Tarot - Magical Arts

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Magical Arts

Tarot are cards used primarily for divination although they may also be used for meditation, spiritual contemplation, and magic spells. They may also be used for card games, particularly the Italian game tarocchi. A complete tarot deck consists of 78 cards, and is actually a fusion of two decks incorporated together:

Image The Major Arcana or Greater Secrets consists of 22 cards

Image The Minor Arcana or Lesser Secrets consists of 56 cards

Although traditionally Major and Minor cards are integrated together some prefer to use only one deck, usually the Major Arcana, which are generally believed to contain greater mysteries and spiritual depth.

The Minor Arcana is recognizable as the ancestor or close relation of modern playing cards. The Minor Arcana is divided into four suits: cups (chalices), pentacles (coins, discs), wands (staves), and swords. These correspond to the Western playing-card suits of hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. Playing cards from Spain utilize the same suits as the Tarot.

Each tarot suit consists of cards numbered from one to ten plus four court cards. Regular playing cards have a jack, queen, and king corresponding to the Tarot’s page, queen, and king. However tarot cards also feature a knight. One theory suggests that playing cards no longer contain knights because of the destruction of the Knights Templars; another theory suggests that tarot cards do have knights specifically to indicate that the Knights Templars survive, albeit incognito and underground.

The sole member of the Major Arcana to appear in a regular deck of cards is the one unnumbered card, The Fool, who materializes as The Joker.

Paper playing cards originally came from China, India or Korea where they were also used for divination, spell-casting, and fun. Cartomancy was established in France, Germany, and Italy by the late fourteenth century.

The origins of the tarot cards are mysterious; the images are powerful and evocative and so many theories of their origins exist. The origins of the Tarot have been attributed to the Romany and the Knights Templars.

Others suggest that they are of Egyptian origin and are perhaps remnants of the ancient Book of Thoth, the magic book authored by the god. (See DIVINE WITCH: Thoth.) The book was redesigned as cards, which are portable and easily and discreetly stored for reasons of safety. French theologian Antoine Court de Gebelin, author of one of the earliest works on tarot, published in Paris between 1775 and 1784, suggests that the Major Arcana comes from the Egyptian Book of Thoth saved from the ruins of a burning temple. The book was rescued and brought to Europe by traveling Gypsies.

Other theories suggest:

Image Tarot, especially the Major Arcana, was devised as a secret method of preserving ideologies forbidden by the Church. Tarot was not only a divination system but also a repository for sacred but now forbidden lore and symbols.

Image A convention of occultists met in Morocco c.1200 CE to develop a way to preserve metaphysical wisdom as they foresaw dark times ahead. Among their solutions were Tarot cards.

Image The magus, Eliphas Levi (1810—1875) integrated the Major Arcana with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Levi, who despite his name was a devout if conflicted French Catholic, suggested that the origins of the tarot lie in ancient Israel. Various ancient divination systems were practiced in the Jerusalem Temple; when it was destroyed, “certain wise Kabalists” preserved and recorded its mysteries, first on ivory, then on parchment, gilt or “silvered leather,” and finally on simple card stock.

Image The Hindu deity Ardhanari holds a cup, scepter, sword, and ring. These four attributes correspond to the four Tarot suits. Some suggest that the origins of tarot lie in India and were carried through the world during the Romany migration.

Image The most mundane origin of the Tarot suggests that it was invented between 1410 and 1424 in Northern Italy and is nothing more than a deck of playing cards!

In 1392, King Charles VI of France paid artist Jacquemin Gringonneur for three decks of cards, although it is unclear whether these were tarot decks, playing cards or something else all together. These cards have not yet been found, if they still exist. The oldest surviving decks seem to be from fifteenth-century Italy. The Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris has seventeen cards in its collection, sixteen of which are recognizable as Tarot cards. These were once thought to have been the Gringonneur cards but are now acknowledged as Venetian and dating from c.1470.

Tarot cards are traditionally read by shuffling them, then drawing individual cards at random. Cards are also arranged in specific patterns, known as “spreads,” some very simple, others extremely sophisticated and utilizing the entire deck. Patterns made by the cards, and the placement of individual cards within the spread, are interpreted.

The simple three-card spread involves laying three cards face down. Cards are read from left to right: the first card represents the past, the second the present, and the third the future.

Literally thousands of decks are now available: some are genuine divination tools; others qualify as works of art. Salvador Dali, for instance, illustrated a tarot deck. The most significant modern decks are the Rider Waite deck, designed by Arthur Waite and executed by Pamela Colman-Smith, and the Crowley Deck (or the Deck of Thoth) designed by Aleister Crowley, with artwork executed by Lady Frieda Harris.