I’ve always been fascinated by the rich history of tarot cards. For those of you who don’t know much about tarot beyond getting your own reading, it may surprise you to know that traditional playing cards were first were first introduced to Europe in the year of 1375, assumedly by the Islamic nations, and quickly spread through most of Western Europe. The original deck consisted of four suits – Swords, Staves, Coins and Cups – and each suit consisted of 10 pip (counting) cards, and three “court cards” – King, Knight and Page.
The decks, although standard, were often altered by different regions around Europe. The most common alteration in Italy was the addition of the Queen to the court cards, thus making a 56-card deck which is the basis of the Tarot deck.
In the early 1400’s, the idea of trumps is said to have taken hold of Europe in the German game of Karnöffel. It is believed that Tarot was invented a decade later, around 1440 somewhere in the North of Italy. The Tarot deck consisted of the traditional Italian deck of 56-cards, with an additional 22 symbolic picture cards added to the deck. (total of 78 cards) At this time, however, the Tarot was still a card game, and became increasingly popular all over the world during the next couple of centuries. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the deck caught the eyes of the occultists and made the Tarot what we know it as today.
Interest in cartomancy (fortune-telling through playing cards) was building, and in the 1500’s, people began to use cards to choose pages in a fortune telling book. In the 1600’s, specific fortune telling decks had been made, and in the early 1700’s there are some indications of symbolic meanings being given to traditional card decks. It was in 1770, however, that the first book on cartomancy was published by Etteilla, the 1st professional cartomancer. He and two other French men began to expand the world of cartomancy fortune-lore that would help to reinvent the Tarot in the 19th century.
During the 19th century, the only part of the Tarot lore that remained popular was fortune-telling. In order for the myths and esoteric systems to become popular, new legend was added and overlaid, and the Tarot was reinvented. At this time, the British occultists claimed that the Tarot, originally a popular game invented in the 15th century, was the key to occult science.
The history and meaning of Tarot cards can sometimes be vague, and dates are approximate, but it is interesting to see that what is now one of the most popular methods of fortune-telling began as a card game hundreds of years ago.
But now that we know how the Tarot deck evolved, you’re probably asking yourself ‘What’s the meaning of the Tarot cards?”. The meanings of Tarot cards is not a subject that can be touched on lightly. There is much detail in each card of the Tarot deck. First off, the deck is separated into three categories: Major Arcana Cards, Minor Arcana Cards, and Court Cards.
One of the most widely recognized cards is the Fool, a major arcana card. It shows the fool in brightly coloured clothes, his bag on a staff, a small dog, and a cliff. It is said that the Fool represents living in the present – that he is delighted to travel along, all his worldly possessions in hand, and see what the world has to offer. However, he may also represent a naive mind in thinking that no danger may await him – he is approaching a cliff, but does he see it? Is the dog able or willing to warn him?
This is only a tiny step into understanding the meanings of Tarot cards. As I said before, it is a very detailed subject, but there are many websites and books out there devoted to teaching about what is the meaning of tarot cards. Check it out for yourself! It’s an interesting world!