Created | Updated Mar 27, 2009
Tarot (pronounced 'tar'-O') is a deck of cards containing four suits plus a set of 'trumps'. Tarot cards are often used for divination and to help explore the subconscious. The trumps are richly drawn, and many decks have full illustrations for each card.
The most noted use of the Tarot is for divination. Usually this is done by shuffling the cards and dealing them out in a 'spread' and interpreting their meaning based on the cards' meanings and their positions. This can be done either by a single person reading for himself, or with one person doing a reading for someone else.
The cards are also often used as a psychological tool. Tarot cards use imagery, the language of the subconscious, and are used in contemplation and meditation to examine one's self and to fire the imagination.
The actual origin of the Tarot is unknown, and there is no historical record of the Tarot before 1332, when it was banned along with other gambling games by King Alphonse XI of Leon and Castile.
The name Tarot is derived from the Italian word tarocchi, meaning 'trumps'. These decks had 78 cards, with 22 trump cards and four suits. The deck was used in the game tarok; Germany also had a game called tarock. In France, the cards got their modern name and pronunciation of 'tar'-O'.
Legends of Origin
One theory of origin points to ancient Egypt. In halls beneath the Sphinx, the early versions of the cards were carved onto the walls. As part of an initiation, an initiate was taken before the carvings and the meanings were explained. The initiate was then taken through a tunnel underneath a pyramid, where the rest of the initiation took place.
Another common theory links the Tarot to Morocco, around the time of the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria. In this theory, scholars wanted to preserve important ancient knowledge, and therefore transcribed that knowledge into a deck of cards and a gambling game, ensuring its preservation.
The modern standard deck contains 78 cards, 14 cards in each of four suits and 22 trumps. The four suits are often referred to as the Minor Arcana or Pip Cards. The 22 trump cards are called the Major Arcana.
The Major Arcana
The major arcana are numbered 0-21 and represent the major stages in life. They are also involved in what is called 'The Fool's Journey'. Only their names and their basic meanings are given here:
|0||The Fool||Enthusiasm, innocence, new beginnings, optimism|
|1||The Magician||Skill, wisdom, creativity, noble use of power|
|2||The High Priestess||Intuitive wisdom, self-reliance, insight|
|3||The Empress||Mother, abundance, healing, progress|
|4||The Emperor||Father, order, wisdom, power, control, leader|
|5||The Hierophant||Tradition, religion, initiation|
|6||The lovers||Love, harmony, trust, honour, union, sexuality|
|7||The Chariot||Victory, progress, overcoming conflict|
|8||Strength||Strength, courage, self-discipline|
|9||The Hermit||Searching within, a guide, a wise person|
|10||Wheel of Fortune||Fate, destiny, change of fortune, opportunity|
|11||Justice||Balance, truth, peace, fair outcome|
|12||Hanged Man||Stagnation, new perspective, no control|
|13||Death||Transformation, death and rebirth, renewal, freedom|
|14||Temperance||Guarding against extremes, need for moderation, diplomacy|
|15||Devil||Domination, bondage, primordial nature, controversy|
|16||The Tower||Traumatic change, destruction, revolution, losses|
|17||The Star||Hope, rejuvenation, good omen, inspiration, faith|
|18||The Moon||Illusion, emotion, dreams, imagination|
|19||The Sun||Joy, success, fulfilment, enjoyment of pleasure, good health|
|20||The Judgement||Call of destiny, rebirth, rite of passage|
|21||The Universe||Completion, liberation, harmony, fulfilment|
The Minor Arcana
The four suits consist of ten numbered cards and four court cards. Each suit is related to one of the elements. The four suits are generally called 'swords', 'wands', 'pentacles', and 'cups':
Pentacles - Also called coins, disks, and diamonds, pentacles are related to the element of earth and deal with the material world.
Wands - Also called staves, sceptres, rods, staffs, and clubs, wands are related to the element of fire and deal with energy, travel, and career.
Swords - Also called spades, swords are related to the element of air and deal with the intellectual world.
Cups - Also called chalices and hearts, cups are related to the element of water and deal with the emotional and the creative.
The Court Cards
The court cards generally indicate the influence of a person:
- Page, princess, knave, daughter - young female, change, messages
- Knight, prince, son - young male, action, strength, new experiences
- Queen, mother - mature women, creativity, caring, love of nature
- King, father - mature men, stature, authority, leadership, honours