What’s the Deal with Tarot Cards?


What Are Tarot Cards All About?

Tarot cards have a long and fascinating history. What you think about tarot cards probably has a lot to do with where you are from. If you are from the United States, you probably think tarot cards are only used for psychic readings. If you are from Europe, you probably see tarot cards as used to play various kinds of card games – much like what Americans would call “playing cards.” But what are tarot cards really all about?

History, Mystery, and Myth

There is a lot of mystery and myth surrounding the true origins of Tarot cards. We do know that tarot cards entered Europe in the 1300s, with the word tarot coming to us from the Italian word tarocchi. What comes before that is the enigmatic part. It’s thought that the true origin of the mysterious cards can be traced to either Europe or the Middle East. Playing cards were originally introduced to Europe via Egypt, and because Egyptian cards had many symbols and images that are still present in tarot cards today, some believe this accounts for the true origin of the cards. Until the invention of the printing press, the cards had to be made by hand. Due to this, the cards were initially most popular with nobles and other high classes. Because tarot cards are so heavily steeped in symbolism and the Occult, some believe that the cards have carried a great deal of hidden meanings over time. However, from the very beginning of their existence in Europe, tarot cards were used for games, parlor tricks, and so on. It is not known precisely when tarot cards began being used for divination and other paranormal efforts, although by the 1700’s and 1800’s this was becoming commonplace.

What’s in a Deck?

Tarot cards were used for playing games even from the beginning. The contents of a deck of tarot cards often varied by country or region, and various sets of rules were used depending on what game was to be played. Over the centuries, the contents of a deck could greatly vary. Each Tarot card has always had a suit, but suits varied depending on the country. There were four main styles of Tarot decks: Italian suites, Italian/Portuguese suites, German suites, and French suites. These differing decks could even contain different numbers of cards.

Modern tarot decks contain 78 cards and are split into two parts, called the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana. The 56 cards of the Minor Arcana and the 22 cards of the Major Arcana are suited and numbered. As you may have guessed, the Major Arcana cards – also known as “trumps” – are the more “powerful” cards, whereas the Minor Arcana cards – also known as “pips” – are the “weaker” cards. If all this sounds familiar, it should: many of the concepts and elements of tarot cards are parallel to what are known as playing cards in the U.S. Tarot decks even have a card called the Fool, which is analogous to the Joker card in a deck of playing cards.


The practice of reading tarot cards for the purpose of gaining insights is called Tarotology. Similar to using a Ouija board, tarot readings involve posing questions to the cards, followed by trying to interpret the cards for answers. Those who go for tarot readings typically seek answers to personal matters, such as what future fortunes one will find in life, love, and money. Depending on the person, these ‘psychic readings’ may be considered serious or just for fun. Some believe that true supernatural forces guide the cards, whereas others may believe that the effect is psychological.

Tarotology is not without criticism. ‘Serious’ Tarotology is largely considered a fraud, having no scientific basis. It has also been criticized by Christian churches and leaders who consider tarot cards to be linked to the devil and demonic powers. Aside from ‘professional’ Tarotology, readings are generally considered to be for entertainment, or to reveal something in one’s psyche or subconscious.

Performing a Tarot Reading

Practitioners of tarot readings often begin with guidebooks to learn rules and methods for readings, and then selecting which kind of deck to use. The experienced reader will make sure to memorize the deck and know it front and back. Tarot readings are often goal oriented, with the reader trying to facilitate a miniature journey of self-discovery for the ‘read-ee.’

The various suits, numbers, and images on the cards are steeped in symbols that represent the journey through life. Thus, reading tarot cards is considered a practice in receiving wisdom and insights through taking part in this symbolic journey through life. The Major Arcana cards represent the stages of life, while the Minor Arcana cards represent the obstacles, experiences, events, and other things that one goes through in the journey of life.

There are various ways to perform a reading. Generally, a tarot reader will make ‘spreads’ of the cards by drawing from the deck gradually and placing the cards in certain formations and patterns. From this, the reader will try to analyze the images, symbols, and numbers on the cards and come up with an interpretation. The reader might draw only a few cards from the deck, or even make a spread of the entire deck. Regardless, the cards used are connected to form stories and interpretations.

The results of tarot readings are widely open to interpretation, hence why most who go for readings are doing so for entertainment or seeing what their subconscious mind comes up with.

So What’s the Deal with Tarot Cards?

Tarot cards have been around for a long time and continue to be famous. Whether used for severe matters or for fun, a lot of people like to consult the cards. But what is the deal with tarot cards, really? Like so much in life, you get out of them what you put in. They are what you make of them.

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