Tarot Origin Theories

It is said that THE EARLIEST Type OF CARDS originated in China. Playing card documents date back as far as the Tang Dynasty, from 618 AD to 907 AD. These early versions, though they were meant for play, not divination, were rich with cultural and mythical references important to their time and location. These early models from China were even more similar than playing cards to modern-day dominoes or mahjong. But many assume that the ancestors of tarot were these. Legends claim that through divining fortunes from these playing cards, the emperor's concubines amused themselves.

Korean shamans fired divinatory arrows made of bamboo and cock feathers at about the same time on the Korean peninsula, under the Silla empire. The future and other secret wisdom that the shamans could translate for soldiers and warlords were believed to reveal certain bows. Those divinatory arrows were reinterpreted into silk card strips engraved with insignia in the sixth century. The pieces of silk were divided into eight suits: males, fish, crows, pheasants, antelopes, stars, rabbits, and horses, and numbered from one to nine. If it was from the Tang Dynasty or the Silla, the original source of playing cards, most historians admit that they originated from the East.

Ultimately, commerce took the cards to Islamic communities. Many scholars claim that in what is now modern-day Cairo, the Mamlûk Sultanate conceived a series of playing cards produced in Egypt during the Mamlûk Empire and consisting of four suits: Polo Sticks, Cups, Swords, and Coins, reflecting the desires and pastimes of the Mamlûk aristocracy. By the 1370s, Central Asian traders had taken these Mamlûk cards to Europe. The cultural and legendary references on the Asian cards were changed by Europeans to represent their own time and place. The tarot was not yet produced at that time, but it was popular to play cards with detailed drawings. Card games would have been very common at that time in Italy and Spain, as several laws were written to ban the use of playing cards.

Tarot cards in the shape common to us today, the seventy-eight cards separated into the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana, originated around 1440, during the Italian Renaissance, or at least those are the oldest accounts known to modern historians of them. One of the most popular decks from that period is one hand-painted in the 1400s for the Visconti dynasty, one of Italy's richest families. To the common fifty-six ordinary playing cards (pips, which are the aces by tens, and faces, the court cards), twenty-two allegorical trump cards, or trionfi, were added to form the tarot, or tarocchi, a card game not unlike modern-day bridge. The early version incorporated Christianity's deeply inspired symbolism and imagery. There was a remarkable resemblance between these Italian cards and the early Mamlûk cards from the East. The church normally outlawed playing cards at the time, but an exception was made for tarot, due in no small part to its success among the powerful. Tarot was described as a moral, polished, aristocratic, and intelligent endeavor, in contrast to the playing cards used by the lower classes.

Although the idea of tarot originated as a game, others theorize that gypsies used tarot-like cards for fortune-telling well before the fourteenth century in the Mediterranean. These scholars argue that the absence of early documents showing the tarot used for divination is due to prohibitions and popular rejection of it at the time of fortune-telling. However, the truth remains that there is actually no record. Pure hypotheses remain these.

But another common legend holds that the tarot, the Big Arcane or the Deck's first twenty-two trump cards, includes the Knights Templar's religious intelligence. It is said that the Knights Templar found, among other sacred mysteries, the Holy Grail while in Jerusalem, and took back their divine knowledge from the East. When the Templars were persecuted in the 1300s, in the imagery of the Main Arcana for future centuries, they memorialized their learned secrets. However, historical evidence of the legend is almost non-existent, especially because the breakup of the Templars does not coincide chronologically with the tarot idea.

Verifiable accounts of tarot and mysticism did not exist until the 1700s, revealing the use of tarot as a divinatory instrument by French and English occultists. In the eighteenth century, with the use of the deck for divine and supernatural reasons, the Freemasons renewed an interest in tarot. The idea that tarot cards descended from Egyptian mysticism and that Gypsies introduced the tarot from Egypt to Europe in the thirteenth century AD was popularised by occultists of the day, such as Antoine Court de Gébelin, a French Protestant priest. No documented verifiable documents, however, confirm Gébelin's theories.

Jean-Baptiste Alliette, an occultist who went under the alias Etteilla, wrote on cartomancy widely, subscribing to each card's meanings and explaining how to lay a deck of playing cards in a divination spread. In later divinatory tarot rituals, these techniques became greatly incorporated. Etteilla's books, however, used the deck of playing cards we know now, not the tarot, of clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds. Yet he wrote of the Egyptian Book of Thoth before Etteilla's death in 1791, much of which was later extended to contemporary versions of the Major and Minor Arcana of the tarot. It was suspected that both Gébelin and Etteilla were affiliated with a secret society, the Order of Elect Cohens, an occult organization later established by Papus that followed the Martinist Order.

In the 1850s, using the Hermetic Qabalah system, Alphonse Louis Constant, also known by his nickname Eliphas Levi, translated the Marseille tarot (to be distinguished from the Jewish Kabbalah). By 1888, the Golden Dawn's Hermetic Order took a particular interest in and popularized the tarot. The tarot was also embraced by other schools of thought, such as Martinism, a branch of esoteric Christianity created by a French occultist born in Spanish called Gerard Encausse. Encausse is considered one of the best tarot practitioners in literature, and in the 1890s, under the alias Papus, he wrote the seminal work The Tarot of the Bohemians.

The revived interest in tarot as an occult study coincided with Madame H. P. Blavatsky's creation of the Theosophical Society. The organisation of Blavatksy and its discovery of esoteric doctrine inspired many of her day's notable artists, from writers Franz Kafka, T. S. Eliot, and W. B. Yeats to Jean Sibelius, a musical composer, and Wassily Kandinsky, a painter. In fact, the works of Kafka, Eliot, and Yeats were considered to be impacted by tarot semiotics. Tarot became a common premise during that period as a book of divine wisdom.

Thus, the 1900s brought a number of major entrants to the study of tarot. Most of the tarot's present interpretation is focused on this new heritage. Occultist A. In 1909, His reading of the tarot, a deck now known as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, was written by E. Waite. Modern occultists speculate that A. created the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. E. Waite to conceal in plain sight the mysteries of the Golden Dawn, and to allow the theosophy of the Golden Dawn to be freely visible, at least to those who are willing to decipher the cards. Most of the meaning and imagery of the deck has its origins in Neo-Platonism, a metaphysical paradigm from Alexandria in the third century. In comparison, the tarot has profoundly rooted mysticism, Western astrology, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian folklore, and both Hermetic Qabalah and Jewish Kabbalah. In the 1940s, influenced by the Egyptian Book of Thoth, Aleister Crowley created a deck known as the Thoth tarot.

Subsequently, various tarot practitioners and occultists added additional decks to their versions of the tarot. Like the deck's forebears from Asia, both of these tarot deck variants have in common the richness of cultural and mythical parallels related to the time and place of their creation.

Tarot is also popularly identified with pagan, Wiccan, neo-pagan, and other alternative religion traditions of today. That may be why alternate faiths, magic or magic, and tarot, have common associations. The tarot, though, is not special to these sects. Through certain walks of life and among persons of all religious subscriptions, it is used regardless of religion.

Over the ages, Tarot has progressed from a card game to a divination instrument and is now gaining attention in psychological science for its meaning. I liken tarot to yoga: it is a non-denominational ritual that can be concomitant with the practices present in many religions, but may be used differently in contemporary applications. Yoga, regardless of one's religion, helps with personal health, and tarot helps with decision-making, regardless of one's spirituality.

Psychologists and researchers began to take on a keener interest in tarot as a subject in the late twentieth century. One of the leading tarot authors of our days, Robert Wang, and Dr. Arthur Rosengarten, a licensed psychologist based in Jungia, pioneered the therapeutic application of tarot, and spearheaded a new effort to legitimize the practice of tarot as a psychological science.

Tarot is currently used for mental healing by many alternative medicine practitioners. Tarot has been introduced to psychotherapy by psychologists, clinicians and life coaching. Tarot is also accepted today as a practice of secular faith. While the majority can still view tarot as a method of divination or fortune-telling, the cards have been used by a growing group of practitioners for more rational-based purposes. For gypsies and occultists, Tarot is no longer regarded as a pursuit. It is an analytical thesis aimed at raising general awareness about the use of tarot for personal empowerment.