What is Tarot?
Tarot (also known as Tarock, Tarokk, Taroky, Taroc, Tarok, Tarocchi and similar names) is a family of trick taking card games played with an enlarged deck of 78 cards which include an extra court card for each of the four regular suits, a permanent trump suit of 21 cards, and a kind of “wild card” called “the Fool” or “Excuse.” Although seen primarily by many as a means of fortune telling or divination, the Tarot deck was created in northern Italy during the 15th century for playing card games. The notion of a trump suit which survives in such popular card games as Spades and Hearts originated with the game of Tarot.

The myth of Egyptian origins of Tarot, while once common, has long been debunked by later scholars. There is also no record of Tarot cards being used for the occult or divination prior to the 18th century.  The Tarot card readings popular at Renaissance Fairs are a creative license taken with historical fact and should not be viewed as authentic. Contrary to popular belief, conventional playing cards were not derived from Tarot decks and the Fool is unrelated to the Joker of conventional playing cards. The Joker was created in the USA during the 19th century originally for the card game Euchre.

Tarot cards

There are two types of Tarot deck.

The Italian suited Tarot

The traditional Italian suited deck of coins, cups, swords, and batons is currently favored by those using Tarot for divination, although in some countries such as Italy and Switzerland such decks are still used for game playing. Those practicing Tarot divination often call the coins “pentacles” and the batons “wands.” With few exceptions, the trump scenes of Italian suited Tarots differ little from deck to deck and are often seen by Tarot readers as containing symbolic meaning. The depictions of a Popess (II) and Pope (V) on Italian suited Tarots have been controversial in some areas. In Switzerland, these images were replaced by depictions of Juno (II) and Jupiter (V). In Bologna Italy, the papal figures along with the Empress (III) and the Emperor (IV) were replaced by four Moorish figures which are unnumbered and act as trumps of equal rank in the Bolognese variety of Tarocchi. The Italian or Spanish suit system is not confined to Tarot cards. This suit system is a common regional pattern of conventional playing cards in Southern Europe and in Latin America.

The French suited Tarot

The more modern deck using the French or international suits of diamonds, hearts, spades, and clubs is now used in such countries as France and Austria for game playing. In France and in southern Germany , the Roman numerals have been abandoned in favor of Arabic numbers, while in some countries such as Austria, the Roman numerals are still used. The trump images of French suited Tarots often depict arbitrary scenes of people at work and at play, animals both actual and mythological, and landscapes of regional locales. In some regions, such as Austria and southern Germany, the deck is shortened to 54 cards by the removal of the lowest ranking pip cards. Unlike the Italian suited decks, there is a great variety of imagery on the trump cards of French suited Tarots.  On French suited Tarot decks, the Fool is often depicted as a musician, a harlequin, or some other kind of entertainer. French suited Tarots are seldom used for divination.

 

Common rules of play

In each trick, players must follow suit if possible. If following suit is not possible, a trump card must be played. If players are void in the suit played and are also void in trumps, then any card can be played. The winner of a trick leads the next.

There is considerable variation on how the Fool or Excuse is used. In countries such as France and Italy, the Fool is a “wild card” which may be played to any trick to avoid having to follow suit while in some regions such as Austria and southern Germany, the Fool is simply the highest trump.

Many modern Tarot games incorporate bidding to determine who will become the taker and play alone against the other players. In some Tarot card games with four or more players, the taker calls a king or a high ranking trump to choose a partner who’s identity remains secret until the called card is played.

The values of the cards where “n” is often equal to 1, 2, 3, or 4 depending on the type of game one is playing are given as follows:

Trump XXI (21), Trump I (1), the Excuse or Fool, and the 4 kings are worth 4 + 1/n each

The 4 queens are worth 3 + 1/n each

The 4 cavaliers or knights are worth 2 + 1/n each

The 4 jacks are worth 1 + 1/n each

All other cards are worth 1/n each

The usual goal of Tarot card games is to score the most card points along with any other bonus points which might also be available depending on which regional variant one is playing.

Tarot reading and divination

Although originally designed for card playing, Tarot cards are commonly seen by many as a tool for divination especially in regions where Tarot card games remain largely unknown. There are numerous decks published nowadays dedicated for divination purposes. The most well known deck designed for divination or to “gain insight” is the Rider Waite Smith Tarot.

To use the cards for divination, one arranges them in a pattern. Such patterns, usually cross-shaped, are known as “throws” or “spreads.” The “querent,” that is the one seeking the Tarot reading, shuffles the deck and asks the card reader a question. The question might be of a “yes” or “no” type or of a more general nature. The reader arranges the cards into the spread of choice and supposedly attempts to answer the question by using the cards as a guide. The divinatory interpretation of a Tarot card often depends on whether the direction of the card is upright or reversed or by its juxtaposition with other cards. Sometimes only 22 cards of the Tarot deck are used. These cards, called the “Major Arcana” by Tarot readers, include the 21 trumps and the Fool. The remaining 56 cards are called the “Minor Arcana.”

Not all Tarot readers call themselves “fortune tellers” when they claim they do not technically use the cards for predictive purposes. In recent years, “psychological” interpretations, rather than paranormal ones, have governed the context in which many Tarot readings are seen. Such Tarot readings are said to be “introspective” in character and make no supernatural or prophetic claims. Tarot card reading has also recently become popular in some circles as a brainstorming tool in efforts to boost one’s creativity. However, it should be noted that, there is no empirical evidence of any psychic phenomena or of any therapeutic benefits of Tarot card readings. 

James D. Wickson 2007http://oudler.livejournal.com/ 

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