When the subject of tarot is mentioned, most people envision a gypsy woman in flowing robes, leaning over a small table in a candle lit room, foretelling impending doom but in reality this is simply the stuff of Hollywood. Most modern tarot readers are far removed from the popular scenes we often see on our television screens.
How did tarot come about you may ask, well that is an interesting question...let’s take a look. Researchers have tried for years to pinpoint the true origin of the Tarot and many are still in disagreement as to who created the first deck. Some believe they were in use as long ago as the early 1300's in Italy, others say in Egypt.
Here’s what we do know...The designs of the 22 cards in the Major Arcana can be traced back as far as 1440, when the first known deck appeared in Italy. The 3 decks called the "Visconti Trumps" are generally regarded as the forefathers of the decks that are widely available today. It is believed that they were originally created as a game for Nobles. It is not until centuries later that the cards reemerged, this time as a tool of divination.
By the 18th and the 19th centuries, the mystics and occultists began using tarot cards. Their use started after a study on religious symbolism by a Swiss clergyman called Antoine Court de Gebelin was published. He proclaimed the name tarot to have originated from the Egyptian word, 'tar' that meant royal and 'ro' meaning road. He suggested that the word tarot signified a royal road to wisdom.
The Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot was published by A. E. Waite in December 1909, the English Christian occult philosopher who worked with the artist Pamela Coleman Smith to produce the 78 card deck that we use today. It replaced the traditional designs with the portrayals of symbolic scenes. This deck remains popular in the English-speaking countries even today.
There are many decks available from the “mainstream’’ Rider-Waite deck to tarot cards with woodland images for Pagans, feline images for Cat lovers, as well as pictures of beautiful lands both real and imagined. The decks come with complete instructions and meanings for all of the cards, so the true mystery of the tarot can be as easy as trying it for yourself, if you’re game and absolutely no gypsies needed .