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By Robert Warwick
History of ancient cards connected to the Tarot:
The earliest reference to cards of any kind that might be connected to Tarot
cards was done by the painter Charles Gringonneur who designed and painted
cards of some kind for the mentally ill Charles VI of France in 1393.
Eden Grey reports in Mastering the Tarot that Gypsies brought the Tarot to
Europe during the twelfth century.
The Florentine or Minchiate had some portions of it that were thought to have
been extant around 1415 and owned by the countess Gonzaga of Milan.
A.E. Waite in The Pictorial Key to the Tarot comments that in 1417 the
Romaine (Gypsies) arrived in Europe at Luneburg.
Waite goes on to say that W.A. Chatto, refers to the oldest specimens of the
Tarot cards are not later than 1440.
Baldinia's cards are supposedly dated about 1470.
A set of unnamed cards were for the Viscounti family of Milan by Bonifacio
Bembo around the middle of the fifteenth century. These cards were for the
game Tarocchi; there are four suits of fourteen cards each, plus twenty-two
cards which were later called trumps.
Looking at the foregoing it can be seen that we have possible dates for the
Tarot that are no earlier than the twelfth century and no later than around
the middle of the fifteenth century. Europe seems to be the place where they
Count de Gebelin, a high-grade Mason, on a visit to Marseilles rediscovered
and shortly thereafter wrote about them in Le Monde Primitif, published
between 1773 and 1782.
One speculation is that the Romaine came from India and then went to Spain.
Another they came from Egypt. The most popular theory is that the cards of
the Major Arcana were brought to Europe from Egypt by wandering tribes of
The Caballa has also been linked to the Major Arcana. Part of the Caballa
deals with letters and numbers were divine beings which possessed their own
supernatural powers. The Greek neo-Pythagorean school taught this letter and
Mystery schools like the Masons and the Rosicrucians were involved with the
Tarot cards at different levels of their discipline.
Some people say that the ordering of the Major Arcana is based on the Tree of
As for the Minor Arcana some authorities believe that it was part of the
original Egyptian deck. Others believe they were part of an Italian deck in a
game called tarocchi.
It seems to me that there is a link between the Italian card game of
tarocchi; the name tarot and tarocchi are similar. Most likely the cards
can't be traced to any other place than Europe. So the history of the cards,
except for its link to the Caballa, doesn't really have any bearing on how to
interpret the cards.
The Major Arcana: Consists of twenty-two cards
As for the Minor Arcana, it is sectioned into 4 suits. The majority of
authorities base these 4 suits on supposed astrological qualities: Fire, Air,
Water and Earth. These suits are usually named: Swords, Wands, Cups and
Pentacles. Swords and Cups have for the most part have not had name changes.
Wands have been called Rods, Clubs and Spears. Pentacles have been known as
Disks, Dishes of Earth, Stones and Coins.
Fire, has been assigned for the most part to Wands. Swords have been given the astrological
quality of Air, but some decks use the converse. But it would appear that no
one really knows about the astrological qualities of Swords or Wands.
P. Scott Hollander says that the suits originally represented the four
main classes of people in medieval society: the nobility, Swords; the clergy,
Cups; the Merchants, Coins; and the serfs or peasants, Wands.
The nobility, Swords, were associated with absolute temporal power, and
waging war. The clergy, Cups, refers primarily to local priests, who did what
they could to help their afflicted their parishioners. The merchant class
bought and sold, financing for many ventures, opened trade routes; they
controlled the money. The peasant or serfs, Wands, which hadn't any power and
little hope of improving their position.
If we look at the fortune telling cards of the Gypsies there seems to be a
connection between the Spades and Diamonds suits to the Swords and Coins; one
is negative,and the other, a mixed bag of positive and negative.
The Gypsies use a regular card deck for fortune telling. Its suits are
Spades, Clubs, Hearts, and Diamonds. Spades are the Minor Arcana's Swords;
Clubs are Wands; Hearts are Cups; and Diamonds are Pentacles. Spades have
things that are negative. Clubs deal with increase of position (status) or
prosperity; there are several negative numbers - the Two and Four. Heart seem
to have to do with positive reactions: how a person feels about something.
Diamonds seem to be a mixed bag of good, bad, and neutral things going on to
home, love life, or business. It can be said then that the Hearts and Clubs
are the good suits for the Querent; Spades is a bad suit; and Diamonds has
mixture of good and bad influences.
Looking at the numbering in the pips in the Tarot:
The numbering of the pips, from one to ten, seem to control part of the cards
One seems to stand for new beginnings, original action, or of creativity.
Two is the number indicating a new factor is added or about to be added into
the current situation; this could be another person, an event, a
circumstance, possibly a union will occur.
Three is a response to, or an outcome of events in one or two. The situation
will take on form and direction.
Four is hard work and careful planning. By this time you have a basic
understanding of the situation you are in. Unexpected or sudden events could
Five is the number of movement, excitement, and adventure. Your plans or
venture is moving ahead and encountering influences that bring about the
movement, excitement, and adventure. You are living in an interesting time,
as the Chinese of old said.
Six can be considered the R&R of the numbers. It is a time of relaxation and
adjustment. It is also a number of love and romance.
Seven is the number of consideration of the events that have gone on.
Solitude and soul-searching are the watch words.
Eight is the number of using wisdom learned through experience.
Self-discipline, efficiency, caution and personal security are involved here.
Nine is the number of completeness. You have nearly completed or have reached
the outcome, whether it be good or bad.
Ten can be seen as a One in numerology. It is both an end and a beginning.
Ten is a cyclical number that indicates it is no time to rest on your
The Court Cards:
King, Queen, Knight, and Page are the court cards. Some decks call the
King, the Knight; very confusing. In the regular playing card the Knight is
called a Jack. Where did the Page come from? Perhaps it is the Knight before
he became one, a Squire. The Tarot sees the King, Queen, Knight, and Page as
part of the same royal family with the Page being the youngest son. The King
has the ultimate power, or the Queen, when she isn't serving as his wife.
The Page has some power but very little.
Age and Sex
Physically Kings and Queens can be described as mature people, probably
over 40. Knights can be described as people under 40; young or entry level
executives. Pages will rarely, if ever, be older than late teens or early
20s; usually they are children. Knights and Pages can be of either sex.
Some Tarot authorities assign character traits to the court people which
are based on the suits meanings. However, I think that this can be misleading.
The court cards sometimes describe situations as well. They explain the
nature of the state of affairs.
So bearing in mind all the foregoing, how do I use all the information? The
Major Arcana I see as a set of spiritual philosophies or lessons needed to be
learned. It can be broken into three sets of seven each, called septenaries.
Each septenary represents a stage in the life of man. Now each of these
philosophies, when they appear in a reading, can be thought of as somehow
influencing the Querent.
What of the Fool?
He can be thought of as a separate case and can be
viewed as a beginning to the whole Major Arcana. He can be positioned at 0
position or 22; in either position it is a starting point. He can be seen as
bringing a way of thought or seeing of a situation.
I don't think any of the Major Arcana systems I have seen have all the
answers that satisfy me. So I have adapted card meanings from various decks.
The Minor Arcana doesn't satisfy me either. The main problem seems to me to
be the assigning of how the Swords and Wands are seen. That is to say the
assigning Fire or Air to one or the other. I prefer Swords to be Air and
Wands are Fire for now. The idea of aggressive and possibly negative activity
better represents the Swords.
Another problem is the number meaning of the pips sometimes is
contradictory when it is used. also influences the Court Cards.
So once again, I have adapted from various decks.
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