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What is Tarot?

The Tarot is a deck of seventy-eight cards used for divination (and meditation) purposes, comprising the Major Arcana consisting of twenty-two trump cards (or twenty-one plus 'The Fool'), and the Minor Arcana consisting of fifty-six 'suit cards'.  'Arcana' is the plural form of the Latin word 'arcanum', its meaning being 'closed' or 'secret'.  Like a standard deck of playing cards, there are four suits in the Minor Arcana, each consisting of ten cards numbered from Ace to ten, traditionally batons (wands), cups, swords and coins (pentacles) - forty cards in total.  The difference between the Tarot and a normal deck of cards, apart from the Major Arcana, is that a Tarot deck has four court cards (or honours) in each suit.  Instead of Jack, Queen and King we find Page, Knight, Queen and King, thus sixteen court cards as opposed to twelve.

The earliest known extant specimens of Tarot cards are three decks of North Italian origin dating back to the early to mid-fifteenth century, and made for the then rulers of Milan, the Visconti family.  These were called 'carte da trionfi' or 'cards of the triumphs'.  It is thought that the oldest of these existing Tarot decks was probably painted by Bonifacio Bembo to celebrate a wedding which joined the Visconti and Sforza families of Milan.  Soon afterwards, the cards became more popular and were used for the games called 'Tarocchi', still played in Italy today.

It was not until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the cards became popular in occult circles and studies, initiated by occultists such as Etteilla (Jean-Babtiste Alliette), Antoine Court de Gebelin and, perhaps more recently and famously, Aleister Crowley with his renowned 'Thoth' deck, which is still available today.  Since then they have been associated with mysticism and magick.

This idea of the cards as a mystical key was further developed by Eliphas Lévi in the mid-nineteenth century and passed to the English-speaking nations via the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a magical fraternity founded in London in 1888 by Dr William Wynn Westcott, Dr William Robert Woodman and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers.  Levi's 'Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie' (Transcendental Magic), published in 1854, gave a completely new interpretation to the cards, which for the first time related them to the Kabbalah.

In the modern Western world, the Tarot is usually seen as a means of divination, which is the practice of obtaining/gleaning information from supernatural or other 'hidden' sources.  Alternatively, in an even more modern aspect, it is seen as a psychological tool for accessing the unconscious to reach the Divine.  However, early references refer only to the use of the cards for game-playing and gambling, and in some European countries such as France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, Tarot is still a popular and widely played game.

Nowadays, dozens of different decks of Tarot cards such as the 'Thoth' deck (mentioned above) and the 'Rider-Waite' deck are widely available, the majority depicting their own particular interpretation of the original images, but each still retaining the original basic design.  For a complete description of the myths and symbols relating to ALL cards in the Tarot deck along with a full interpretation of their hidden meanings, why not download our comprehensive guide to the Tarot, The Tarot Explained CLICK HERE FOR FURTHER DETAILS.

The Major Arcana

0 - The Fool
Planet: Uranus
1 - The Magician
Planet: Mercury
2 - The High Priestess
Planet: Moon
3 - The Empress
Planet: Venus

4 - The Emperor
Sign: Aries
5 - The Pope
Sign: Taurus
6 - The Lovers
Sign: Gemini
7 - The Chariot
Sign: Venus

8 - Justice
Sign: Libra
9 - The Hermit
Sign: Virgo
10 - The Wheel of Fortune
Planet: Jupiter
11 - Strength
Sign: Leo

12 - The Hanged Man
Planet: Neptune
13 - Death
Sign: Scorpio
14 - Temperance
Sign: Sagittarius
15 - The Devil
Sign: Capricorn

16 - The Tower/House of God
Planet: Mars
17 - The Star
Sign: Aquarius
18 - The Moon
Sign: Pisces
19 - The Sun
Planet: Sun
20 - Judgment
Planet: Pluto
21 - The World
Planet: saturn

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