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The History of the Tarot

The Tarot is mysterious also in its origins. Records indicate that the Minor Arcana first appeared in the late 14th century as a set of 56 playing cards. Some 50 years later the Major Arcana appeared in Italy as an independent set of 22 cards, also used for playing a game. Soon after, the Major and Minor Arcana were combined as a beautifully painted set of 78 cards.To understand the Tarot, one must understand a little of its 15th Century history. That was the time of the great Renaissance in our thinking and beliefs, The Age of Enlightenment, a time when intellectuals and artists began to explore their natures – and to rebel against the controls of the Church and the Monarchy. The Tarot represented in those days a powerful tool for exploring one’s psyche. By meditating on these cards, using them as a memory system, similar to the way that the Stations of the Cross are used in the Catholic Church, an individual could gain access to higher levels of consciousness, and powerful insights into the divine world. This is aptly described in the Tarot History, by Juliet Sharman Burke and Liz Greene. (ISBN 0671658425.)

‘What a great miracle is man!’ became the rallying cry of the Renaissance, for in the new vision man was a proud co-creator in God’s cosmos. The Neoplatonic-Hermetic movement believed that the human being was in essence a microcosm of the greater universe, and that therefore self-knowledge – knowledge of the soul – was the only true religious path through which one might reconnect with one’s divine origins…. And knowledge of self meant knowledge of the many diverse drives and impulses of the inner man or woman, some of them dark as well as light, as well as knowledge of the cycles of development at work in human life. … Moreover, if man was a great miracle and a co-creator in the cosmos, then he had the right to tamper with himself and his world, even improving upon God’s not-so-perfect creation, rather than obediently accepting his lot according to religious dogma. It is no wonder that the Church retaliated with such great ferocity, eventually forcing this new vision underground in the ensuing two centuries.

Know Thyself, the first dictum of the Greeks, became also the dictum of the 15th century thinking man. It is no wonder that the Church and all in authority in those times were threatened by its popularity.It was not until the 18th century that the Tarot was taken out of the closet so to speak and brought back into play. The cards were modified to fit with the spiritual beliefs of the group or order which managed to get hold of them. Thus the cards are now a fascinating hybrid, an integration of myths, beliefs and archetypes that can be sourced to Cabalistic thought, Egyptian imagery, Biblical teachings, Arthurian legends, and Rosicrucian symbolism.

In the past 50 years, as we again embraced that old dictum “Know Thyself” and Quantum Physics was proving that our thoughts and feelings create our realities, the Tarot has seen a phenomenal resurgence and acceptance among the general population. Now there are hundreds of amazingly beautiful versions, and millions of people around the world consult with the Tarot, for fun and for profit.

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