On December 4, Robert M. Place will lead a course called Introduction to the Tarot: Guidance and Wisdom for our Spiritual Journey. Visit the class page for more.
By Robert M. Place
The Tarot, ostensibly a deck of decorated cards, is in fact a symbolic system whose images express Pythagorean, Platonic and Hermetic mystical ideas. Once one grasps the Tarot’s philosophy and structure, the cards can be used as an intuitive device to connect with one’s inner wisdom.
Here are three things that the average person encountering the deck might not know about the tradition.
One. The Tarot is not from ancient Egypt.
Starting with the writings of Court de Gebelin in 1781, occultists began to theorize that the Tarot was actually an ancient Egyptian text that was written in hieroglyphs and described the creation of the world. Some speculated that it was actually the first book written by the god Thoth, the inventor of writing and the source of all wisdom. There is, however, absolutely no historical evidence to support this theory and all of the evidence clearly indicates that the Tarot was first created in Renaissance Italy, in Milan, Bologna or Ferrara (all of which have early evidence of the presence of Tarot cards), between 1410 and 1440.
Two. At first the Tarot was not primarily used for divination.
The Tarot was created when a series of trump cards were added to the four-suit decks that already existed. The suits were coins, cups, swords, and staffs. The main purpose of the deck was to pay a trick taking game that it the ancestor of bridge. We do, however, have evidence that all cards, including the Tarot and four-suit decks were also used for divination is the Renaissance. Modern forms of divination with cards developed in the 1700s and were popularized by occultists and professional card readers.
Three. The Tarot is an excellent tool for the practice of divination but divination is not primarily about foretelling the future.
The word divination literally means to get in touch with the divine. It is derived from the Latin “divinus,” which meant soothsayer, which, in turn, was derived from “deus,” meaning God or a god. We often think of the ancient soothsayers or oracles as making predictions. We have written records, however, from Delphi and other oracles, and they show that the majority of statements of the oracles were not predictions but advice on how to make improvements and keep the favor of the divine. In modern terms, we may say that divination is a way of bringing into consciousness inner wisdom from the Higher Self. I feel that communication with the Higher Self is what the Tarot is best suited for and that this, not predictions of the future, is the best use of the Tarot. In my class, instead of using the Tarot to make predictions, we learn to use the Tarot as a source of wise council, to help us make decisions in the present that will help us create a better future.