Tarot has a long and clouded history and as such it is hard to know what is absolutely true and what is fiction. Tarot as we know it today developed from cards used to play games. No one really knows for certain where Playing/Tarot cards developed. Some say China, Egypt, Italy and so on. There are as many theories on the birth of Tarot/Playing cards as there are opinions. What we do know is that the history of cards goes back as far as the 1300s. There is, sadly, a lot of lost history.
Between the 1300s and 1500s Cards became very popular through Germany, Italy, Egypt and France. Card decks journeyed with travelers and where spread widely. In the beginning card decks had 52 cards only consisting of 4 suits and three court cards. The suits used where Swords, Staves, Coins, and Cups. The court cards had Kings, Pages and Knights. Somewhere in the 1400s Queens where added to the court cards to make the decks a total of 56 cards. This 56 card deck was the foundation of present day tarot decks.
In the 1400s trump cards where created and such is the birth of the major arcana cards. The earliest Majors had figures like the Pope, Revelations, The Emperor and Death. With the addition of trump cards to the 56 card deck, we now have the traditional 78 card deck. During this time Tarot decks where greatly sought after. Italy became a huge production house for tarot decks of many designs. Tarot decks where and still are works of art and at the time decks where hand painted and leafed in gold and silver; most of the time only the wealthy could afford them. When the printing press became more commonly used, Tarot decks became much more accessible to the masses.
Through the 1500s, tarot decks where all the rage. At this time they still where not used for divination or fortune telling activities. Decks were used as playing cards, Parlour games and gambling being the most popular. In 1540 Francesco Marcolini wrote the first Cartomancy (divination with cards) book on record. The cards used in his form of cartomancy where not tarot cards but a deck of his own making. His creation was called The Trappola deck and made of four suits each with nine cards.
This brings us to about 1650-1700. There is so much more I could write but I would never have enough room for all the threads of history, rumors and theories that surround tarot cards and their creation. My next blog post will supply more history and bring us up to the present.
*This Blog post is not intended to be all encompassing, just a short synopsis of the history that is known.