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History of the Tarot

The ancient beginnings of Tarot are clothed in mystery.  We do know, however, that the earliest Tarot decks (some unnumbered, but still including the traditional cards of the Lover, Hermit, Hanged Man, and so forth) emerged during the Renaissance, probably in the fifteenth century.  By the 1700s the Tarot designs became more standardized, with the Minor Arcana cards tending to be without special illustrations -- much in the form of the modern playing card decks (i.e. with simple spades, clubs, diamonds, and hearts).  

But the Major Arcana was always provided with brightly colored (if not sometimes crude) pictures and art.  Allegory was, of course, paramount, whereby human character traits, cosmic forces, the intermingling of the two, and other abstract concepts were illustrated.  These images -- typically personified in human form -- was an essential part of ancient, medieval and Renaissance art.  The earlier societies were more at ease with allegorical thinking, with a seemingly innate ability to picture concepts of love, hope, disaster, and so forth, as living beings who were -- fortunately or unfortunately -- active in their lives.  

As such the Tarot was used not merely in high art and religion, but in popular literature, entertainment, and social group interactions.  The more spectacular of these events were the so-called “triumphs”, which were lavish processions and pageants featuring costumed individuals posing as a living tableaux, as they rode the streets in chariots or on floats.  The Triumphs quickly appeared in art, in such things as The Triumphs of Caesar, by Andrea Mantegna.  Many of the greatest painters of the time, utilized the designs, and in a extraordinary diverse range of images.  

The Tarot was originally known simply as the “Triumphs” and only later came to be called Tarocchi (which when translated into French, became Tarot).  In more modern times, the Minor Arcana of the Tarot became the modern playing card deck, with the concept of Aces, suits and trumps (i.e. “triumphs”) all derived from the central basis of the Tarot.  Furthermore, the suits (spades and/or swords, clubs and or wands, diamonds and/or pentacles, hearts and/or... well... hearts), were inherited as well.  However, the five-sided pentacle (which might have been associated with Wicca, the Golden Mean, or something profound) was modified to a four-side diamond.  From the viewpoint of Numerology, this was effectively a change of emphasis: from life and change (5) to work and discipline (4).  [Gee whiz!  Why do you suppose they’d want to make that change?]  

The Aces, which were uncommonly important in the Tarot’s Minor Arcana, and which represented beginnings, otherwise inexplicably became more important that the royalty of the King, Queen, and Jack.  The idea of the “1” card being so important is in any other view, nonsensical.  And, of course, there is the missing 14th card of the Minor Arcana in the modern playing deck.  For the Tarot had a Princess, a Jill, as part of the royal family.  But as the patriarchy claimed more and more power for itself, she disappeared into the night -- in the manner that the “navy” of the (war) chess set, became the “bishop”.  

The most noteworthy omission, however, is the almost total loss of the Major Arcana.  The Minor Arcana involved emotions and romance (hearts), money (pentacles/diamonds), intellectual thinking (swords/spades), and competition/commerce (wands/clubs).  These are the mundane aspects of day-to-day living.  The Major Arcana, on the other hand, were the keys, the trumps, the archetypes of human development, the philosophical basis of what man was all about.  Such profound images were simply tossed aside by a control-oriented church and government.  Only The Fool card remained, as the Joker.  But to call a Joker a Fool is to greatly degrade the concept of the Fool (perhaps the most important card in the Tarot deck).  In fact, The Fool’s Journey is one of the truly great, profound, and fascinating philosophies or concepts to be found in metaphysics and/or life.  

The medieval to modern histories, however, do not being to portray the Tarot in its true sense.  Mystical traditions from ancient Egypt, India, China, Korea, Persia, and even that of Gypsies furnished the motifs of the Tarot. The Tarot also evolved from philosophical teachings of Hermetic, Cabalistic, Gnostic, Neoplatonist, Catharist, Knights Templar, and Albigensian schools.  These metaphysical teachings were understood at the time of the Renaissance, when mystery schools were still flourishing in Europe, Asia Minor, and North Africa.  But slowly but surely, the teachings and understandings were all but lost.  

The Tarot is also closely associated with Astrology and Numerology, particularly with respect to the Ha Qabala.  The heritage of all of these disciplines go back deep into the farthest reaches of antiquity.  For they are the stuff of the Tree of Life, which with its association with Genesis and the beginning of all things, makes it truly a concept with the lineage and philosophical authority to make it truly worth investigating.  


Tarot         Numerology         Astrology          Death and Rebirth

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