Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd.
View your shopping cart Shopping Cart | My Account | Help | Become a Fan on Facebook Become a Fan | Follow Us on Twitter Follow Us | Watch Us on YouTube Watch Us | Subscribe to our RSS Feeds Subscribe
Browse ProductsAuthorsArticlesBlogsEncyclopediaNewslettersAffiliate ProgramContact UsBooksellers
Advanced Search
LLEWELLYN JOURNAL
Article Topics
List of Articles
RSS Data Feeds
Mission Statement
Use of Our Articles
Writers' Guidelines

Email Exclusives
Sign up to receive special offers and promotions from Llewellyn.

Get the Latest Issue of New Worlds

May/June 2015 Issue

New Worlds Catalog

Get the FREE app for your tablet and mobile device. Now available in the iTunes Store and the Google Play Store

Also available as a PDF File.

Click for more information about New Worlds or to receive issues via mail.


The Llewellyn Journal
Print this Article Print this Article

The Historical Tarot

This article was written by Llewellyn
posted under Tarot

We tend to think of the tarot as a timeless icon, passed down to us unaltered through the ages, but historical research shows us that the tarot is fluid, changing with time as human culture changes.

We may think of the Fool as a young traveler, fresh-faced, carefree, a friendly dog springing alongside. But early cards show a Fool who is sometimes a miserable wretch, and more often a jester. The dog is no boon companion, as it sinks its teeth into the Fool's backside. And for most of history the Magician was mountebank rather than sorcerer, and the objects on his table are balls, cups, knives, and other oddments.

The High Priestess, hieratic and pagan, was preceded by a female Pope. The Empress has not changed much from the earlier versions, though she was once dressed more formally, with conventional scepter and orb. The Emperor, too, is essentially the same, though his symbols may have been given Egyptian or Norse details. The Hierophant has undergone a change similar to that of his counterpart Popess, for he was originally portrayed like the Supreme Pontiff, and called simply il Papa, the Pope.

The Lovers card was a straightforward emblem in the early tarot, with a courting pair and Cupid flying overhead. The earliest Chariot cards, though, often had a serene nude female figure on a pretty chariot: a completely different idea of triumph from the stern male of today, yet triumph still.

Justice's unmistakable attributes have endured essentially unaltered, despite being moved to the eleventh position. Justice always carries her sword of punishment and scales of balanced judgment. But the early versions of card IX, the Hermit, are not of a figure like Diogenes, searching for truth, but of a personified Time. This figure does not carry a lantern, but an hourglass.

The oldest card images of the Wheel of Fortune coincide perfectly with a thousand European illustrations, as human figures are thrown up and then down the rim of Dame Fortune's wheel. But Strength, rather than a calm female taming or fighting a lion, appears as Hercules clubbing a miniature lion: another example of how opposite images can portray the same idea.

The Hanged Man, the long-suffering saint of the tarot, began history as a Traitor, with Judas-like money bags held in both hands. But Death has changed very little over time. Whether striding with scythe or shooting fatal arrows on horseback, Death is always Death. Temperance too has remained much herself, always an angelic figure pouring the liquid of one vessel gracefully into another. The Devil, standing or enthroned, alone or flanked by chained minions, also remains much as he has always been—except that we barely know a Devil card from the tarot's first century of life.

Early records of the Tower call this trump variously the Arrow, Fire, the House of God, or the House of the Devil. Early Star cards vary widely, from a standing star-maiden to gesturing astrologers to one or more Magi. The Moon too gets her fair share of astrologers on her card, but the greatest change is that the card has lost the overwhelmingly negative interpretation (changeability, hidden dangers) of ages past. The Sun shares the same uncertainty as his celestial sisters. A woman with a spindle, Alexander meeting Diogenes, a shining angel: these are early Sun card images.

Judgment has been essentially unchanged since the beginning. The World card has remained the same as well: a disk or globe with a small figure of celebration.

It is the symbolic flexibility of the tarot that makes it such a powerful tool. Awareness of the added dimensions of its changes through time can greatly strengthen and focus your tarot readings.

pastlifespread

Past Life Spread

As we examine the history of the tarot, so too can we look at our own history, using a past life spread. Each card represents a karmic component in our lifetimes. The left column signifies concepts we have learned in a past life, while the right column represents concepts we are to learn in this life.

The first card serves as a focus for the spread. Then we move to the top and progress downward. The four levels of the spread stand for the awareness of body, mind, and spirit, with the lowest level representing the major lesson of each lifetime. These levels, read from past to present and added to the central focus card, combine to form a spread that can put us better in tune with the karmic ideals we are here to carry out.

From Llewellyn's 2001 Tarot Calendar. For more of Llewellyn's tarot decks and books, click here.


RELATED PRODUCTS

365 Tarot Spreads
365 Tarot Spreads
Revealing the Magic in Each Day
Sasha Graham
$22.99 US,  $26.50 CAN | Add to Cart

Please note that the use of Llewellyn Journal articles
is subject to certain Terms and Conditions

When I ask people about their dreams, many times they will recount experiences of crazy landscapes where anything can happen (and probably will). But more often than not, what I hear about is the regularly recurring, repetitive dream that has haunted the dreamer their entire life; I hear over and over again from people that they "always dream of... read this article
5 Ways to Heal with the Wheel of the Year
5 Simple and Instant Creativity Boosts
Reading Tarot Cards: Divining Our Life Path
Ghost-Hunting at the Old Charleston Jail
Visualization for People Who Have Trouble Visualizing

Most recent posts:
The Soul Needs Time
Nancy Antenucci’s book Psychic Tarot is filled with great ways to enhance your connection to the cards and to spirit. It is also filled with...

The Art of Changing
Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Tiffany Lazic, author of the new The Great Work: Self-Knowledge and Healing Through the Wheel of the...

Using Imagery for Manifestation
Readers, please enjoy this guest blog post by Melissa Harris, author of the new 99 Keys to a Creative Life. I hope this writing finds you in a...





Where You End Where You End
By: Anna Pellicioli
Price: $9.99 US,  $11.50 CAN
The Natural Psychic The Natural Psychic
Ellen Dugan's Personal Guide to the Psychic Realm

By: Ellen Dugan
Price: $16.99 US,  $19.50 CAN
Easy Tarot Easy Tarot
Learn to Read the Cards Once and For All!

By: Josephine Ellershaw, Ciro Marchetti
Price: $19.95 US,  $21.95 CAN
Avalon Rising Avalon Rising
By: Kathryn Rose
Price: $11.99 US,  $13.95 CAN
Wicca Wicca
A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner

By: Scott Cunningham
Price: $14.95 US,  $16.95 CAN