Tarot origins


From the top of my memory (which is bad. lol) Tarot dates back from Anciet Egypt & Roman times, even older. Gypsies used the cards too. But back then some talented person had to paint these decks, one after the other, unlike now its all done buy machine & computer. Playing cards were popular in europe, and used to tell peoples fortunes. What about countries like Africa, Asia & the Indians (U.S.A & S.America) what methods of deviation did they use? Also, what kind of material was used thousands of years ago to make tarot cards?

I must say there are a lot of excellent decks out there, some average decks & some not so....well just not my kind cards. I believe that some people have disigned cards that have lost the true value of what tarot is. I know some are a joke, and others aimed at fans of a particular 'something' but honestly I've seen a few decks & thought "what the....?"



Though Tarot contains echoes of the distant past, it did not emerge as a deck until late mediaeval times, and in Europe.

Amongst the many wonderful threads in this section of the Forum, I suggest you have a look at I - The Magician, as it contains certain reflections on this so important question which you raise.

In the Table of Contents of the History & Iconography section, you'll also find links to most other threads, which you may be interested in perusing - though I do think that for anyone who has recently joined, the sheer volume of material is somewhat overwhelming as one seeks to sift through.

To otherwise directly address the issue you raise, it is worth noting that certain images have similarities to ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian ones. This, however, and though to my mind extremely important, does not mean that the deck, as a 78 card pack, was either then conceived nor available.

For me - and many will here disagree - the spiritual impulse may have been seeded far earlier, but it was not until the new development of consciousness which emerged in the late middle ages that the Tarot, as Tarot, was able to see the light of day.


Minx: the origins of Tarot are possibly lost in time and lost in space forever.

The nearest we can get to the original idea is what is left to us from the Middle Ages and the French so-called Tarot of Marseilles. Which is why to me, this Tarot is the only true one (unless an even older one is discovered which would be truly exciting).

Many modern decks are like MTV. I sit and watch sometimes with absolute amazement that some of the stuff that one watches there and listens to is actually called music. I sort of rub my eyes and ears and wonder if I'm not just dreaming. It's the same when I see some Tarot decks - I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I normally cry.

Please take a stroll through all of the threads in this Historical forum - I'm sure you'll find some very interesting snippets of information. And don't forget that to see all the threads (there's a button at the bottom), you have to change the amount of days to "the beginning", otherwise by default, you only see the threads from the last thirty days.

Enjoy! :)


Divination has been used throughout human history, from seeing things in entrails & goose flight to looking at the marks mice made on flour covered sticks lining the inside of a pottery jar. (That last one is African, absolutely fascinating, I saw one of the mouse pots). But cards, per se, I think came about in the 1500's. The Romans & Greeks used ivory coin shapes or tabs (not cards though). We had a thread going a while back about 'tossing the bones' that had a whole bunch of URL's listed showing museum collected stuff with a divination base.


Contrary to what is universally believed and frequently repeated, the origins of tarot are neither obscure nor mysterious. During the mid-15th century it emerged fully formed from the intellectual, spiritual, and artistic ferment of the northern Italian Renaissance, a flowering branch germinated from the pre-existing stalk of the regular 52-card playing card deck.

Before there were tarot cards there were playing cards. These originally must have appeared in China, for it is there that paper was invented (See the International Playing Card Society's "History of Playing-Cards" at http://www.pagat.com/ipcs/history.html). Cards and card games gradually spread from east to west, arriving in Europe from the Islamic world in the latter decades of the 14th century (Decker et. al.,"A Wicked Pack...," 29; Kaplan, Vol. II, 24) in the familiar form of a four-suited, 52-card pack with 10 numeral cards and three court cards in each suit. The Islamic quartet of suits -- cups, swords, coins, and polo sticks -- was altered in some places almost immediately, but retained in Italy and on the Iberian Peninsula (and by extension, eventually into Latin America) where it prevails even today. Only the polo sticks, whose purpose was not comprehended by Europeans of the time, were transformed into simple batons. This same suit arrangement was incorporated into the tarot deck.

The earliest known European print of people playing cards is a woodcut illustration for "The Romance of King Meliadus of Lennoys," a French work from the late 14th century. The clearly visible five of coins and deuce of batons in the hands of the players with their backs to us shows the persistence of the original forms and emblems of the Islamic cards, and in some cases even Arabic names were preserved for a time. For example, the city of Florence issued a decree in 1376 forbidding the game of naibbe (cards) (Kaplan, 1978, p. 24). The name derives from the title of the eight court cards in the Islamic deck representing the deputies of the four kings, who were called na'ibs.

Some aspects of the cards were altered almost immediately upon the deck's arrival in Europe, however, and the "Europeanization" of playing cards certainly began before 1400. One of the earliest changes was the transformation of the Islamic court cards, the King and his two deputies (for there were no queens at this early date) from abstract patterns to representations of people. The Islamic card makers were bound by the Muslim prohibition against the making of representational images from actually picturing a king and his subalterns, but the European card makers suffered no such limitations, and early on adopted a standard pictorial repertoire of representations of a king, a knight, and a foot soldier or servant for each suit.

By shortly after 1400 the explosive creativity of the Renaissance had extended to every aspect of artistic life, including playing cards. Fanciful new decks were produced which bore little resemblance to their Islamic ancestors, save that they had four suits and 52 cards. In Germany, several "hunting" packs appeared. These were elaborate, hand-painted and very expensive luxury items featuring suits of falcons, herons, hounds, and lures. In addition, every card was a picture card, not just the courts. This represented a new development not only in the presentation of cards, but also in the concept; these decks were not merely a game, but an exuberant celebration of a beloved sport and social activity as well.

Tarot cards were born out of a similar impulse, sometime between 1420 and 1440, in the Northern Italian cities of Ferrara, Milan, and Florence. The deck was altered by addition; the 22 trump cards are meant to express the philosophy we know as Neoplatonism, which was very abstract while at the same time humanistic. Four queens were added to the deck as well, making a total of 78 cards.

For a brief but thorough explanation of Neoplatonism, see Dr. Richard Hooker's essay at http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~dee/REN/NEOPLATO.HTM.

The rest, as we say, is history, a subject which is all too frequently given a narrow latitude in discussions of subjects occult.


thanks for your replies!

My clairvoyant told me that tarot cards were invented because a lot of people would freak out if you were to tell them there fortune without using cards. They'd think you were just b/s as you weren't using any 'tools'. It happens to me often. I'm an "i feel' person, that's my gift. I can't just tell people what I'm feeling without having any evidence of where all these thoughts are coming from, hence I use tarot cards.


I guess the Oracle at Delphi didn't hear about that one!

Let people freak, it can & still is being done, peopl are psychic & the ones with good connections can 'see' what the others can't.

Remember when science fiction shows were way 'out there' till Star Trek came along in the 1960's & then it wasn't so weird to say you watched or read science fiction? Thanks to X-Files, psychic abilities & such are much more mainstream. It's not a collective gasp from society anymore, just from individuals when they encounter it. Don't worry about the ones around you freaking out, just be yourself. Take heart in the fact that others are empathic, clairvoyant, telepathic, etc. Those are all studied fields in science now & have legitimacy in scientific studies.

Be you! Let them worry about their small world view.


catboxer: I love your concise and detailed historical post.

However, I stick to my guns when I say "The origin of Tarot is unknown". The origin of Tarot cards may be well documented, but Tarot may pre-date that.

Cards are just pieces of cardboard. Tarot is a key.



I must agree with you Diana. Even though each card has a meaning, its up to us what we are feeling or seeing, put the cards aside. A true tarot reader needs not their cards.......


Re: hmm

cheekyminx76 said:
A true tarot reader needs not their cards.......

but if you use no cards then you wouldn't be a tarot reader now, would you?
you would perhaps be a psychic.
not every psychic is a tarot reader but not every tarot reader is a psychic either.