The Tarot deck consists of 78 cards split into two ‘halves’, called the Major and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana has 22 cards and these are a series that show the journey of the human spirit or soul on its path through life. The Minor Arcana has 56 cards made up of four suits of 14 cards each which is where we get ordinary playing cards from. These suits show us about ourselves and lives in different areas. The suits are usually called Pentacles, Cups, Swords and Wands and they reveal the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual parts of ourselves. The word ‘Arcana’ means ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’, so the Tarot shows us secrets about us and other people!
To know how to use the Tarot, we need to know a bit about what it is and where it came from, so that is what we will look at first. It is fascinating to see how it has developed into the hugely popular method of divination it is today. Divination is just another word for ‘fortune-telling’ or the ability to look into the future. The origins of the Tarot are shrouded in mystery and nobody can say exactly where they came from and when, though plenty have tried and people do argue about this! A quick search on the internet on this subject will soon show you this and keep you quiet for hours! Here we will look at the most important times in its history and the main people involved so we can learn how it came to be what it is now.
Most people agree that the Tarot started in medieval times, somewhere in Europe. It was originally a game called ‘Tarocchi’ that was only played by the rich and wealthy because only those with money could afford to buy the cards. We do know that the four suits called the Minor Arcana existed before the other 22 cards. They were used as money first in China and later became cards used in games. These games developed into the ‘game’ of fortune-telling. The Church, which was also the government of the time, was against people playing cards because it meant they were not thinking about God. When playing cards became popular the Church banned people from using them. But because they helped people, they were still used but in secret. Perhaps this is why they have been treated with suspicion by some people and have the air of mystery about them that they still have now.
There are written records like receipts for payment for cards showing that cards were being used across Europe in France, Switzerland and Belgium. The first real proof that Tarot cards existed comes from 1392. There is a record in the accounts that a pack was made for Charles V1 of France, which was a present from his Queen, Odette. Perhaps this is why some people think that you should not buy your own Tarot cards but be given them. However, I have been using the Tarot cards I bought for myself for 25 years now!
The next time we know there was a Tarot pack made was in 1415, this time in Italy, with a receipt from Fillippo Visconti who designed a Tarot deck for the Duke of Milan. They were painted by an artist called Bonifico Bembo and a pack that closely resembles these can be seen at the Bibliotechque Nationale in Paris. The British Museum in London also has a big collection of old Tarot cards.
All Tarot cards in those times were made by hand and delicately painted, that’s why only the rich could afford them. It was only after printing became possible that cards really became popular, and still are today. The cards designed by Visconti can still be brought today and are called the ‘Visconti-Sforza Tarot’.