The Origin of Tarot
The exact origin of tarot is unknown. In modern times it is said tarot began in Italy around the fifteenth century, however some say the meanings of the cards come from the ancient Egyptian mystery schools of Thoth, the god of wisdom, thousands of years earlier. The cards are known as ‘keys’ that depict the journey of mystical ascension and original decks contained a lot of Egyptian symbolism and mysticism. No one knows how far back the cards go, or what these decks may have looked like.
While the actual origins of the cards could be thousands of years old, the decks as we know them today come from Italy. In fifteenth century Italy, only the rich had decks, painted in gold with handmade works of art. The major arcana were not numbered and the minor arcana had no scenes on them (with the exception of the Sola Busca tarot), just suits and numbers like a modern playing card deck. They were gifted by the rich at weddings, often with pictures of the bride and groom in the cards.
When the printing press made them more affordable, lots of people started to use the decks, known as tarot or Tarocchi. It fell out of popularity in Europe until the eighteenth century when some people discovered the old decks. They discovered the cards had deeper esoteric meanings to them than had been previously thought. During the victorian era, secret society’s, witches and occultists used the cards to hold secrets. It also became known that witches used them for divination purposes.
Around this time a man named Arthur Waite hired an artist called Pamela Colman Smith, also a known indigenous witch, to illustrate a well known tarot deck called the Rider Waite Smith Tarot. Known as ‘pixie’ to her friends, Pamela was an aquarius born on February 16th 1878. Known for her mystical illustrations, folklore performances, social activism, publishing press, miniature theatre and literary magazine, Pamela was a powerful channel of the divine. She studied occult knowledge, metaphysics and the paranormal at the Temple of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn where she came to the attention of Arthur Waite. He paid her to design each of the 78 illustrations of the deck representing archetypal subjects. Each is said to become a portal to an invisible realm of signs and symbols, believed to be channeled through divination. This is probably the most well known deck today.