View Full Version : A History of the Tarot

arive nan
01-02-2011, 12:41 AM
It’s all very confusing to try to figure out where the Tarot came from and how the meanings of the cards were decided. This is my attempt to summarize the (very complicated) history of Tarot and how the Tree of Life is involved with the tarot. I hope it can shed some light on the subject. There is still some disagreement about where the cards first originated from. Although I am trying to go by information that comes from historical evidence. A book called Mystical Origins of the Tarot: From Ancient Roots to Modern Usage, by Paul Huson is where a lot of this comes from. Sorry for all of the parentheses. This originally had even more parentheses, but I tried to edit some of them out.

Tarot cards were originally used for various card games, of course, and the first known deck was created between 1430 and 1450 in Italy. The pip cards did not have symbolic illustrations on them. It may have been used for divination in some way as early as around 1540, but the earliest evidence I could find out about for specific meanings assigned to the cards is a manuscript that was discovered in the University of Bologna’s library in 1989 and was determined to have been written some time before 1750. It is referred to as Pratesi Cartomancer and gives a list of interpretations for 35 of the tarot cards and provides a simple layout for a reading. The Square of Sevens, a writing sometimes cited as an even earlier reference to tarot being used for, was actually first written in 1896, not 1730 like it claims.

The occultist Etteilla, the world’s first known professional tarot reader, first came across a tarot deck in 1757. He had been using other decks for divination before this. Some time between 1773 and 1781 a Protestant pastor and freemason named Antoine Court de Gebelin happened across some people playing a game with the tarot and thought he recognized symbols from Egyptian religion. He came up with the theory that the cards were the remains of an ancient Egyptian book and were introduced to Europe by Gypsies We now know that the cards existed in Europe before the people referred to as Gypsies arrived there, and Gypsies are not really from Egypt anyway.

De Gebelin was also influenced by an essay written by his acquaintance, the Compte de Mellet, who associated the 22 trump cards with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. I’m not sure why he did that. This essay is incorporated into De Gebelin’s work titled Le Monde Primitif:analysé et comparé avec le monde moderne ("The Primitive World, Analyzed and Compared to the Modern World"), published in 1781. Soon after this publication, Etteilla was able to gain more fame and he helped the tarot become more popular. He elaborated on the Egyptian theory, claiming it to be his own and concluding that the Egyptian book the tarot came from was the legendary Book of Thoth (not the one written by Crowley). According to him this book was engraved on plates of gold by 17 hermetic priests of Thoth 171 years after the Great Flood and these plates are the prototypes for tarot cards.

Etteilla began designing his own decks with Egyptian themes, the first ones created specifically for divination, which came to be known as Egyptian tarots. His writings assigned more detailed meanings to each card and instructions for reading them. He referred to the trump cards as the Major Arcana (greater secrets) and the pip cards as Minor Arcana (lesser secrets).

In 1855 the occultist Eliphas Levi used the connection de Mellet made to come up with the theory that the tarot is related to the Jewish mystical system called Kabbalah (with many different spellings), which is a set of esoteric teachings meant to explain how the creative forces in the infinite world of the divine give rise to the finite physical world we live in. He assigned a Hebrew letter to each trump card. He also assigned the fire signs of the zodiac to the suit of wands, the water signs to the cups, the air signs to the swords, and earth signs to the disks.

However, it was the members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn who elaborated on Levi’s theory and attributed Kabbalistic meanings to the Minor Arcana cards as well. This is a secret society, founded in 1888, dedicated to the study of the occult. They reassigned certain Hebrew letters, linked them to the pathways of the Tree of Life that they represent in the Kabbalah, switched the order of some trump cards, added symbolic illustrations to the Minor Arcana as well, and gave titles to all the cards. The Golden Dawn linked the 10 Sephirot on the Tree of Life (the attributes/emanations through which God reveals himself and creates our universe) to the 10 pip cards of each suit. They renamed the court cards to make them better fit into associations with the Tetragrammaton (YHWH, the name of the God of Israel) and the Four Worlds of the Kabbalah (the four planes of existence that link the infinite divine with the finite physical realm). They assigned an element to each of the four kinds of court cards and assigned the 36 decans of the zodiac to the Minor Arcana (minus the Aces and court cards). They are responsible for sort of standardizing what is now sometimes referred to today as a “traditional” tarot deck.

01-02-2011, 12:14 PM
Thank you arrive nan)))))) This to me just compliments the TAROT SCHOOL area...
it also needs to be stickied in with school, spreads, and 101 for the complete school package.

06-02-2011, 09:22 AM
thanks you nan for sharing