The History of Tarot: From Game to Divination Tool


The Tarot is an intriguing blend of symbolism, psychology, and spiritual philosophy. It is a tool that speaks to the human condition in a universal language of images and archetypes. But this profound system of wisdom wasn't always associated with introspection or divination. The history of Tarot is a story of evolution and transformation, from a card game played by nobles to a reflective mirror used by seekers of truth.

The Early Beginnings of Tarot: A Game of 'Tarocchi Appropriati'

In the mid-15th century, in the grand palazzos of northern Italy, the first known Tarot decks came into existence. However, they weren't created as divinatory tools, but for playing a card game called 'tarocchi appropriati.' This game was popular among the upper classes, and the decks used were often lavish and beautiful, their cards hand-painted by skilled artisans. The Italian nobles enjoyed this game of chance, which was filled with allegorical representations, including figures of virtues and classical heroes, which later evolved into the Major Arcana.

The structure of these early decks, including four suits plus a separate 'triumph' suit, established a precedent for the division between the Major and Minor Arcana in modern Tarot. The suits of cups, coins, swords, and batons directly influenced today's Tarot suit system, further proving the influence of these early games on Tarot as we know it today.

Tarot's Transition: From Europe's Gaming Tables to Divinatory Tool

The Tarot game and the cards themselves gradually spread beyond Italy, across the rest of Europe. In countries like France and Switzerland, they were adopted for similar card games, still void of any esoteric connotations. It wasn't until the late 18th century, when the Age of Enlightenment was giving way to Romanticism, that the Tarot's purpose began to shift from game to divination.

Antoine Court de Gébelin, a French clergyman and freemason, was one of the first to see something more in the Tarot. He saw in the cards ancient wisdom and symbolism. In his monumental work, "The Primitive World," de Gébelin asserted that the Tarot was not a mere game but a repository of the secrets of ancient Egyptian philosophy, attributing mystical significance to the cards.

Etteilla and the Birth of Tarot Divination

Jean-Baptiste Alliette, better known by his pseudonym Etteilla, was a French occultist and cartomancer who was greatly inspired by de Gébelin's theories. In the late 18th century, he published a guide to using the Tarot for divination, becoming one of the pioneers in this field. Moreover, he designed his Tarot deck specifically for this purpose, modifying some of the card images to better align with his esoteric interpretations.

Etteilla's work brought Tarot readings out of the realm of abstract theory and into practical application, effectively creating a new profession - the Tarot reader. He saw the Tarot not only as a tool for prediction but also as a key to understanding the human psyche and the cosmos.

The Golden Dawn and the Rider-Waite-Smith Revolution

In the late 19th century, the Tarot found a home within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a British secret society devoted to the study and practice of the occult, metaphysics, and paranormal activities. This society was dedicated to spiritual development and inner knowledge, and they integrated the Tarot into their practices and teachings.

Arthur Edward Waite, a scholarly mystic, and Pamela Colman Smith, a gifted artist and member of the Golden Dawn, collaborated to create what is arguably the most influential Tarot deck - the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot. Published in 1909, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck was revolutionary. For the first time, every card, including those in the Minor Arcana, featured detailed pictorial scenes, making the cards much easier to interpret without specialized knowledge.

Modern Tarot: A Spectrum of Decks and Interpretations

The 20th and 21st centuries have seen an explosion in the number and variety of Tarot decks available. The changing social and cultural landscapes, along with the influence of psychology, feminism, and new spiritual movements, led to the birth of unique decks. From the esoteric and intricate symbolism of Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot to the feminist reimagining in The Motherpeace Tarot, each deck reflects the ethos of the time and the vision of its creators.

Tarot Today: A Tool for Self-Reflection, Spiritual Growth, and Divination

Today, the Tarot is widely recognized as a powerful tool for introspection, personal growth, and divination. The images on the cards serve as universal symbols, reflecting common human experiences and emotions. The Tarot helps us to navigate our subconscious and conscious minds, uncovering our fears, desires, talents, and potential.

The Tarot's Journey: From Game to a Mirror of Consciousness

Thetransformation of Tarot from a simple card game to a tool for divination and self-understanding is a testament to its enduring power and versatility. Its symbols, once part of a game, now reveal insights about our deepest selves and life's most profound questions.

Its ability to reflect and encapsulate the human experience has ensured its continued relevance and appeal. As the Tarot's popularity continues to grow, new decks, interpretations, and uses continue to emerge, proving that the Tarot is as diverse and complex as the human experience it mirrors.

Moreover, with the rise of the digital age, the Tarot has found a new space for its expression and application. From online readings to digital decks to Tarot apps, this ancient system of wisdom is evolving to meet the needs of the modern world.

Today, anyone who seeks wisdom, guidance, or a tool for self-exploration can turn to the Tarot. As we shuffle the cards, we continue a centuries-old tradition of seeking knowledge and understanding, asking the same questions that humans have asked since time immemorial about fate, free will, and the mysteries of existence.


The journey of Tarot from its origins as a game to its current role as a divination tool is a fascinating one. It's a testament to its enduring power, its universal applicability, and its innate ability to speak to the human condition. With each card drawn and each spread interpreted, we continue the Tarot's rich and evolving tradition. We engage with an ancient dialogue about life's greatest mysteries, using a deck of 78 cards as our guide. As we delve into the Tarot's symbolism and stories, we uncover not only the secrets of our inner world but also our connection to the timeless wisdom of the ages. Whether we're seeking prediction, reflection, or a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe, the Tarot, with its rich history and ever-expanding potential, continues to offer insightful guidance.