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The History of Tarot

By Sara Rose

What we call tarot cards nowadays was originally named trionfi, and was later known as tarocchi, or tarocks cards. No matter the name, these are a pack of playing cards used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play card games such as tarocchini. The cards original roots were from Italy, but quickly moved throughout Europe as family games that include German Grosstarok and modern games such as French tarot and Austian Konigrufen. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that the French occultists made elaborate, but unsupported, claims about the history and meaning of tarot. These claims led to the development of custom decks that were used in divination. Now, we have two distinct decks, one for game playing, and one for divination. Although, some older decks, such as the tarot de Marseille, originally designed for playing games, is still occasionally used for modern tarot reading.

The original deck, first appearing in northern Italy, was made up of the Fool card, and 21 trumps.  Back then they were know as trionfi cards, and had four suits that consisted of: batons, coins, cups and swords. What we call a deck of cards, or playing cards that are used for such games as poker, crazy 8’s, and so on, were first originated and recorded in Europe in the late 14th century, but their origin is unknown. They consisted of four suits, with a king, and a queen. Some say that these playing cards had originated from playing cards such as tarot, being quite similar in suits. If a tarot reader really needed to, they could use a regular deck of cards to read divination messages, but these cards were never designed for connecting with the universe, or spirit. These types of playing cards rapidly spread throughout Europe, especially after being banned. Little is known about that actual appearance of these cards, except a brief text by John of Rheinfelden in 1377 from Freiburg im Breisgau, who describes the deck having four suits of thirteen playing cards, including kings, queens, and courts. (jacks or pages)

An early pattern of playing cards also used suits of batons or clubs, coins, swords, and cups. These suits are still used in traditional or modern Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese playing cards, and are also still used in tarot divination cards that first appeared in the 18th century. Just the same as a regular deck of playing cards, tarot cards also have four suits, and each suit has 14 cards. 10 pip cards, ace to 10, and four face cards. King, Queen, Knight, and Jack/Knave/Page. Unlike a regular deck of cards, tarot also has a separate 21-card trump suit and a single card known as the Fool. Depending on the game, the Fool can be played as the top trump. Around 1418-1425 a Duke known as Filippo Maria Visconti described a 60 card deck with 16 cards having images of the Roman Gods and suits depicting four kinds of birds. The first documented tarot decks were recorded between 1440 and 1450, but some believe tarot was around much longer. I personally don’t believe that it is a coincidence that around the same time tarot was first documented, was also around the same time there was a mass hanging of witches in Europe. But hey, that’s just my opinion.

The earliest tarot decks were hand painted, so the number of decks produced was much smaller than the decks we can easily find now. It wasn’t until after the invention of the printing press that these playing cards were massed produced, and new modern designs became available to the public. When the first tarot made its way outside of Italy, they first appeared in France, then Switzerland, and this was during the Italian wars, and spread from there.

In English-speaking countries, tarot card decks were only used for novelty, or divination, and not for any other card playing games. Early French occultists claimed that tarot cards had esoteric links to ancient Egypt, Kabbalah, and the Indic Tantra. However, research has shown that tarot cards had originated in Italy in the 14th century, and were not used for divination until the 18th century.  Tarot cards were not designed or created for any evil or dark magic purposes like some sceptics might believe. With the new horror movie titled, “Tarot”, out in theatres now, some people might be tempted to label tarot cards as a curse, or a bad omen, but you can relax, and rest assured that the cards themselves are nothing more then a deck of cards. A tarot deck to a reader or psychic might seem quite important, and they are in some sense. However, the reader can channel the messages they are portraying to a client without the tarot deck, the deck itself just makes things much easier to explain to the client through meaning and pictures on the cards. A tarot reader uses these unique playing cards to pick up on messages from what some people call “the other side” I personally like to say the messages come from “Spirit” This can consist of my very own spirit guides, or the spirit guides of the person I am reading the cards for. In my own personal opinion, it does not matter where the messages are coming from, as long as the person needing to hear the messages is getting what he or she needs to hear in that moment. Most tarot readers will pick up on the energy the other person is emitting outward, and they know how the other person is feeling without even asking any personal questions. This talent doesn’t have much to do with the deck of cards, rather then using their own intuition to help the other person work through something in their life that might need attention. As a tarot reader myself, the first things I say to every client who sits down with me for a reading is, “everything I’m about to tell you, you already intuitively know on the inside” Because this is very true. Everything brought up in a reading about the client, they already knew deep inside, and I am only confirming how they already feel. This is not some dark and powerful magic of the tarot deck that is being used, it’s simply the deep understanding and intuition of the readers themselves, and how the reader is able to pick up on energy, then transform the energy into human spoken words. Some tarot readers will use the tarot deck to communicate with the passed loved ones of clients, and deliver messages they might need to know in that moment. Sceptics would strongly disagree, but I would personally stand firm in this belief. I have seen it first hand, heard it with my own ears, and I am also able to deliver these sensitive messages to those who wish to speak with passed loved ones. Sometimes they don’t have much to say, but wish to send a warm feeling of love and peace. Sometimes they have plenty to say. To understand how this communication is even possible, you must first understand that we, and everything, is energy. They might be gone from where we can easily see them, but energy is never destroyed. Meaning, they are not gone, they are just in a place where we can’t see them as a human being anymore. The tarot cards are simply used as a tool to connect, and bring in messages from those in a higher realm of existence.

The Magician card from the Pierpont Morgan Bergamo Visconti-Sforza pack:

Some might believe that tarot readers are scammers, and some might be so. If you are interested or have been thinking about getting a tarot reading, then I’m going to fill you in on a little secret on how to tell if a reader is the real deal. 1. Don’t ever pay a reader until you have had the reading and you’re completely satisfied with the messages you’re given. 2. Don’t give the reader any information about you. You will probably need to give your first name for booking purposes, but don’t give any more information than that. 3. When you arrive at the reading continue to keep the information little to none, the reader doesn’t need to know anything about you to read your energy. 4. Just listen. You don’t need to say much, and you don’t need to react to what the reader is saying, as the reader should be doing most of the talking, since the messages are for you. 5. Don’t allow the reader to ask you a lot of questions. It is actually none of the readers business as to what is going on in your life personally. The reader should know how you’re feeling by intuition, but not by prying and asking personal questions. When a reader is legit, they will bring up situations and circumstances in your personal reality as if they know everything about your life, without you telling them anything. This usually leaves clients emotional, and feeling a great sense of peace afterwards because the reader will give the client useful insights and advice on how to release the emotions coming forth, and how to positively move forward in life.

The Cary sheet, a partial uncut sheet of Milanese tarocchi, 1500

This is, of course, my own personal opinion on how tarot cards should be read to a client, and I think most other psychics would agree with me on this. Our main goal is not to show the client a bunch of random cards from a deck, but to help the client in ways that they never knew was there in the first place. Some people have hidden traumas, past issues, and negative mindsets from childhood conditioning. A reading with a psychic can bring these supressed emotions to the surface so that they can be properly addressed, then the client can move on with a great sense of peace. This is how I feel about my tarot readings anyway. My main goal is to help others, no matter what the personal issue may be, and to do so without judgment, or my own personal opinion getting in the way. Every good reader knows that everyone is on their own individual path and journey, and that there are lessons to be learned along the way. Some learn the hard way, and some the easy way. Some are faced with karmic situations, and some are creating karma. Either way, it is our job as the reader to guide the client in the most positive direction that is best for their highest good. It is up to the client if they choose to listen or not. The cards will tell you what you need to know, but are you going to hear what they’re saying? 😉

I hope this article could be of some help to some, or was at least a good read. Until next time, stay safe, stay true, and don’t forget to smile.

And, perhaps I could change a few opinions about tarot readers.  


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