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The Understanding Of The True Tarot

Updated: May 19, 2020

One of the most popularly used tools in divination today are the Tarot cards. Although not quite as simple as other methods like pendulums or tea leaves, the Tarot has mystified and captured the imaginations of people for centuries due to it's mystical, and some may even call, magical powers. Today, there are hundreds of different designs available to purchase from many different decks of cards. There is a Tarot deck for just about any practitioner, no matter where his or her interests may lie. Whether you’re a fan of horror movies, sports, gambling, or are interested in the writings of Jane Austen, there's probably a deck that exists out there specifically for you. Over the years, the methods of reading the Tarot have changed, and many readers have adopted their own styles and interpretations to the traditional meanings of a layout, but the cards in general haven’t changed very much. Let's take a look at some of the early decks of Tarot cards, and the history of how these came into existence. 

Tarot and the Kabbalah

In 1781, a French Freemason named Antoine Court de Gebelin published a detailed analysis of the Tarot card system. In this publication, he revealed that the symbolism in the Tarot was derived from the esoteric secrets and knowledge of Egyptian priests. De Gebelin went on to explain that this ancient occult knowledge had been brought to Rome and given to the Catholic Church and the Pope, who wanted to keep this arcane knowledge secret as he believed it could hurt the church, not to mention it would also be looked upon as heresy at the time as it was considered "the devil's work", or witchcraft. There is a chapter in his publication on Tarot meanings that explains the detailed symbolism of Tarot artwork which connects it to the legends of Isis, Osiris and other Egyptian gods. This kind of mystical work has been around since ancient times, and we are rediscovering this magical phenomena.

In 1791, a French occultist named Jean-Baptiste Alliette, released the first Tarot deck designed specifically for divinatory purposes, rather than it being used for entertainment purposes or for parlor games as it was commonly being used for at the time. A few years earlier, he had responded to de Gebelin’s work with a book explaining how one could use the Tarot for divination. As interest in the occult expanded, it became more closely associated with the Kabbalah and the secrets of Hermetic Mysticism. By the end of the Victorian era, occultism and spiritualism had become extremely popular. 

The Origins of Rider-Waite

Arthur Waite, a British occultist was a member of the Order of the Golden Dawn – and apparently a longtime nemesis of Aleister Crowley, who was also involved in the group and it's various offshoots. Waite got together with artist and Golden Dawn member Pamela Colman Smith and created the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, which was first published in 1909.

At Waite's suggestion, Smith used the Sola Busca artwork for inspiration, and there are many similarities in the symbolism between Sola Busca and Smith's end results. Smith was the first artist to use characters as representative images in the lower cards. Instead of showing a cluster of cups, coins, wands or swords, Smith incorporated human figures into the artwork, and the result is the iconic deck that every reader knows and enjoys today.

The imagery is heavy on Kabbalistic symbolism and is typically used as the default deck in almost all instructional books on Tarot. Today, many people refer to this deck as the Waite-Smith deck, in acknowledgement of Smith’s enduring and amazing artwork.

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