Hi folks, Erin Sinclair here with some interesting facts regarding the tarot. This month’s Dear Spirit isn’t about questions, it’s about learning. What I’m going to add to Dear Spirit is talks about the major and minor arcana in specifics, their potentials and possibilities. This will give you an idea of how I read and will include answering questions sent to Dear Spirit.
The tarot (pronounced tah-roe) is a deck of cards (usually numbering 78) used from the mid fifteenth century in various parts of Europe to play card games. The English and French word tarot is thought to have derived from the Italian word tarocchi but other than that, has no known linguistic root. Various theories abound with regard to the origin of the word, however. One idea relates the name tarot to the Taro River in northern Italy, near Parma as the original game seems to have originated in northern Italy, Milan or Bologna. Another thought is that it comes from the Arabic word turuq, related to tariq, which means way, although considered inaccurate based on modern evidence to date. Whatever its base, much is now known about the tarot and its beginnings. Below are the most commonly held inaccuracies and current understandings of the tarot, fun facts if anyone asks about the profession you have chosen to pursue.
THE TIME AND PLACE OF THE ORIGIN OF THE TAROT
Known but not accepted as accurate: The tarot comes from Egypt, India, China, Fez, Morocco, the Sufis, the Cathars, Jewish Kabbalists, Moses or that the origin of the tarot is unknown.
Current Historical Understanding: The tarot originated in northern Italy early in the 15th century (1420-1440). There is no evidence for it originating in any other time or place. The earliest extant cards are lavish hand-painted decks from the courts of the nobility.
THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD TAROT
Known but not accepted as accurate: The word is Egyptian, Hebrew or Latin, it is an anagram, it holds the key to the mystery of the cards.
Current Historical Understanding: The earliest names for the tarot are all Italian. Originally, the cards were called the carte da trionfi (cards of the triumphs). Around 1530 (about one hundred years after the origin of the cards), the word tarocchi (singular tarocco) begins to be used to distinguish them from a new game of Triumphs or Trumps then being played with ordinary playing cards. The German form is tarock, the French is tarot. Even if the etymology were known, it would probably not tell us much about the idea behind the cards, since it only came into use one hundred years after they first appeared. Kathleen Jameson, my former tarot teacher, suggests, based on her research, tarot means rota, the Wheel. It tells us to move through the entire Wheel of Life, the life-experience depicted by the cards. By traveling the “Royal Road” of Tarot, we reach tota, the total wholeness of our being. That explanation sounds as plausible as any other idea listed above even if it is not based on historic or archeological fact.
THE CULTURAL SOURCE OF THE TAROT SYMBOLS
Known but not accepted as accurate: The symbolism of the trumps comes from Egypt, India or another exotic locale.
Current Historical Understanding: The symbolism of the trumps is drawn from the culture of Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Most tarot subjects are distinctive to European Christendom. Illustrations virtually identical to each of the tarot subjects can be found in European art and such precise analogs are not found in other cultures.
THE GYPSIES AND TAROT
Known but not accepted as accurate: The gypsies brought the tarot to Europe and spread its use.
Current Historical Understanding: This idea was popularized in the nineteenth century by several writers without any basis in historical fact. There is no evidence that the Rom (gypsies) used tarot cards until the twentieth century. Most of their fortune-telling was through palmistry and later through the use of ordinary playing cards.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE TAROT AND ORDINARY PLAYING CARDS
Known but not accepted as accurate: The 52-card deck evolved from the tarot, leaving the Joker as the only remnant of the major arcana.
Current Historical Understanding: Playing cards came to Europe from Islam, probably via Muslim Spain, about fifty years before the development of the tarot. They appeared quite suddenly in many different European cities between 1375 and 1378. European playing cards were an adaptation of the Islamic Mamluk cards. These early cards had suits of cups, swords, coins and polo sticks (seen by Europeans as staves), and courts consisting of a King and two male underlings. The tarot adds the Fool, the trumps and a set of queens to this system. Some time before 1480, the French introduced cards with the now-familiar suits of hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds. The earlier suits are still preserved in the tarot and in Italian and Spanish playing cards. The Joker originated in the United States around 1857, used as a wild card in poker and as the highest trump in Euchre. It appears to have no direct relationship to the Fool of the tarot.
ORIGINAL USE OF TAROT CARDS
Known but not accepted as accurate: The tarot was originally used for divination/magic/teaching secret doctrines/etc.
Current Historical Understanding: Written records tell that the tarot was regularly used to play a card game similar to Bridge. The game was popular throughout much of Europe for centuries and is still played today, particularly in France. Early poets also used the titles of the trump cards to create flattering verses, called tarocchi appropriate, in describing ladies of the court or famous personages of the time. Although it is possible that tarot cards might also have been sometimes used for other purposes, there is no clear evidence of such use until long after the cards were invented. Records from a trial in Venice in 1589 suggest that tarot may have been associated with witchcraft (at least in the minds of the accusers), about one hundred and fifty years after the appearance of the tarot, but their use as associated with magic or divination is not historically known until the eighteenth century.
TAROT AND DIVINATION
Known but not accepted as accurate: Tarot was not used for divination before 1781.
Current Historical Understanding: There is evidence of such use, but it is fragmentary and suggestive rather than conclusive. Tarot was used as early as the sixteenth century to compose poems describing personality characteristics. In one case in 1527, the verses are presented as relating to the person’s fate. There are records of divinatory meanings assigned to tarot cards in Bologna early in the 1700s. This is the first unambiguous evidence of tarot divination as it is commonly understood. However, it is known that ordinary playing cards were connected to divination as early as 1487, so it is reasonable to conclude that tarot was also. From the 1790s, tarot design appears modified specifically to reflect divinatory and esoteric meanings.
OCCULT PHILOSPHY AND THE ORIGINAL DESIGN OF THE TAROT
Known but not accepted as accurate: There are no hermetic, heretical or kabbalistic reference characteristics in the original tarot.
Current Historical Understanding: This topic is still open to debate. The early Italian Renaissance, which gave birth to the tarot, was a time of great intellectual diversity and activity. Hermeticism, astrology, Neoplatonism, Pythagorean philosophy with roots in Alexandria, Egypt and heterodox Christian thought all thrived. Any or all of these may have left their mark on the design of the tarot. Although it should be remembered that all of the symbolism of the tarot has close analogs in the conventional Christian culture of the time, many scholars today believe that these philosophies, which are considered the foundations of occultism, were important in the design of the tarot.
TAROT AND THE WESTERN ESOTERIC TRADITION
Known but not accepted as accurate: The tarot has always been a pillar of the western esoteric tradition.
Current Historical Understanding: The first occult writers to discuss the tarot were Court de Gebelin and the Comte de Mellet in 1781. For three hundred and fifty years of its history, the tarot was not mentioned in any of the many books on the occult of magical philosophy. Following 1781, occult interest in tarot blossomed and the tarot then became an integral part of occult philosophy.
ASTROLOGICAL, ELEMENTAL AND KABBALISTIC CORRESPONDENCES
Known but not accepted as accurate: The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (or Eliphas Levin, Papus, Zain, Case, etc.) knew the true astrological, elemental and Kabbalistic correspondences to the Tarot and corrected previous errors.
Current Historical Understanding: There are many, many systems of correspondences of the tarot. None can be shown to go back to the tarot’s origins, although the French tradition exemplified in the works of Eliphas Levi predates the English tradition now familiar through the work of Waite-Smith (Rider Waite). Most sets have a rationale and system that make them meaningful and useful when studied within their own tradition. Correspondences are a matter of individual choice and of intention or adherence to a school of thought rather than right or wrong.
When exploring the tarot it is important to remember that there are centuries of influence and change from all corners behind their creation. Most decks maintain a fundamental archetypal symbolism for each card in both the major and minor arcana. It is the role of the reader to understand all the influences involved in the modern tarot deck. Because of numerology, astrology and mythology from Christian orthodoxy to Jungian psychology, the tarot makes for a powerful tool to assist others and/or yourself in a quest to understand events around the querent. The tarot may be able to reveal to the consciousness a solution not thought of through mundane means or to aid a mind overburdened with an issue and unable to see the forest for the trees, so to speak.
The tarot does NOT determine the future, as one’s destiny is entirely up to the querent. The cards do not possess any mysterious powers, nor can they harm anyone if read from the proper perspective. The tarot cards reflect thoughts and actions in the subconscious and conscious mind, the most evident of energies currently surrounding the querent and possible outcomes. The tarot should only be used with the most positive of intentions, utilizing them for negative or malicious purposes will cause a negative backlash to the invoker…what goes around comes around. They are not a tool to be feared, nor are they evil, but it is human nature to fear the unknown or the unexplained. Take some time prior to a reading to discuss with your client their belief systems, to explain the concepts of free will and personal choice in their destiny, prepare them for what they will experience. I personally have advised clients who grew up in a Christian based belief system of the symbolism of some of the more intense imagery of the tarot (i.e., the Death card, the Devil, the Hanged Man, the Tower, etc.) to hopefully avoid a superstitious reaction to the reading. It will help calm them and allow them to open to you on an energetic level to provide the assistance they might need.
Although the tarot may be utilized for divination, I personally find it is at its most powerful and unique when assisting the querent to find their own answers, to control their own destiny and to make full use of their gift of choice. The tarot is best suited for learning about oneself, one’s reactions to life’s apparent never-ending struggles, to increase self-awareness and possibly obtain a new point of view. It can help to clarify past events, understand why they took place and possibly give insight into how to avoid the same choice therefore the same results again or even how to turn a seeming negative into a positive. Remember, good, bad, negative, positive are matters of perception most of the time because human beings live a belief system where duality is the rule (love and hate, male and female, war and peace, etc.)
It is not in the best interests of the querent or the reader for an absolute conclusion, a decisive, if you do or don’t do something, you will break your leg kind of prediction. Yes, the cards can provide specifics including physical death and as a responsible reader you must be as honest with your client as possible. But, given the power of suggestion and the potential mind-set of one’s client, think long and hard about providing a doomsday answer. You could potentially set in motion a chain of events with devastating consequences to all concerned in predicting dire outcomes or you could very easily take on another’s karma by denying them choice, a heavy and unnecessary burden that could interfere with your desire to help someone or your personal growth. Learn the art of diplomacy, remember to always choose your words carefully, paying heed to the simple fact that everyone is the master of their destiny with lessons to learn. Even if blockages or unnerving events are seen and there really is no other answer than to explain an ominous meaning, advise your client to consider you more of a road sign that admonishes the querent to consider all options in order to give them the best suggestion to guide themselves through darker moments of their path. Not all paths can be joyful all the time, into every life rain must fall. Maybe, just maybe, you will provide an idea for a solution that will help them ward off the worst of a situation or perhaps learn the lessons they need to learn in order to lessen the harsher aspects of a seemingly negative event.
If you are doing a health reading, be most especially mindful of the fact that, despite your gifts, YOU ARE NOT A TRAINED MEDICAL OR MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONAL. ADVISE YOUR CLIENT TO SEEK THE ASSISTANCE OF THEIR DOCTOR OR THERAPIST FOR HELP IF YOU SEE SOMETHING ALONG THE LINES OF A PHYSICAL OR MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE THAT COULD SHOW A NEGATIVE OUTCOME. You can be sued if you give such advice without the licensure behind you to support your conclusions no matter how sure you are they are correct. I’ve seen it happen and the United States is a sue happy country so read the tarot with the utmost of responsibility, professionally and personally.
Most of all remember the importance of what you do as a reader. You can be a bearer of hope and introspection, light and love, when the querent is at a crossroads in their life and unsure where to turn. That’s a noble position to be in, a precious gift from The Source not to be taken lightly.
Next month, I’ll discuss numerology, astrology and symbology of the tarot, until then, take care!
Erin Sinclair, “For love that’s out of this world!”, www.erinsinclairauthor.com
Bibliography: The Tarot Manual by Kathleen Jamieson with updates and additions by yours truly; The TarotL Tarot History Information Sheet by members of the TarotL discussion group (http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/TarotL), (Mary K. Greer, Tom Tadfor Little, Nina Lee Braden, Linda Dunn, Mark Filipas, Robert V. O’Neill, Christine Payne-Towler, Robert Place, James Revak, and others, compiled and edited by Tom Tadfor Little; Wikipedia (the general facts that agree with other sources). Many thanks to all for their research and dedication to this field.
DISCLAIMER: The information provided in this column is for entertainment purposes only. It is not for sale, nor is it used for profit in any way, nor is there any intent to plagarize. To put it bluntly, it is not supplied to steal another’s thunder or take credit for someone else’s work. It is simply to inform and spread the word about this ancient and fascinating subject. All information provided is borrowed from well-researched articles by individuals seeking to elucidate and explain this beautiful art form, to lift the veil of superstition and bring the Tarot to the 21st century, while respecting the ancient history connected to it. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com if you have any questions or comments.