The birth of Tarot Cards is a matter of some debate. No one knows for sure when the first decks of tarot cards were invented. Many scholars believe tarot cards first emerged in the 15th century, others believe the origins of tarot goes back as far as the early 1300's. Everyone agreements tarot cards originated in Italy as 'tarocchi' cards and were used as playing cards with no direct connection to divination or meditation. During the 18th century, tarot cards became immensely popular in France, and the French pronunciation of 'taro' with a silent 't' has been adopted universally.
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a catholic priest named Eliphas Levi incorporated tarot cards into his occult writings of magic. Levi was a well-versed student of multiple languages (Hebrew, Hindu, Polish, Masonic, and Cabalism) as well as many scientific studies (Astronomy, Astrology, and Metaphysics). Levi created his own deck of tarot cards as a teaching tool to help his students with their studies of spiritual matters and self-awareness. He was the first to incorporate the four elements of nature, astrological symbols, and bibliographic references into a deck of tarot cards. His use of these symbols has certainly stood the test of time, many modern authors still using the symbols he developed.
The single most popular deck of tarot cards in use today is the Rider-Waite deck which was first published in England, circa 1910. The name Rider-Waite is a combination of the publisher's name (Rider Company of London) and the author's name Arthur Edward Waite). In the late 19th century, an English occult group known as the 'Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn' was deeply engaged in the study of tarot. One of it's members, and American-born and English-educated author, Arthur Edward Waite, conceived a deck of tarot cards which could have been used to predict possible future events. The Rider-Waite deck was revolutionary because every card depict a picture which told a story. The cards were magnificently illustrated by fellow Golden Dawn artist, Pamela Coleman Smith. Her work has served to inspire many tarot artists that have followed.
Tarot Deck Essential Components
A complete deck of tarot cards consists of 78 cards. 56 of the cards combine the 'Minor Arcana' and the remaining 22 cards make up the 'Major Arcana'. Arcana means 'secrets, mysteries'.
The 56 Minor Arcana cards deal with issues of every day significance and importance. They can be further classified as 14 cards (Ace through 10, plus four Court cards) in each of four suits. Each suit is related to one of the four elements of nature: Fire, Water, Earth, & Air. Each suit possesses its own unique characteristics:
— The masculine element of Fire is represented by the tarot suit of 'Wands' and symbolizes: action, will, drive, creativity, and spirit.
— The feminine element of Water is represented by the tarot suit of 'Cups' and symbolizes: emotion, feelings, psychic ability, and spiritual belief.
— The masculine element of Air is represented by the tarot suit of 'Swords' and symbolizes: clarity of thought, intellect, invention, and ideas.
— The feminine element of Earth is represented by the tarot suit of 'Pentacles' and symbolizes: all things of an earthly nature, the body, health, and career.
Within each suit, there are fourteen cards which have their own symbolic meaning:
— Ace: New Opportunities, Beginnings
— Two: Balance, Partnership
— Three: Magic, Trinity
— Four: Completion, Foundation
— Five: Chaos, Unrest
— Six: Beauty & Perfection
— Seven: Spiritual Quest, Study
— Eight: Stability, Infinity
— Nine: A Magic Number
— Ten: Fulfillment, Harvest
— Pages: Exploration, Learning
— Knights: Action, Movement
— Queen: Depth, Maturity
— King: Power, Strength
The 22 Major Arcana cards speak to matters of deep significance and higher purpose. Major Arcana cards often relate stories of the journey of one's soul and spiritual awareness. Life experiences transcend boundaries of space and time, this realization is reflected in the Major Arcana cards. Major Arcana cards are considered trump cards.
Usefulness of Tarot Cards
Tarot cards should be viewed as a tool to examine one's own life, and to gain positive perspective going forward. The cards do not possess mysterious powers, nor do they present any risk of harm to you or others when used properly. Tarot cards should be used to gain positive insights which can be helpful with everyday situations and struggles. Tarot may reveal a higher level of self-awareness, a new point of view, and a better understanding of your place in the world. Many tarot readers have reported gaining insights which have helped them understand past events with more clarity, and extremely this understanding has helped them avoid repeating mistakes. Some tarot readers turn to the cards to predict possible future events. Often times, if your mind is open to new possibilities, that alone is enough to spark a positive change in your life's path.
Care for Your Tarot Deck
You can find all kinds of different advice on the internet for how to care for your cards. Essentially, it is recommended to cleanse your new deck of cards before their first use, this can be easily done by leaving your deck on a window sill for 24 hours to allow both the Sun and the Moon to cleanse your cards. Next, your cards should be seasoned by sleeping with them under your pillow for a few nights. Between uses, your tarot cards should be wrapped in a velvet cloth and stored in a tarot bag (pouch).
Thomas E Kemper