The Fascinating Evolution of Tarot: From Secret Societies to Mainstream Popularity

Tarot cards have become a ubiquitous symbol of divination and self-discovery, but where did they come from? Their origins are shrouded in mystery, with some claiming they date back to ancient Egypt and others suggesting they were created by medieval Italian aristocracy. Regardless of their murky origins, it is clear that tarot cards gained popularity through secret societies in the 18th and 19th centuries before experiencing a revival in the 20th century through the lenses of both the occult and psychology. Today, tarot has entered the mainstream, appearing in movies, TV shows, and popular culture, cementing their place in our collective cultural consciousness.

The Mysterious Origins of Tarot

The Mysterious Origins Of Tarot
The origins of Tarot cards remain a subject of intrigue and speculation. Some historians trace Tarot’s roots back to ancient Egypt or China, while others believe that Tarot cards were created in medieval Europe. The oldest known Tarot cards date back to the mid-15th century in Italy, but their exact purpose and meaning at the time are uncertain. The symbolism and iconography of Tarot has been studied extensively, particularly in the 19th century, when Tarot was popularized as a tool for divination and fortune-telling. However, there is much debate among experts about the extent to which Tarot was used in this way historically. To learn more about the historical perspective on Tarot’s origins, check out the fascinating article “Tarot: Historical Perspective and Origin Theories”.

The Oldest Tarot Cards

The oldest known Tarot cards date back to the 15th century, when they were first used in Italy for playing a type of card game. These early decks were called “tarocchi” and were hand-painted, luxury items used by the upper classes. However, some of these early tarocchi decks also contained a set of 22 symbolic cards known as the Major Arcana, which featured images such as the Fool, the Magician, the High Priestess, and the Emperor. These cards were believed to have deeper mystical meanings and were eventually separated from the standard playing cards to become the Tarot we know today.

One of the oldest surviving Tarot decks is the Visconti-Sforza deck, which was created in the mid-15th century for the Duke of Milan. This deck features intricate gold leaf designs and images of royalty and biblical figures, such as King David and the Queen of Sheba. Another notable early deck is the Marseille Tarot, which was created in the early 1700s and became the standard for Tarot divination in France.

Despite their early origins, the symbolism and meaning of Tarot cards remains shrouded in mystery. Some scholars believe that the images on the cards may have been inspired by ancient Egyptian and Greek mythology, while others suggest they draw from Kabbalistic and Christian mysticism. Regardless of their true origins, the Tarot has captivated millions of people over the centuries and continues to be a popular tool for divination, self-discovery, and spiritual exploration.

Interesting fact: Although Tarot cards were originally created for playing games, their use for divination and fortune-telling dates back to at least the 18th century. By the 19th century, Tarot reading had become a popular practice among spiritualists and occultists, and countless books were written about the symbolism and interpretation of the cards.

If you want to learn more about how Tarot symbolism has evolved over time, check out our article on Tarot Icons and Symbolism. Or, if you’re curious about the history of Tarot spreads and how they have influenced modern Tarot reading, read our article on The History of Tarot Spreads.

The Secret Societies that Popularized Tarot

Tarot cards gained popularity in the 18th and 19th centuries among secret societies such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Freemasons. These groups saw the cards as a means of accessing hidden knowledge and spiritual insight.

The Hermetic Tarot deck, created by members of the Golden Dawn, included both traditional tarot symbolism and elements of Kabbalah, alchemy, and astrology. The deck was designed to be used as a tool for spiritual and magical practices.

Similarly, the Freemasons saw tarot as a way to access esoteric knowledge. They believed that the cards held hidden meanings and that by studying them, one could gain insight into the mysteries of the universe.

It wasn’t just secret societies that were drawn to tarot, however. In the 19th century, tarot became popular among fortune-tellers and those seeking mystical guidance. The cards were often used for divination and fortune-telling, with readers claiming to be able to predict the future based on the symbols and meanings of the cards.

Despite its association with secret societies and fortune-telling, tarot continued to gain popularity throughout the 20th century. Increasingly, people began to view it as a tool for self-discovery and spiritual growth rather than just a means of divination.

Find out more about tarot in fortune-telling in the 19th century.

The Revival of Tarot in the 20th Century

The 20th century saw a revival of interest in tarot, fueled by a growing fascination with occultism and spiritualism. Many people looked to tarot as a tool for self-discovery and insight into the mysteries of the universe. This revival was driven in part by the work of Aleister Crowley, who popularized tarot among occultists and esoteric circles. Another influential figure was Arthur Edward Waite, who wrote the influential Rider-Waite Tarot deck, which remains one of the most popular and widely-used decks today. However, tarot also experienced a revival in the mainstream, as people began to use it as a tool for personal growth and spirituality. The popularity of tarot continues to grow to this day, with new decks being created and an ever-widening audience of practitioners discovering the power of these mysterious cards.

The Occult Revival and Tarot

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a resurgence of interest in the occult and mysticism, known as the Occult Revival. This movement contributed to the renewed popularity of Tarot as a tool for divination and spiritual exploration.

One of the key figures in the Occult Revival was Aleister Crowley, a British occultist who was heavily influenced by Tarot. Crowley created his own deck, known as the Thoth Tarot, which incorporated elements of Kabbalah, astrology, and alchemy. The Thoth Tarot remains one of the most popular and influential Tarot decks today, known for its intricate illustrations and esoteric symbolism.

Another influential figure in the Occult Revival was Arthur Edward Waite, a British occultist and member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Waite was responsible for creating the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot deck, which is now one of the most widely used Tarot decks in the world. The deck features vivid, colorful illustrations and includes both Major and Minor Arcana cards.

During this time, Tarot also became popular among other notable figures in the occult community, such as Madame Blavatsky and Manly P. Hall. These individuals believed that Tarot cards could be used to uncover hidden knowledge and reveal spiritual truths.

The Occult Revival also marked a shift in the perception of Tarot from a simple parlor game to a powerful tool for spiritual exploration. Tarot readings were now seen as a means of accessing the subconscious mind, connecting with the divine, and uncovering hidden truths about the self and the universe.

The Occult Revival played a significant role in the continued popularity of Tarot and its growth as a tool for spiritual exploration. Today, Tarot remains an enduring symbol of the mystical and occult, and continues to be used by people all over the world for divination, self-discovery, and spiritual growth.

The Influence of Carl Jung and the Psychology of Tarot

The influence of Carl Jung and his ideas about psychology had a profound impact on the interpretation and use of tarot cards. Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, was fascinated by the symbolism found in myths, dreams, and religions. He believed that the collective unconscious, a hidden part of the psyche shared by all humans, was filled with archetypes that influenced human behavior and experiences.

Jung saw tarot cards as a reflection of these archetypes and used them in his therapeutic work with patients. He believed that tarot cards could help individuals access their unconscious mind and gain insight into their thoughts and emotions. He called this process “active imagination,” in which the person engages with the symbolism of the tarot and allows their intuition to guide them.

Jung’s ideas had a significant impact on the interpretation of tarot cards. Tarot readers began to use the cards as a tool for self-discovery and personal growth, rather than just for divination. The cards were seen as a way to access hidden aspects of the psyche and unlock deeper insights into the self.

Today, the influence of Jung can be seen in the many tarot decks that incorporate his ideas about psychology and symbolism. The Jungian Tarot, for example, is a deck that was specifically designed to reflect Jung’s theories. It features imagery and symbolism that corresponds to archetypes found in Jung’s work, such as the shadow, the anima/animus, and the self.

Carl Jung’s influence on the interpretation of tarot cards has helped to transform them from a mystical tool for divination to a powerful tool for personal growth and self-discovery. By embracing the symbolism of the cards and looking inward for wisdom, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

Tarot Today: Mainstream Popularity

Tarot has come a long way from its mysterious beginnings and secretive past. Today, it has achieved mainstream popularity and can be found in many bookstores, online shops, and even in popular TV shows and movies. In fact, tarot has become so popular that it has surpassed its reputation as a tool for divination and has gained a reputation as a tool for self-discovery and spirituality. The use of tarot for personal growth and development is evidenced by the growing number of tarot readers and communities online who offer guidance, support, and insights through their readings. Tarot has become more accessible with the rise of technology, especially with the emergence of digital tarot decks and mobile apps. As tarot continues to evolve and adapt to the changing times, it will be interesting to see how its meaning and significance will continue to shift and transform.

Tarot in Popular Culture

The imagery of tarot cards has been prevalent in popular culture for decades, appearing in movies, TV shows, music videos, and even in the world of fashion. The tarot has gradually become a symbol of mystery and intrigue, and its symbols are often used in advertising and marketing campaigns.

One of the most famous portrayals of tarot cards in popular culture is the James Bond film “Live and Let Die,” where the villain, Solitaire, uses a tarot deck to predict the future. This film has played a significant role in shaping the way the general public perceives tarot cards.

Another notable example is the popular TV show “American Horror Story,” where tarot cards are used as a recurring theme in many seasons. The show also features characters who use tarot cards to explore the mysteries of life.

Tarot-inspired fashions have also made their way into the mainstream. Fashion designers have used tarot symbols in their collections, displaying the intricate designs on pieces such as t-shirts, dresses, and accessories. These designs have become increasingly popular among people who appreciate the spiritual and mystical meanings behind the tarot symbols.

Apart from movies and fashion, tarot cards are also used in music videos as a way to add a mystical or mysterious element to the video. One such example is the music video for Madonna’s song “Frozen,” where tarot cards are used to convey the themes of transformation and self-discovery.

The tarot has become a pop culture icon, and its symbolism has been used to add depth and intrigue to various art forms. It has become synonymous with mystery, spirituality, and the unknown, and its popularity only continues to grow.

The Growth of Tarot as a Tool for Self-Discovery and Spirituality

Tarot cards have always been incredibly versatile tools, and in recent years they have been increasingly utilized as tools for self-discovery and spirituality. Many individuals have turned to tarot as a means of gaining insight into their inner selves and creating a deeper understanding of the world around them. Tarot readings can be extremely personal and introspective, with the reader drawing visual cues from the cards and interpreting them in relation to their own experiences and emotions.

Tarot cards have become a tool for self-discovery and spirituality due to their ability to facilitate deep introspection. They allow individuals to focus on their inner world and understand their subconscious thoughts and feelings. The tarot card readings provide a platform for individuals to explore their inner selves and face their fears and anxieties. By confronting and exploring their deepest thoughts and emotions, individuals can gain a clearer understanding of themselves and their place in the world. Tarot readings can provide insight into both the conscious and the unconscious mind, unlocking a deeper understanding of one’s true self.

The growth of tarot as a tool for self-discovery and spirituality has been fueled in part by the rise of the new age movement. This movement focuses on personal spirituality rather than traditional religious practices, and has embraced tarot as a means of exploring one’s inner self. Many new age practitioners believe that tarot readings can help individuals connect with a higher power or divine energy, and that they can provide spiritual guidance and support.

Perhaps because of its focus on personal spirituality, tarot has attracted a diverse community of practitioners, including those who are not traditionally religious. Tarot readings are particularly popular among those who are seeking ways to connect with their inner selves and achieve personal growth. The practice of tarot has also become increasingly popular among individuals who identify as LGBTQ, as tarot provides a means of exploring and celebrating non-normative experiences and identities.

The growth of tarot as a tool for self-discovery and spirituality has been nothing short of remarkable. The popularity of tarot readings has shown no signs of slowing down, and more and more people are turning to it as a means of exploring themselves and the world around them. As the world continues to change and evolve, it is likely that tarot will continue to play an important role in the lives of many individuals, helping them to gain insight, connect with their inner selves, and find peace and meaning in the world around them.

The Future of Tarot

The future of tarot is intriguing and uncertain. Some believe that tarot will continue to gain popularity as more people seek tools for personal growth and spiritual insight. However, others question whether tarot will lose its mystique and become too commercialized.

One possible future for tarot is that it will become more accessible to everyone. With the rise of technology and the internet, tarot readings can now be done online through video chat or email. This may make tarot more convenient to use, but it could also make it less meaningful because of the lack of personal interaction. Additionally, the popularity of tarot apps on smartphones suggests that tarot will become more portable and widely available to everyone.

Another possibility is that tarot will become more integrated with other spiritual practices. As people continue to explore different forms of spirituality, they may discover that tarot complements other practices such as meditation, yoga, and energy work. Tarot could become an essential tool for spiritual seekers who want a more holistic approach to personal growth and self-discovery.

It is also possible that tarot will continue to evolve as new decks and interpretations are created. Although traditional tarot decks are based on centuries-old images and meanings, modern decks are often designed with new themes and imagery that appeal to today’s audiences. For example, there are now tarot decks that use pop culture references, anime-style artwork, and even emojis. This evolution could keep tarot relevant and appealing to new generations of users.

Despite these potential futures for tarot, it is difficult to predict what will happen, as the world and people’s attitudes toward spirituality and divination are always changing. The future of tarot is ultimately up to those who use it and those who create it. As with any form of divination or spiritual practice, the true power of tarot lies within the individual and their own intuition and interpretation.


Throughout history, tarot has evolved from a mysterious and exclusive practice within different occult societies, to a popular tool for self-discovery and spirituality. From its earliest days as a card game, tarot has captured the imagination of many people who were fascinated by the hidden symbolism and interpretations within its cards. The interest in tarot has waxed and waned over the centuries, but it has always managed to maintain a solid and dedicated following.

The tarot has seen a revival in the 20th century, as people began to explore its potential as a tool for personal growth. As tarot continued to grow in popularity, it has become more accessible to the general public. Today, tarot is widely used in popular culture, with references to it appearing in movies, books, TV shows, and even video games.

The growth of tarot as a tool for self-discovery and spirituality has been remarkable. Today, tarot is used by many people to connect with their inner selves, to gain insight into their lives, and to explore their spiritual paths. Tarot decks are available in a wide variety of styles and themes, ranging from traditional to modern, and from simple to complex.

The future of tarot is bright, as more and more people become aware of the benefits of using tarot as a tool for personal growth and spirituality. As tarot continues to grow in popularity, it is likely that we will see even more diverse and creative interpretations of the cards. The tarot has the potential to continue to evolve and grow, and to become an even more valuable tool for those who wish to explore the mysteries of the human spirit.

Overall, the evolution of tarot from an exclusive practice within secret societies to a popular tool for self-discovery and spirituality has been a fascinating journey. From its mysterious origins to its current mainstream popularity, tarot has remained a powerful tool for anyone seeking to understand themselves and their place in the world. Whether you are a seasoned tarot reader or a newcomer to the world of tarot, there is always something new to discover within the cards.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Tarot?

Tarot is a deck of 78 cards that includes both major and minor arcana. It is used for divination, self-discovery, and spiritual growth.

What are the origins of Tarot?

The exact origins of Tarot are uncertain, but the earliest known Tarot cards date back to the early 15th century, in Italy. Some believe they were used for playing games, while others suggest they were used for divination.

What are the major arcana cards?

The major arcana cards are 22 trump cards in the Tarot deck. They represent major life events, archetypes, and spiritual growth.

What are the minor arcana cards?

The minor arcana cards consist of four suits (wands, cups, swords, and pentacles) and each suit has 14 cards (ace to ten, plus four face cards). These cards represent more everyday experiences and events.

Why was Tarot considered to be associated with secret societies?

Tarot was initially used and popularized by secret societies such as the Freemasons and the Golden Dawn, adding to its mystique and reputation for being connected with the occult and esoteric knowledge.

What is the significance of Tarot with Carl Jung?

Carl Jung, the influential Swiss psychologist, saw the Tarot as a powerful tool for self-discovery and psychospiritual growth. He used the symbolism of the Tarot in his own therapeutic work, popularizing the deck within psychological circles.

What is the role of Tarot in pop culture?

Tarot has been prominently featured in movies, television shows, music, and literature. It is often used to emphasize mystery, spirituality, and the supernatural.

Why has Tarot grown in popularity in recent years?

Tarot has become more mainstream in recent years because of its usefulness as a tool for self-reflection and spiritual growth. Many people are looking for alternative forms of spiritual practice and are drawn to Tarot for its insightful and thought-provoking readings.

Can anyone read Tarot cards, or do you need special training?

While anyone can learn to read Tarot cards, the process can take time and practice. It is recommended to seek out training or guidance from an experienced Tarot reader to deepen your understanding of the deck and its meanings.

Is Tarot considered a form of divination or fortune-telling?

Tarot can be used for divination, but it is also seen as a tool for self-discovery and psychological insight. It is up to the reader and the individual using the cards to decide how they want to approach Tarot and its meaning.


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