The origin of the tarot card deck is still unknown and debated to this day. Some have presumed it originated in Egypt; believing tarot cards are a derivative of the Book of Enoch or Thoth (Tarot). Still others believe Gypsies were responsible for the widespread use of the tarot, and in all likelihood, the reason why tarot readers are often portrayed as Gypsies on television or in movies to this day.
What we do know is tarot decks first appeared in early fifteenth century Europe, and one that still exists, originated from Italy. During the Italian Renaissance period, the tarot deck was used for the card game Tarocchi (similar to the game of Bridge), and its use for divination or fortune telling purposes didn't occur until three centuries later.
This is the history of tarot cards in synopsis form, but the truth lies in the mystery of the tarot.
In the late 1700's, Antoine Court de Gebelin believed the tarot deck contained secret meanings veiled within its symbolism and drew a parallel between the Hebrew alphabet, which contains twenty-two letters, to the twenty-two cards comprising the Major Arcanum. During this same era, a man named Etteilla (his actual name Alliette spelled backward) began to divine information from the cards, which eventually led to his publishing a book on these interpretations.
In the nineteenth century, Alphonse Louis Constant (aka Eliphas Levi), was convinced the true origin of the tarot was far earlier than the fifteenth century. Levi took what de Gébelin had surmised; adding his belief that the ancient teachings found in the Hebrew mysticism or esoteric teachings of the Kaballah / Qaballah / Kabala; specifically the ten globes of the Sephiroth and twenty-two Hebrew letters, when combined, form the thirty-two Paths of Wisdom as the Tree of Life. In turn, this correlated to the symbolism contained within the twenty-two major Arcana and the ten minor Arcana.
What can tarot cards do?
Hidden in the symbolism of the seventy-eight cards that comprise a tarot card deck are secrets of the Universe, the evolution of humankind, the mythological and psychological archetypes of every human being, spiritual enlightenment, and so much more. More? Isn't that enough?
Perhaps no one in their right mind wants to know this much information; after all, our lives are complicated enough. However, as an added bonus, tarot cards tell us our future, and who doesn't want to know that? Thus, the irony is two-fold. Associated with our wanting to know the future, the tarot deliciously entices us to feed, and we are satiated, albeit temporarily, all the while veiling our greater need to "know thyself," which is the perfect and eternal nourishment for our mind, body, and soul-spirit.
For many, the tarot is those mysterious cards that people use to tell one's past, present, and future. For many others, they are those wondrous cards that guide one to a greater understanding of the self. In fact, the tarot is both of these. One does not exist without the other, as a greater understanding of one's self is achieved through the experiences of one's past, present, and what one creates as their future.
Asking questions of the tarot cards
Questions come in myriad forms. Although a question is usually simple and straightforward, sometimes, like an onion, there are layers. A good example of this is "Will I find true love?" "Will I get this job or that?" "Will I make a lot of money?" However, if we look at the underlying layer of these same questions, we see "Why haven't I found true love?" "What type of work would I love to do?" or "Will making a lot of money really make me happy?"
Many who seek a tarot card reading do so in order to receive answers to the first set of questions. This is all well and good; however, these answers are often a band-aid for a gaping wound. Often, we go from one relationship to another or job-to-job- experiencing the same result every time: We are still not happy and the wound continues to grow in size and intensity of pain or discomfort. At some stage the band-aid will not work anymore, and with any luck, we become aware of a pattern in our lives; one that repeats itself by experiencing the same pain, hurt, disappointment, or anger. The reason for this unhappiness and repetitive life pattern is that we are not getting to the root of the problem; the underlying layer, as demonstrated in the second set of questions.
Pain and suffering has a way of getting our attention. Once we decide to accept responsibility for our decisions and conscious choices in life and turn our focus to "how can I improve or change myself" and less on, "it happened to me again" or "they did this or that to me," we can begin to live a happier life.
When we ask a question of the tarot, we may receive an answer that we most need to hear, and not necessarily the one we want to hear. The specific purpose of tarot cards is to get us to the root of our being and bring the enlightenment of greater self-awareness. Once self-discovery is achieved, attaining the goals as laid out in the first set of questions will become more apparent, and we hope, less painful while in process and with a more joyous outcome.
The beauty of the Tarot is that it can and does answer both types of questions. Being open to receive its wisdom is the key.
It is entirely possible that one can re-direct their behavior, thereby avoiding an unpleasant event. However, there are also occasions in which we ostensibly have no control or an event is "fated" to happen.
Less experienced tarot card readers
A majority of tarot card readers make the mistake of attempting to read/interpret tarot cards as if they were reciting words from a dictionary page. In other words, these readers provide an arbitrary list of meanings associated to a card (s), which in context is not accurate, detailed, or specific to one's issues and/or current-future life events.
For example, if one's concern is, "My boyfriend/girlfriend and I are having a very rough time right now, and I think he/she is seeing someone else. Are my feelings correct?" In this case, let us say the tarot card "Death" comes up in this reading. The "Death" tarot card has several meanings, two of which are "change" and "ending." Then, this reader/interpreter's one-line answer is, "your relationship is either changing or ending".
Neither this statement, nor these meanings give an accurate description or answer to this concern, as they both mean completely different things. Is the relationship undergoing a change, or is it ending? Which one is it, or is it neither?
In truth, each tarot card has multiple meanings attributed to it, which in turn, is applicable to numerous events, situations, people, feelings, thoughts, one's spirituality-spiritual path, the evolution of one's soul, occupations, locations, parts of the body, etc-therefore, a myriad ways in which to interpret it.
Timing with tarot cards
We are a society run by time, and it makes sense that nearly everyone who receives a tarot reading wants to know "when."
Time is a relative term, and similarly, it is so in the tarot. Stating emphatically something will happen in June or July does two things: It creates hope and expectation, or conversely, fears and dread. The tarot doesn't care about time; it cares about the value of time. Therefore, the time it refers to can be June or July this year, June or July two years from now, or the event may happen tomorrow. It could also never happen; we simply do not know. There are too many factors involved in the grand scheme of our life's enfoldment, as well as those with which we come into contact. Try to remain open and use timing as a guidepost, not a rule.