History

Tarot historyPlaying cards first entered Europe in the late 14th century with the Mamelukes of Persia, with suits very similar to the basic 'Latin' suits of Swords, Staves, Cups and Coins. Although there are quite a number of alternative theories on the origin of Tarot, current evidence seems to indicate that the first decks were created between 1410 and 1430 in either Milan, Ferrara, or Bologna, in northern Italy, when additional trump cards with allegorical illustrations were added to the more common four suit decks that already existed. These new decks were originally called carte da trionfi, triumph cards, and the additional cards known simply as trionfi, which evolved into the word "trumps" in common English. 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.
In 1765, Giacomo Casanova wrote in his diary that his Russian mistress frequently used a deck of playing cards for divination.
Playing cards first appeared in Christian Europe some time before 1367, the date of the first documented evidence of their existence, a ban on their use, in Bern, Switzerland. Before this, cards had been used for several decades in Islamic Al Andalus. The seventy-eight-card tarot resulted from adding the twenty-two trump cards to an early fifty-six card variant (fourteen cards per suit).
Tarot cards appear to have been developed some forty years later, and they are mentioned in the surviving text of Martiano da Tortona. Da Tortona's text is thought to have been written between 1418 and 1425, since in 1418 the painter Michelino da Besozzo returned to Milan, and Martiano da Tortona died in 1425.
It seems apparent that the special motifs on the trump cards, which were added to regular playing cards with a 'four suits of fourteen cards' structure, were ideologically determined. They are thought to show a specific system of transporting messages of different content; known early examples show philosophical, social, poetical, astronomical.
This first known deck seems to have had the standard ten numbered cards, but having kings as the only court card, and only sixteen trump cards. The later standard (four suits of fourteen plus twenty-two) took time to settle; trionfi decks with seventy cards only are still spoken of in 1457. No corroborating evidence for the final standard seventy-eight card format exists prior to the Boiardo Tarocchi poem and the Sola Busca Tarocchi.
As 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. At around the same time, the name tarocchi appeared.
The first wide publicity of divination by tarot came from a French occultist named Alliette, under the pseudonym "Etteilla", who worked as a seer and card diviner shortly before the French Revolution. Etteilla designed the first esoteric Tarot deck, adding astrological attributions and Egyptian motifs to various cards, altering many of them from the Marseilles designs, and adding divinatory meanings in text on the cards. Later, Mademoiselle Marie-Anne Le Normand popularized divination in general during the reign of Napoleon.

Tarot cards would later become associated with mysticism and magic. Tarot was not widely adopted by mystics, occultists and secret societies until the 18th and 19th centuries. The tradition began in 1781, when Antoine Court de Gébelin, a Swiss clergyman and Freemason, published Le Monde Primitif, a speculative study which included religious symbolism and its survivals in the modern world. De Gébelin first asserted that symbolism of the Tarot de Marseille represented the mysteries of Isis and Thoth. Gébelin further claimed that the name "tarot" came from the Egyptian words tar, meaning "royal", and ro, meaning "road", and that the Tarot therefore represented a "royal road" to wisdom.
The idea of the cards as a mystical key was further developed by Eliphas Lévi and passed to the English-speaking world by The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Lévi, not Etteilla, is considered by some to be the true founder of most contemporary schools of Tarot. While Lévi accepted Court de Gébelin's claims about an Egyptian origin of the deck symbols, he rejected Etteilla's innovations and his altered deck, and devised instead a system which related the Tarot, especially the Tarot de Marseille, to the Hermetic Qabalah and the four elements of alchemy.
Tarot divination became increasingly popular in the New World from 1910, with the publication of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot which replaced the traditionally simple pip cards with images of symbolic scenes. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck still remains extremely popular in the English-speaking world.
The use of Tarot for divination has inspired the creation of Oracle card decks. These are card decks for inspiration or divination containing images of angels, fairies, goddesses, Power Animals, etc. Although obviously influenced by Tarot, they do not follow the traditional structure of Tarot; they lack any suits of numbered cards, and the set of cards differs from the traditional major arcana.

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