History of tarot cards

History of tarot cards

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The tarot cards have been with us for centuries, being used by both good seers and occultists and passionate in the occult arts, usually as a method of fortune-telling, in an action known as fortune telling.

We all know them, butwe know what is the origin of the tarot cards? To explain it, we must go back in time to know the history of tarot cards and see where and how they have emerged, although first we have to know when the cards first appeared in Europe.

The origin of playing cards

Playing cards first came to Europe in the late 14th century, probably coming from the Egypt of the Mamluks, with the design that is maintained in the traditional Italian, Spanish and Portuguese playing card decks, coarse, gold, sword and cup.

In tarot, this deck is known by the name of Minor arcana, 56 cards that are divided into the four suits mentioned, and that are numbered from 1 (As) to 9, plus the “honors”, Where the court characters: the Knave, the Knight, the Queen and the King.

Already entering "matter”, the tarot deck also includes the so-called Major Arcana, who are known as "triumphs" (which means "above all"). These 22 cards have numerous symbolisms, and are used for esoteric practices.

The origin of the Tarot cards

Already existing the deck of cards, the earliest documented tarot cards they were registered between 1440 and 1450 in Milan, Ferrara, Florence and Bologna, at which point additional illustrated cards were added to the common four-suit deck.

These new letters were called "carte de trionfi", that is to say, "trump cards", Although, as we mentioned, they are often called simply"triumphs”.

The oldest historical documentation of these triumphs we find it in a written statement in the court records of Florence in 1440, when two such letters were transferred to Sigismondo Malatesta (1417-1468), the famous Italian condottiere and nobleman, considered one of the greatest military leaders in Italy, commanding the forces of Venice.

But nevertheless, the oldest surviving tarot cards are Visconti-Sforza's 15 tarot cards, those that were painted in the 15th century for the rulers of the Duchy of Milan, which we will talk about later.

Duke Filippo Maria Visconti commissioned a package similar to this according to the description made by Martiano da Tortona, although that deck has been lost. Tortona described a deck of 60 cards with 16 cards representing the Greek gods, which were considered as "triumphs" at the time.

The Visconti-Sforza tarot

The Visconti-Sforza tarot deserves a special section for its importance. Although there has been an attempt to associate tarot cards with Ancient Egypt or with the Jewish Kabbalah, there is no evidence about it, but rather they were speculative studies that emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The main promoters were Antoine Court de Gébelin, a Swiss cleric and freemason who published in 1781 a speculative study that associated the Marseilles tarot (the current tarot deck), with the mysteries of Isis and Thoth, from Ancient Egypt.

The second promoter was the occult in general, and the figure of Eliphas Lévi particularly in the 1840s, who introduced an interpretation of the tarot relating it directly to the cabal and, in turn, with alchemy.

However, taking into account the historical and documented reality, the first tarot of which there is evidence and that we can find in different collections having been distributed, is the Visconti-Sforza tarot, created in the middle of the 15th century.

One of the most famous collections of this tarot is the so-called Pierpont-Morgan Bergamo, deck also known as Colleoni-Baglioni and Francesco Sforza, which was produced in 1451 and was originally composed of 78 letters, the trumps plus the traditional deck, although it currently contains 74 in total, the traditional most 20 Major Arcana, in which only the cards of the devil and the tower are missing, although it is unknown if because they were not made or if they were lost.

The Modern reproductions correspond to this deck, together with the reproduction of the two missing cards.

What the cards of this tarot represent

The figures are the same that we find today in tarot, and what they reproduce is, frequently, members of the Visconti and Sforza families dressed and set in their time, offering a glimpse of noble life during the Renaissance in Milan.

The expansion of the tarot

The first tarot cards were painted by hand, so the number produced was small. However, after invention of printing, the mass production of playing cards was possible expanding out of Italy with the Italian wars, arriving first, to France and Switzerland.

The esoteric tarot

The first historical evidence we find about tarot cards being used for fortune telling, comes from an anonymous manuscript written around 1750, in which various divinatory meanings for the Bolognese cards are documented.

Its popularization, however, began in Paris in the 1780s, when Antoine Court and Jean-Baptiste Alliette, better known as Etteilla (his last name backwards) used the Tarot de Marseille for divination.

Etteilla it was even the first person to issue a specific tarot deck for occultism and esotericism in 1789, when he related, based on the study of Gébelin, these cards with the mysteries of Ancient Egypt, believing that the cards were derived from the Book of Thoth.

Nowadays, tarot cards They are used for divination, either in a Tarot Cabinet that is reliable, as well as through other means both in physical spaces and through the internet.

Images: LunarVogel, Maryna Yakovchuk and n_defender - Shutterstock

After studying History at the University and after many previous tests, Red Historia was born, a project that emerged as a means of dissemination where you can find the most important news of archeology, history and humanities, as well as articles of interest, curiosities and much more. In short, a meeting point for everyone where they can share information and continue learning.

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