The History and Origins of Tarot Cards

Опубликовано 25.08.2023


The history and origins of tarot cards have always been shrouded in mystery and have sparked debates among scholars, historians, and enthusiasts. The subject of tarot cards and their fascinating journey through time have been a point of intrigue for many people across various cultures.

The Origin of Tarot Cards: A Mystery in Itself

The actual origin of tarot cards is still hotly debated. The oldest known tarot card decks originated in Italy in the 15th century, used as playing cards for a game called «tarocchi» (which translated to ‘triumphs’). However, these cards were different from modern tarot cards as they were used merely for gaming, with no spiritual or divinatory connotations.

It was during the 18th century when tarot cards began their evolution into a tool for divination. The esoteric symbolism attached to these cards was vastly influenced by the occult movement of the time, particularly in France. Figures like Antoine Court de Gebelin and Jean-Baptiste Alliette (also known as Etteilla) played significant roles in the development of tarot cards into a mystical tool. Gebelin, in his work ‘Le Monde primitif,’ was among the first to propose that tarot cards had deep, symbolic meanings related to ancient Egyptian philosophies, a theory that has since been largely discredited.

The 19th century saw the further evolution of tarot cards, with Eliphas Levi, a French occultist, linking the tarot to the Jewish Kabbalah, a school of thought that deals with the mystical aspect of Judaism. Levi’s concepts later influenced the creation of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, one of the most famous and widely used tarot decks, created by Arthur Edward Waite and Pamela Colman Smith.

Tarot Cards and Their Many Forms

Today, tarot cards come in various forms, embodying a range of artistic interpretations, cultural symbolism, and thematic elements. Each deck typically consists of 78 cards, divided into two sections: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. However, it’s essential to understand that while tarot card readings share a common structure, the number and types of cards can vary based on the specific tradition or deck.

The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards, each representing a specific concept or archetype, such as The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, and so on. The Minor Arcana, much like a regular deck of playing cards, includes 56 cards divided into four suits: Cups, Pentacles (or Coins), Swords, and Wands (or Rods). Each suit consists of ten numbered cards (from one or ace to ten) and four court cards: Page, Knight, Queen, and King. The imagery and symbolism on these cards can vary significantly based on the artist or tradition.

The History of Tarot Cards: A Tool for Divination

Throughout history, tarot cards have evolved from simple playing cards to complex tools for divination and introspection. They are often used to provide insights into a person’s past, present, or future, enabling them to make informed decisions or gain a deeper understanding of their life’s circumstances. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that tarot cards became associated with fortune-telling and divination.

The modern understanding and use of tarot cards can be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during which many occult and esoteric societies, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, embraced and expanded upon the mystical aspects of the tarot. Members of these societies, including A.E. Waite and Aleister Crowley, designed their own tarot decks, incorporating their unique interpretations of the symbolism within the cards.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, tarot cards experienced a resurgence in popularity, not just within occult circles, but also among the general public. Many people now use tarot cards for personal introspection, guidance, or even as a psychological tool, with the understanding that the tarot does not predict the future but rather illuminates possible outcomes based on current paths and decisions.


The history and origins of tarot cards are complex and multifaceted, reflecting the cultural, philosophical, and mystical shifts that have occurred over centuries. Whether you see tarot cards as a tool for divination, a psychological tool, or simply a deck of beautifully illustrated cards, there is no denying their unique place in history. Their journey from a game of triumphs to a mystical divination tool is as enchanting as the cards themselves.