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    

Original 1968 Hair Musical Broadway Premiere Handbill Poster Lovers Tarot CardAntique / Vintage De Laurence's Tarot Cards Playing Cards With BoxThe Bohemian Gothic Tarot By Baba Studio.Aleister Crowley Thoth Tarot DeckThe Rider Tarot DeckVtg Tarot Cards No 1jj 78 Deck Switzerland Ex Condition-wehman Bros PubAntique The Nile Fortune Telling Playing Cards With BoxVtg Aquarian Tarot Cards Deck 1970 Morgan Press David Palladini MedievalGuardian Angel Tarot Cards - Doreen Virtue - 78 Card Deck W/ GuidebookOop Htf Fantastic Menagerie Tarot Deck And Book Set Baba StudiosThe Rider Tarot Card Cards Deck 78 Cards Antique Rameses Fortune Telling Playing Cards With BoxGlow In The Dark Tarot U.s, Games 1999 Rare 22 Major Arcana Card Deck OopVintage Deck Ingalls Wonderful Zodiac Fortune Telling Cards 30 Cards Box Nice!The Rosetta Tarot M.m. Meleen First Edition Signed & Numbered Out Of PrintThe Vampire Tarot Antique 1902 Deck Of English Fortune Telling Cards - Ladie Lucille 36 CardsAquarian TarotThe Original Rider Waite Tarot Cards - EucGill Tarot Deck By Elizabeth Josephine Gill 1990The Alchemical Tarot: Renewed (fourth Edition) Robert M. Place "the Fool" University Books *rider Waite* Tarot Deck Pink Ankh Backs Occult1967 • Strega • Fortune-telling Tarot Cards Macabre Occult Hippy Gypsy ��������Used Legend The Arthurian Tarot Deck Cards Anna-marie FergusonTarot Of The Witches Cards Deck Still Sealed - Never Used Made In SwitzerlandTarot Cards 1jj 19701pc Purple Sakura Tarot Card Round Area Carpet Anime Cardcaptor Sakura Home DecoVictoria Regina Tarot - Oop Albany Waite Tarot DeckThe Dust Bunny Lenormand Mancia Mccord Tarot Oracle Cards Fortune Telling CardsMorgan Greer Tarot Original Box And Deck - With Booklet - All CardsThe Rohrig-tarot 78 Card Deck Francesca Marzano-fritz Uncensored 1995The Rider Tarot Deck - With Instr. Booklet - 1971 Copyright- Arthur Edward WaiteBlack Tarot Rare Brand New Sealed 78 Card Deck Russian Guid By MoskvichevTarot CardsLegend Of Zelda - Tarot Cards - Rare - Collectible - NintendoCeltic Messages Oracle Card Deck By Joules Taylor Tarot Fortune Telling , Oracle Card LotDoreen Virtue Archangel Raphael Oracle CardsRare Vintage Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Playing Cards Tarot Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Cards Vintage Tarot Deck Mens Vintage Rare 1990's Tarot Game Death Card Huge Logo Fortune Shirt Size XlEuc The Mayan Oracle Return Path To The Stars 44 Card Set & Book Spilbury BrynerKarma Tarot Deck 1983 Complete With Instructions And Box1945 Parker Brothers Zolar's Fortune Telling Astrological Card Game With Box!Vintage Gypsy Witch Playing Cards Fortune Telling W/tax Stamp Madame Le NormandKaren Marie Moning Fever Series Tarot Cards, Barrons Books And Baubles Bag BrandGuardian Angel Tarot Cards 78 Card Deck And Guidebook Virture And ValentineScience Tarot Cards Deck Gypsy Boho 2010 Complete SetThe (circa) 14th Century Tarot Fortune Telling Game Delux Edition 78 CardsVintage Fortune Telling Cards W/ Unusual Printed Messages On Regular Deck Of 52The Rider Tarot Deck-includes Spread Sheet +booklet-complete & Unused-a.e. WaiteAffirmations For The Everyday Goddess Art Cards Tarot Deck And Book SetArchangel Oracle Cards By Doreen Virtue Ph.d. 45 Cards & GuidebookDoreen Virtue Oracle Cards - The Romance Angels. 44 Card Deck And Guidebook Destiny Tarot Fortune Telling Cards Table Party Games Kids Baby Toys BidThe Golden Dawn Magical System : A Complete Tarot Set Incl. 79 Cards By Sandra …1995 Dc Comics Vertigo Tarot Book And Cards Dave MckeanBarbara Walker Tarot Us Games RareVintage 1971 The Magician Tarot Cards 78 Cards Complete With Instructions Nice