Though known today as a mystical practice for reading fortunes, the tarot began as an ordinary card game in Western Europe. The earliest known tarot card decks were made in Italy sometime around the first half of the 15th century. Used for playing a game similar to bridge, these decks were produced for wealthy individuals and featured ornate, hand-painted cards depicting archetypal imagery drawn from Renaissance culture. Originally called “carte da trionfi,” meaning “cards of triumph” in Italian, the name eventually evolved to “tarocchi” to differentiate tarot from another game of trumps that used an ordinary 52-card deck.

Contrary to popular belief, such playing-card decks actually preceded the tarot in Europe, as they likely originated with Islamic Mamluk cards and spread during the 14th century. These decks used suits of cups, swords, coins, and polo sticks (changed by Europeans to staves or batons), and courts consisting of a king and two male underlings. Tarot cards also added queens, trumps, and the Fool to this system, for a complete deck that usually totaled 78 cards.

Standard playing cards eventually adopted the French system of suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades), while the tarot kept its original designations. In modern tarot decks, the coins have typically changed to pentacles, and staves are usually known as wands.

Both tarot and ordinary playing cards were sometimes used for divination, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that tarot cards became closely linked with fortune telling. In the late 1700s, occultist and publisher Jean-Baptiste Alliette began writing books about card reading under the name Etteilla. Alliette first relied on 32-card decks used for a game called Piquet, plus an added “Etteilla” trump card. His writings also explained elements like the dealer’s layout or “spread” as well as specific symbolic meanings for each card in the regular and reversed positions.

In 1781, Court de Gébelin and Comte de Mellet became the first to hypothesize about the tarot’s ancient occult roots, linking tarot cards directly with Egyptian mysticism. Comte de Mellet also focused on an imaginary connection between the 22 trump cards and the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Very quickly, the idea that tarot cards held historic secrets caught on among the wider public and made them central to occult practices across Europe.

Responding to Court de Gébelin’s writings, Alliette soon published his own books on divination with tarot cards and their connection with the mythical Egyptian “Book of Thoth.” Alliette also created a set of tarot cards explicitly designed for fortune telling featuring illustrations based on Egyptian themes. In 1789, two years before Alliette’s death, his Etteilla tarot deck was first mass produced.

Perhaps the most renowned tarot reader was Mademoiselle Lenormand, who foretold the fortunes of celebrities like Napoleon's wife Joséphine de Beauharnais and revolutionaries like...

Most modern tarot decks evolved from the popular Tarot de Marseille, which was first made using woodcut prints in the early 16th century. Other common tarot styles include Lombardy, Milan, Piedmont, Besançon, and Bologna. The standard Tarot de Marseille includes 56 cards in four suits, which are numbered from Ace to 10 with four additional court cards (knave, knight, king, and queen). These suit cards are also referred to as the Minor Arcana.

For Tarot de Marseille decks, the Major Arcana encompasses 21 trump cards each labeled with their title and a roman-numeral: the Magician, the Papess, the Empress, the Emperor, the Pope, the Lovers, the Chariot, Justice, the Hermit, the Wheel of Fortune, Strength, the Hanged Man, Death, Temperance, the Devil, the Tower, the Star, the Moon, the Sun, Judgment, the World, plus the unnumbered Fool. In some varieties, the card known as Death is entirely unnamed. While some tarot-card publishers altered their trumps because Catholic church leaders found certain cards offensive, like the female pope, most designs have remained consistent to the present day.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Non Sports Cards: Tobacco, Gum and Candy

Tom Boblitt moderates this extremely deep, collaborative site dedicated to non-sports cards (tobacco, gum and candy… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

The Greenwood Tarot Pre-celtic Shamanism Of The Mystic Forest, Ryan & PotterLot Of 12 Tarot Decks: Golden Dawn, Thoth, Brotherhood Of Light & More! Occult 276 Card 5 Deck Master Collection Of Tarot, Chakra, Kabbalah, Palm, & CrystalDragon Age Inquisition Inquisitor's Edition 78 Cards Arcana Tarot Deck In PouchVintage Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot Deck, Small Card Size Complete 80 Card DeckThe Rider Tarot Deck New In Box Unopened Card Deck - Table Spread - InstructionsVintage Tarot Card Deck 1970 Morgan Robbins 87 Cards With InstructionsRohrig-tarot 78 Card Deck ** Complete ** A Work Of Art! ** 1995 Rare!! Rare!!Dragon Age Inquisition Tarot DeckFortune Telling Vintage Antique Game Cards Gypsy Toy 1930s Playing Usa FutureTarot Of The Old Path Deck Of Cards - UsedBtvs Buffy The Vampire Slayer Authentic Magic Box Tarot Card Prop CoaExtremely Rare Vintage Artist's Tarot Large CardsQuick And Easy Tarot CardsTactic Ogre Let Us Cling Together Psp - Tarot Cards - No Game - Free Ship!Vtg 1986 Aleister Crowleys Thoth Tarot Deck 80 Cards +booklet Lady Freida HarrisThe Gill Tarot Deck, Kabbalah Tree Of Life, Complete And Unused, 1990Rare Vintage Kalevala Tarot 1996Tarot Complete Kit Mega Mini Miniature Edition 78 Card Deck Book Mat IllusratedRare Vintage Erde Tarot Jasmine Becket-griffith Art Tarot Vampire Cards Signed Les Vampires Oracle DeckDishonored Ps3 Tarot Cards - Promotional Item - No Game - Free Ship!Magical Mermaids And Dolphins Oracje Cards NewFortune Telling Vintage Antique Game Cards Gypsy Toy 30s Art Deco 20s Future 52Assassin's Creed Unity Tarot Playing CardsNew Original Rider-waite Tarot Deck Cards Arthur Edward Waite With Spreadsheet!Affirmations For The Everyday Goddess Art Cards Tarot Deck And Book Set3ds Persona Q Shadow Of The Labyrinth Tarot Card Set #2 Mint Free Ship!Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Playing Cards Rare Tarot Card Deck Waite Smith The Fool 78 Cards University Books VtgVintage Deck Of Tarot Cards And "the Tarot Of The Bohemians" Book (1965)Merryday (merry Day) Tarot Cards( Sale) Collectible First Edition NibGolden Botticelli Tarot Cards, By Atanas A. Atanassov - Nice Deck Tarot Deck Round Cards - Shinning Angels - Lo Scarabeo - New & SealedPamela Coleman Smith Artist Of The Rider-waite Tarot Deck Commemorative SetAntique Fortune Telling Game - Fan Tel - W/ Box And Instructions!!The Phantomwise Tarot By Erin Mccauley (erin Morgenstern)Art Nouveau Tarot - U.s Games Card Deck By Matt Myers - Never Used - OopRare Vintage Italian Tarot - I Tarocchi Dei FollettiTarot Card Bag, Ideal For Most Fairy, Angel & Wicca Tarot CardsAffirmations For The Everyday Goddess Art Cards Tarot Deck And Book Set5 Tarot Cards Wicca Witchcraft Gypsy Fortune Telling Divination ScrapbookingJames Bond Tarot Cards Solitaire Jane Seymour Movie Prop Replica Live & Let DieTarot Beginner's Box Set Book And Cards In EucNew Vanessa Tarot Tin Cards Deck Lynyrd NarcisoVintage The Rider Tarot Deck Cards Arthur Edward Waite Switzerland 1971 BookletPenny Dreadful Sdcc Comic Con 2014 Showtime Promo Tarot Cards And Velvet PouchWisdom Of Avalon 52 Oracle Cards Deck & Guidebook Boxed Set Colette Baron-reid Beautiful Doreen Virtue Angel Therapy Oracle Card Deck W/guide Great Condtion!!!Affirmations For The Everyday Goddess Art Cards Tarot Deck And Book SetAffirmations For The Everyday Goddess Art Cards Tarot Deck And Book SetMini Tarot Cards~ouija Board~planchette For Dollhouse~shadow Box~scrapbooking!!!The Enchanted Tarot Aka Tarot Of The Hidden Folk - Very Rare & Out Of Print DeckTarot Deck Golden Dawn Robert Wang 1978 78 Card Deck Wiccan Fortune Telling Tarot Of Reflections - Francesco Ciampi - New In Shrink Wrap - Free Shipping!Cachet Tarot Reading Cards & 48-page Hard-back Book Complete Fortune Telling SetThe Celtic Tarot 78 Card Deck & Book SetFortune Telling CardsThe Clamp Card Captors Sakura The Clow Book Container 52 Tarot Cards RareVintage The Merlin Tarot Card Deck And Book Set Rare Oop Psychic Spiritual