What is the real history of tarot?
We get asked a lot about the origin of Tarot cards in our Facebook group and by students, so we have provided below several recommended books on the presently researched and known history of the cards.
The tarot appears to have originated in Italy in the 15th Century, the earliest name being ‘carte da trionfi’ (cards of the triumphs). Some time later, about 50-100 years, certainly by 1505, they became known as ‘tarocchi’ in Italy and ‘taraux’ in France.
There is no evidence these types of cards were used by ‘gypsies’ nor is there any evidence they originated in ‘Ancient Egypt’.
The idea of an ancient Egyptian connection was created and popularised in later occultism and by authors such as Court de Gebelin, Papus, Etteilla, etc. in the French occult revival, c. 1781 onwards.
The idea was picked up by authors in the Golden Dawn, despite there being a slowly increasing knowledge of Ancient Egypt at the time – but still no evidence of any connection to Tarot.
Most authors and articles from 1920-1950 then continued the idea for marketing purposes only, giving the ‘tarot’ a ‘forbidden’ branding through the use of motifs such as gypsies, pyramids, skulls, black cats and hypnotists.
In the next revival of tarot from the 1960’s onwards, without any further research, authors simply assumed it was ‘common knowledge’ that the tarot originated in Egypt and was ‘carried’ by ‘gypsies’. This is what is referred to as “illegitimate knowledge” and can still be found today in some books and across the internet.
For Tarot History, we recommend the following titles for your reading and research.
1. History of the Occult Tarot by Michael Dummett & Ronald Decker.
2. A Wicked Pack of Cards by Michael Dummett, Ronald Decker & Thierry Depaulis.
3. The Game of Tarot by Michael Dummett – should be first on the list, as is the most comprehensive, but OOP and expensive to purchase.
4. The Encyclopedia of Tarot by Stuart Kaplan – the series contains much history and illustrations of decks through the ages.
5. Tarot in Culture – 1 & 2, ed. by Emily E. Auger – contains an essential timeline of tarot history by Mary K. Greer.
6. The Tarot: History, Symbolism & Divination by Robert Place.
7. A Cultural History of Tarot, by Helen Farley – one of my personal favourites.
8. Secrets of the Waite-Smith Tarot, by Marcus Katz & Tali Goodwin – our research and thoughts on the origins of these iconic images.
9. Tarot Time-Traveller, by Marcus Katz & Tali Goodwin – available for pre-order, a practical romp through card-reading through the ages, based on history.
10. A History of Playing Cards by Catherine Perry Hargrave – essential reading for the context in which cartomancy arose in playing cards.