Tarot cards are a deck of playing cards, generally consisting of 78 cards used for grip games, the origin of which dates back to the mid-15th century in northern Italy.
They spread to various parts of Europe and reached the most widespread period between the 17th and 18th centuries, after which their use went into decline as a playing deck.
From the end of the 18th century, tarot cards were associated with the Cabal and other mystical traditions.
The development of these theories was initiated by the freemason French Antoine Court de Gébelin, and gained new impetus in the mid-nineteenth century with the occultist Eliphas Lévi, who pointed to their origin in the Jewish Kabbalah.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the esoteric doctrines on tarot cards were definitively fixed by the French occultists Papus and Oswald Wirth in a series of famous works still in vogue.
In the early decades of the 20th century, the “French School of the Tarot” began to be supplanted by the “English School” born within the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
The typical tarot deck consists of a deck of traditional cards to which twenty-one cards called Triumphs are added and a single card called The Madman.
The deck of traditional cards is divided into four seeds (Italian or French) of fourteen cards, from the ace to the ten plus four figures, also called “honours” or “court cards”: King, Queen, Knight and Fante.
Triumphs are generally illustrated with human, animal and mythological figures and numbered from 1 to 21, often in Roman numerals). There are variants in which the number of cards is reduced, for example the Bolognese tarot or Sicilian tarot, or increased as in the minchiate.
In the terminology introduced by esoteric theories, the Triumphs and the Mad are called collectively greater arcane and the other minor arcane cards.
The origin of the term “tarocco” is still unknown, although some conjectures have been made, including that it could result from the process of decorating the cards, from the name of the River Taro, a tributary of the Po in parmense territory.
In an attempt to support an ancient origin of the tarot cards some esoteric hypotheses hypothesize connections with ancient civilizations or with the terms of the Kabbalah, for example Antoine Court de Gébelin hypothesized that it came from the Egyptian “Ta-Rosh” (“royal way” “), Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers who derived from the Egyptian “taru” (which would mean “consult””) while for Gérard Encausse from a cabalistic tetragram (“Tora”, “Rota” or other variants.).