The history of Tarot has the potential to be quite a lengthy exploration, but still, learning how this system came to be really helped us understand the cards more and connect with them on a deeper level.
We made a Spirit Science episode which covers this topic and goes into great detail on the History of Tarot.
The History of Tarot
The story appears to begin with the emergence of the cards in the mid 1300’s among the wealthier members of society who would use the cards as simple playing cards. To them, there wasn’t anything mystical or spiritual about it, it was just a toy. For several hundred years, they were just that, and nothing more.
However, in 1781 a man named Antoine Court de Gebelin published a book called “Le Monde Primitif”, in which he hypothesized and linked these popular cards to the ancient Egyptians; in particular, the writings attributed to the sage known as Thoth. When these cards first emerged, the writings of the Egyptians and Greeks were almost altogether unknown, due to the destruction of the Library of Alexandria by angry mobs a thousand years prior to their re-emergence in the period known as the Renaissance.
Gebelin’s work in the connections between the Tarot and the Ancient Egyptians propelled a massive surge of spiritual awakening in the esoteric communities, and Tarot soon became realized as a powerful tool for divination. This however, was only just the beginning for Tarot, for in the 19th century a French occultist named Eliphas Levi became the catalyst for the connection between Tarot and the Kabbalah. Through his work, now Tarot had not only been linked to the Ancient Egyptians, but the Hebrews mystic sect as well. This would put the symbolism within the Tarot to potentially share roots to the time of pre-Exodus, when the Hebrews were still under Egyptian rule.
However, all of these connections which are powerfully demonstrated are still only speculation in history, due to the fact that the oldest cards that are available in history are from the 1300’s, and there does not appear to be any record of them prior.
Speculations seems to suggest however that whenever these cards were first drawn, they were likely done so by a hand who had a great deal of understanding – or at least – drew from older sources of information which correlated these ancient faiths.
In 1888, the connections between Tarot, Astrology, Numerology, Jewish Kabbalah and the Ancient Egyptian Mysteries would be realized in a much brighter light, by the work of an established esoteric order called The Order of the Golden Dawn. This Order drew a tremendous number of parallels between these ancient systems, and established a new modern understanding of the Tarot (among many other magical practices), and thanks to their work, began a new age for modern Tarot. Almost all of the decks which are available today are based on the two principle decks which emerged from the work of the Golden Dawn, which are called the Rider-Waite-Smith (or simply Rider, or Rider-Waite), and Thoth Tarot.
However, regardless of the history of the Tarot there is one thing that remains an inherent truth which applies to all things, but especially this subject: The history of Tarot does not make a difference. This can be summarized by this exquisitely simple quote by the author of Thoth Tarot, Aleister Crowley – “The origin of Tarot is quite irrelevant, even if it were certain. It must stand or fall on its own merits.”
One thing that should be noted about the Tarot and these esoteric connections is that for most people, the information is quite impenetrable. There are tens of thousands of books available in the world which seek to explore and dissect the symbolism of Tarot, and the understanding of the ancients for the modern mind; however there is so much information, that it is not easily understood without a great deal of study.
This brings us to where we are now, and the creation of a new deck – which seeks to make known the hidden mysteries in a simple, and modern manner: Patch Tarot.
Tom Tadford Little website:
The most misunderstood cards:
A brief history of Tarot:
What every newbie Tarot reader should know about the history of the cards:
An esoteric history of Tarot:
Before they were divination tools: