What is Tarot? – A Short Introduction to This Ancient Divination System

A hand with spread of tarot cards

The Tarot is a deck of 78 picture cards that are used for divination throughout the World. Most people know of the Tarot as a form of fairground, fortune-telling amusement

but todays’ modern Tarot has become much more than simply a way of determining the future.

In the hands of a skilled reader, the Tarot can be used in many different ways many of which have caused the Tarot to become a popular self-development tool.

Where Did the Tarot Come From?

The origins of the Tarot are largely unknown. Many believe the cards originate from early fifteenth-century Italy but there is some historical evidence to suggest that its roots date much older—maybe even as far back as the time of the Ancient Egyptians.

The Tarot’s Roots

What historians are sure of is that the Tarot was a popular card game that quickly spread from the Mediterranean and through Europe. It was so popular that wealthy patrons commissioned new personalized decks with themes that reflected family characteristics. The earliest of these is thought to be the Visconti-Sforza Tarot deck which was created around c1450.

Esoteric Philosophies

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the cards were adopted by occult students. Many esoteric associations were applied to the Tarot during this time and closer associations began to develop between the Major Arcana and the Egyptian mysteries, as well as with the Hermetic, Kabbalistic and Alchemical philosophies.

Even today, the Tarot continues to change as an increasing number of decks based upon modern themes are published every year. These include every possible concept from film-related decks, like The Lord of the Rings and James Bond, to contemporary art.

Due to the popularity of the Tarot each generation looks at the Tarot with renewed eyes, causing them to design their own deck to illustrate their unique thoughts on what the cards mean or represent.

Why Was the Tarot Created?

There is a story about the Tarot that greatly resonates with scholars of the esoteric arts.

It tells how the aging priests of the temples of Ancient Egypt developed the Tarot as a gambling game. Into the images and structure of the deck, they poured their esoteric wisdom.

It is said, they foresaw the decline in the occult tradition that underpinned their philosophy and, knowing mankind’s eternal weakness for gambling, used the Tarot to preserve their secrets for future generations through symbols which only they understood.

As they intended, the Tarot has been passed down the generations which probably would not have happened if the early Europeans had not enjoyed losing their hard earned coin quite so much.

Whether the roots of Egyptian magick can be retrieved from the modern Tarot is doubtful. The Tarot has become so infused with the more modern Western Mystery Traditions that they are probably lost in the sands of time. However, I like to think that there is a strong element of truth to this story!

Image by Céline Martin from Pixabay

About Peter

Peter J Morris (Author of The Power of the Ankh)

Peter J Morris has studied metaphysics, the occult and the Tarot for over 35 years. He has written articles on the occult and paranormal for…

Continue Reading…