The tarot (//; first known as trionfi and later as tarocchi, tarock, and others) is a pack of playing cards (most commonly numbering 78), used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play a group of card games such as Italian tarocchini and French tarot. From the late 18th century until the present time the tarot has also found use by mystics and occultists for divination.
Like the common deck of playing cards, the tarot has four suits (which vary by region, being the French suits in Northern Europe, the Latin suits in Southern Europe, and the German suits in Central Europe). Each of these suits has pip cards numbering from one (or Ace) to ten and four face cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Jack/Knave) for a total of 14 cards. In addition, the tarot has a separate 21-card trump suit and a single card known as the Fool. Depending on the game, the Fool may act as the top trump or may be played to avoid following suit.
François Rabelais gives tarau as the name of one of the games played by Gargantua in his Gargantua and Pantagruel; this is likely the earliest attestation of the French form of the name. Tarot cards are used throughout much of Europe to play card games. In English-speaking countries, where these games are largely unplayed, tarot cards are now used primarily for divinatory purposes. Occultists call the trump cards and the Fool "the major arcana" while the ten pip and four court cards in each suit are called minor arcana. The cards are traced by some occult writers to ancient Egypt or the Kabbalah but there is no documented evidence of such origins or of the usage of tarot for divination before the 18th century.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Tarot card games
- 4 Divinatory, esoteric, and occult tarot
- 5 Varieties
- 6 The Tarots and painters
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
- 10 Further reading
The English and French word tarot derives from the Italian tarocchi, which has no known origin or etymology. The singular term is tarocco, commonly known today as a term for a type of blood orange in Italian. When it spread, the word was changed to tarot in French and Tarock in German. There are many theories to the origin of the word, many with no connection to the occult. One theory relates the name "tarot" to the Taro River in northern Italy, near Parma; the game seems to have originated in northern Italy, in Milan or Bologna. Other writers believe it comes from the Arabic word طرق turuq, which means 'ways'. Alternatively, it may be from the Arabic ترك taraka, 'to leave, abandon, omit, leave behind'.
Playing cards first entered Europe in the late 14th century, probably from Mamluk Egypt, with suits of Swords, Batons or Polo sticks (commonly known as Wands by those practicing occult or divinatory tarot), Cups, and Coins (commonly known as disks, or pentacles by practitioners of the occult or divinatory tarot). These suits were very similar to modern tarot divination decks and are still used in traditional Italian, Spanish and Portuguese playing card decks.
The first known documented tarot cards were created between 1430 and 1450 in Milan, Ferrara and Bologna in northern Italy when additional trump cards with allegorical illustrations were added to the common four-suit pack. These new decks were originally called carte da trionfi, triumph cards, and the additional cards known simply as trionfi, which became "trumps" in English. The first literary evidence of the existence of carte da trionfi is a written statement in the court records in Florence, in 1440. The oldest surviving tarot cards are from fifteen fragmented decks painted in the mid 15th century for the Visconti-Sforza family, the rulers of Milan. During the 16th-century, a new game played with a standard deck but sharing the same name (triomphe) was quickly becoming popular. This coincided with the older game being renamed tarocchi.
Picture-card packs are first mentioned by Martiano da Tortona probably between 1418 and 1425, since the painter he mentions, Michelino da Besozzo, returned to Milan in 1418, while Martiano himself died in 1425. He describes a deck with 16 picture cards with images of the Greek gods and suits depicting four kinds of birds, not the common suits. However the 16 cards were obviously regarded as "trumps" as, about 25 years later, Jacopo Antonio Marcello called them a ludus triumphorum, or "game of trumps".
Special motifs on cards added to regular packs show philosophical, social, poetical, astronomical, and heraldic ideas, Roman/Greek/Babylonian heroes, as in the case of the Sola-Busca-Tarocchi (1491) and the Boiardo Tarocchi poem, written at an unknown date between 1461 and 1494.
Two playing card decks from Milan (the Brera-Brambilla and Cary-Yale-Tarocchi)—extant, but fragmentary—were made circa 1440. Three documents dating from 1 January 1441 to July 1442, use the term trionfi. The document from January 1441 is regarded as an unreliable reference; however, the same painter, Sagramoro, was commissioned by the same patron, Leonello d'Este, as in the February 1442 document. The game seemed to gain in importance in the year 1450, a Jubilee year in Italy, which saw many festivities and the movement of many pilgrims.
Three mid-15th century sets were made for members of the Visconti family. The first deck, and probably the prototype, is called the Cary-Yale Tarot (or Visconti-Modrone Tarot) and was created between 1442 and 1447 by an anonymous painter for Filippo Maria Visconti. The cards (only 67) are today held in the Cary collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. The most famous was painted in the mid-15th century, to celebrate Francesco Sforza and his wife Bianca Maria Visconti, daughter of the duke Filippo Maria. Probably, these cards were painted by Bonifacio Bembo or Francesco Zavattari between 1451 and 1453. Of the original cards, 35 are in The Morgan Library & Museum, 26 are at the Accademia Carrara, thirteen are at the Casa Colleoni, and four: The Devil, The Tower, The Knight of Coins, and the 3 of Swords, are lost or were never made. This "Visconti-Sforza" deck, which has been widely reproduced, reflects conventional iconography of the time to a significant degree.
Hand-painted tarot cards remained a privilege of the upper classes and, although a single sermon by a Dominican preacher inveighing against the evil inherent in cards (mostly centered around their use in gambling) can be traced to the 14th century, no routine condemnations of tarot were found during its early history.
Because the earliest tarot cards were hand-painted, the number of the decks produced is thought to have been rather small, and it was only after the invention of the printing press that mass production of cards became possible. Decks survive from this era from various cities in France, and the most popular pattern of these early printed decks is called the Tarot de Marseille such as the Jean Dodal Tarot (Lyon) and the Jean Noblet Tarot (Paris) for example.
Tarot card games
The original purpose of tarot cards was for playing games, the first basic rules appearing in the manuscript of Martiano da Tortona before 1425, and the next from the year 1637. The game of tarot has many cultural variations. In Italy the game has become less popular. Tarocchini has survived in Bologna and there are still others played in Piedmont and Sicily; but the number of games outside of Italy is much higher.
The 18th-century was tarot's greatest revival when they became the most popular games in Europe. It was played everywhere in Europe with the exception of the British Isles, the Iberian peninsula, and the Ottoman Balkans. French tarot experienced a revival beginning in the 1970s in its native country and France has the strongest tarot gaming community. Regional tarot games—often known as tarock, tarok, or tarokk—are widely played in central Europe within the borders of the former Austro-Hungarian empire.
Divinatory, esoteric, and occult tarot
Each card possesses a pictogram and title that represents a specific concept or archetype. The belief in divination associated with Tarot focuses on the prospect that whatever cards are dealt to the participant will be revelatory.
Divination using playing cards is in evidence as early as 1540 in a book entitled The Oracles of Francesco Marcolino da Forlì which allows a simple method of divination, though the cards are used only to select a random oracle and have no meaning in themselves. But manuscripts from 1735 (The Square of Sevens) and 1750 (Pratesi Cartomancer) document rudimentary divinatory meanings for the cards of the tarot as well as a system for laying out the cards. Giacomo Casanova wrote in his diary that in 1765 his Russian mistress frequently used a deck of playing cards for divination.
Antoine Court de Gébelin, a French-born Protestant pastor and Freemason, published a dissertation on the origins of the symbolism in the Tarot in volume VIII of his unfinished fifteen volumes of the Le Monde Primitif. De Gébelin, who never knew the Tarot as the Tarot de Marseille (a name which came much later), thought the Tarot represented ancient Egyptian Theology, including Isis, Osiris and Typhon (the Greek name for Seth), but never mentions Thoth. For example, he thought the card he knew as the Papesse and known today as the High Priestess represented Isis. He also related four Tarot cards to the four Christian Cardinal virtues: Temperance, Justice, Strength and Prudence. He relates The Tower to a Greek fable about avarice. Although Egyptian had not yet been deciphered by Champollion, Gébelin asserted the name "Tarot" came from the Egyptian words Tar, "path" or "road", and the word Ro, Ros or Rog, meaning "King" or "royal", and that the Tarot literally translated to the Royal Road of Life.
A variety of styles of tarot decks and designs exist and a number of typical regional patterns have emerged. Historically, one of the most important designs is the one usually known as the Tarot de Marseille. This standard pattern was the one studied by Court de Gébelin, and cards based on this style illustrate his Le Monde primitif. The Tarot de 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. Other regional styles include the "Swiss" Tarot. This one substitutes Juno and Jupiter for the Papess, or High Priestess and the Pope, or Hierophant. In Florence an expanded deck called Minchiate was used. This deck of 97 cards includes astrological symbols including the four elements, as well as traditional tarot motifs.
Some decks exist primarily as artwork; and such art decks sometimes contain only the 22 trump cards.
French suited tarot decks
French suited tarot cards began to appear in Germany during the 18th century. The first generation of French suited tarots depicted scenes of animals on the trumps and were thus called "Tiertarock" decks ('Tier' being German for 'animal'). Card maker Göbl of Munich is often credited for this design innovation. Current French suited tarot decks come in these patterns:
- The Industrie und Glück (Industry and Luck) tarock deck of Central Europe uses Roman numerals for the trumps. It is sold with 54 cards; the 5 to 10 of the red suits and the 1 to 6 of the black suits are removed.
- The Cego deck is used in Germany's Black Forest bordering France and has 54 cards organized in the same fashion as the Industrie und Glück. Its trumps use Arabic numerals but within centered indices.
- The Tarot Nouveau has 78 cards and is commonly played in France. Its trumps use Arabic numerals in corner indices.
The illustrations of French suited tarot trumps depart considerably from the older Italian suited design. The Renaissance allegorical motifs were abandoned for new themes or simply just whimsical pictures of daily life. With very few exceptional recent cases such as the "Tarocchi di Alan", "Tarot of Reincarnation" and the "Tarot de la Nature", French suited tarot cards are nearly exclusively used for card games and rarely for divination.
Example of 18th century "Tiertarock" or animal tarot.
Industrie und Glück Tarock trumps
Tarot Nouveau trumps circa 1910
German suited tarot deck
German suited decks for Württemberg, Brixental, and Bavarian tarock are different. They have 36 cards, ranging from 6 to 10, Under Knave (Unter), Over Knave (Ober), King, and Ace. These use Ace-Ten ranking, like Klaverjas, where Ace is the highest followed by 10, King, Ober, Unter, then 9 to 6. The heart suit is the default trump suit. The deck is also used to play Schafkopf.
Italo-Portuguese suited tarot deck
The Tarocco Siciliano is the only deck to use the so-called Portuguese suit system which uses Spanish pips but intersects them like Italian pips. It changes some of the trumps, and has a card labeled Miseria (destitution). It omits the Two and Three of coins, and numerals one to four in clubs, swords and cups: it thus has 64 cards but the One of coins is not used, being the bearer of the former stamp tax. The cards are quite small and not reversible.
Non-occult Italian-suited tarot decks
These were the oldest form of tarot deck to be made, being first devised in the 15th century in northern Italy. The occult tarot decks are based on decks of this type. Three decks of this category are still used to play certain games:
- The Tarocco Piemontese consists of the four suits of swords, batons, cups and coins, each headed by a king, queen, cavalier and jack, followed by the pip cards for a total of 78 cards. Trump 20 outranks 21 in most games and the Fool is numbered 0 despite not being a trump.
- The Swiss 1JJ Tarot is similar, but replaces the Pope with Jupiter, the Popess with Juno, and the Angel with the Judgement. The trumps rank in numerical order and the Tower is known as the House of God. The cards are not reversible like the Tarocco Piemontese.
- The Tarocco Bolognese omits numeral cards two to five in plain suits, leaving it with 62 cards, and has somewhat different trumps, not all of which are numbered and four of which are equal in rank. It has a different graphical design than the two above as it was not derived from the Tarot de Marseille.
Occult tarot decks
Etteilla was the first to issue a revised tarot deck specifically designed for occult purposes rather than game playing. In keeping with the belief that tarot cards are derived from the Book of Thoth, Etteilla's tarot contained themes related to ancient Egypt. The 78-card tarot deck used by esotericists has two distinct parts:
- The Major Arcana (greater secrets), or trump cards, consists of 22 cards without suits: The Magician, The High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant, The Lovers, The Chariot, Strength, The Hermit, Wheel of Fortune, Justice, The Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, The Sun, Judgement, The World and The Fool. Cards from The Magician to The World are numbered in Roman numerals from I to XXI, while The Fool is the only unnumbered card, sometimes placed at the beginning of the deck as 0, or at the end as XXII.
- The Minor Arcana (lesser secrets) consists of 56 cards, divided into four suits of 14 cards each; ten numbered cards and four court cards. The court cards are the King, Queen, Knight and Page/Jack, in each of the four tarot suits. The traditional Italian tarot suits are swords, batons/wands, coins and cups; in modern tarot decks, however, the batons suit is often called wands, rods or staves, while the coins suit is often called pentacles or disks.
The terms "major arcana" and "minor arcana" were first used by Jean-Baptiste Pitois (also known as Paul Christian) and are never used in relation to Tarot card games.
Tarot is often used with the study of the Hermetic Qabalah. In these decks there are Kabbalistic illustrations, most being under the influence of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck. The images on the "Rider-Waite" deck were drawn by artist Pamela Colman Smith following the instructions of mystic and occultist Arthur Edward Waite and were originally published by the Rider Company in 1910. The subjects of the Major Arcana are based on those of the earliest decks, but have been modified to reflect Waite and Smith's view of tarot. A difference from Marseilles style decks is that Smith drew scenes with esoteric meanings on the suit cards. The Rider-Waite wasn't the first deck to include completely illustrated suit cards. The first to do so was the 15th century Sola-Busca deck.
Older esoteric decks such as the Visconti-Sforza and Marseilles are less detailed than modern ones. A Marseilles type deck is distinguished by having repetitive motifs on the pip cards, similar to Italian or Spanish playing cards, as opposed to the full scenes found on "Rider-Waite" style decks. These more simply illustrated "Marseilles" style decks are also used esoterically, for divination, and for game play, though the French card game of tarot is now generally played using a relatively modern 19th century design of German origin. Such playing tarot decks generally have twenty one trump cards with genre scenes from 19th century life, a Fool, and have court and pip cards that closely resemble today's French playing cards.
The Marseilles' 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/wands, cups, coins/pentacles) 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 example of a modernist tarot deck is Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot (Thoth pronounced // or //). Crowley, at the height of a lifetime's work dedicated to occultism, engaged the artist Lady Frieda Harris to paint the cards for the deck according to his specifications. His system of tarot correspondences, published in The Book of Thoth and Liber 777, are an evolution and expansion upon that which he learned in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
In contrast to the Thoth deck's colorfulness, the illustrations on Paul Foster Case's B.O.T.A. Tarot deck are black line drawings on white cards; this is an unlaminated deck intended to be colored by its owner.
The variety of decks in use is almost endless, and grows yearly. For instance, cat-lovers may have the Tarot of the Cat People, a deck replete with cats in every picture. The Tarot of the Witches and the Aquarian Tarot retain the conventional cards with varying designs. The Tree of Life Tarot's cards are stark symbolic catalogs; and The Alchemical Tarot, created by Robert M. Place, combines traditional alchemical symbols with tarot images.
These contemporary divination decks change the cards to varying degrees. For example, the Motherpeace Tarot is notable for its circular cards and feminist angle where the male characters have been replaced by females. The Tarot of Baseball has suits of bats, mitts, balls, and bases; "coaches" and "MVPs" instead of Queens and Kings; and major arcana cards such as "The Catcher", "The Rule Book", and "Batting a Thousand". 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 CEO, Salesman, Marketeer and New Hire. Another tarot in recent years has been the Robin Wood Tarot. This deck retains the Rider-Waite theme while adding Pagan symbolism. As with other decks, the cards are available with a companion book written by Wood which details all of the symbolism and colors utilized in the Major and Minor Arcana.
Unconventionality is embraced by Morgan's Tarot, produced in 1970 by Morgan Robbins and illustrated by Darshan Chorpash Zenith. Morgan's Tarot has no suits, no ranking and no ordering of the cards. It has 88 rather than 78 cards and its simple line drawings show an influence from the psychedelic art. Nevertheless, in the introductory booklet that accompanies the deck Robbins claims inspiration for the cards from Tibetan Buddhism.
Crowley-Harris Thoth deck
The Thoth deck has astrological, zodiacal, elemental and Qabalistic symbols. Crowley wrote the book The Book of Thoth to accompany it. This deck retains the traditional order of the trumps but uses Crowley's words for both the trumps and the courts.
Hermetic Tarot has imagery to function as a textbook and mnemonic device for teaching the gnosis of alchemical symbolical language. An example of this practice is found in the rituals of the 19th-century Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In the 20th century, Hermetic use of the tarot imagery as a handbook was developed by Carl Gustav Jung's exploration into the psyche and imagination. A 21st-century example of a Hermetic rooted tarot deck is that of Tarot ReVisioned, a black and white deck and book for the Major Arcana by Leigh J. McCloskey.
The Tarots and painters
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- François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, ch. 22, "Les Jeux de Gargantua"
- Etymology for Tarot, Douglas Harper - The Online Etymology Dictionary
- About the etymology of Tarot, Michael S. Howard - Le Tarot
- Cassandra Eason, Complete Guide to Tarot, p. 3 (Crossing Press, 2000; ISBN 1-58091-068-8)
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- Donald Laycock in Skeptical—a Handbook of Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, ed Donald Laycock, David Vernon, Colin Groves, Simon Brown, Imagecraft, Canberra, 1989, ISBN 0-7316-5794-2, p. 67
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- Tarot and its History - Autorbis
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- Tarocco Siciliano, early form at the International Playing-Card Society website. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
- Israel Regardie, "The Tree of Life", (London, Rider, 1932)
- The new encyclopedia of the occult, John Michael Greer pg. 442 - Llewellyn Publications (2003) ISBN 1-56718-336-0
- Tarot for Your Self: A Workbook for Personal Transformation, Mary K. Greer pg. 285 - New Page Books (2002) ISBN 1-56414-588-3
- McCloskey, Leigh, Tarot ReVisioned, adpress
|Look up tarot in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Tarot cards.|
|Wikiversity has learning materials about Tarot|
- Huson, Paul, Mystical Origins of the Tarot, Destiny Books, 2004, ISBN 0892811900.
- Nichols, Sallie, Jung and Tarot: an Archetypal Journey, York Beach : Weiser, 1980
- Douglas Alfred The Tarot Penguin Books 1972
- Robert Mazlo, A la recherche du Tarot perdu. Les tablettes d'Hermès, Ramuel Ed., 1998, ISBN 2910401863.