Brief History of The Tarot
People are inclined towards scepticism regarding anything remotely ‘mystical’ and unexplained. Foretelling the future is not a ‘science’ that can be measured or quantified – however, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ (as we say) and people come back time and again to the Tarot for guidance because they have been given just that – a glimpse into the future. Throughout the history of mankind, Astrology, numerology, runes, I – Ching, cartomancy, palm reading, clairvoyance and many other forms of divination have been embraced by millions of people around the world. Today, Tarot reading remains one of the most popular methods of divination for many wishing to gain a deeper insight into their lives.
The traditional Tarot consists of a deck of 78 cards. There are 14 cards in each of four suits: Wands (or Rods), Cups, Swords and Pentacles (or Coins). These 56 cards are known as the Minor Arcana. In addition, there are a further 22 cards, each illustrated with a specific set of symbols that make up the Major Arcana. The word arcane means ‘mysteries’ or ‘secrets.’
There are a great many differing theories on the origins of the Tarot – some believe that they originated in ancient Egypt, travelling to India and then across Europe where they became popular with the aristocracy for playing card games.
However, the earliest known Tarot cards in existence, the hand-painted Visconti-Sforza deck, date back to 15th-century Italy. The name tarot in fact, derives from the Italian tarocchi, by which name the cards are still known in Italy today. Our modern playing card deck is descended from the Minor Arcana of the Tarot. Today’s Clubs correspond to Wands, Hearts to Cups, Spades to Swords and Diamonds to Pentacles. Somewhere along the way one of the court cards, the Knight, was left behind, giving us 13 instead of 14 cards in each suit.
Today there is a limitless assortment of Tarot decks available, but by far the most popular for many Tarot interpreters is the Rider-Waite deck. Based on illustrations by Pamela Colman Smith – commissioned and guided by Arthur Edward Waite, an English mystic and member of the Order of the Golden Dawn – these remain the clearest designs containing recognisable imagery that is easily interpreted.
Currently I read with the Rider – Waite and Morgan Greer decks. I particularly like the artwork of the Morgan Greer as I feel a real sense of optimism when using this colourful deck. On my website at present you will see depicted the Rider – Waite tarot as this is the one most people will be familiar with and everyone can see clearly the hidden messages shown in their beautiful yet simplistic artwork.