of the TOP 10 MYTHS about the Tarot
If you are interested
in learning more about the origins and development of the Tarot,
you'll find a fairly comprehensive history in Stuart Kaplan's "Tarot
Classic" (US Games, 1972). Just beware of the tendency Kaplan seems
to share with just about every other writer on the subject, and
that is to first state that there is no proof as to where the Tarot
originated, and then offer many exotic and fanciful theories for
is a very abbreviated look at some of the myths concerning the Tarot.
#1: The mystical Tarot is older than dirt.
One writer on
the Tarot claims that the earliest records of the Tarot are "approximately
35,000 years old" and that the Tarot was used to pass representations
of the Universal Law down through the ages. It has been suggested
by Tarot scholar Eden Gray that the Tarot was derived from the pages
of the oldest book in the world, originated by Hermes Trismegistus,
the councilor to Osiris, King of Egypt during a period when magic,
astrology and mystic sciences flourished.
story of the Tarot's origin is that after the libraries of Alexandria
were destroyed during the Roman sack of that city, the city of Fez
in Morocco became the intellectual capital of the world. In an attempt
to create a universal language for the multicultural community of
wise men that gathered in Fez, a book of pictures containing mystic
symbols was developed, which was then converted to a seemingly simple
pack of cards. These innocent-appearing cards would escape the notice
of conquering armies and the public alike, preserving ancient knowledge
for future generations.
attempt to trace the Tarot's origin to Atlantis, King Arthur, the
Crusaders or any one of a number of other ancient cultures or secret
societies. Alas, if there is any basis in truth for any of these
stories, there is no evidence.
Part of the
problem is the very material nature of the cards themselves. Since
paper doesn't hold up well over time, it is difficult to establish
when the first Tarot deck was created. The best we can do is to
narrow it down to sometime around the 15th century, when the Duke
of Milan commissioned the creation of a deck which has come to be
known as the Visconti-Sforza Tarot.
Even with the
proof of this deck's existence, we still can't say for sure that
it was the mystical Tarot we know today, and it's far more likely
that it's use was limited to relatively simple card games for the
aristocratic family it was created for.
The first reference
to the Tarot as a mystical tool is in a 1781 book by the French
occultist Antoine Court de Gebelin. It is in de Gebelin's book that
the Tarot was first linked to ancient Egyptian esoteric wisdom.
Other 19th Century occultists, including Eliphas Levi, Arthur Edward
Waite and Aleister Crowley, followed de Gebelin's lead and attempted
to drape the cards in legend and mysticism, and the practice continues
to this day.
The lack of
any literature about the mystical use of the Tarot prior to the
19th century is significant, considering that other esoteric sciences
like astrology, numerology, alchemy and palmistry were widely written
about throughout the Renaissance and subsequent centuries. One is
left with the conclusion that it was either a very well-kept secret,
or the Tarot was used for other purposes than divination and mystic
So it would
appear that we are left with the understanding that the Tarot's
use as a vehicle to explore psychic realms probably didn't begin
until about two hundred years ago. As we shall see in a moment,
this doesn't really have much of an impact on the sincere seeker.
#2: The Tarot was invented by Gypsies (right after Love Potion #9)
Well, if it
wasn't the Egyptians, it must have been the mysterious Gypsies,
right? Sorry, but this piece of misinformation was based on the
commonly-held misconception that the Gypsies were originally residents
of the ever-popular esoteric center, Egypt, before migrating to
Europe in the 15th century. In fact, both historical evidence and
Gypsy tradition indicates that their point of origin was somewhere
As we've already
seen, Tarot cards were already in use in Italy when the Gypsies
arrived on the scene. The fact is that the Gypsies didn't start
using cards in their fortune telling practice until it became abundantly
clear that the public expected it of them.
#3: Church banned Tarot cards because they contained secret heresies
and occult magical techniques.
It's true that
the Catholic Church banned Tarot cards, along with playing cards
(known as the "Devil's Picturebook"), dice and board games. All
of these activities were considered to be a frivolous waste of time
- time that could be spent in pious activity with the Church of
have suggested that the Church didn't approve of the Tarot because
it teaches that truth and salvation can be found within each of
us, an idea that wasn't exactly endearing to an organization that
wanted to be the sole dispenser of Truth and Salvation. I tend to
doubt this, though, because the notion of the Tarot as a self-development
tool is a relatively recent one, having sprung from the New Age
movement of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties.
#4: You must be psychic to be a Tarot reader.
This is simply
not true (although it doesn't hurt). Although many Tarot readers
may augment their understanding of the Tarot by accessing their
intuitive abilities, the inherent divinatory quality of the Tarot
cards makes it easy for anyone to give a meaningful and accurate
reading based on the standard meanings of the cards.
#5: You are doomed by what the Tarot cards say.
think the only source that would disagree with this is the Hollywood
film industry, which has conditioned the general public to cringe
at the very sight of the Death card.
on the subject, we should probably clear this one up right now.
Although some ethically-challenged readers may interpret the Death
card as proof positive of the impending demise of someone, the vast
majority of reputable Tarot readers prefer to interpret this card
as an indication of a 'transition' of a situation, attitude or way
Make no mistake
about it - any of these transitions can be frightening in their
own right, but there's no reason to compound someone's uneasiness
by foretelling their death or the death of someone close to them.
And that's not even getting into the debate of whether a reader
is justified in predicting the likelihood of death in the first
are a number of disturbing images in the Tarot (aside from Death,
The Devil, The Hanged Man and the Ten of Swords spring to mind),
but it is important to realize that the images of the Tarot were
intended to act as allegories, not literal representation of what
is depicted in the cards.
So, the question
remains - is there any validity to the predictive nature of the
Tarot? Are we doomed by the appearance of a particular sequence
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