No one can say for certain, what the origin of Tarot is. We just don’t know.
But strong evidence suggests that they appeared around the mid 1400s.
They were called “carte da trionfi” (cards of the triumphs). And were used in a card game called “tarocchi” or “tarock”. It is said that the cards were adaptions of the Islamic “Malmuk” cards. It also suggested that the three decks called the “Visconti Trumps”, which were created for nobility, are the forefathers of the tarot cards.
The original cards depicted cups, swords, coins, and polo sticks, along with the king and two male subordinates. Later on the Queens, the Fool, and the trumps were added.
There is another school of thought from those of the Celtic/Faery tradition, that the images for the tarot cards came directly from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “Vita Merlini” (1150).
And so the controversy continues.
During the 16th. century, it was common practice to desrcibe ones peronal characteristics within a poem by way of the tarot cards. This was called “tarocchi appropriati”.
The first mention of any connection between the Tarot cards and Hebrew letters was “The Comte de Mellet” which appeared in Court de Gebelin’s, “Le Monde Primitif” in 1781.
It is well known that common playing cards were used for divination purposes as early as the 8th. century. The arabians were known to have used a deck of playing cards that were called “naib”, just for this purpose. During the Crusades, this game of divination was brought back to Europe.
The first direct reference to tarot cards and divination came about in 1770, when the cartomancer, Jean-Baptiste Alliette, presented his “Etteilla” tarot deck. This deck contained 33 cards.
It was not until 1781, that interest in tarot as a form of divination, actually took root.
This occured through the writings of Antoine Court de Gebelin and the Comte de Mellet. He theorized that the tarot was of Egyptian origin. And that they contained the keys to the writings of Thoth the Atlantean, Egyptian God of Mysteries.
In 1909, A. E Waite assisted in creating the Waite-Smith tarot deck. He commisioned the artist, Pamela Smith to design his deck. Waite was a memberof the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. His pictorial descriptions deviated from the original suit names.
Substituting Major Arcana and Minor Arcana for the Trumps and the Fool, High Priestess and Hierophant for Popess and Pope, as well as substituting Pentacles and Wands for the more traditional names of Coins and Batons.
The first deck that is still in its entirety is the deck painted by the Italian artist, Bonifacio Bembo. This deck was created for the Duke of Milan. The Catholic church condemned these cards as “the Devils picture book”.
It has been suggested by Idries Shah, in the text, “The Sufis” that tarot comes from the Arab word “turuq” which translates as “four ways”.
To the alchemists, the tarot represents the “anima mundi” also known as the Akashic records”.
The tarot deck is not only a deck of mysteries, but its history is also shrouded in mystery.
Whatever the origin of tarot and its connection to divination, one thing is certain. It is one of the more popular forms of divination practiced today.