Nowadays, there are so many different Tarot decks, by talented contemporary artists, that bookstores have entire catalogues just filled with samples. There are angel decks, witches' decks, traditional decks such as the Rider-Waite deck. There are fairy decks, gemstone decks, flower decks, animal decks, round decks, mini decks, CG decks, nude decks, medieval decks .... But what's fascinating is that in most cases, the decks still maintain the traditional ideas behind the cards. A King of Swords in the Universal Waite Tarot connotes the same power and focus as the King of Swords in The Goddess Tarot.
How could the Tarot survive all these years of change? What is it about the icons within the decks that keeps us so fascinated?
Early decks were similar to what we now call the Rider-Waite deck. Back in medieval times, though, the Major Arcana card for Strength depicted a man clubbing a tiger to death. Today, the Major Arcana Strength card almost always picture a woman making friends with the tiger. Changes in thinking over time will change the cards slightly. Today we are encouraged to make friends with our inner "beasts."
An Early History
The first written history of these mysterious oracles is said to have been in the 1400s in Italy. But other scholars claim the cards came from Egypt or even China. As we've seen in our own modern times, the cards change slightly to suit the culture and time they are serving. The Romany people, who began traveling from northern India a long time ago, brought gifts from the host countries through which they traveled, to new places - and one of those many gifts may have also been the spreading of the Tarot Cards. Some scholars believe the Tarot is a message intended to travel through time in its encoded form of pictures and symbols. It's in code, they believe, to keep its ideas from being destroyed. There were many people during the ages who viewed these cards are demonic. Today, perhaps just as many (or more) view the cards as helpful, psychologically interesting, and quite harmless. You can try out your own Tarot Reading at the Psychic Tea Shoppe, and see what you think.
How the Deck Evolved into Today's Playing Cards
Interesting, though, that the Tarot was the forerunner to our own modern playing card deck. Tarot itself is made up of 78 cards. These are divided into two sections: the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The Major is 22 of the 78 cards, and the Minor is 56 of them. While the Major Arcana consists mainly of powerful pictures and concepts, the Minor Arcana is filled with more day-to-day icons and issues. Much of the Minor Arcana is symbols instead of pictures. There are four major symbols (or suits) in the Minor Arcana: the cups (which became our suit of hearts), the swords (which became our spades), the wands (our modern suit of clubs), and the coins or pentacles (our Diamonds). Plus, the Tarot had royals: Each suit had a page, knight, queen, and king. And they all had an Ace.
Another interesting evolution: In traditional Tarot, we have a card called The Fool. It's image is positive - and usually associated with someone going on a new journey of faith. Over time, the Fool in the Tarot became the Joker in our playing cards. "The Joker is wild" could hark back to the image of The Fool, about to walk off the edge of a cliff, smiling with faith, looking up at the beautiful sky, unafraid of what might become of him.
The Tarot has been with us for centuries. And even though it changes to suit its time period, there's little doubt that this mysterious deck of cards will be with us for centuries to come.