Two hand-painted Mamluk playing cards and two Venetian playing cards.

Before They Were Divination Tools, Tarot Cards Were Playing Cards

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The beginnings of the use of Tarot as a means of divination is said to have begun in 1781, and is attributed to a Frenchman by the name of Antoine Court de Gébelin. One of the beliefs that Court de Gébelin had was that the images on tarot cards (specifically the ones on the Italian suit) have their origins in ancient Egypt, and that mystical knowledge was encoded in them. Since then, the idea that tarot could be used for divination continued to be developed through the centuries.

Not content with the notion that tarot cards were used originally as playing cards, endless speculations regarding their alleged mystical origins have been made. Amongst others, tarot cards are said by some to have originally been a “creation of 13th century alchemists” which contained “hidden alchemical imagery”, “Indian holy texts”, “Hebrew lore”, “allegories of Sufi masters”, and the “surviving lore of the Order of Knights Templar”.

Le Chariot, from Nicolas Conver's 1760 Tarot deck.

Le Chariot, from Nicolas Conver's 1760 Tarot deck. ( Public Domain )

Featured image: Two hand-painted Mamluk playing cards ( Public Domain & Public Domain ) and two Venetian playing cards ( Public Domain ). Photo source:

By Wu Mingren


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Moonsong's picture

Within tarot cards, especially when used for divination, apart from the four suits, the cards are divided into Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. That being said, the usual knave, queen and king, were also representations of real figures within history, though it remains debatable who was who. Legend goes that the four Queens are also the four Marys - for example that the Queen of Hearts could have referred to Marie Antoinette and the Queen of Clubs to Mary Queen of Scots. More could have been said taking account of this angle.

- Moonsong
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world ~ Oscar Wilde

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