Tarot

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Three cards from a Visconti-Sforza tarot deck

The tarot (/ˈtær/; first known as trionfi and later as tarocchi, tarock, and others) is a pack of playing cards, used from the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play games such as Italian tarocchini and French tarot. In the late 18th century, it began to be used for divination in the form of tarotology and cartomancy.

Like common playing cards, the tarot has four suits (which vary by region: French suits in Northern Europe, Latin suits in Southern Europe, and German suits in Central Europe). Each suit has 14 cards, ten pip cards numbering from one (or Ace) to ten and four face cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Jack/Knave). In addition, the tarot has a separate 21-card trump suit and a single card known as the Fool. Depending on the game, the Fool may act as the top trump or may be played to avoid following suit.[1]

Tarot cards are used throughout much of Europe to play card games. In English-speaking countries, where these games are not played, tarot cards are used primarily for divinatory purposes.[1] The Trump cards and the Fool are sometimes called the Major Arcana, while the ten pip and four court cards in each suit are called Minor Arcana. The cards are traced by some occult writers to ancient Egypt or the Kabbalah but there is no documented evidence of such origins or of the usage of tarot for divination before the 18th century.[1]

Etymology[edit]

The word tarot and German Tarock derive from the Italian tarocchi, the origin of which is uncertain but taroch was used as a synonym for foolishness in the late 15th and early 16th centuries.[2][3] The decks were known exclusively as trionfi during the fifteenth century. The new name first appeared in Brescia around 1502 as tarocho.[4] During the 16th century, a new game played with a standard deck but sharing a very similar name (trionfa) was quickly becoming popular. This coincided with the older game being renamed tarocchi.[1] In modern Italian, the singular term is tarocco, which means a type of blood orange.

History[edit]

Milanese tarocchi, c. 1500.

Playing cards first entered Europe in the late 14th century, most likely from Mamluk Egypt, with suits of Batons or Polo sticks (commonly known as Wands by those practicing occult or divinatory tarot), Coins (commonly known as disks, or pentacles in occult or divinatory tarot), Swords, and Cups. These suits were very similar to modern tarot divination decks and are still used in traditional Italian, Spanish and Portuguese playing card decks.[5]

The first documented tarot packs were recorded between 1440 and 1450 in Milan, Ferrara, Florence and Bologna when additional trump cards with allegorical illustrations were added to the common four-suit pack. These new decks were called carte da trionfi, triumph cards, and the additional cards known simply as trionfi, which became "trumps" in English. The earliest documentation of trionfi is found in a written statement in the court records of Florence, in 1440, regarding the transfer of two decks to Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta.[6][7]

The oldest surviving tarot cards are the 15 or so Visconti-Sforza tarot decks painted in the mid-15th century for the rulers of the Duchy of Milan.[8] A lost tarot-like pack was commissioned by Duke Filippo Maria Visconti and described by Martiano da Tortona probably between 1418 and 1425, since the painter he mentions, Michelino da Besozzo, returned to Milan in 1418, while Martiano himself died in 1425. He described a 60-card deck with 16 cards having images of the Greek gods and suits depicting four kinds of birds. The 16 cards were regarded as "trumps" since in 1449 Jacopo Antonio Marcello recalled that the now deceased duke had invented a novum quoddam et exquisitum triumphorum genus, or "a new and exquisite kind of triumphs".[9] Other early decks that also showcased classical motifs include the Sola-Busca and Boiardo-Viti decks of the 1490s.[1]

In Florence, an expanded deck called Minchiate was used. This deck of 97 cards includes astrological symbols and the four elements, as well as traditional tarot motifs.[1]

Although a Dominican preacher inveighed against the evil inherent in cards (chiefly owing to their use in gambling) in a sermon in the 15th century,[10] no routine condemnations of tarot were found during its early history.[1]

Because the earliest tarot cards were hand-painted, the number of the decks produced is thought to have been small. It was only after the invention of the printing press that mass production of cards became possible. The expansion of tarot outside of Italy, first to France and Switzerland, occurred during the Italian Wars. The most important tarot pattern used in these two countries was the Tarot of Marseilles of Milanese origin.[1]

Tarot gaming decks[edit]

A French tarot game in session

The original purpose of tarot cards was to play games, a very cursory explanation of rules for a tarot-like deck is given in a manuscript by Martiano da Tortona before 1425. Vague descriptions of game play or game terminology follow for the next two centuries until the earliest known complete description of rules for a French variant in 1637.[11] The game of tarot has many regional variations. Tarocchini has survived in Bologna and there are still others played in Piedmont and Sicily, but in Italy the game is generally less popular than elsewhere.

The 18th century saw tarot's greatest revival, during which it became one of the most popular card games in Europe, played everywhere except Ireland and Britain, the Iberian peninsula, and the Ottoman Balkans.[12] French tarot experienced a revival beginning in the 1970s and France has the strongest tarot gaming community. Regional tarot games—often known as tarock, tarok, or tarokk are widely played in central Europe within the borders of the former Austro-Hungarian empire.

Italian-suited tarot decks[edit]

Tarocco Piemontese: the Fool.

These were the oldest form of tarot deck to be made, being first devised in the 15th century in northern Italy. The occult tarot decks are based on decks of this type. Three decks of this category are still used to play certain games:

  • The Tarocco Piemontese consists of the four suits of swords, batons, cups and coins, each headed by a king, queen, cavalier and jack, followed by the pip cards for a total of 78 cards. Trump 20 outranks 21 in most games and the Fool is numbered 0 despite not being a trump.
  • The Swiss 1JJ Tarot is similar, but replaces the Pope with Jupiter, the Popess with Juno, and the Angel with the Judgement. The trumps rank in numerical order and the Tower is known as the House of God. The cards are not reversible like the Tarocco Piemontese.
  • The Tarocco Bolognese omits numeral cards two to five in plain suits, leaving it with 62 cards, and has somewhat different trumps, not all of which are numbered and four of which are equal in rank. It has a different graphical design than the two above as it was not derived from the Tarot of Marseilles.

Italo-Portuguese-suited tarot deck[edit]

The Tarocco Siciliano is the only deck to use the so-called Portuguese suit system which uses Spanish pips but intersects them like Italian pips.[13] Some of the trumps are different such as the lowest trump, Miseria (destitution). It omits the Two and Three of coins, and numerals one to four in clubs, swords and cups: it thus has 64 cards but the ace of coins is not used, being the bearer of the former stamp tax. The cards are quite small and not reversible.[9]

French-suited tarot decks[edit]

The illustrations of French-suited tarot trumps depart considerably from the older Italian-suited design, abandoning the Renaissance allegorical motifs. With the exception of novelty decks, French-suited tarot cards are almost exclusively used for card games. The first generation of French-suited tarots depicted scenes of animals on the trumps and were thus called "Tiertarock" ('Tier' being German for 'animal') appeared around 1740. Around 1800, a greater variety of decks were produced, mostly with genre art or veduta. Current French-suited tarot decks come in these patterns:

  • The Industrie und Glück (Industry and Luck) genre art tarock deck of Central Europe uses Roman numerals for the trumps. It is sold with 54 cards; the 5 to 10 of the red suits and the 1 to 6 of the black suits are removed.
  • The Adler-Cego animal tarot is used in Germany's Black Forest and has 54 cards organized in the same fashion as the Industrie und Glück. Its trumps use Arabic numerals but within centered indices.
  • The Tarot Nouveau has 78 cards and is commonly played in France. Its genre art trumps use Arabic numerals in corner indices.

German-suited tarot decks[edit]

German-suited decks for Bauerntarock, Württembergischer tarock, and Bavarian tarock are different. They have 36 cards, ranging from 6 to 10, Under Knave (Unter), Over Knave (Ober), King, and Ace. These use Ace-Ten ranking, like Klaverjas, where Ace is the highest followed by 10, King, Ober, Unter, then 9 to 6. The heart suit is the default trump suit.[1] The Bavarian deck is also used to play Schafkopf by excluding the sixes.

Divinatory, esoteric, and occult tarot[edit]

Prototype for Etteilla's tarot (1785).

Divination using playing cards, specifically trappola cards, is recorded as early as 1540. The earliest evidence of a tarot deck used for cartomancy comes from an anonymous manuscript from around 1750 which documents rudimentary divinatory meanings for the cards of the Tarocco Bolognese.[14][15] The popularization of esoteric tarot started with Antoine Court and Jean-Baptiste Alliette (Etteilla) in Paris during the 1780s, using the Tarot of Marseilles.[16] After French tarot players abandoned the Marseilles tarot in favor of the Tarot Nouveau around 1900, the Marseilles pattern is now used mostly by cartomancers. Some current editions go back to a particular Marseilles design that was printed by Nicolas Conver in 1760.

Occult tarot decks[edit]

Etteilla was the first to issue a tarot deck specifically designed for occult purposes around 1789. In keeping with the misplaced belief that such cards were derived from the Book of Thoth, Etteilla's tarot contained themes related to ancient Egypt.

The 78-card tarot deck used by esotericists has two distinct parts:

The terms "major arcana" and "minor arcana" were first used by Jean-Baptiste Pitois (also known as Paul Christian) and are never used in relation to Tarot card games. Some decks exist primarily as artwork; and such art decks sometimes contain only the 22 major arcana.

The three most common decks used in esoteric tarot are the Tarot of Marseilles, the Rider-Waite tarot deck, and the Thoth tarot deck.[16]

Cultural references[edit]

François Rabelais mentions tarau as one of the games played by Gargantua in his Gargantua and Pantagruel.[17]

The composer Carl Orff was influenced by tarot in his choral and orchestral work, Carmina Burana,[18] part of his Trionfi trilogy.

The French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle spent over two decades building her Tarot Garden in Italy. The 22 major sculptures of the garden were based on and named after the Major Arcana of the Tarot.[19]

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure written by Hirohiko Araki (Anime adaptation produced by David Productions) uses tarot cards as a reference/inspiration for Stands (Ex. Star Platinum, Hermit Purple) in part 3, Stardust Crusaders.

Tarot cards play a key role in Terrence Malick's Knight of Cups (film) and are the reasons behind the title and the eight sections of the film.

The James Bond movie Live and Let Die (film) refers to the villain's belief in the accuracy of tarot-card prediction by a young woman in his employ.

Rock band Rainbow released a song called "Tarot Woman", released in 1976 on their Rising album.

The Tarot deck and arcana play a major role in video game series Persona.

The Tarot Café is a manhwa by Park Sang-sun (박 상선) published by Tokyopop in the United States. Seven volumes have been published and each chapter starts or ends with a modified tarot card often relating to the story.

The French philosopher Vincent Cespedes had created in 2011 a philosophical tarot, Le Jeu du Phénix (″The Phoenix Game″).[20]

The Fool's Errand, a 1987 computer game by Cliff Johnson, features several tarot card-themed puzzles.[21]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Dummett, Michael A. E; Mann, Sylvia (1980). The game of Tarot: From Ferrara to Salt Lake City. ISBN 9780715610145. 
  2. ^ Vitali, Andrea. About the etymology of Tarocco at Le Tarot Cultural Association. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
  3. ^ Vitali, Andrea. Taroch - 1494 at Le Tarot Cultural Association. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
  4. ^ Depaulis, Thierry (2008). "Entre farsa et barzelletta: jeux de cartes italiens autours de 1500". The Playing-Card. 37 (2): 89–102. 
  5. ^ Donald Laycock in Skeptical—a Handbook of Pseudoscience and the Paranormal, ed Donald Laycock, David Vernon, Colin Groves, Simon Brown, Imagecraft, Canberra, 1989, ISBN 0-7316-5794-2, p. 67
  6. ^ Pratesi, Franco (2012). "In Search of Tarot Sources". The Playing-Card. 41 (2): 100. 
  7. ^ Pratesi, Franco. Studies on Giusto Giusti at trionfi.com. Retrieved 4 February 2018.
  8. ^ Dummett, Michael (1996). A Wicked Pack Of Cards. p. 25. ISBN 9780312162948. 
  9. ^ Pratesi, Franco (1989). "Italian Cards - New Discoveries". The Playing-Card. 18 (1, 2): 28–32, 33–38. 
  10. ^ Robert Steele. A Notice of the Ludus Triumphorum and some Early Italian Card Games; With Some Remarks on the Origin of the Playing Cards." Archaeologia, vol LVII, 1900: pp 185-200.
  11. ^ Dummett, Michael; McLeod, John (2004). A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press. pp. 17–21. 
  12. ^ Parlett, David (1990). The Oxford Guide to Card Games (1 ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-214165-1. 
  13. ^ Tarocco Siciliano, early form at the International Playing-Card Society website. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  14. ^ Pratesi, Franco (1989). "Italian Cards: New Discoveries, no. 9". The Playing-Card. 17 (4): 136–145. 
  15. ^ Dummett, Michael (2003). "Tarot Cartomancy in Bologna". The Playing-Card. 32 (2): 79–88. 
  16. ^ a b Jensen, K. Frank (2010). "A Century with the Waite-Smith Tarot (and all the others...)". The Playing-Card. 38 (3): 217–222. 
  17. ^ François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel, ch. 22, "Les Jeux de Gargantua"
  18. ^ Jeanmonnot, Jean. "Carl ORFF, compositeur de la Tradition, musique et ésotérisme". www.nouvelle-acropole.fr (in French). Retrieved 2017-04-23. 
  19. ^ Levy, Ariel (18 April 2016). "Beautiful Monsters". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2017-03-28. 
  20. ^ Vincent Cespedes, ″Philosopher est-il jouer ?″ (″Philosophy, is it playing?″), Libération, Nov. 2011.
  21. ^ "Fool's Gold: Cliff Johnson Puts His Money Where His Mouth Is". wired.com. Retrieved 24 January 2018.