There are many ways to approach the Tarot and it falls upon the reader to find the path that works best for them. Tarot, like any tool, is all about how you use it and it is important to realise that using the Tarot is a personal journey and thus there is no incorrect way in which they can be interpreted.
Explaining the Tarot in broad terms is difficult to do as it varies so wildly among different interpretations. To try and do so however, we here at tarotcards.com love this passage from the great Cynthia Giles in her wonderful book ‘Tarot: History, Mastery and Lore’- “Tarot is a set of seventy-eight images which, taken together, depict all the forces that affect human life, along with all the characters, events, emotions, and ideas that provide the material from which human life is composed.” Isn’t that great?!
In essence, we like to see Tarot as a map or a window into the mind from which to gain a deeper understanding of human consciousness. When we need help finding solutions to life’s problems or a little direction is needed as we shuffle along this mortal coil, the Tarot can be a guiding light within one’s self to help find the path that is already there. With a little patience, a journey into the world of Tarot can be deep and amazing.
Why Do Tarot
Tarot cards today are probably best known as tools for gaining a clearer understanding of our lives in the present and in our past, as well as gaining an insight into our future. This use of the cards has captivated people for centuries, so it is no surprise that it still pulls people towards the medium today. The earliest known examples of Tarot being used in occult purposes dates back to around the mid 18th century, so a few hundred years after the earliest known decks.
It is thought that the first example of Tarot being used for divination purposes was by French occultist Jean-Baptiste Alliette (also known as Etteilla) in the 1780’s. From then, this practice of using the cards for divination spread across Europe and into countless cultures and organisations including the Freemasons, the Romani people and even reportedly reached as high in society as Napoleon. With this, fear and misunderstanding of the cards also spread with the cards commonly being referred to as ‘the Devil’s picture book’ (check out the excellent book of the same name).
The legacy of Tarot in esotericism and the occult continued into the 20th century with the help of well-known occultists Arthur Edward Waite and Aleister Crowley. A.E. Waite was a member of the occultist organisation the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. He released his deck in this period which created a resurgence of interest in Tarot for this purpose and lead to countless decks being designed using his same formula. Aleister Crowley created the Thoth tarot deck which has its roots in the ancient Egyptian Book of Thoth and is extremely rich in symbolism surrounding the occult.
Another area in which the Tarot has been closely linked to esotericism and the occult is with the Hermetic Qabalah. Followers of this tradition were known to view the Tarot as a key to the tree of life which is one of its core beliefs. The Golden Dawn had much of its roots based in the Hermetic Qabalah and so much of A.E. Waite’s work, such as the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot, uses a lot of imagery and symbolism derived from the tradition. We recommend Robert Wang’s excellent book ‘The Qabalistic Tarot’ if you would like to read more in this area. The intricacies and history of Tarot’s use within the occult and as a divinatory tool would easily fill a book, indeed there are many. We therefore recommend that you see this brief introduction as a small insight into the transcendental esoteric world of Tarot and use it simply as a jumping off point.
Welcome to tarotcards.com. This site is a celebration of tarot cards and a place to learn about the intriguing world surrounding them alongside a carefully curated shop. For us, like most people, it was the striking artwork of the Tarot that first grabbed our attention. The site was actually conceived by three artists – each with a desire to create a deck of tarot cards and a need for somewhere to showcase them. It turns out that designing and developing the website was far easier for us than producing the cards themselves. So with the launch of tarotcards.com, those cards are currently still being designed. Look out for our decks in the store in the coming months (we’ve also been experimenting with prints courtesy of our other project getstamped.co.uk). So, naturally it’s the art of Tarot and the artists who create it that is the beating heart of the site. Whether you’re taking your first steps into the arcane world or you’re well versed in the language of Tarot, there will be something for you to enjoy over at tarotcards.com!
The history of Tarot is fascinating and there is a wealth of great artists over hundreds of years who have contributed to it.
The oldest surviving tarot cards are from the Italian Visconti-Sforza families’ collection of cards pieced together with odd cards from roughly 15 decks dated around 1428-1447.
Later that century, in 1491, the Sola-Busca tarot deck is widely thought to have been created by the Italian painter and printmaker Nicola di Maestro Antonio d’Ancona. This is significant because it is the earliest known full deck of 78 cards. It was also the first known deck to contain the format of 22 major arcana cards or ‘Triumphs’ as they were known at the time and 56 fully illustrated minor arcana cards or ‘suit cards’. Quite how much influence this deck would have on the world of Tarot unfortunately remained unknown to the artist for the remainder of his life. In fact, the Sola-Busca tarot deck with its format of 56 richly illustrated minor cards and 22 named and numbered major cards remained unique for over 400 years.
For hundreds of years tarot cards gained in popularity and spread across Europe with many different art styles. The cards became very popular as a game eventually becoming one of the most popular card games in Europe by the 18th century. Decks of note in this period include the Marseilles Tarot for which images were produced in the mid 17th century and attributed to the artist Jean Noblet of Paris. Another tarot deck of note from this period is the Lombardy Tarot created in 1810 by the Italian card maker F. Gumppenberg. The tarot cards in this period varied wildly in style and format. What these cards had in common though is that because their primary function was to be played as a game, the artwork was more simplistic- with rich illustrations and symbolism missing in the minor arcana.
In 1909 the scholar and mystic Arthur Edward Waite commissioned celebrated British artist and illustrator Pamela Colman-Smith to create the artwork for the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot (commonly unfairly named the Rider-Waite Tarot). This changed Tarot forever. Smith and Waite seemed to be heavily inspired by the Sola Busca deck of 1491, creating another deck in the same format with all 78 cards being given deep meaning once again with full illustrations for every card. This deck has now become the gold standard for tarot cards with the majority of decks today using this format as the basis.
Tarot has now shifted into the pop-culture sphere with the help of contemporary artists such as Jamie Hewlett and Kim Krans.
We appreciate that learning to read tarot cards can be a little daunting with so many cards and so many different meanings to learn. Then you discover that card meanings can be completely altered when dealt upside down or be changed in the context of the cards they are dealt with. So you could be forgiven for thinking that the task is too great or that you just don’t have enough time to master the art. We can assure you however, you really needn’t think that. It’s true that the Tarot, as with any discipline, can take years to master, but every journey begins with a first step. Like the fool taking his first step, it seems like he will hurt himself by falling off a cliff, however, there is nothing to fear, the fool knows he will be fine and is merely beginning a long but wondrous journey- and so are you.
The easiest way to learn the Tarot is to jump straight in. Lay out some cards in a simple spread such as a three card spread and start by simply appreciating the art. From there think to yourself what the pictures could symbolise and what they could be saying to you. At this point we advise you refer to a guide for what the cards mean, then quietly think about the meanings of the cards you have drawn plus what they could be saying to you in relation to each other and in the context of your life. There are plenty of excellent guides to the Tarot you can buy as books or you could use the brief guides we have to each card on this site. As you become more familiar with the cards and their meanings, relating the cards to each other and your own life will become easier. We find it liberating that with the aid of a simple guide to the cards there is nothing stopping you getting straight into it.
Perhaps it is fitting that a tool used to canvass the multiple paths of past, present and future, has itself a mysterious and contradictory history. There are countless myths concerning the origin of tarot cards, many of which should be taken with a grain of salt.
One theory is that Tarot is the last surviving ‘book’ from a great fire that burned down the legendary libraries of ancient Egypt.
Some argue that Tarot originates from roots in early Islam.
Others believe that the cards were carried into the early Arab world by Mamluk slaves who themselves adopted it from the ancient Chinese Dynasties they previously served.
There are even theories that the first tarot deck was a gift to an Italian medieval priest from the Devil himself.
It is generally thought and most historically accepted that Tarot simply evolved from primitive forms of playing cards somewhere in early renaissance Western Europe, and was adopted by occultists in the late 18th century French and English ‘decadent’ eras.
But the honest truth is that no one can really say for certain where the cards came from or who the originator was. We think this is all part of the charm.
The driving force behind forming this site was a desire to curate and stock tarot decks with a critical focus on the art and artists behind them. This focus comes from the fact that the site is run by three artists, each with a fascination for tarot imagery. We are each in the midst of developing a tarot deck of our own, so keep an eye out for the release of three house decks here soon! We aim to take this further and commission more artists and publish more house decks in the future. This is a labour of love, so let’s celebrate those doing the labour.
In addition to the artwork of decks, we have consulted the tarot card community and have carried out extensive research to choose decks. We have sought out decks that are powerful in meaning, rich in symbolism and that are well-loved by tarot readers. This has led to a store stocked with some of the biggest, most renowned decks along side smaller, independent tarot decks. We aim to give a platform to talented independent artists by giving them a larger audience to showcase their work and by putting them on an equal footing with the more established decks.
Stocking an eclectic range of tarot decks from a wide pool of artists and makers is at the core of what we do here at tarotcards.com. With that, we are always looking to grow our collection and further widen this pool. If you are a tarot artist or maker please feel free to contact us about your work and the possibility of stocking with us. With a perpetually evolving store and a dedication to seek out new and exciting tarot decks we hope there is something here for everyone to discover.