The Design and History of Tarot Cards, Part 2
Three years ago, we celebrated a Friday the 13th in October together. I shared some tarot card history and designs with you. Now, the witch is back, and there’s hell to pay! Except not really. I’ve just learned a lot more about tarot and divination since 2017, and I would love to share a glimpse into the art with you, as well as some gorgeous new designs I’ve come across.
Dust II Onyx: A Melanated Tarot Deck – 2nd Edition, by Courtney Alexander
“Finding a deck that really connected with my personal energy became a daunting task. There were very few that allowed me to see myself in them. I set out to create my own deck, and after months of not having a vision for what it’d look like, a dream came to me.”
Let’s start by recognizing that the history of tarot is not the most well-documented. Playing cards have been in Europe since at least the 1300s. Discerning exactly when cards switched from being game-related to a form of divination is tricky, especially considering the human desire to turn anything with a hint of randomness in it into a future-telling tool. That being said, there are a few points in tarot history that seem to be agreed upon.
The word tarot actually derives from the Italian tarocchi of “tarocchi appropriatti,” a game enjoyed by aristocrats in the 1500s. Tarocchi roughly translates to “foolishness.” Players were dealt random cards, then used the imagery on the cards’ faces to weave stories and poems about one another, similar to the childhood game MASH. Sometime in the 15th century, a 70-card trick-based game called Trionfo—roughly translating to “triumph”—emerged from the same deck. Once “the fool” card was added in the 16th century, the name of the game was changed again to tarocho in Italy and taraux in France, later tarot. It wasn’t until the 18th century that tarot cards took on their more occult connotations.
Holly Simple Tarot Deck by Holly Simple
“This deck is comprised of Holly’s personal interpretations of the cards’ meanings, creating new characters and stories (while sticking to traditional symbolism). You will see influence from the trademark Rider Waite deck in some of the Major Arcana cards. However, the classic four suits: cups, wands, swords and pentacles, as well as the Major Arcana cards, were recreated in a new light.”
Antoine Court de Gébelin, a French clergyman, and Jean-Baptiste Aliette, a French occultist also known as Etteilla, are thought to be the first people to record meanings for each card in the deck. These men believed that the tarot deck was linked to ancient Egyptian texts and, despite little to no evidence supporting their claims, people believed them.
Meanings and Readings
The meanings of each tarot card have changed over time and across lands. But almost any deck you purchase (or have gifted to you) will come with a book of “traditional tarot meanings”—that is, Etteilla’s view of what the cards meant. Generation after generation, those meanings were passed down and sometimes plagiarized for new decks. They are a great jumping-off point when reading a tarot spread, but with the deck’s history in mind, you can create your own meanings and reflections. Astrology.com is a great starting point for card references, but it is really up to each person and each deck to create the meaning of their cards.
The OK Tarot Deck by Adam J. Kurtz
“Glossy pink cards featuring 'OK' illustrations (and exactly zero of those spooky dead guys), so anyone can find themselves represented within the artwork. … 'It’s not perfect, but it’s OK.’”
So do the cards possess magical properties? Sure they do. Anything that gives you pause and asks you to reflect on a moment in your life is full of magic. Can the cards predict your future? Maybe, maybe not. There’s only one way to find out.
Star Spinner Tarot by Trung Le Nguyen (aka Trungles)
“A great gift for tarot collectors and enthusiasts, or anyone seeking guidance and personal growth. Perfect for anyone seeking a modern, diverse, inclusive or LGBTQ+ way to explore the tarot.”
The Modern Witch Tarot by Lisa Sterle
“Tarot has never looked more sophisticated and contemporary! Acclaimed illustrator Lisa Sterle marries the symbolism of the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith deck with youthful, stylish characters and items from our modern lives.”
The Spellbinding History of Tarot Cards, From a Mainstream Card Game to a Magical Ritual by Kelly Richman-Abdou
The Mystical History of Tarot Cards (History of Game Design) by Caleb Compton
A Brief History of Tarot by Patti Wigington
Tarot Mythology: The Surprising Origins of the World's Most Misunderstood Cards by Hunter Oatman-Standford