What is the Tarot?

There are as many competing answers to that vexatious question as there are tarot decks – and there are a lot of tarot decks out there. 

Tarot history – the digested read

Classically, the Tarot consists of 78 cards – four suits of Minor Arcana (usually on the themes of Staffs, Cups, Swords and Disks) made up of 10 pip cards and four court cards and the 22 cards of the Major Arcana. 

Most scholars agree that the first Tarot decks emerged during the Italian Renaissance with the oldest surviving cards being the 15 belonging to the Visconti-Sforza deck. Playing cards were already in common usage, having made their way from the far East to the Mameluke Empire and so on to Mediterranean Europe where the decks were first used to play the game of Tarocchi. As to when and how the Major Arcana or Trumps were added and what they mean, who knows? Theories include

  • simple gaming symbols representing the different social strata and cultural mores of 15th century Italy
  • the transmission of lost NeoPlatonic knowledge from pagan hold-outs in Byzantium
  • a hidden book of magick descending from the much-cited ancient Eygptian magician Hermes Trismegistus.

And there are hundreds of others – take your pick!

How does the Tarot work?

These days, I don’t really concern myself with how it works. One might equally ask how does a much-loved book of poetry “work” and with about as much profit. What I do know is what I personally experience every time I use the Tarot – that a randomly drawn number of cards laid out according to a pre-prescribed pattern can tell remarkably useful stories about one’s situation, needs, challenges, key influences and even a little bit about how these threads inter-weave and move forward into the future. 

But it is always worth remembering that Tarot maps out possible futures, like a weather reporter. I firmly believe that our futures are unwritten. Of course, some aspects are going to be less fluid than others; your own past experiences can’t help but push you forward to some extent, or hold you back. But we can all make choices and Tarot can help clarify what those choices are and what some of their consequences might be. 

Interested? Find out more in my blog or book a reading.