May 7, 2000

by Royce Carlson

Tarot is an ancient system of divination with origins shrouded in mystery. Some scholars put the beginning of Tarot at least 500 years ago and some find evidence of cards used as early as the 13th century. Where they originated is also a mystery. The first decks recorded turned up in Europe in the 1500ís. Scholars differ in their ideas of where they came from before that. Some say they originated in India and entered Europe via the Gypsies. Some say they were invented in Europe and some say they came from Egypt. There was a resurgence in interest in Tarot in the 19th century and it has been getting more popular ever since. For a more in-depth article on the history of Tarot, visit Origins of Tarot.

The decks designed in the 19th and early 20th centuries derived their artistic and symbolic inspiration from the Kabballah, Egyptian mysteries and Hermetic philosophy. The late 20th century saw a proliferation of different decks based on a wide variety of spiritual and philosophical practices. Today there are well over 100 different decks published. There are Zen decks, Native American decks and much more. There is also a tremendous diversity in artistic styles in each deck. Some of them are exquisitely beautiful. Check out Aeclectic Tarot or Micheleís Tarot Page for links to pictures of many different decks.

Most decks have from 72 to 78 cards divided into two groups, the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. In the Waite deck (my favorite) there are 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards. The Major Arcana are numbered from zero to twenty-one and have names like, "The Fool", "The World", "The Empress", etc. The Minor Arcana are similar to modern playing cards. There are four suits: Pentacles, Wands, Cups, and Swords. There are four face cards: King, Queen, Knight, and Page, and there are ten other cards per suit numbered from one to ten. Each card has two meanings: One meaning if it comes up right-side-up, and another if it lands upside-down. A reader will lay down the cards in a "spread" of several cards placed in a pattern. Each position in the pattern also has a different meaning.

This complexity of meanings create possibilities that make the Tarot one of the best divination tools ever invented. A client will hold a question in his or her mind and the reading will help the client understand the forces, tendencies, attitudes and energies associated with the question and itís answer. The spread of cards serves as a mirror of the psyche. When I used to do readings I never wanted to know the question the client was asking. I thought it would adversely influence my reading if I knew. It was uncanny how accurate the random pulling of cards was in answering the questions of the client.

The Tarot can also be used as a meditation tool. In fact, if you seriously want to study Tarot I recommend picking a deck you feel an affinity for and meditating on each card for at least a two or three days. Read whatever information you can find on the meanings of each card and take notes on what your meditations show you. This is a time consuming process which may take a year or more but, by the end of the period of study, you will really know the cards and will have a real understanding when it comes to doing readings.

If you want to learn more about Tarot, take on-line lessons or view different decks, visit Zenzibar Alternative Cultureís Tarot Category for many great web sites. Have fun!

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