History of Tarot | Tarot Cards
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Hello. I’m Ellen Goldberg and welcome to a Tarot Moment from the School of Oracles. In this segment we are going to introduce the tarot. What are tarot cards? Well, you might think they are simply a deck of cards, but they are much more than that. The tarot is actually…a book of wisdom that’s disguised as a pack of cards. There are 78 cards in all they are divided into 2 groups, the major arcanna, arcanna means secrets, and the minor arcanna. These major and minor secrets will be covered in many of the segments that we are doing in this series.
The tarot, the origins are really shrouded in mysteries. There are many theories about where they come from. What we do know is that they are an oracle and that they can tell you so many things about yourself, about life, about the deep meaning of things, and reflect yourself back to yourself. Well, the tarot is like having a sage as a wise friend, right in your own pocket…It’s to be respected and not used simply for fortune telling because it doesn’t really enjoy that aspect of itself. It will communicate, I think, on almost any subject, but it prefers to be used for questions dealing with your own personal process, your spiritual advancement. When I teach my students to use the tarot, the first question we learn, which can be used over and over on a daily basis is “Tell me, what should I know about myself, right now?” The tarot loves to reflect yourself back to yourself so that you can know yourself and you can always know how to comeback to your center, how to find your best self, how to take your next step in growth.
Many scholars say that the tarot first appeared around the time of the Renaissance in Italy, and surly the first decks that we have come from around that time. Maybe things like the invention of the printing press, then the availability that made of paper products to the masses, certainly had an influence on the tarot. As well as the Renaissance proclivity for creating systems that synthesized all existing knowledge that existed, they did this quite a bit. So the tarot is an example of that. In fact, the tarot is a compendium of the entire western mystery tradition.
The tarot is like a great river into which the streams of cabala, astrology, hermetic philosophy, alchemy…even neo-plutonic philosophy, all of these have flowed into the tarot and are part and parcel of it. One of the reasons that I ejnoy reading with the rider wait deck, which is the deck that we will be talking about and using as our source of images in this series, is because it was created by a hermetic magical order, The Order of the Golden Dawn in England. The order formed in the late, 1800s and lasted, I think, up until about 1920. Maybe it was 1888 that was the founding, but I can’t be exactly sure, but what I do know is that they based everything on cabala and tarot. And they had great systems that they help to make the tarot grow.
The tarot…it may only have appeared first in Renaissance Italy, but it’s roots go back far and wide, goes back to the east and the west. There’s eastern tradition from India and Tantra. There is the western Judeo-Christian Egyptian and Greek tradition in here and they all flow into this simple, seemingly simple pack of cards which is really profound. The 4 armed g- mother of time and great goddess of India, kali, from whom we get our word calendar, in her 4 arms she held 4 symbols which are representative of the 4 suits in the tarot, the wands, the cups, the swords, and the pentacles. Later on, in Greece the goddess Nemesis, the goddess of fate, before whom even the other gods bow down, she, too, carried these same symbols in her hands. And, of course, they were sacred to Mercury, who gives his name as Hermes, the Greek name for Mercury, to the entire hermetic tradition. Tarot is part and parcel of the hermetic tradition and it’s still growing, still alive. The tarot an example that magic is alive and well.
The other oracles that we know and love, say the etching. The rune stones, they date from about 1200 to 1500 years before Christ. Palmistry, my other great love in my life, and astrology they go back much further, and they might go back to 3000 to 5000 years before Christ. So you can imagine what a Johnny-come-lately tarot is, coming right around the time of the R