The History Behind the Popularity of Tarot Cards in France

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Throughout the centuries, tarot card reading has been a mysterious and captivating practice that has fascinated many people. However, its popularity in France is especially intriguing. As an assistant tasked with writing a detailed article about the history of tarot’s popularity in France, I am left with a sense of perplexity as I delve into this complex topic. From the origins of tarot cards, to the influence of French culture on its symbolism, and the decline and resurgence of tarot in France, there are many mysteries to explore. Join me as we journey through the fascinating history of tarot in France.

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The Origins of Tarot Cards

The Origins Of Tarot Cards
The history of tarot cards is fascinating, with a mysterious origin and a journey that spans centuries and continents. Many theories exist about the origins of tarot cards, yet the true beginning of tarot remains uncertain. Some believe that tarot cards originated in ancient Egypt, while others view them as an evolution of traditional playing cards. Regardless of their exact origins, the symbolism and meaning behind tarot cards have captivated people for centuries. In this section, we will explore the original purpose of tarot cards and their movement to France, where French influence had a significant impact on the symbolism and popularity of these mystical cards.

The Original Purpose of Tarot Cards

Tarot cards have a mysterious origin, and their purpose has been the subject of much debate among scholars and practitioners alike. While their exact purpose is unknown, many believe that Tarot cards were initially used for divination and fortune telling. However, some experts suggest that Tarot cards were originally created for playing card games.

According to some scholars, Tarot cards may have originated in ancient Egypt or China, possibly as far back as the 14th century. Others believe that they were invented in Renaissance Italy, where they were used for playing games and for divination. The cards themselves are divided into two categories: Major Arcana and Minor Arcana, with each category comprising its own set of cards with specific meanings and symbolism.

The Major Arcana consists of 22 cards, each with its own unique imagery and symbolism. Some of the most popular cards in the Major Arcana include the Fool, the Magician, the High Priestess, and the Emperor. These cards are thought to represent major life events, such as birth, death, and rebirth.

The Minor Arcana consists of 56 cards, which are divided into four suits: wands, cups, swords, and pentacles. Each suit represents a different element, such as fire, water, air, and earth, respectively. Each card in the Minor Arcana also has its own meaning and symbolism, which can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the context.

Despite their mysterious origins, Tarot cards continue to be a popular tool for divination and self-discovery. The symbolism and meanings behind each card have been interpreted and reinterpreted over the years, leading to a rich and complex history of Tarot. From Italy to France and beyond, Tarot has become a rich and varied practice with a fascinating history and enduring popularity.

If you want to learn more about the history and evolution of Tarot cards, check out our article on the Evolution of Tarot.

The Movement of Tarot to France

The Movement of Tarot to France is a fascinating chapter in the history of Tarot cards. Tarot card reading was already popular in Italy, and the game of Tarot had spread to Switzerland, Germany and Austria by the 16th century. However, it was in France that Tarot really took off.

At first, Tarot cards were only used to play games. The French nobility loved playing card games, so it’s not surprising that they soon caught on to Tarot. However, it wasn’t long before Tarot began to be used for divination as well.

Some historians believe that the first Tarot decks to arrive in France came via the Duke of Milan, who married the French king’s daughter in the late 15th century. Others argue that Tarot arrived in France through gypsy caravan traders. Either way, once Tarot became established in France, it began to take on a life of its own.

French Tarot decks were different from the Italian decks that had come before them. The Italian decks had 56 cards, while the French decks had 78. The French decks also introduced a fifth suit, which was later renamed the Major Arcana.

The popularity of Tarot in France may have been due in part to Hermeticism, a spiritual and philosophical movement that emphasized the mystical and magical aspects of reality. Tarot was seen as a tool for divination and a way to access spiritual insights.

The movement of Tarot to France was a key turning point in the history of Tarot cards. It paved the way for new designs and interpretations, and helped to establish Tarot as a popular tool for divination and spirituality.

Decipher the Riddles of Your Dreams: Select a Tarot Card and Unveil Their Hidden Meanings!
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French Influence on Tarot Cards

As we delve into the history of Tarot’s popularity in France, it becomes evident that the French had a significant influence on the evolution of Tarot card design and interpretation. French Tarot cards were revolutionized during the reign of Louis XIV, and their symbolism was refined over time to encompass deeper meanings than their Italian predecessors. It is worthwhile to explore the influence of French culture on Tarot’s development, especially considering Tarot’s mysterious origins and widespread impact on spirituality. To understand the French influence, we need to examine the context in which Tarot cards arrived in France and how they were embraced by French society. For a comprehensive understanding, we will also need to refer to our previous articles on the origins and journey of Tarot, the symbolism of Tarot suits, and the links between Tarot and the occult world.

The Popularity of Tarot in the Court of Louis XIV

During the reign of Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, tarot cards gained immense popularity in the royal court of France. It is said that Louis XIV himself was a great admirer of the cards, and often consulted them before making important decisions. The popularity of tarot during his time can be attributed to several factors.

1. Interest in mysticism and the occult: The court of Louis XIV was known for its fascination with mysticism and the occult. This led to a general interest in all things esoteric, including tarot cards. People were drawn to the mysterious symbolism of the cards and believed that they could provide insight into the future.

2. The influence of Italian Renaissance: The Italian Renaissance had a significant impact on France, especially in the areas of art and culture. Tarot cards, which had originated in Italy, were also introduced to the French court during this time. The intricate designs and rich imagery of the cards appealed to the artistic sensibilities of the French people.

3. The rise of cartomancy: Cartomancy, or divination using cards, was a popular pastime in the French court. Tarot cards were often used for this purpose, and people believed that they could provide answers to important questions.

Tarot decks were also frequently used for entertainment during parties and gatherings in the court. Despite their popularity among the nobility, tarot cards were still considered controversial by some members of the clergy. They believed that the cards were associated with the occult and even accused people of using them to communicate with demons.

Louis XIV’s fascination with tarot cards continued even after his death. It is said that his son, the Duke of Orleans, was a collector of tarot cards and owned several decks. Today, the tarot de Marseille, a French tarot deck that originated in the 18th century, is still one of the most popular and recognizable tarot decks in the world.

It’s fascinating to think about how something as simple as a deck of cards could have such a profound impact on the culture and history of a country. The popularity of tarot in the court of Louis XIV is just one example of how the cards have influenced society throughout the centuries. To learn more about the origins and symbolism of tarot cards, check out our article on the mysterious origins of the major arcana or the symbolism of tarot suits and origins. And to explore the spread of tarot throughout Europe and the world, read about the tarot renaissance in Italy or the journey of tarot across Europe and the world.

The Symbolism of French Tarot Cards

French tarot cards are renowned for their intricate and powerful symbolism. Each card is rich in meaning and it is said that they hold the secrets of the universe. Let’s explore some of the most notable symbols present in French tarot cards:

  • The Fool: Represented as a young man standing precariously on the edge of a cliff, the Fool is the embodiment of new beginnings and untapped potential. He is a symbol of the journey ahead, encouraging us to embrace the unknown with open arms.
  • The Magician: This card features a figure holding a wand in one hand while pointing the other towards the sky. The Magician symbolizes manifestation, creativity, and the power of the mind to make things happen.
  • The High Priestess: Clad in a veil and sitting between two pillars, the High Priestess symbolizes intuition, mystery, and the power of the subconscious mind. She encourages us to trust our inner wisdom and be receptive to the mysteries of the universe.
  • The Emperor: The Emperor is a symbol of power, structure, and authority. He is often depicted sitting in a throne with a scepter, representing his control over his empire and his ability to command respect.
  • The Lovers: This card shows a man and a woman standing before an angel, representing the choices we make in love and relationships. The card encourages us to follow our heart and seek true love, even when it is difficult.

The use of these symbols in French tarot cards is believed to have a profound impact on the human psyche. Many enthusiasts attest to the transformative powers of the tarot, claiming that it has the ability to help us tap into our subconscious mind and unlock our full potential. Some even argue that the use of tarot cards has a deep spiritual connection, providing a means for individuals to connect with the divine and access higher levels of consciousness.

It is interesting to note that while there is debate over the origins of tarot cards, there is no doubt that the French have played a significant role in shaping their modern symbolism. Whether you believe in their mystical powers or simply admire their beauty, it is clear that French tarot cards have left an indelible mark on the world of spirituality and beyond.

If you’re interested in exploring the connection between tarot and the occult, check out our in-depth article here. Alternatively, if you want to learn more about tarot’s impact on spirituality, check out this article.

19th Century French Tarot Decks

19Th Century French Tarot Decks
As we delve further into the history of tarot cards in France, we stumble upon a rather perplexing period in the 19th century. A time when tarot decks saw the introduction of new designs and symbolism that deviated from the traditional decks of the past. Strongly influenced by occultist beliefs, these decks fascinatingly incorporated elements of astrology and Egyptian mythology. Let’s explore this intriguing time in the evolution of French tarot decks.

The Introduction of Etteilla’s Deck

One of the most significant developments in the history of Tarot in France was the introduction of Etteilla’s deck in the late 18th century. This deck, created by Jean-Baptiste Alliette (who later adopted the name Etteilla), was designed specifically for divination and esoteric purposes.

One of the unique features of Etteilla’s deck was the inclusion of specific divinatory meanings on each card, which was a departure from the original Tarot tradition of relying on the intuition of the reader. Additionally, the deck featured Egyptian motifs and hieroglyphics, which was a popular theme in the esoteric circles of the time.

To further enhance the mystical allure of the deck, Etteilla also claimed to have received the designs for the cards through the guidance of the Egyptian god Thoth. This claim, however dubious, only added to the intrigue of the deck and its popularity among those interested in divination

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and the occult.

Etteilla’s Deck Characteristics:

Deck Name Etteilla’s Deck
Creator Jean-Baptiste Alliette (Etteilla)
Year late 18th century
Divinatory Meanings Included on each card
Design Egyptian motifs and hieroglyphics
Origin Story Claimed to be received through the guidance of the Egyptian god Thoth

Etteilla’s deck soon became a popular tool for divination, especially among upper-class Parisians. Its unique features and purported mystical origins made it stand out from other Tarot decks of the time, and many French occultists and esotericists adopted it as their go-to deck for their practices.

While the deck was innovative and groundbreaking in many ways, it ultimately fell out of favor as the more traditional Marseille-style decks regained popularity in the 19th century. However, Etteilla’s contributions to the divinatory use of Tarot and the development of French esotericism cannot be underestimated, and his deck remains a fascinating chapter in the history of Tarot’s popularity in France.

The Famous Tarot de Marseille

One of the most famous and iconic tarot decks in history is the Tarot de Marseille. This deck has been widely recognized over the years as a staple of tarot symbolism and has been used as a standard template for other tarot decks.

The Tarot de Marseille has a long and complex history. Its origins can be traced back to the 16th century when it first emerged as a popular tarot deck in France. However, historians are unsure of the origins of this deck, and there are many theories and speculations about its influences.

What is known about the Tarot de Marseille is that it features a unique set of symbolism that is different from other tarot decks. The images on the cards are simple yet effective, depicting clear and distinct images that have become synonymous with tarot.

The cards in this deck are divided into four suits, which are similar to those found in traditional playing cards. These suits are Cups, Swords, Coins, and Wands. Each suit is represented by a specific color, which is highlighted on the cards.

The Major Arcana, which are the most significant cards in any tarot deck, are also present in the Tarot de Marseille. These cards are illustrated with bold and striking imagery that embodies the core meanings of each card. The illustrations are simple yet powerful and convey a deep sense of meaning and symbolism.

The Tarot de Marseille is a fascinating example of the influence of French culture on the development of tarot symbolism. Its simplistic yet powerful imagery has stood the test of time and continues to be used in modern tarot practice. It is a testament to the enduring mystique and allure of the tarot, and its enduring popularity among French and international audiences alike.

The Decline and Resurgence of Tarot in France

As we move towards the end of the 19th century, the popularity of Tarot in France waned. The once beloved card game had fallen out of favor with the public and was no longer seen as a source of entertainment or a tool for divination. However, just as mysteriously as it had disappeared from the mainstream, Tarot made a resurgence in the 20th century. What led to its decline and what caused its sudden resurgence? Let’s delve into the fascinating history of Tarot’s decline and resurgence in France.

Tarot in the 20th Century

During the 20th century, the popularity of Tarot in France experienced a decline, with various factors contributing to its decrease in influence. One major factor was the rise of skepticism in relation to esoteric practices and beliefs.

Additionally, the world was facing various crises like World War I and II, economic depression, and political instability, which diverted people’s attention from Tarot and other arcane practices. During this period, science and rationality were becoming the dominant ideologies, leading to a devaluation of the mystical and supernatural.

Despite Tarot’s decline in popularity, some individuals continued to practice and study this ancient art. Among these enthusiasts was Paul Marteau, who published a revised edition of the Tarot de Marseille in 1930. The deck was mass-produced and became the most popular Tarot deck in France in the mid-20th century.

However, as people became more interested in personal growth and spirituality, and as the fascination with the occult increased in the latter part of the century, Tarot experienced a resurgence in France. In particular, the 1960s saw a revival of esoteric practices, and Tarot became one of the most popular forms of divination.

Today, Tarot continues to entice and mystify people across the world, with its ancient symbolism and rich history providing endless fascination and opportunities for exploration.

The Revival of French Tarot Cards Today

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in French tarot cards, fueled in part by the popularity of tarot readings and spirituality practices. The revival of French tarot cards has been marked by several key developments.

One such development is the efforts of contemporary tarot creators to incorporate French tarot traditions into their own designs. For example, the popular Sacred Symbols Tarot by Marcella Kroll features a variant of the tarot de Marseille design, while also incorporating elements of the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.

Additionally, there have been efforts to preserve and study the history of French tarot cards. The French Tarot Museum, located in Paris, showcases a collection of historical tarot decks and related materials. The museum also offers educational resources for those interested in learning more about tarot.

Another factor contributing to the revival of French tarot cards is the rise of online communities dedicated to tarot practices. These communities, such as the Tarot de Marseille Facebook group, offer a space for individuals to share their experiences with French tarot decks, ask for advice, and connect with other enthusiasts.

Finally, the renewed interest in French tarot cards is reflected in the growing number of tarot readers who specialize in the tarot de Marseille or other French decks. These readers may offer classes and workshops on the history and symbolism of the cards, helping to spread knowledge and appreciation of this unique tarot tradition.

The revival of French tarot cards is a testament to the enduring power and allure of this ancient practice. Whether you are a seasoned tarot enthusiast or simply curious about these mysterious cards, exploring French tarot traditions can offer a rich and rewarding experience.


In conclusion, the history of Tarot’s popularity in France is a fascinating journey through time. From its origins in Italy as a card game, to its evolution into a divination tool, Tarot has undergone significant changes over the centuries. As it spread to France, the nobility began to adopt it as a means of entertainment and self-reflection. The symbolism of French Tarot cards reflected the political and cultural tensions of the time.

Despite its decline in the 20th century, Tarot has enjoyed a recent resurgence in France and around the world. This renewed interest may be attributed to the growing popularity of all aspects of spirituality and personal growth. Today, Tarot is cherished for its ability to offer insights and guidance in our modern lives.

As we explore the mysteries of Tarot, we are reminded of its enduring power to inspire, enlighten, and captivate us. The history of Tarot in France is a testament to the human desire for meaning and connection. Whether we seek to understand our past, make sense of our present, or envision our future, Tarot remains a valuable tool for self-discovery and self-exploration. Its enduring popularity is a testament to its ability to adapt and evolve, and to its undeniable allure for generations of seekers. In conclusion, the allure of Tarot cards will likely continue to captivate individuals for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between the original purpose of tarot cards and their use today?

While tarot cards were originally used for playing card games, today they are primarily used for divination and fortune-telling.

How did tarot cards make their way to France?

Tarot cards likely made their way to France, and specifically Marseille, through merchants or gypsies traveling through the area.

What role did Louis XIV play in the popularity of tarot cards in France?

As an avid tarot card player, Louis XIV helped to popularize the use of tarot cards in the French court and beyond.

What is the significance of French tarot card symbolism?

French tarot cards often feature intricate, symbolic imagery that can be interpreted in a variety of ways in tarot readings.

What was Etteilla’s contribution to French tarot decks?

Etteilla’s tarot deck was one of the first to incorporate divination and symbolism into the design of the cards, paving the way for future tarot decks.

Why is the Tarot de Marseille so famous?

The Tarot de Marseille is famous for its distinctive design and imagery, as well as its historical significance in relation to the development of tarot cards.

What caused the decline of tarot in France?

The decline of tarot in France can be attributed to various factors, including the rise of Christianity and the view of tarot as a form of superstition.

When did tarot experience a resurgence of popularity in France?

Tarot experienced a resurgence of popularity in France during the 1970s, in tandem with the rise of new age spirituality and occult practices.

What is the current state of tarot in France?

Today, tarot remains a popular form of divination and spiritual practice in France, with a variety of decks and resources available to practitioners.

Can anyone learn to read tarot cards?

Yes, anyone can learn to read tarot cards with practice and dedication. It is important to approach tarot with an open mind and a willingness to learn and grow.


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