invading northern Italy, Sicily and Spain in the 1500s. The soldiers in those conflicts brought with them a game called Mamluk.
This game featured distinctive cards, frequently hand-painted with incredibly intricate designs and silver foliage. Should you see Mamluk cards now, you’re taking a look at the source of Western card games, from bridge to poker, and, yep, tarot. The game’s cards had four matches, and also there were 14 cards per match, such as three”courts”royal cards: the king, the viceroy and the next viceroy. The first name for playing cards in Europe was originated from the Arabic word nāʾib, significance”viceroy.” Malmuk cards became more popular, introducing Europeans into the concept of passing the time by enjoying card-based games.
- The Original Tarot Cards Were An Italian Storytelling Sport
After Mamluk cards got many Europeans considering playing games, new card games came to the scene — such as one that would evolve into today’s tarot deck.
Many historians currently believe that tarot cards originated as a sort of storytelling sport played by Italian royal families. The old Mamluk cards have been co-opted for a game known as “carte da trionfi” or cards of triumph, with new card decks commissioned by wealthy Italians for all these games.
These new, opulent cards featured layouts that incorporated symbols and figures, and were used for an early form of the card game bridge. They were also employed to get a game known as tarocchi appropriati, where cards were laid out randomly, and players needed to make silly poems about one another depending on the symbols that came up. And presto, you had the first form of tarot — a match of creativity, instead of an attempt to glean details regarding life utilizing mystical tools.
- French Occultists Gave Tarot Cards Their Mystical Significance
Just just how did the comparatively pedestrian carte da trionfi become contemporary tarot cards, that are regarded as a method of obtaining the subconscious, the long run along with occult forces? Response: the French. Or, more specifically, a bunch of French occultists, most especially one named Antoine Court de Gébelin.
Court de Gébelin’s notion, printed in 1781, was basically that the entire tarot design was based on ancient Egyptian texts. He maintained that the tarot deck has been brought to Europe by wandering gypsies from Egypt, and that all the symbols referenced early Egyptian religious arcana. (That is all erroneous information, incidentally.)
He was likely the first man to say that tarot cards carried some occult burden, but the idea stuck.
- Famous Mystic Aleister Crowley Designed A New Tarot Deck
Tarot cards these days are comprised of two decks: the significant Arcana, which contains all the famous figures and pictures that you could be already familiar with, and that the Minor Arcana, that are a little like modern playing cards, complete with suits (though instead of our typical playing card suits of hearts, diamonds, spades and clubs, tarot card card matches include swords, cups, coins and batons). But there have been lots of variations from that arrangement, both historically and at today — and throughout time, plenty of folks (some of them quite famous) have designed and developed different versions of this tarot deck.
If you have ever heard of Aleister Crowley, you’ll understand why the dude was drawn to tarot. He’s likely one of the most well-known mystics and occultists to live — from the late 19th and early 20th centuryhe founded his own spiritual philosophy called Thelema, claimed to be in contact with various supernatural forces, and participated in a variety of actions that directed to the British tabloid press to dub him”the wickedest man in the world.”
At one stage, Crowley chose to essentially reevaluate the tarot deck, putting in principles from his own religion, in addition to the Jewish mystical practice Kabbalah, and various other influences. Regrettably for Crowley, it never really caught on, and he died before it could be fully released. It’s called the Thoth deck, and can be commercially available, in case you’re curious.
- Famous Tarot Card Designs Exist
Though there are many different tarot deck designs out there, such as ones hand-made by artists, there are a couple very famous designs out there which probably pop in your mind when someone says that the phrase”tarot.” These layouts are famous because of mass production: When technology enabled tarot cards to be published by media instead of hand-painted, certain designs began to dominate.
Possibly the most well-known tarot deck layout is the Rider-Waite deck, named for its publisher, William Rider, and the occultist A.E. Waite, that Collectors Weekly (yes, people do collect these cards) claims was initially produced in 1909. It’s never been out of print since — although the first plates for the Rider-Waite deck were destroyed in World War II and the original art is lost.
And then there is the Tarot de Marseille (pictured above), which dates back to the 17th century and is now one of the most common designs for tarot decks in the world.
Although the tarot’s travel from arcade sport to occult and religious practice is complicated, it is a reminder that many of our cultural tropes have a much more intricate past than we believe — and that just because something shows up on Halloween decorations, does not mean it is hopelessly spooky.