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What is the Tarot?

The Tarot is a 78 ilustrated and numbered deck of cards which is divided in Major Arcana (22 cards) and Minor Arcana (56 cards), these being frther divided in Court cards (16) and Pips (remaining 40 cards). Arcana is a latin word meaning ancient knowledge, hidden, secret.

Where does the Tarot come from?

Nobody knows for sure who, when or how the Tarot came to be. Many myths, spread by pseudo-experts in a number of books, link the Tarot to Ancient Egypt as the scenario for the creation of this deck. Others mention Gipsies, Atlantis, Babylonia, etc, etc. The origins of the Tarot are indeed wrapped in a certain mistery, but not *that* much.

The first known reference to a Tarot deck comes from the end of the XIV century, where a monk or priest writes about a deck used in a very popular game called carte da trionfi, Trump Cards. This reference is later confirmed by the discovery of the first Tarot deck, incomplete, from XV century Italy. The name of the cards was later changed during the XV century to Tarocchi (sing. Tarocco) to distinguish them from another game of Trumps that was very popular then, played with regular playing cards.

Until the mid XVIII century the Tarot was used like a regular deck of playing cards, very popular among all classes of society, The rules of that game survived to this day, and can be found here. In the XVIII, french and english occultists "found" the Tarot, proclaiming this deck to be a mystic and magical key to life, the universe, and everything. The Tarot began to be used for divination and magical practices, e all it's symbolism took on a new dimension as new decks were created according to the beliefs and knowledge of these scholars.

The Rider-Waite (or Smith-Waite) Tarot

In the first decade of the XX century, R. W. Waite created an innovative deck. All decks before his only had pictures in the Major Arcana, the Minor Arcana depicting solely the symbols of the suit, the same way as regular playing cards. Waite's innovation was to create, for each of the Ace to 10 cards of the 4 suits, a different illustration depicting the meaning of the card. The author of these illustrations was Pamela Coleman-Smith, an astonishing artist who transformed Waite's sparse directions into inspired works of art which took the worl of Tarot by storm. With these new illustrations filled with symbolism, it was no longer necessary to stick with the memorized meanings of the cards. The reader could now, in his(her) readings, free the imagination to endless peaks of inspiration with these cards.

The deck that Waite and Smith created is called Rider-Waite (Rider was the publishing house that produces the deck, or Smith-Waite, in homage to the artist. The RW created a whole school of Tarot, and it is the recommended deck for a beginner; for starters, it's symbology owes a lot to the classical decks, and the pips' overall is a tremendous help in readings. Overmore, the great majority of modern decks is based on this and other decks following similar lines (the Golden Dawn), so this deck forms a very solid base of knowledge, from which one can learn and apply this learning to other decks with ease.

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