Tarot Around the World

The tarot (/ˈtæroʊ/; first known as trionfi and later as tarocchi or tarock) is a pack of playing cards, used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play games such as Italian tarocchini, French tarot and Austrian Königrufen, many of which are still played today.

In the late 18th century, some tarot packs began to be used as a trend for divination via tarot card reading and cartomancy leading to custom packs developed for such occult purposes.

Like common playing cards, the tarot has four suits which vary by region: French suits in Northern Europe, Latin suits in Southern Europe, and German suits in Central Europe. Each suit has 14 cards, ten pip cards numbering from one (or Ace) to ten and four face cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Jack/Knave). In addition, the tarot has a separate 21-card trump suit and a single card known as the Fool. Depending on the game, the Fool may act as the top trump or may be played to avoid following suit.

These tarot cards are still used throughout much of Europe to play conventional card games without occult associations. Among English-speaking countries where these games are not played frequently, tarot cards are used primarily for novelty and divinatory purposes, usually using specially designed packs.

Some occult enthusiasts make relative claims to ancient Egypt, the Kabbalah, Indian Tantra, the I Ching, among many others, though no documented evidence of such origins or of the usage of tarot for divination before the 18th century has been demonstrated to a scholarly standard.

By the 19th century, the tarot came to be regarded as a “bible of bibles”, an esoteric repository of all the significant truths of creation. The trend was started by prominent freemason and Protestant cleric Antoine Court de Gébelin who suggested that the tarot had an ancient Egyptian origin, and mystic divine and kabbalistic significance.