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Tarot School - Lesson 1
The History of Tarot

In the 15th century Tarot became more popular and the Tarot cards were then made from woodcuts and also printed that way, so that many more packs could be made. One of the earliest designs of Tarot cards from those times is also still available, as the IJJ/Swiss Tarot.
We know that cards were in England by 1462 because Edward V1 banned them from being imported and later during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the Tarot cards were being used to guide and advise on political and military matters. Through the 16th century the Tarot became even more popular with more and more Tarot decks being made. By the early 17th century there was one design in particular that was more popular than the rest. This was called the Marseilles Tarot and again you can still buy it today, in its distinctive red packaging. This was also the first Tarot deck to have the 78 cards that we know today.

From this time on there are certain key names and people who played a big part in the way Tarot was designed and used. The first of these was called Antoine Court de Gebelin who was the first person to say that the cards were really ancient codes for spiritual means. His works were used by Aleister Crowley when he produced his Tarot deck and books, called the ‘Thoth’ deck, which is still used by many Tarot readers.

These ideas tell us that the Tarot was used in ancient Egyptian magical practices and gave the person or ‘initiate’ magical knowledge and power. This might be another reason why some people are afraid of the Tarot but nowadays we have come to see that it is used to guide and help people.

The first time the cards were written about, was to explain people how to use them for fortune-telling in 1855 by a man called Etteilla (this was his real name Alliette, spelt backwards!). Around this time some famous clairvoyants were also becoming established names, such as Marie-Anne Lenormand, who used to ‘read’ for Josephine, Napoleon’s lover.

The cards were also linked to the Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical system of spiritual thought which has been made hugely popular again as many celebrities including Madonna, follow its teachings. Kabbalah has been called the ‘Yoga of the West’. There are 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and these have been linked to the cards of the Major Arcana.

In 1889 Samuel MacGregor-Mathers produced the Tarot deck of the famous magical order, the Golden Dawn. This group made links between the Tarot and astrology, linking the 12 signs of the Zodiac and the 10 planets to the Major Arcana cards.

In the same year Dr Gerald Encausse, who wrote under the name of Papus, published his book on the Tarot called ‘The Tarot of the Bohemians’. This book showed us how the numbers of the Tarot cards had special power and importance. All these different pieces of information and knowledge have been put together to make the Tarot what it is for us now.

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