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A Brief History of the Tarot

This article was written by Gerald and Betty Schueler on January 07, 2004
posted under Tarot

The Tarot is often called the oldest book known to humankind. According to occult legend, the original cards comprised "chapters" in a book known as The Book of Thoth. Thoth was the ibis-headed god of wisdom and represented knowledge of the ancient Egyptians. At the founding of Egypt, unknown centuries ago, he is said to have given humanity the knowledge of medicine, astrology, language, art, and various sciences such as mathematics and engineering. The original chapters of The Book of The Dead are said to have been written by Thoth.

After many thousands of years, the Egyptian Empire began to crumble. As things began to fall apart, the god Thoth again intervened. He desired to keep alive the knowledge and wisdom that he had provided his people. To save his contribution to humankind, he summarized all the accumulated wisdom of the Egyptian empire onto a series of 22 tablets. He did this by using symbols and pictures instead of words. These tablets became known as The Book of Thoth. As the empire decayed into ignorance, the tablets found their way into a band of roving people, later known as gypsies. The gypsies copied the symbols of the tablets onto cards that became the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck.

Whatever the actual origin of the Tarot deck may be, it is known that a deck of fortunetelling cards was used in A.D. 1390. The Tarot later found its way into the Hebrew Qabalah, probably because the 22 cards of the Major Arcana could be shown to correspond with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. During the 19th century, many occultists tried to demonstrate a higher use for the cards than divination. Eliphas Levi tried to show that the cards of the Major Arcana were connected to the Qabalistic Tree of Life. He designed two cards, the Devil and the Chariot, for this purpose. This idea was further carried out by a secret occult group in England known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. A new form of Tarot, the Enochian Tarot, was developed by Gerald and Betty Schueler in the 1980s, and it is based upon the principles of Enochian Magick and Enochian Physics.

While Llewellyn's Classic Tarot has my name on the cover, I did not so much design this project as direct it. Llewellyn wanted a deck that was designed to be faithful to the traditional tarot images, symbols, and meanings recognizable to most modern tarot readers and students. Creating a faithful yet new expression of timeless tarot imagery is... read this article
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