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: www.collectorsweekly.com

By Wu Mingren

References

Harper, D., 2016. Tarot. [Online]
Available at: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=tarot

McLeod, J., 2015. Card Games: Tarot Games. [Online]
Available at: https://www.pagat.com/tarot/

Oatman-Stanford, H., 2014. Tarot Mythology: The Surprising Origins of the World's Most Misunderstood Cards. [Online]
Available at: http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/the-surprising-origins-of-tarot-most-misunderstood-cards/

Obringer, L. A., 2005. How Tarot Cards Work. [Online]
Available at: http://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/extrasensory-perceptions/tarot-card6.htm

oudler, 2007. What is Tarot? It’s NOT what you think!. [Online]
Available at: http://www.bloggernews.net/13798

Salem Tarot, 2006. Tarot History. [Online]
Available at: http://www.salemtarot.com/tarothistory.html

www.crystalinks.com, 2016. Tarot. [Online]
Available at: http://www.crystalinks.com/tarot.html

www.tarotpedia.com, 2013. Tarot History. [Online]
Available at: http://www.tarotpedia.com/wiki/Tarot_History

Comments

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
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