A Brief History of the Tarot and Its Evolution into a Divination Tool

The Tarot is a fascinating tool that millions of people use for divination and self-discovery. With intricate imagery and rich symbolism, each card has its own unique meaning and story to tell. But where did the Tarot come from? How did it evolve from a simple deck of playing cards to a powerful tool for spiritual guidance? The origins of the Tarot are shrouded in mystery and controversy, with various theories and legends surrounding its creation. In this article, we will explore the fascinating history of the Tarot, from its humble beginnings to its modern-day significance. Let’s delve into the mystical world of Tarot and uncover its secrets.

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Origins of the Tarot

Origins Of The Tarot
The origins of the Tarot are steeped in mystery and intrigue, with many theories circulating around its history and development. Some scholars suggest that the Tarot has ancient roots in the Egyptian culture, while others point to the Renaissance era in Italy as a key period for its development. Despite much debate, it is widely agreed upon that the Tarot began as a deck of playing cards before evolving into the powerful divination tool that it is today. Let’s explore the various connections and influences that have shaped the evolution of the Tarot. To learn more about the Egyptian origins of the Tarot, check out the article on Egyptian Tarot history.

The Playing Card Connection

The origins of the Tarot are steeped in mystery, with no clear record of its creation. One theory connects it to the playing cards that were popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. The playing card deck consisted of four suits – swords, cups, coins, and clubs. Each suit contained cards numbered from Ace to 10, plus face cards – Kings, Queens, and Jacks.

The Tarot deck added an extra suit, known as the Major Arcana or “trump” cards. These cards were illustrated with symbolic images and were not part of the standard playing card deck. The addition of the Major Arcana cards to the Tarot deck was significant, as it allowed for more intricate and meaningful readings.

The symbolism of the Tarot suits is also similar to that of the playing card suits. Swords represent conflict and decision-making, Cups represent emotions and relationships, Coins represent material wealth and success, and Clubs represent creativity and inspiration. The addition of the Major Arcana cards brought new symbolism to the Tarot, which had a profound impact on its use as a divination tool.

The Tarot likely evolved from various influences, including the Italian Renaissance, Hermeticism, and occult practices. The Tarot’s connection to these practices is evident in its symbolism and imagery. The Major Arcana cards, in particular, are filled with esoteric images, such as the Fool’s journey through life, the High Priestess’s connection to occult knowledge, and the Wheel of Fortune’s representation of fate and karma.

While the Tarot’s origins may be shrouded in mystery, its connection to playing cards is evident. The addition of the Major Arcana cards, along with its symbolism and mysticism, transformed the Tarot into a powerful divination tool. Its impact on spirituality and occult practices is a testament to its enduring influence. Want to learn more about the Tarot’s origins and evolution? Check out our article on the mysterious origins of the Major Arcana or explore the symbolism of the Tarot suits.

Symbolism and Mysticism

The symbolism and mysticism of the Tarot is what sets it apart from other playing cards. Each card is rich in imagery, and each symbol holds a specific meaning. The Tarot is filled with symbolism that draws from various cultures and belief systems, including Hermeticism, Kabbalah, and astrology.

One of the most notable features of the Tarot is the Major Arcana, a set of 22 cards that represents the journey of the Fool, a character who appears in the first card of the deck. The Major Arcana cards are filled with symbolism related to spiritual and psychological development. Some theories suggest that the Major Arcana had its origins in ancient mystery traditions. These traditions were kept secret and passed down orally, so it is difficult to trace their exact influence on the Tarot.

The four suits of the Tarot, Wands, Cups, Swords, and Pentacles, also contain rich symbolism. Each suit represents a specific element, and each card within the suit has its own unique meaning. The Wands represent fire and creativity, Cups represent water and emotions, Swords represent air and intellect, and Pentacles represent earth and material things. The origins of these suits are debated, but some theories suggest they have roots in medieval and Renaissance alchemical traditions.

During the Italian Renaissance, the Tarot gained popularity among the upper classes. The wealthy patrons who commissioned the earliest Tarot decks were likely drawn to the mysticism and symbolism of the cards. At this point, the Tarot was still primarily used as a game, but it was beginning to be seen as something more than a simple playing card set.

As the Tarot spread to France in the 18th century, it began to be used for divination. French occultists were drawn to the Tarot’s rich symbolism and began to use it as a tool for spiritual insight. It was during this time that the Tarot began to be viewed as more than just a game or a curiosity.

The occultist and scholar Arthur Edward Waite was instrumental in transforming the Tarot into a tool for divination. Waite, along with artist Pamela Colman Smith, created the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, which is still one of the most popular Tarot decks in use today. The Rider-Waite deck is known for its rich symbolism and its focus on divination, rather than simply gaming.

In recent years, there has been scientific research on the accuracy of Tarot reading. Some studies have suggested that Tarot readings can be an effective tool for self-reflection and personal growth. However, as with any form of divination or spiritual practice, the interpretation of the Tarot is highly subjective.

The symbolism and mysticism of the Tarot is what has kept it relevant for centuries. From its mysterious origins in medieval Europe to its modern use as a tool for divination, the Tarot has had a profound impact on spirituality and self-reflection.

Mentions in Occult Writings

During the 18th and 19th centuries, tarot cards gained popularity among occultists and mystics, who were fascinated by the cards’ symbolism and divinatory potential. Several famous occultists, such as Eliphas Levi, Aleister Crowley, and Arthur Edward Waite, wrote extensively about the tarot’s occult significance and its ability to reveal hidden truths.

Eliphas Levi, a French occultist and author, is considered one of the most influential figures in the history of tarot. In his book, “Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie,” he wrote about the tarot’s connection to the Kabbalah and the esoteric significance of each card. Levi believed that the tarot was a powerful tool for spiritual transformation and self-discovery.

Aleister Crowley, an English occultist and founder of the religious philosophy of Thelema, also wrote extensively about the tarot. His book, “The Book of Thoth,” is considered a classic in the field of tarot study. In it, he explores the tarot’s connection to Egyptian mythology and its use in divination and spiritual practice.

Arthur Edward Waite, a British occultist and member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, is perhaps best known for his creation of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck. This iconic deck is still widely used today and features distinctive, highly symbolic illustrations on each card. Waite believed that the tarot was a powerful tool for unlocking the mysteries of the universe and for gaining insight into one’s own spiritual path.

In addition to these influential occultists, many other writers and thinkers have explored the tarot’s significance over the years. From its mysterious origins in Renaissance Italy to its continued popularity in France and around the world, the tarot has long fascinated people with its deep symbolism and spiritual potential.

Click here to learn more about the tarot’s occult connections.

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Transformation into a Divination Tool

As we have seen in the previous sections, tarot cards were originally designed as a game, but over time they became associated with mystical and occult practices. The tarot’s evolution from a simple playing card deck to a powerful divination tool is a fascinating story that has captivated many people throughout history. In this section, we will explore the rise in popularity of tarot as a divination tool, the development of modern tarot decks, and the scientific research behind tarot reading. Let’s delve into the mysterious and intriguing transformation of tarot cards into a means of divination. For more information on the origins of tarot, you can refer to our previous sections on the major arcana, the symbolism and origins of tarot suits, and the tarot’s renaissance in Italy and hermeticism’s influence on tarot.

Rise in Popularity

During the 18th and 19th centuries, tarot started gaining popularity, particularly in France. Its initial use was for playing games, but people began to notice the symbolism and deeper meanings behind the cards. This led to an increase in interest in tarot as a divination tool.

One possible reason for tarot’s rise in popularity is its impact on spirituality. As people began to move away from organized religion, they looked for other ways to connect with the divine. Tarot offered a way to tap into their own intuition and gain insights into their lives.

Another reason for tarot’s popularity was its journey throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Tarot decks were continually created and revised based on cultural beliefs and traditions. For instance, certain tarot decks were influenced by the Kabbalah, while others drew upon ancient Egyptian mythology.

In France, tarot became a symbol of the occult and the supernatural. Nobles and aristocrats were known to use tarot for divination, and it was seen as a way to gain insight into the future. From there, it spread throughout Europe and eventually made its way to the United States.

Despite opposition from some religious groups, tarot continued to gain followers. In the 20th century, the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck became one of the most widely used decks for divination. Even today, tarot remains a popular tool for introspection and self-discovery.

Reference: Tarot’s popularity in France

The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck

The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck is perhaps the most well-known and widely used tarot deck in modern times. It was first published in 1909 by A.E. Waite, a prominent member of the Golden Dawn society, and illustrated by artist Pamela Colman Smith. This deck features 78 cards, with 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards divided into four suits: Cups, Swords, Wands, and Pentacles.

One of the unique features of the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck is its imagery. Waite and Smith sought to create a deck that emphasized symbolism and intuitive interpretation, rather than relying solely on traditional tarot imagery. As a result, the Rider-Waite deck features distinctive and memorable images, such as the Fool with his white rose and the Lovers with their Garden of Eden backdrop.

The Major Arcana cards in the Rider-Waite deck are also notable for their strong, archetypal symbolism. For example, The Magician card features a figure with a lemniscate above his head, representing the infinite possibilities of the universe, while The Chariot card depicts a figure driving a chariot pulled by two sphinxes, representing the balance between opposing forces.

The Rider-Waite Tarot Deck has had a significant impact on the tarot world, inspiring countless other decks and interpretations. Its accessibility and intuitive imagery have made it a popular choice for beginners and experienced readers alike. However, some tarot purists criticize the Rider-Waite deck for deviating too far from traditional tarot imagery and symbolism.

Despite the controversy surrounding the deck, the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck remains a beloved and influential tarot deck, shaping the way many people approach tarot reading and divination. If you’re interested in learning more about tarot’s impact on spirituality, or the journey of tarot throughout Europe and the world, be sure to check out our articles on the impact of tarot on spirituality and tarot’s journey through Europe and the world.

Modern Tarot Decks and Interpretations

As tarot has gained more and more popularity, modern decks and interpretations have begun to incorporate new elements and symbolism. Today, there are countless variations of tarot decks that cater to different interpretations and styles, each with their own nuances and interpretations. Some of the widely recognized and novel interpretations are:

  • Thoth Tarot Deck: The Thoth Tarot Deck, created by Aleister Crowley and Lady Frieda Harris in the early 20th century, is one of the most complex and esoteric tarot decks. It features Egyptian imagery and Crowley’s deep knowledge of the occult.
  • Goddess Tarot Deck: The Goddess Tarot Deck is a feminist deck that illustrates the power and influence of different goddesses from various cultures, including Greek, Celtic, and Hindu. It is the perfect deck for those who feel connected to feminine energies.
  • The Wild Unknown Tarot Deck: The Wild Unknown Tarot Deck is one of the most revered modern tarot decks. Its clean and simple design is a representation of the natural world, with animals and foliage decorating each card. It is ideal for those who are drawn to the natural world and its beauty.
  • The Quantum Tarot Deck: The Quantum Tarot Deck is a modern deck that combines tarot symbolism with concepts from quantum mechanics. The cards feature images of subatomic particles and even has the traditional Rider-Waite images incorporated into them. It is perfect for those who feel intrigued by science and its concepts.

These modern tarot decks and interpretations appeal to people with different interests and preferences. They provide a broad range in which an individual reader can connect the traditional tarot meaning with their own feelings and interpretations. Whether you follow traditional Tarot decks or modern decks with new metaphysical inclusions, there is a Tarot deck for everyone.

Scientific Research on Tarot Reading

Over the years, scientific research has been conducted to determine the efficacy of tarot reading. From psychological studies to parapsychological experiments, researchers have sought to explore the potential of tarot reading as a means of providing insight and guidance.

One of the earliest scientific studies conducted on tarot reading was in 1927 by the psychologist J.B. Rhine. He conducted various experiments to test the accuracy of tarot readers, with mixed results. However, this research helped to spark further interest in the topic and paved the way for more studies in the future.

In 1975, a study conducted by the psychologist Stuart R. Kaplan and his colleagues focused on the psychological aspects of tarot reading. The study found that participants who received tarot readings experienced increased levels of self-awareness and self-acceptance. These findings were consistent with the idea that tarot readings can be used as a form of therapy or self-reflection.

More recently, a 2016 study conducted by the parapsychologist Dean Radin explored the connection between tarot reading and intuition. The study found that participants who received accurate tarot readings were more likely to score highly on tests of intuition than those who did not. This suggests that tarot reading may have a basis in intuitive or psychic abilities.

Despite this research, it is important to note that tarot reading is still considered by many to be a pseudoscience. While scientific studies have provided some evidence of its effectiveness, there is still much debate and skepticism surrounding the practice.

The scientific research on tarot reading suggests that it may have some value as a tool for self-reflection, therapy, and intuition. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential of this ancient practice.

Year Researcher Focus of Study Findings
1927 J.B. Rhine Accuracy of tarot readers Mixed results, but sparked further interest in the topic
1975 Stuart R. Kaplan and colleagues Psychological aspects of tarot reading Increased self-awareness and self-acceptance in participants
2016 Dean Radin Connection between tarot reading and intuition Participants who received accurate tarot readings scored higher on tests of intuition


After exploring the rich history and evolution of tarot, it is clear that this set of cards holds a special place in human history. From its humble beginnings as a simple set of playing cards to its transformation into a complex divination tool, tarot has captivated and intrigued millions of people.

While some may question the validity of using tarot for divination and insight, there is no denying the impact it has had on the spiritual practices of many. The symbolism and intricate imagery of the cards continue to inspire and fascinate modern practitioners and continue to be reinterpreted and updated in new tarot decks.

One of the most notable developments in the world of tarot is the Rider-Waite tarot deck, which has become a standard in the industry. Its intuitive and detailed illustrations have inspired countless artists and readers, and its popularity paved the way for the creation of many other variations of tarot decks.

Despite its longstanding popularity, tarot is still often dismissed as nothing more than a parlor game or a scam. However, recent scientific research has shown that tarot readings can actually have real therapeutic benefits for those who participate in them.

In conclusion, the evolution of tarot from a simple deck of cards to a complex divination tool is a fascinating story that highlights the enduring power of symbolism and mysticism in human culture. Whether you believe in the power of tarot or not, there is no denying the cultural and spiritual significance that these cards hold.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the history of tarot cards?

The history of tarot cards can be traced back to the 15th century, where they were originally used as playing cards in Italy. Over time, tarot cards evolved into a tool for divination and spiritual guidance.

What is the symbolism behind tarot cards?

Tarot cards are rich in symbolism, with each card representing different concepts and themes. For example, the Fool card may represent new beginnings, while the Death card can symbolize transformation and change.

How are tarot cards used for divination?

During a tarot reading, the reader will shuffle the cards while focusing on the question or situation at hand. The cards are then laid out in a specific pattern or spread, and the reader will interpret the cards based on their position, symbolism, and any intuitive insights.

Is tarot reading a form of fortune-telling?

While tarot readings can provide insights into potential outcomes or paths, they should not be viewed as a guaranteed method for predicting the future. Instead, tarot readings offer guidance and a deeper understanding of the present moment.

Who created the Rider-Waite Tarot deck?

The Rider-Waite Tarot deck was created by artist Pamela Colman Smith and scholar Arthur Edward Waite in the early 20th century. The deck features iconic imagery and has been widely used in modern tarot practice.

What are some common tarot spreads?

There are many different tarot spreads, each with their own unique focus and purpose. Some common spreads include the Three-Card Spread (representing past, present, and future), the Celtic Cross Spread (offering insight into a specific situation), and the Horseshoe Spread (exploring potential obstacles and solutions).

Can anyone learn to read tarot cards?

Yes, anyone can learn to read tarot cards with practice and dedication. However, it is important to approach the practice with respect and a willingness to learn about the symbolism and history behind the cards.

What should I do if I receive a negative message during a tarot reading?

While tarot readings can provide valuable insights, they should never be used to instill fear or negativity. If you receive a negative message during a reading, it is important to focus on what actions you can take to move towards a more positive outcome.

Is there any scientific evidence to support tarot reading?

While there is limited scientific research on tarot reading, some studies have shown a correlation between tarot readings and reduced anxiety and stress levels. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits of tarot reading.

Can tarot cards be used for meditation or self-reflection?

Yes, tarot cards can be a valuable tool for self-reflection and meditation. By drawing a card and reflecting on its symbolism and message, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their own inner workings and challenges.


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