The Origins and History of Tarot
Tarot cards were originally referred to as Taroc or Tarocchi cards and were used to play a card game called Tarocchi which was similar to modern day Bridge. In the card games, the 22 Major Arcana, which represent the archetypal journey through life, were the trump cards. The 56 Minor Arcana cards, with four suits, and similar to the playing cards of today, were the adjective or descriptive cards which defined the journey.
The earliest surviving Tarot deck was painted in 1422 by Italian artist Bonifacio Bembo. This deck is known as the Visconti deck, and was commissioned by the Duke of Milan.
During the 15th century, all the cards had to be hand drawn and rendered. But, with the advent of new printing techniques, access to Tarot cards became more readily accessible. During the 16th century, there was an influx of new designs and ideas and by the 18th century esoteric theories regarding the mysticism and occultism of the Tarot began to abound.
It was during the 19th and 20th centuries, however, that Tarot really gained popularity as a form of divination. Arthur Edward Waite is the name that is probably the most associated with bringing Tarot into the occult world. He was a Freemason and a member of the Golden Dawn, which was an organization devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysical and paranormal. In 1910, he published a book called “The Key to the Tarot”, with an accompanying deck designed by fellow Golden Dawn member Pamela Colman Smith. This deck became known as the Rider Waite deck named after Arthur Waite and his publisher Rider.
At around the same time, Aliester Crowley, another Freemason and Golden Dawn enthusiast, designed the Thoth deck which was painted by Lady Freida Harris during the time period of 1938-1944. The Book of Thoth was published in 1944, but the deck itself wasn’t published until 1969, after both Crowley and Harris were dead.
Both the Rider Waite and Thoth decks blended the original Tarocchi game playing deck with esoteric symbolism inherent in many different occult and metaphysical belief systems, including Kabbalah, Astrology and Alchemy.
There is a plethora of modern day Tarot decks from which to choose, which include symbolism and folklore from many different beliefs systems and areas of the world. Wherever Tarot may have originated or what it may have started out to be, it still is one of the most mystical, mysterious and debated forms of divination that exists in our world.
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