Tarot cards are incredibly popular, and the story of how they developed is an absolutely fascinating one. You might not know it, but tarot cards stretch back for hundreds and hundreds of years and have had many developments in this time. So, below you’ll find a brief history of this fascinating pack of cards, so you can better understand exactly where they came from the next time you are having a reading… Early Tarot Cards
As you might expect, tarot cards evolved from standard playing cards, which were first introduced into Europe in the 1300s. Original playing cards often had symbols like swords and coins on them, much like modern day tarot cards. Therefore, the cards you use today can trace their roots back over 600 years.
Tarot cards were first developed during the early part of the 1400s, when additional cards were added to a standard pack of playing cards. They were first created in northern Italy, therefore meaning that tarot cards are essentially an Italian invention. These cards were not spiritual though, as the earliest tarot cards were created specifically to play card games with. These cards were called carte da trionfi and the earliest tarot cards still in existence are of this type, dating back to the mid-15th century.
Originally, these tarot cards were not particularly common, thanks to the fact that each deck had to be hand painted. This all changed with the introduction of the printing press in the mid-15th century though, which allowed them to be made quickly and therefore dispersed quickly. After this time, tarot cards spread throughout Europe and different variations were created in different countries.
These cards were not used for divination until the mid-1500s, as shown in the book The Oracles of Francesco Marcolino da Forlì, however the cards were still the same ones that were also used for playing card games as well. This was still the case by the time the influential Antoine Court de Gébelin theorised that tarot was first created by the ancient Egyptians, and that the name “tarot” could be literally translated from Egyptian as Royal Road of Life when the two Egyptian words Tar and Ro were put joined together.Etteila’s Influence
It wasn’t until the 18th century that a specific tarot deck was created solely for occult puropses, and the person to do this was a Frenchman called Jean-Baptiste Alliette, who is better known by the name Etteilla. Like many others, he believed that tarot cards were derived from the Book of Thoth, a collection of Egyptian texts supposedly written by Thoth, the Egyptian god of writing and knowledge, therefore many of his cards contained Egyptian imagery.
Etteilla created the 72 card tarot deck, complete with the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana cards, although these terms were not coined by him – instead, they weren’t used until the 19th century, by another Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste, this time Jean-Baptiste Pitois. This is the deck that all modern tarot card decks are based on.The Rider-Waite Deck
Over time, a number of different variations on the tarot deck were created, many of which survive today. If you are going for a tarot reading in the USA though, it’s most likely you’ll be using the Rider-Waite tarot deck, which was created in 1910 by Pamela Colman Smith and A.E. Waite. The cards were published by the Rider Company, hence this part of the name. This deck is noticeable for the fact that the Christian imagery was toned down, as shown by the fact that the Pope became the Hierophant, while the Papess became the High Priestess.
Undoubtedly the tarot deck will continue to develop in the future, and will be around for a long time to come. After all, it’s already had 600 years of history, so it’s clear that it’s something that is here to stay…