While Levi accepted Court de Gebelins claims about an Egyptian origin of the deck symbols, he rejected Etteillas innovations and his altered deck, and devised instead a system which related the Tarot, especially the Tarot de Marseille, to the Kabbalah and the four elements of alchemy. On the other hand, to this day some of Etteillas divinatory meanings for Tarot are still used by some Tarot practitioners.
Divination, or fortune-telling, is by far the most popular and well-known use of the Tarot in the English-speaking world. This is sometimes seen as an extension of the psychological use mentioned above. Alternatively, it is sometimes seen as a less sophisticated use of tarot. It can be argued that we sometimes perceive the signs of future events subconsciously only. For instance, you might be subconsciously aware that a relationship or job is in trouble, before you admit it to yourself. In that sense, it might be said that the Tarot can give you insights into the future without having any supernatural or occult aspect at all. Meaning may emerge even from purely random patterns, as chance selections force you to consider concepts that youd normally ignore, and the density of meaning is great enough that meanings can emerge from almost any selection of cards.
The oldest surviving Tarot cards are three early to mid-15th century sets, all made for members of the Visconti family, rulers of Milan. The oldest of these existing Tarot decks was perhaps painted to celebrate a mid-15th century wedding joining the ruling Visconti and Sforza families of Milan, probably painted by Bonifacio Bembo and other miniaturists of the Ferrara school.
With this string, you can tell a story. All the while, pay attention to elemental dignities. A card will be well or ill dignified by the cards surrounding it. Each card can be attributed to one of the four (sometimes five) elements. Fire and water weaken each other. Air and Earth weaken each other. Other elemental combinations are friendly.
Some individuals object to the Rider-Waite deck due to its relatively small selection of colors and flat appearance. However, several decks, such as theUniversal Waite Tarot Deck, copy the Smiths line drawings, but add more subtle coloring and three dimensional modeling. The limited number of colors and flat appearance in the original Rider-Waite-Smith decks were virtually unavoidable due to the limits of printing technology in the early 20th century.
The minor arcana, consisting of 56 cards:
by Eden Grey – concentrates on classical divination, but has some information on the more spiritual aspects.
The images were drawn by artistPamela Colman Smith, to the instructions of Christian mystic and occultist Arthur Waite, and originally published by the Rider Company in 1910.
The Tarot cards eventually came to be associated with mysticism and magic. This was actually a late rather than early development, as we can tell from period sources on card divination and magic. The Tarot was not widely adopted by mystics, occultists and secret societies until the 18th and 19th century.
Ten cards numbered from Ace to 10 in four different suits; traditionally batons (wands), cups, swords and coins (pentacles) (40 cards in total); and
Some people find that modern Tarot decks are more interesting, expressive, and psychologically resonant than their ancestors. Interpretations have evolved together with the cards over the centuries: later decks have clarified the pictures in accordance with meanings assigned to the cards by their creators. In turn, the meanings come to be modified by the new pictures. Images and interpretations have been continually re-shaped, in part, to help the Tarot live up to its mythic role as a powerful occult instrument and to respond to modern needs.
Count: 12 for Zodiacal trumps 5 or 11 for Aces 9 for planetary trumps 7 for Princesses 4 for Knights, Queens and Princes 3 for Elemental trumps
Crowley engaged the artist Lady Frieda Harris to paint the cards for the deck. The Thoth deck is distinctly different from the Rider-Waite deck. That said, many consider the Rider-Waite deck and the Tarot de Marseille also to be esoteric decks.
Tarot decks play a significant role in Roger Zelaznys Amber fantasy series, where most major characters carry a magical deck of Tarot cards whose Trumps represent other characters (and enable communication with them) or locations. A Tarot deck inspired by the Amber series has been published.
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Altogether the major arcana are frequently said to represent the Fools journey: a symbolic journey through life in which the Fool overcomes obstacles and gains wisdom. This idea was apparently first suggested by tarot author Eden Gray in the mid-20th century.
The Tarot of Marseille was also popularized in the 20th century by Paul Marteau. Some current editions of cards based on the Marseille design go back to a deck of a particular Marseille design that was printed by Nicolas Conver in 1760.
Of the original cards, 35 are in the Pierpont Morgan Library, 26 cards are at the Accademia Carrara, 13 are at the Casa Colleoni, 4 cards (theDevil, theTower, theThree of Swords, and theKnight of Coins) being lost or possibly never made.
Revived Tarot- Tarot and the Hebrew Alphabet
In Internet tarot discussion groups, the Rider-Waite deck and very similar decks, e.g., the Universal Waite, are sometimes referred to by the collective term Rider-Waite-Smith, RWS or Waite-Colman-Smith (or similar expressions).
Carl Jung was the first psychologist to attach importance to the Tarot. He may have regarded the Tarot cards as representing archetypes: fundamental types of person or situation embedded in the subconscious of all human beings. The Emperor, for instance, represents the ultimate patriarch or father figure.
by Ronald Decker and Michael Dummett, continuing the story of the occult Tarot through the Golden Dawn tradition and its reception in the English-speaking world.
A Wicked Pack of Cards: Origins of the Occult Tarot
Gebelin further claimed that the name tarot came from the Egyptian wordstar, meaning royal, andro, meaning road, and that the Tarot therefore represented a royal road to wisdom. Gebelin asserted these and similar views dogmatically; he presented no clear factual evidence to substantiate his claims.
While the deck is sometimes known as a simple, user-friendly one, its imagery, especially in the Trumps, is complex and replete with occult symbolism.
In addition, Gebelin wrote before Champollion had deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs.
All the heavenly sources of Light, so important to Dualist heretics, are present in the Major Arcana, without any planets that would have been required for any meaning associated with astrology, the usual context for heavenly bodies.
More simply drawn decks survive from various cities in France at various times (the best known in this context being the city of Marseille, in southern France) perhaps from the early 16th century, though actual surviving examples are no earlier than the 17th century.
In the Western world today, the Tarot is usually seen either as a means of divination, the practice of ascertaining information from supernatural or other sources, or, in a more modern view, as a psychological tool for accessing the unconscious. However, early references such as a sermon refer only to the use of the cards for game-playing and gambling; and in some European countries such as France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, Tarot is still a widely played game.
Divination may be seen as magical in itself, but the word magic often refers to the use of Tarot cards in a magical ritual designed to achieve some end. This is probably much less common than simple divination.
The presence of theFooland theMagicianhas often suggested a portable catechism for the illiterate, which survives in cartomancy.
This layout does not in fact have anything to do with the way Crowley read the deck he designed. In any case, this spread was invented by the publisher of the small book accompanying the U.S. Games Systems version of the deck. Crowley used the Opening of the Key spread developed by the Golden Dawn which consists of five stages.
Although tarot cards were used for fortune-telling in Italy in the 1700s, they were first widely publicized as a divination method by Alliette, also called Etteilla, a French occultist who reversed the letters of his name and worked as a seer and card diviner shortly before the French Revolution.
Study of the iconography of the earliest tarots via standard comparative-historical methods suffices to pin the origin of the depiction ofDeathas after the Black Death, because the skeletal-death-with-a-scythe motif found on effectively all versions of Trump XIII does not predate the plagues. Before then, (mythology)>
These trionfi or triumphs were elaborate productions which layered then-fashionable Graeco-Roman symbolism over a Christian allegory of sin, grace, and redemption. Notably, the earliest versions of the World card show a conventional image known from period religious art to represent St. Augustines Heavenly City, and it is not coincidence that it often closely follows the Judgement card.
The theory of archetypes gives rise to several psychological uses. Some psychologists use Tarot cards to identify how a client views himself or herself, by asking the patient to select a card that he or she identifies with. Some try to get the client to clarify his ideas by imagining his situation or relationship in terms of Tarot images: Is someone rushing in heedlessly like the Knight of Swords perhaps, or blindly keeping the world at bay as in the Rider-Waite-Smith Two of Swords? The Tarot can be seen as a kind of algebra of the subconscious, allowing it to be analyzed at the conscious level.
The reader looks through the piles to see which pile the querents significator is in. This is determined by their birthday, and would correspond to a Queen, Knight, or Prince card. When the reader finds the significator, tell the querent for what s/he has come, and continue. If in the fire pile, the matter concerns energy, quarreling, and force. If in the water, the matter has to do with pleasure, enjoyment, and emotions, etc.
The reader spreads the pile containing the significator in a horse-shoe formation upon the table, from right to left. Then s/he looks for patterns: two or three of a kind indicates certain things, and majority of an element indicates certain things. Three 3s indicates deceit, for instance, while 4 Queens indicates authority and influence. Starting from the significator, the reader card-counts.
Traces of medieval dualist heresy, such as the Bogomils taught, or the Cathars, whose centers were precisely where the earliest Tarot surfaced in Piedmont and Provence, can be also detected in the paired balance, not merely of Emperor with Empress, but, significantly, by Pope with Popess, with echoes of the Pope Joan myth and of the gnosticPistis Sophia.
skulls in pictorial art were primarily symbols of scholarship and learning.
There is a vast body of writing on the significance of the Tarot. In many systems of interpretation based on that of the Golden Dawn, the four suits are associated with the four elements: Swords with air, Wands with fire, Cups with water and Pentacles with earth.
The Marseille style Tarot decks generally feature numbered minor arcana cards that look very much like the pip cards of modern playing card decks. The Marseille numbered minor arcana cards do not have scenes depicted on them; rather, they sport a geometric arrangement of the number of suit symbols (e.g., swords, rods, cups, coins) corresponding to the number of the card (accompanied by botanical and other non-scenic flourishes), while the court cards are often illustrated with flat, two-dimensional drawings.
An Overview of the TarotMaterial from this article used with permission of the author.
Four court cards, page, knight, queen and king in the same four suits (4 per suit, thus 16 court cards in total).
The typical 78-card tarot deck is structured into two distinct parts. The first, called the Major Arcana, consists of 21 cards without suits typically referred to as trumps, plus a 22nd card, The Fool. The second, called the Minor Arcana, consists of 56 cards divided into four suits of 14 cards each. The traditional Italian suits are Swords, Batons, Coins and Cups.
De Gebelin first asserted that symbolism of theTarot de Marseilleasserted represented the mysteries of Isis and Thoth.
The Encyclopedia of Tarot, 4 Volume Set (Volumes I, II, III and IV)
The tradition began in 1781, when Antoine Court de Gebelin, a Swiss clergyman and Freemason, publishedLe Monde Primitif, a speculative study which included religious symbolism and its survivals in the modern world.
In the Silicon Valley Tarot, major arcana cards include The Hacker, Flame War, The Layoff and The Garage; the suits are Networks, Cubicles, Disks and Hosts; the court cards CIO, Salesman, Marketeer and New Hire.
The numerology is usually thought to be significant. The Tarot is often considered to correspond to various systems such as astrology, Pythagorean numerology, the Kabalah, the I Ching and others.
The Game of Tarot: From Ferrara to Salt Lake City
Numerous other decks exist, including the Tree of Life Tarot whose cards are stark symbolic catalogs, and theCosmic Tarot
Levi, not Etteilla, is considered by some to be the true founder of most contemporary schools of Tarot; his 1854Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie(English title:Transcendental Magic)introduced an interpretation of the cards which related them to Cabala.
by Rachel Pollack – comprehensive, covering and the minor as well as the major arcana; and taking several angles on the Tarot.
by Robert Wang – a comprehensive and highly regarded, but frequently challenging, reference to the esoteric aspects of Tarot in the Golden Dawn tradition.
In modern tarot decks, the Batons suit is commonly called Wands, Rods or Staves, while the Coins suit is often called Pentacles or Disks. (Arcanais the plural form of the Latin wordarcanum, meaning key.)
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the cards became popular in occult studies, initiated by occultists such as Etteilla and Antoine Court de Gebelin.
Later Egyptologists found nothing in the Egyptian language that supports de Gebelins fanciful etymologies, but these findings came too late; by the time authentic Egyptian texts were available, the identification of the Tarot cards with the EgyptianBook of Thothwas already firmly established in occult practice.
Indeed, of any possible signs of the Zodiac, only the dual-naturedTwinsare present. It is unlikely that their Zodiac context is being referred to, in which case all the others would have to have gone missing.
No mention of playing cards in the context of gambling and other marks of dissolute life precede the sudden appearance of a barrage of hostility in the 1370s: a sermon by the Swiss Johannes von Rheinfelden,Tractus de moribus et disciplina humanae conversationisstates that the game of cards has come to us this year (said to be 1377, in the 15th-century surviving manuscript) without inveighing against them, but prohibitions against cards were issued by John I of Castile and the cities of Florence and Basel that same year and by the city of Regensburg the following year and in the Duchy of Brabant in 1379. Bernard of Siena gave a sermon reviling cards as the invention of the Devil in 1423. However, other sources praised cards as an educational tool.
As with its Marseille-deck ancestor, the Strength trump shows a woman holding the jaws of a lion, but this picture is far more elaborate. The womans hat of the Marseille card has frequently been interpreted as a lemniscate: the sideways-figure-eight representing infinity, or, according to Waite, the Spirit of Life. In the newer card, this symbol appears explicitly. Other symbols are included: a chain of roses symbolizing desire or passion, against a white robe symbolizing purity. The mountains in the background demonstrate another kind of strength. Even here there is room for interpretation: the card is sometimes considered as showing intellect triumphing over desire, sometimes as the equal union of intellect and passion, sometimes just as a symbol of mental strength or endurance.
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The card-reader shuffles the deck, then spreads out all of the cards, asking the querent [the person for whom the cards are being read] to pick three cards, one at a time. The card-reader then flips the cards over, the one on the left telling of the past, the middle one telling current events, and the one on the right telling the future.
As an institution, the Roman Catholic Church and most civil governments did not routinely condemn tarot cards during tarots early history. In fact, in some jurisdictions, tarot cards were specifically exempted from laws otherwise prohibiting regular playing cards. However, some sermons inveighing against the evil inherent in cards can be traced to the 14th century.
In fact, although much of imagery looks mysterious or exotic to modern users, nearly all of it reflects conventional symbolism popular in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Nearly all of it may easily be interpreted as a reflection of the dominant Christian values of the times. Thus, the earliest Tarots may have been depictions of the carnival parades that ushered in the Christian season of Lent or the related motif of hierarchical powers found in Petrarchs poemI Trionfi.
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Interestingly, some people view the older decks such as the Visconti-Sforza and Marseille as crude and limited when compared to some modern ones. This may reflect their belief that Tarot symbolism has evolved, especially since the early 20th century, so that it has become increasingly universal.
The twenty-two cards in the major arcana are: Fool, Magician, High Priestess [or La Papessa/Popess], Empress, Emperor, Hierophant [or Pope], Lovers, Chariot, Strength, Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, Devil, Tower, Star, Moon, Sun, Judgement, World. Each card has its own large, complicated and disputed set of meanings.
As discussed in more detail below, theTarotis usually a deck of 78 cards composed of:
Numerous other decks that are loosely based on Rider-Waite (as noted below)have been published from the mid-20th century through today. They are sometimes called Rider-Waite-Smith clones; however, the term is misleading. They are not exact copies as the term clone would imply. Instead, they are variations.
An influential deck in English-speaking countries is the Rider-Waite deck (sometimes called simply the Rider deck). (See also discussion of the general expression Rider-Waite-Smith below, to indicate a category of decks that includes the Rider-Waite deck as well as decks which use the line drawings of the Rider-Waite deck, such as the Universal Waite deck.) (In contrast, in French-speaking countries, the Marseille deck enjoys the equivalent popularity.)
He recognized the traditional interpretation of theDevilas the embodiment of the evil natural forces of this world, holding a naked man and woman in chains, and suggested in theTowerstruck by lightning, a Cathar view of a Roman Catholic church. However, historians have found little evidence to substantiate many such speculations.
See, for example, the Rider-Waite-Smith Strength card. We can know more about the symbolic intentions of the designer here, since he conveniently wrote many books on the subject on occultism and symbolism and a handbook specifically for this deck titledPictorial Key to the Tarot(1910).
The relationship between Tarot cards and playing cards is well documented. Playing cards appeared quite suddenly in Christian Europe during the period 1375-1380, following several decades of use in Islamic Spain. Early European sources describe a deck with typically 52 cards, like a modern deck with no jokers. The 78-card Tarot resulted from merging the 21 Trumps and the Fool into an early 56-card variant (14 cards per suit).
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Etteilla designed the first esoteric Tarot deck, adding astrological attributions to various cards, altering many of them from the Marseille designs, and adding divinatory meanings in text on the cards.Etteilla Decks, although now eclipsed by Smith and Waites fully-illustrated deck and Aleister Crowleys Thoth deck, remain available.
All card-counting strings start from a significator, which must be a court card. In the Crowley deck, the courts are Knight, Queen, Prince, and Princess. Count in the direction the card faces (usually left for Princes and Knights, usually right for Queens and Princesses) until a card is hit twice.
The Tarot has a complex and rich symbolism with a long history. Such history is not impenetrable. Contrary to what many popular authors claim, its origins are not lost in the mists of time. In fact, much of the fog around the symbolism can be dispelled if one studies sources other than occultists with a vested interest in the occult interpretation of Tarot. We will do some dispelling further on; in the meantime, the most important thing to note is that modern, occult readings of the cards often have little to do with their meaning in their original context.
by Ronald Decker, Thierry de Paulis, and Michael Dummett – a history of the French origin of the occult Tarot, focusing on Etteilla, Le Normand, and Levi.
Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom: A Book of Tarot
The substitution of a more neutral Hierophant designation for the nameless high priest is a modern one. Steven Runciman, inThe Medieval Manichee(1947), doubted the Catharist connection: There seems to me to be a trace of Dualism in the pack, but it has since been overlaid with debased Kabalistic lore.
In the 20th century, a huge number of different decks were created, some traditional, some vastly different. Thanks, in part, to marketing by the publisher U.S. Games Systems, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck has been extremely popular in the English-speaking world beginning in the 1970s.
Stuart Kaplan, 3 volumes – repertory of illustrations and history. In 2005, the fourth volume was published.
This layout generally consists of 10 cards, or 10 cards plus an optional, 11th card [as a significator card]. The significator card represents the person or the situation. The first 6 of the 10 cards are laid out in the shape of a cross. (If there is a significator card, the first card of the 10 is placed atop the significator card.) The final 4 of the 10 cards are placed in a column to the right.
Other esoteric decks include theGolden Dawn Tarot Deck, which is apparently based on a deck by SL MacGregor Mathers and clearly based on the teachings of the Golden Dawn.
The Tarot of Baseball has suits of bats, mitts, balls and bases; coaches and MVPs instead of Queens and Kings; and major arcana cards like The Catcher, The Rule Book and Batting a Thousand.
In Florence an expanded deck calledThe Minchiate Tarotwas used; this deck of 96 cards includes astrological symbols and the four elements, as well as traditional Tarot cards.
Since the Egyptianizing ruminations inLe Monde primitifby Antoine Court de Gebelin (1781) which soon inspired the occultism of Etteilla, it has been believed by many that the Tarot is far older than this. Based on purported similarities of imagery and reinforced by the added numbering, some claim that Tarot originated in ancient Egypt, Hebrew mystic tradition of the Kabbalah, or a wide variety of other exotic places and times. Such ideas, however, are speculative.
Interest in Tarot by other occultists came later, during the Hermetic Revival of the 1840s in which (among others) Victor Hugo was involved.
Tarot became increasingly popular beginning in 1910, with the publication of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, which took the step of including symbolic images related to divinatory meanings on the numeric cards. (Arthur Edward Waite had been an early member of the Golden Dawn).
That point of view may be unusual among those who use Tarot for divination. Tarot card readers sometimes believe that Tarot cards allow them to exercise an innate psychic ability to see the future. Still others routinely follow the divinatory meanings assigned to each card by popular books and other authorities. Further, some individuals believe that the cards take on the aura or vibrations of someone who touches them. The cards are therefore sometimes insulated by wrapping them in silk or enclosing them in a box, and only touched by the reader and by the person for whom the reading is done (the querent).
The idea of the cards as a mystical key was further developed by Eliphas Levi and passed to the English-speaking world by TheHermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The major arcana, consisting of 21 trump cards and the Fool card;
Later Marie-Anne Le Normand popularized divination and prophecy during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. This was due, in part, to the influence she wielded over Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleons first wife. However, she did not typically use Tarot.
The Qabalistic Tarot: A Textbook of Mystical Philosophy
The more simply illustrated Marseille style decks are nevertheless used esoterically, for divination, and previously for game play. (Note that the French card game of tarot is now generally played using a relatively modern 19th-century design. Such Tarot decks generally have 22 trumps with genre scenes from 19th-century life, a Fool, and have minor arcana that closely resemble todays French playing cards.)
Much speculation surrounds early tarot cards, including the notions which follow. There is no reason to be confident that the surviving set of Major Arcana is complete. Of the four Classical Virtues, only Fortitude, Justice and Temperance remain. Can Prudence have always been missing? The Christian Virtues that would ordinarily complete them (i.e., Faith, Hope and Charity) are missing, however.
by Michael Dummett – a history of the Tarot, and a compilation of Tarot card games.
The 14 cards in each suit consist of an Ace, nine cards numbered 2 through 10, and four court cards (not dissimilar from the structure of 52-card bridge/poker playing card decks, except that bridge/poker playing card decks have three court cards rather than four).
The four court cards face cards) of the tarot deck traditionally consist of the King, the Queen, the Knight and the Page (or Knave). In bridge/poker decks, the court cards typically consist of the King, the Queen and the Jack. The Jack corresponds to the tarot decks Page.
Several other early Tarot-like sequences of portable art survive to place the Visconti deck in context. Later confusion about the symbolism stems, in part, from the occult decks, which began a process of steadily paganizing and universalizing the symbolism to the point where the underlying Christian allegory has been somewhat obscured (as, for example, when the Rider-Waite deck of the early Twentieth Century changed The Pope to The Hierophant and The Popess to The High Priestess). It is notable that between 1450 and 1500 the Tarot was actually recommended for the instruction of the young by Church moralists (reference is urgently needed here); not until fifty years after the Visconti deck did it become associated with gambling, and not until the 18th century and Gebelin and Etteilla with occultism.
In Tarot divination, results can be achieved with analysis of just one card, but, for more thoroughness, combinations of several cards in set patterns are usually used. These patterns are called spreads or layouts. There are many different spreads, although the Celtic Cross is one of the best known, and is often taught to beginners as their first spread, despite the complexity of it and the availability of simpler, more easily manageable spreads. More experienced practitioners will sometimes use their own spreads, assigning their own meanings to the relevant positions represented.