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The Mythology of the Tarot


"How many times had she heard her grandmother tell her mother? Beatrice would shake her head and wave her hand like she was swatting flies, but Ernestine insisted that her granddaughter learn to read the cards and so the lessons began in secret, usually when her parents were already in bed. During the winter months there was little to do after their usual 3pm meal and so after her parents retired for the evening, Josette and Ernestine would sit at this very same card table, in front of a roaring fire and Josette would do reading after reading, memorizing the meaning of each card.


“You need to channel all that power,” she would remind Josette, “and feel the energy from each card. Study the symbols and images but make it your own, child.”


How she missed her grandmother, with her sharp wit and kind smile.


She quickly returned to the present as she slowly turned over each and laid them out in the familiar pattern.


If she’s looking for love I don’t see it here.


The woman leaned forward as Josette studied the cards


Wheel of Fortune, the Fool, Death….


“And this is my daughter, Josette Maraine.”


Josette glanced up from the cards to find her mother and the handsome stranger standing beside her.


“And this is Madame Reynard.” Beatrice gestured with a smile.


“Madame Reynard,” the stranger smiled and Josette could have sworn the woman melted into the fabric of the Louis XVI chair as he stared down at her."





Tarot reading is a practice that's been around for a very long time but have you ever wondered about its roots? Did it start with mediums and gypsies and spread from there? You might be surprised.


While traditional playing cards appeared in Europe around 1375 (when they were brought over by Islamic societies), the tarot didn't appear until approximately 1440 in Italy and seems to have originally been intended as a game for nobles. There were four suits with cards numbered one through ten as well as court cards that included a queen, king, knight and page. The deck also included 22 symbolic picture cards that did not belong to any suit. The decks were used to play a game called triumph that was similar to bridge. In triumph, 21 of the 22 special picture cards were permanent trump cards. The game spread quickly to all parts of Europe. People began referring to as tarocchi, which is an Italian version of the French word tarot, around 1530. Today, the game is far less popular in Italy while the French tarot game is the most popular in its native country and regional tarot games are widely played in central Europe.


That's all fine and well but when did the tarot begin to be used for divination and how did that come about? While it is commonly agreed upon that the rebirth of the Tarot, and its beginnings a means of divination, are attributed to Antoine Court de Gébelin in 1781, there are actually a few records of the tarot being used as such before this time. Manuscripts from 1735 and 1750 document simple divinatory meanings for the cards of the tarot as well as a system for laying out the cards. Giacomo Casanova wrote in his diary that in 1765 his Russian mistress frequently used a deck of playing cards for divination. It was de Gébelin, however, who wrote a paper about the Tarot, deciphering the origins of the symbolism as being representative of ancient Egyptian theology. He asserted the name "Tarot" came from the Egyptian words Tar, "path" or "road", and the word Ro, Ros or Rog, meaning "King" or "royal", and that the Tarot literally translated to the Royal Road of Life. Next came the Tarot's association with Gypsies and then Kabbalah, or Hebrew mysticism. The association with Kabbalah would then fuel a belief that the Tarot originated in Israel and contained the wisdom of the Tree of Life.


Since that time it has been linked with almost every magical system or religion known to mankind. The Tarot is comprised of archetypal images that cross linguistic and cultural barriers. What once originated as a game has become a mystic symbol known round the world, one that represents knowledge and life.


Have you ever had your cards read? How was the experience?

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© 2019 Denise K. Rago

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