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History of Tarot

History of Tarot

The history of tarot cards is a complex and fascinating one, with known roots in both ancient and medieval cultures. The origins of Tarot can be traced back hundreds of years, and its transformation over time has led to the modern-day versions of tarot cards that we see today. Here, we will explore the history of tarot cards, tracing their evolution from their early beginnings to contemporary interpretations.

Tarot cards, as we know them today, have their roots in medieval Europe. In the late 14th century, the first tarot deck was created in northern Italy. These earliest tarot cards were known as "tarocchi," and they were intended not as a divinatory tool, but rather as a game. The tarocchi deck consisted of 78 cards divided into four suits, each with 10 numbered cards and four court cards.

Over time, however, tarot cards began to be used for divination, and their symbolism and meaning became more complex. In the late 18th century, French occultist Antoine Court de Gébelin published a book called Le Monde Primitif, in which he argued that tarot cards were descended from the ancient Egyptian book of Thoth. According to Court de Gébelin, the symbols and images on tarot cards represented the esoteric knowledge of the Egyptian priests and could be used to unlock hidden secrets about the universe and the human soul.

This idea of Tarot as a repository of secret knowledge was further developed by another French occultist, Eliphas Levi, who wrote extensively about the symbolism of tarot cards in the mid-19th century. Levi believed that tarot cards represented the fundamental forces of the universe and that their intricate symbolism could be used to understand the workings of the world and the human psyche.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, several groups of occultists and mystics began to develop their systems of tarot interpretation, based on the symbolism and meaning of the cards. Perhaps the most well-known of these groups was the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an esoteric society founded in England in the late 19th century. The Golden Dawn's tarot system was based on the Kabbalah, a mystical framework of Jewish origin that maps out the structure of the universe and the human soul.

The Golden Dawn's tarot system was further popularized in the early 20th century by writer and occultist Arthur Edward Waite, who commissioned artist Pamela Colman Smith to create a new tarot deck based on the Golden Dawn's symbolism and meaning. The resulting deck, known as the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, is now one of the most widely used and recognizable tarot decks in the world.

Since the creation of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck, hundreds if not thousands of different tarot decks have been created, each with its unique style and interpretation. Some decks focus on a particular theme or culture, such as the African American Tarot or the Tarot of the Cat People. Others are designed to be more abstract or minimalist, emphasizing the symbolism and meaning of the cards rather than their visual appearance.

In recent years, the popularity of tarot cards has continued to grow, with more and more people turning to Tarot as a tool for self-discovery and spiritual insight. While there is still much debate over the origin and purpose of tarot cards, their enduring appeal and rich cultural history make them one of the most fascinating and complex divinatory tools in the world.

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