Divining the history of Tarot isn't as easy as reading a spread of the colorful cards or looking to the stars for the answer. Many theories exist about how Tarot came about – and the practice likely isn't as ancient as you may think. Nor was it always used to tell one's future outcomes.
Tarot cards are 500 to 600 years old. Originally, it was created as a card game – or so goes one story. Playing cards have been around since the 14th century, and Tarot came afterward. Mid-15th century, a special deck of "triumph" cards were requested by an Italian duke. The cards were used in a game similar to bridge, according to many history of Tarot cards accounts. Tarot was similar to playing cards – it included four suits with cards numbered from one to 10, court cards (queen, king, knight and page), and 21 picture cards used as trump cards.
Tarot was first known as tarocchi, an Italian word with no recorded etymology. It wasn't until the late 18th century that occult followers began using Tarot cards for divination. The deck is made up of 78 cards that have symbolic images on each one. These images tell a story, at least in the Major Arcana section of the deck. The 22 trump cards follow the story of the Fool's journey. You follow the Fool as he sets out with an abundance of innocence and faith and learns life lessons along the way. He meets with characters such as The Magician, High Priestess, The Empress, The Emperor, The Hierophant and The Lovers. Tarot cards history suggest these cards have always had positive and negative implications, depending on how the Tarot reader sees each situation.
The Major Arcana cards line up with the Zodiac and astrological signs, which furthers the significance of Tarot for many readers and followers. For example, The Fool aligns with the symbol for Uranus, whose characteristics include experimentation and new thoughts – a similar interpretation of the Tarot card's meaning. In Tarot, The Magician represents our conscious awareness, and in astrology, he is represented by Mercury, which is linked to understanding and connection. The Wheel of Fortune in Tarot is about destiny and movement and one's luck changing, and its astrological representative is Jupiter, which is all about enthusiasm, hope and good fortune.
Although Tarot is seen as a more fluid form of divination and astrology is more concrete and even scientific – travelers of the sea used the stars for navigation and farmers used the stars, sun, moon and planets to determine seasons – it is also all about interpretation of the stars and what messages they have for us.
In astrology software, you can enter pertinent information, such as birthdate, place of birth and time of birth, to learn how the stars and planets aligned as you came into the world. The resulting reading can tell you more about who you are, who you will be and what trials you may face in life according to the stars. Tarot is similar in that it presents paths in your future, much like a weather report. If a hurricane is forming off in the distant ocean, many variables can affect which way it goes, but meteorologists are able to forecast which way the hurricane is likely to go.
Another theory about Tarot history is that it is one of the only surviving holy books from Egypt's famous library. The main library of Alexandria burned sometime between 48 BC and 270 AD. So, if Tarot came from ancient Egypt, as some historians and followers of Tarot suggest, it predates Christianity. In reality, we'll likely never know the true origin of the oracle deck, so Tarot card history may be as fluid as the practice itself.