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PixiePlots - Tarot


Various contradicting suggestions have been given to explain the original meaning of the word Tarot. They range from old Egyptian origin to a cardmaker from the French village Taraux who may have produced the original Tarot cards. The true remains an enigma.

Other suggestions:

  • Torah (Hebrew), "The Law - Law Giver"
  • Thoth Egyptian god
  • Tarosh (Egyptian), "The royal way"
  • Torah -Torus in Sacred Geometry
  • Taurus Astrology
  • Rota (Latin), "Wheel" - Wheel of karma - Wheels Within Wheels
  • Taro River in Northern Italy
  • Taru (Hindu), "Cards"
  • Troa (Hebrew), "Gate"
  • Tares, meaning the dot border on old cards
  • Tarotee, meaning a pattern on the backs


The History of Tarot

The origins of Tarot are somewhat obscure, the most common theories go to ancient Egypt and Thoth and the connection to the ancient mystery school teachings. There is a common myth that Tarot was brought to Europe by the Gypsies.

Some believe that a form of Tarot goes back to ancient China. I believe that all ancient civilizations developed their own systems of divination based on the same symbolism and archetypes.

Tarot as we know it today is a collection of images and symbols from a wide variety of cultures, from the ancient Greeks and Romans to the prehistoric Norse peoples, from the ancient religions of India and Egypt to the medieval courts of Italy and France.

The first clear reference that we have to Tarot cards is from a sermon that was collected with many others about 1500 in Italy found in the Steele Manuscript. The sermon is thought to date from about 1450 to 1470 and is a diatribe against games of chance. It gives a detailed description of the Tarot trumps, not only numbering them but naming them as well.

As early as 1540, a book entitled The Oracles of Francesco Marcolino da Forli shows a simple method of divining from the coin suit of a regular playing card deck.

Manuscripts from 1735 (The Square of Sevens) and 1750 (Pratesi Cartomancer) show rudimentary divinatory meanings for the cards of the tarot, as well as a system for laying out the cards.

In 1765, Giacomo Casanova wrote in his diary that his Russian mistress frequently used a deck of playing cards for divination.

In 1781 Antoine Court de Gébelin wrote a speculative history and a detailed system for using the tarot to fortell the future. From Gébelin's time forward, various explanations have been given for the origins of tarot, most of them of doubtful veracity. There is no evidence for any tarot cards prior to the hand-painted ones that were used by Italian nobles, but some esoteric schools believe its origins could be in Ancient Egypt, Ancient India or even the lost continent of Atlantis. Gebelin, a French linguist, cleric, occultist, Mason, member of the Lodge of the Philalethes, and author of the nine-volume work Le Monde Primitif - was convinced of the mystical significance of the Tarot and fond of Egyptian lore. He believed the cards' birth place was ancient Egypt, where they served as tools of initiation into the priesthood. For Gébelin, the Tarot's Major Arcana was the Book of Thoth, a synthesis of all knowledge once held in hieroglyphic form in burned Egyptian temples and libraries. He claimed that it had escaped the destruction of the Library of Alexandria. At the time he was writing this, the skill of reading hieroglyphics had been lost for almost 1200 years and there existed the widely held belief that they were magical symbols concealing the lost knowledge of antiquity. Gébelin saw the Tarot as a contemporarily available pictorial embodiment of this occult wisdom, a tangible link with the past.

A French man, (erroneously believed by some to have been barber, he merely had lodgings above a barbers shop) named Alliette, writing under the pseudonym Etteilla (his name spelled backwards), followed de Gebelin's lead and revised the Tarot to comply with his own idiosyncratic idea of Egyptian mysticism. His Tarot has had less influence upon subsequent designs than have his ideas.

In the mid 1850s a third Frenchman, Alphonse Louis Constant (originally a deacon of the Catholic Church), began to publish occult works. For the purposes of authorship he translated his name into Hebrew and wrote under the name Eliphas Levi (he dropped the final Zahed?. His books contained Tarot references and symbolism and it was he who first established the link between the Tarot and cabala (or Qabalah). He felt that the god Thoth-Hermes made the original deck. His theory contains mathematical ideas similar to those of Pythagoras, whom he admired.

Eliphas Levi (real name: Alphonse Louis Constant, author of 'History of Magic|'), 1810-1875, was a French priest and Rosicruician who thought the Tarot the key to the Bible, the Jewish Qabbalah, and all other ancient spiritual writings. He attempted to link the 22 cards of the Major Arcana to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. He drew parallels between Tarot suits and the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, YHVH ('Yahweh').

Late nineteenth-century Parisian author Paul Christian (Jean Baptiste Pitois) was a follower of Levi's who believed that Major Arcana cards represent hieroglyphic paintings found on columns in ancient Egyptian galleries. He also sought parallels between the Tarot and Qabbalistic astrology.

Papus (Gerard Encausse, 1865-1916), a French doctor, philosopher, and Theosophist, was another believer in the Tarot's Egyptian sources. Known for the book 'The Tarot of the Bohemians', he believed the Tarot a bearer of ancient designs inscribed in secret chambers below the Pyramids. The designs represented initiation tests. When the temples were at risk, the priests transferred the mystical designs to materials which later became a pack of cards. Papus, too, described a link between Tarot and the Tetragrammaton. He also dealt with numerology and the Tree of Life.

MacGregor (Samuel Liddell) Mathers lead the English Order of the Golden Dawn, which was founded in 1886. He studied Jewish, Egyptian, Christian, and alchemical mysticism and wrote about the Tarot.

A. E. Waite (1857-1942), the English Christian occult philosopher, broke from the Order of the Golden Dawn and founded his own school of mystical thought. Working with the artist Pamela Coleman Smith - who was also a member of The Order of the Golden Dawn - Waite created a "rectified" deck featuring images and scenery on all the cards, Minor as well as Major Arcana. They produced the 78 card deck that we use today.

The tarot has been studied by many adepts and has been shown to be directly relating to the Qabalah. The Order of the Golden Dawn in 1890 made a deck for its members, utilizing the knowledge of the Qabalah in its symbolism. This was not the first deck, but the research done by the golden dawn and its members helped shape the views of the Tarot and the western philosophies of the mysteries. Together, they produced the 78 card deck that we use today. The tarot has been studied by many adepts and has been shown to be directly relating to the Qabalah.

Aleister Crowley, too, founded his own occult school, the Ordo Templi Orientis, which had to do, among other things, sex magic. Working with Freida Harris, he created the colorful Book of Thoth Tarot. He considered identifying with each card more important than trying to guess about origins.

Paul Foster Case, who formed the Builders Adytum, thought the Tarot from Morocco. According to him, 11th century philosophers designed it to both to preserve knowledge after the Alexandrian libraries were burned down and to furnish a universal language. He, too, designed a deck, a black and white one. It strongly resembles Waite's.

Other theories:

  • the cards are allegories of Sufi masters;
  • Grail legend depictions;
  • the Indian game Chaturanga, a forerunner of chess;
  • Indian holy texts;
  • Gypsy imports;
  • Hebrew lore;
  • Greek philosophy;
  • ancestors of Mesopotamian copper cylinders;
  • symbols handed down from prehistoric oral stories;
  • symbols from ancient Central American Indian cultures;
  • wisdom of prehistoric matriarchal cultures;
  • teaching aids of the Waldenses, a persecuted Christian sect;
  • surviving lore of the Order of Knights Templar, founded in 1188 to protect pilgrims and guard the ways to the Holy Land;
  • creation of the 13th century alchemists, the Tarot containing hidden alchemical imagery

Speculation aside, we don't know, and perhaps will never know, what the original Tarot cards looked like. Nor do we know where they came from or who created them. We don't even know how many were contained in a deck. It has frustrated Tarot experts and inspired countless origin theories. However they came to be, the images of Tarot, like all true symbols, resound spontaneous self-expressions from the psyche's deepest springs; and for that reason they hold up magic mirrors to whatever reactions we bring them. Like all authentic artistic creations, Tarots are ultimately a mystery and will remain so.


Tarot Decks

The oldest group of surviving Tarot cards, called Tarocchi in Italian, appears to date from 1420 to 1450.

      Tarocchi (Italian, plural form of Tarocco) also known as Tarock (German-Austrian name) and Tarot (French name), is a specific form of playing card deck, which in its history was used for different trick-taking games and also for cartomantic interests and divination (concrete forms appear at least since the article of Court de Gebelin in the year 1781), also as a field for artists to display specific iconographical forms often connected to an ideological system in the background (already a strong factor in the first decks known in 15th century). It is recorded as one of the oldest types of playing card decks known.

The playing material (a deck with usually 4x14 normal Italian suits and court cards, which include in contrast to other forms a cavallo or knight, with additional 21 trumps and a Fool; the suits may differ from other national patterns) is older than the name of the game, which, according current research state, became known in the year 1505 parallel in France (Taraux) and Ferrara (Italy, as Tarocchi) (Tarot press note) (Details). An earlier form of the game had the name Trionfi or triumphs, this name developed later as general term for trick-taking (trumpfen in German, to trump in English) and disappeared in its original function as deck name. This earlier name of the game is first documented in February 1442, Ferrara {document).

Although the objects are relatively clear of Italian origin (28 notes of the term Trionfi from 1442 - 1463 are counted), it seems, that the final name Tarocchi developed from French influence (Italian speakers of today claim that French words with an ending "-ot" had been commonly transformed in endings with "-occo" and "-occhi".) The poet Berni in 1526 still has some mockery for this (still new) word: "Let him look to it, who is pleased with the game of Tarocco, that the only signification of this word Tarocco, is stupid, foolish, simple, fit only to be used by bakers, cobblers, and the vulgar".

Although the oldest cards that we have are hand-painted ones, many scholars believe that printed or wood block cards predate the hand-painted ones. However, as most early printed cards were much-used and of poor quality, the earliest printed cards date from later than the hand-painted ones by twenty to fifty years so that there is no physical evidence to show which type of cards were the first to be created.

The typical 78-card tarot deck is structured into two distinct parts. The first, called the Trump cards, consists of 21 cards without suits, plus a 22nd card, The Fool, which is sometimes given the value of zero (0).

The second consists of 56 cards divided into four suits of 14 cards each. The traditional Italian suits are Swords, Batons, Coins and Cups. In modern tarot decks, the Batons suit is commonly called Wands, Rods or Staves, while the Coins suit is often called Pentacles or Disks.

Among those who use Tarot cards for divination purposes, the trumps are usually called Major Arcana, while the other cards are known as the Minor Arcana. (Arcana is the plural form of the Latin word arcanum, meaning "closed" or "secret".)

The 14 cards in each suit consist of an Ace, nine cards numbered 2 through 10, and four court cards (not dissimilar from the structure of 52-card bridge/poker playing card decks, except that bridge/poker playing card decks have three court cards rather than four).

The four court cards (or face cards) of the tarot deck traditionally consist of the King, the Queen, the Knight and the Page (or Knave). In bridge/poker decks, the court cards typically consist of the King, the Queen and the Jack. The Jack corresponds to the tarot deck's Page.

In the present-day Anglo-American world, the Tarot is usually seen either as a means of divination, the practice of ascertaining information from supernatural or other sources, or, in a more modern view, as a psychological tool for accessing the unconscious. However, early references such as a sermon 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, as Michael Dummett points out in Twelve Tarot Games (1980), Tarot games are still widely played.

Early Tarot Decks

The relationship between Tarot cards and playing cards is well documented. Playing cards appeared quite suddenly in Christian Europe during the period 1375­1380, following several decades of use in Islamic Spain: see playing card history for discussion of its origins. Early European sources describe a deck with typically 52 cards, like a modern deck with no jokers. The 78-card Tarot resulted from adding 21 Trumps and the Fool to an early 56-card variant (14 cards per suit). A greater distribution of playing cards in Europe can with some certainty be given for the year 1377 and the following years. Tarot cards only developed some 40 years later, and they are mentioned, possibly for the first time, in the surviving text of Martiano da Tortona (it can be found in translation on the Web). Initially, tarot cards were only known as "trionfi" (triumphs). Only later did the name "tarocchi" appear.

The likely date for da Tortona's text is between 1418 and 1425, since in 1418 the confirmed painter Michelino da Besozzo returned to Milan, and Martiano da Tortona died in 1425. It cannot be proven, of course, that Tarot cards did not exist earlier, but it seems improbable, because the date of the Martiano da Tortona text is at least 15 years earlier than other clear confirming documents. Da Tortona describes a deck similar to Tarot cards in specific points, but in other ways quite different. What he describes is more a predevelopment to Tarot than what we might think of as "real" Tarot cards. For instance, it has only 16 trumps; its motifs are not comparable to common Tarot cards (they are Greek gods); and the suits are not the common Italian suits, but four kinds of birds.

What makes da Tortona's deck similar to Tarot cards is that these 16 cards are obviously regarded as trump cards in a card game, and that, about 25 years later, a nearly contemporary speaker, Jacopo Antonio Marcello, called them a "ludus triumphorum" - a term that is regarded as a relatively certain indicator of Tarot-similar objects when it appears in relation to playing cards.

The next documents that seem to confirm the existence of objects similar to Tarot cards are two playing card decks from Milan (Brera-Brambrilla and Cary-Yale-Tarocchi) - extant, but fragmentary - and three documents, all from the court of Ferrara, Italy. The playing cards are naturally not precisely datable, but it is estimated that they were made circa 1440.

The three documents are from 1 January 1441 to July 1442, with the term "trionfi" first documented in February 1442. The provenance of the document from January 1441, which used the term "Trionfi" not, might be regarded as insecure, however, certain circumstances make it plausible, that it already was a deck of this developing type (same painter: Sagramoro, same commissioner: Leonello d'Este as in the document of February 1442); this is discussed on the site. After 1442, a longer pause (seven years) occurred without any confirming material, which doesn't give any reason to assume a greater distribution of the game in these years.

Till this time all relevant early documents point to an origin of the Trionfi cards (later Tarocchi cards) in the upper class of the society in Italy, and specifically to the courts of Milan and Ferrara. At the time, these were the most exclusive courts of their time in Europe. The number of existing decks might have been quite small. The game seems to gain in importance in the year 1450 - a Jubilee year in Italy, which saw many festivities and traffic of pilgrims.

The following frequent documentary evidence of the decks in the period from 1450 to 1463 is documented on the Web at the same place.

In the given context, it's obvious that the special motifs on the trumps, which were added to normal playing cards with a usual 4x14-structure, were ideologically determined. They have been thought to show a specific system that could transport messages of different content; known early examples show philosophical, social, poetical, astronomical and heraldic ideas, for instance, as well as a group of old Roman/Greek/Babylonian heroes that could serve as content as in the case of the Sola-Busca-Tarocchi and the Boiardo Tarocchi poem.

For example, the above-mentioned earliest-known deck, extant only in its description in Martiano's short book, was produced to show a Greek gods system (an ideological idea at a time when Greek content was taken in Italy with some enthusiasm). Very likely its production accompanied a triumphal festivity of the commissioner Filippo Maria Visconti, which means the deck had the concrete function of expressing and consolidating the political power in Milan (as common for the time also in other productions of art). The 4 suits showed birds, which appeared regularly in common Visconti-heraldic, and the used specific order of the gods gives reason to assume, that the deck partly should focus, that the Visconti identified themselves as descendants from Jupiter and Venus (which were - as in this time usual - seen not as gods, but as heroes, which were deified once).

This first known deck seems to have had the usual 10 number cards, but kings only and only 16 trumps - the later standard (4x14 + 22) wasn't settled and still in 1457 a document is known, which speaks of Trionfi decks with 70 cards only . Till the Boiardo Tarocchi poem (produced at an unknown date between 1461 and 1494) and the Sola Busca Tarocchi (1491) any confirming evidence for the final standard form with all 78 cards is missing.

Individual researchers' opinions formulate cause these facts in the current moment, that the Trionfi decks of the early time had mostly 5x14 cards only and that the row of trumps and fool were simply considered as a 5th suit with predefined trump-function.

The oldest surviving Tarot cards are three early to mid-15th century sets, all made for members of the Visconti family, rulers of Milan. The oldest of these existing Tarot decks was perhaps painted to celebrate a mid-15th century wedding joining the ruling Visconti and Sforza families of Milan, probably painted by Bonifacio Bembo and other miniaturists of the Ferrara school. Of the original cards, 35 are in the Pierpont Morgan Library, 26 cards are at the Accademia Carrara, 13 are at the Casa Colleoni, 4 cards (the Devil, the Tower, the Three of Swords, and the Knight of Coins) being lost or possibly never made. This "Visconti-Sforza" deck, which has been widely reproduced in varying quality, combines the suits of Swords, Staves, Coins and Cups, and face cards King, Queen, Knight and Page with trumps that reflect conventional iconography of the time to a significant degree.

For a long time Tarot cards remained privileged to the upper class of society. The Roman Catholic Church and most civil governments did not routinely condemn tarot cards during tarot's early history. In fact, in some jurisdictions, tarot cards were specifically exempted from laws otherwise prohibiting regular playing cards. However, some sermons inveighing against the evil inherent in cards can be traced to the 14th century.

As the earliest Tarot cards were hand-painted, the number of the produced decks is considered to have been rather small. Only after the invention of the printing press mass production of cards became possible. Decks from this era survive from various cities in France at various times (the best known in this context being the city of Marseille, in southern France) perhaps from the early 16th century, though actual surviving examples are no earlier than the 17th century. At around the same time, the name "Tarocchi" appeared.

A general farspread, now traditional, hypothesis stated that the final form of the Tarot with a (4x14)+22 structure was settled ca. 1450. This opinion is based on the suggestion, that the surviving 68 Bembo cards had in the "6 added trumps" only replacements for earlier "lost cards". An alternative view states that early Tarot decks would usually have 70 cards, and that the deck by Bonifacio Bembo only has two cards missing. Of worth for the situation of the development is the Tarot History Fact Sheet, which was composed on the base of the common ground of various researchers.

Esoteric Views on the History of Tarot

Since 1781, when Antoine Court de Gebelin published his "Le Monde Primatif", in which he claimed Tarot cards held the "secrets of the Egyptians", without producing any evidence to sustain his claims, Tarot cards have been written about by many esoterians who have advanced speculative views on the history of Tarot cards. From this mystical vantage-point, the origin and history of the Tarot is unclear and often idealized.

Many Hermetic traditions, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which have made claims that the Tarot system was derived from ancient mystery religions as a visually encoded framework of the archetypal concepts seminal to the journey of enlightenment, have blossomed after the freemasonic writer (Court de Gebelin)- with link to the online text in French) published his text about the Tarot, in which he incorporated some writing of the Comte de Mellet, in the year 1781.

Naturally the playing card research conditions of the year 1781 were not remotely comparable to the much better research situation of today, Gebelin's errors and partly wild speculations, which proved nonetheless of some importance for the development of Western Esotericism, were natural in his time because of missing information. A good and informative timeline of the development short before and after Gebelin is given by the book author Mary Greer.

The Hermetics were quick to point out that in a qabalistic analysis, Tarot is equivalent to Rota (Wheel) or Tora (Law) indicating they were a representation of the 'Wheel of the Law'. (Note that this theory, which tries to explain the name "Tarot", loses its value when one considers that "Tarot" is only the French variant on the original Italian name "tarocchi".)

In less obtuse terms, the Tarot would then be a series of metaphysical 'facts' after the manner of the Zen Ox Paintings. From the first to the last of the Major Arcana ("Big Secrets") they are arranged as a series of lessons, or a parable of the passage of the soul. From the "Fool" 0, the tabula rasa, naive and artless child-mind, a quest is laid out which is meant for the spiritual edification of the student.

A number of scholars of the western Hermetic or Magical traditions have made such claims of the Tarot having ancient roots and lessons. Look to the works of Robert Fludd or Albertus Magnus for deeper inspections. Another school of thought believes that the Roma people, travelling through many cultures, picked up this pictorial wisdom, and being inventive by nature, created a form of divination (and perhaps of card games) from it. The idea is that they understood and kept the knowledge of the mystery-lessons of the picture-cards in private, while in public they used the cards for profit through divination and card games.

Use of Tarot Cards in Divination

Since the Egyptianizing ruminations in Le Monde primitif by Antoine Court de Gébelin (1781) which soon inspired the occultism of "Etteilla" (Jean-Babtiste Alliette), it has been believed by many that the Tarot is far older than this. Based on purported similarities of imagery and reinforced by the added numbering, some claim that Tarot originated in ancient Egypt, Hebrew mystic tradition of the Kabbalah, or a wide variety of other exotic places and times. Such ideas, however, are speculative.

In fact, although much of Tarot imagery looks mysterious or exotic to modern users, nearly all of it reflects conventional symbolism popular in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. Nearly all of it may easily be interpreted as a reflection of the dominant Christian values of the times. Thus, the earliest Tarots may have been depictions of the carnival parades that ushered in the Christian season of Lent or the related motif of hierarchical powers found in Petrarch's poem I Trionfi. These trionfi or triumphs were elaborate productions which layered then-fashionable Graeco-Roman symbolism over a Christian allegory of sin, grace, and redemption. Notably, the earliest versions of the World card show a conventional image known from period religious art to represent St. Augustine's "Heavenly City", and it is not coincidence that it often closely follows the Judgement card.

Several other early Tarot-like sequences of portable art survive to place the Visconti deck in context. Later confusion about the symbolism stems, in part, from the occult decks, which began a process of steadily paganizing and universalizing the symbolism to the point where the underlying Christian allegory has been somewhat obscured (as, for example, when the Rider-Waite deck of the early Twentieth Century changed "The Pope" to "The Hierophant" and "The Popess" to "The High Priestess"). It is notable that between 1450 and 1500 the Tarot was actually recommended for the instruction of the young by Church moralists. Not until fifty years after the Visconti deck did it become associated with gambling, and not until the 18th century and Gébelin and Etteilla with occultism.

The Tarot cards eventually came to be associated with mysticism and magic. This was actually a late rather than early development, as we can tell from period sources on card divination and magic. The Tarot was not widely adopted by mystics, occultists and secret societies until the 18th and 19th century. The tradition began in 1781, when Antoine Court de Gébelin, a Swiss clergyman and Freemason, published Le Monde Primitif, a speculative study which included religious symbolism and its survivals in the modern world.

De Gébelin first asserted that symbolism of the Tarot de Marseille asserted represented the mysteries of Isis and Thoth. Gébelin further claimed that the name "tarot" came from the Egyptian words tar, meaning "royal", and ro, meaning "road", and that the Tarot therefore represented a "royal road" to wisdom. Gébelin asserted these and similar views dogmatically; he presented no clear factual evidence to substantiate his claims. In addition, Gébelin wrote before Champollion had deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs. Later Egyptologists found nothing in the Egyptian language that supports de Gébelin's fanciful etymologies, but these findings came too late; by the time authentic Egyptian texts were available, the identification of the Tarot cards with the Egyptian "Book of Thoth" was already firmly established in occult practice.

Although tarot cards were used for fortune-telling in Bologna, Italy in the 1700s, they were first widely publicized as a divination method by Alliette, also called "Etteilla", a French occultist who reversed the letters of his name and worked as a seer and card diviner shortly before the French Revolution. Etteilla designed the first esoteric Tarot deck, adding astrological attributions and "Egyptian" motifs to various cards, altering many of them from the Marseille designs, and adding divinatory meanings in text on the cards. Etteilla decks, although now eclipsed by Smith and Waite's fully-illustrated deck and Aleister Crowley's "Thoth" deck, remain available. Later Marie-Anne Le Normand popularized divination and prophecy during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. This was due, in part, to the influence she wielded over Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon's first wife. However, she did not typically use Tarot.

Interest in Tarot by other occultists came later, during the Hermetic Revival of the 1840s in which (among others) Victor Hugo was involved. The idea of the cards as a mystical key was further developed by Eliphas Levi and passed to the English-speaking world by The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Lévi, not Etteilla, is considered by some to be the true founder of most contemporary schools of Tarot; his 1854 Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (English title: Transcendental Magic) introduced an interpretation of the cards which related them to Cabala. While Levi accepted Court de Gébelin's claims about an Egyptian origin of the deck symbols, he rejected Etteilla's innovations and his altered deck, and devised instead a system which related the Tarot, especially the Tarot de Marseille, to the Kabbalah and the four elements of alchemy. On the other hand, to this day some of Etteilla's divinatory meanings for Tarot are still used by some Tarot practitioners.

Tarot became increasingly popular beginning in 1910, with the publication of the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, which took the step of including symbolic images related to divinatory meanings on the numeric cards. (Arthur Edward Waite had been an early member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn). In the 20th century, a huge number of different decks were created, some traditional, some vastly different. Thanks, in part, to marketing by the publisher U.S. Games Systems, the Rider-Waite-Smith deck has been extremely popular in the English-speaking world beginning in the 1970s.

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