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The Llewellyn Journal
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Tarot: A Little History and More

This article was written by Barbara Moore
posted under Tarot

Much of the history of tarot is rooted in France. It’s not surprising that Marseille was famous for its paper manufacturers that specialized in playing cards because other forms of divination were popular there as well. Marie Anne Lenormand (1768-1843) was a well-known cartomancer. She enjoyed a privileged relationship with Josephine Beauharnias and her husband, Napoleon Bonaparte, and spent much time reading for the upper classes. Because of her time spent mingling with society at their famous salons, she earned the nickname "Sybille des Salons."

In 1828 a fifty-two-card deck was published. In 1840 it was redesigned and reduced to a thirty-six-card deck. This smaller deck was and still is one of the most popular cartomancy decks available. Lo Scarabeo offers three variations of these Sibyls from France.

The Marseille Oracle Cards are taken from a thirty-two-card deck originally published in 1860. In the fashion of these types of decks, the cards have pictures of everyday items. At the top is a key word to aid the memory of the reader. The French Cartomancy Cards and the Lenormand Oracle cards are similar in that they are both based on the thirty-six-card 1840 deck. Both these decks have the same images and numbering. They differ in artistic style and in their design. The French Cartomancy images fill the entire card, while the Lenormand images are inset on a background. In addition, the French Cartomancy cards include an inset illustration of the playing card originally associated with the card. Neither of these have key words on them.

All of these decks work equally well, so selection is a matter of personal choice. They’d also make great Yuletide presents!

Gift Ideas
Holiday time is upon us. Below you’ll find some suggestions of items that are particularly suited to gift-giving. The decks are unique and beautiful. The beginner products will be welcomed by any novice. The last two were created for and are especially suited to teens and young adults.


  • The Gilded Tarot by Ciro Marchetti and Barbara Moore
  • Revelations Tarot by Zach Wong
  • Medieval Enchantment Tarot by Nigel Jackson
  • Animals Divine Tarot by Lisa Hunt
  • The Magical Menagerie by Mike Leslie and Eric Hotz

For Beginners:
  • The Complete Tarot Reader by Teresa Michelsen
  • Tarot Kit for Beginners, book by Janet Berres
  • What Tarot Can Do For You by Barbara Moore

For Younger People:
  • Seeker: The Tarot Unveiled by Rachel Pollack
  • Maria Shaw’s Tarot Kit for Teens, book by Maria Shaw

Alternatives to the Celtic Cross
The Celtic Cross can be a useful spread, but personally, it is not my favorite because it can be unwieldy and may not answer specific questions. Designing your spread to answer your specific question is the very best way to go (Teresa Michelsen’s Designing Your Tarot Spreads is fabulous).

Here are some ideas that you can do right now.
  1. Draw one card.
    Each individual tarot card is filled with information and symbols. You can get a surprisingly in-depth answer by shuffling your deck, pulling one card, and reading each symbol.

  2. 1-2-3.
    Many people love three-card spreads (in fact, James Ricklef in Tarot Tells the Tale shows just how useful they can be). You can lay three cards in a row and read them from left to right as past, present, and future. If your question is about whether or not you should do something, read the center card as the central issue, the card on the left as a possible outcome if you don’t do it, and the card on the right as a possible outcome if you decide to do it.

  3. Five-card stud.
    If you have to decide between two choices, lay one card to represent the main issue about the choice. Lay two cards to the left to represent the outcome of choice A and lay two cards to the right to represent the outcome of choice B.

Quick Tips: Bottoms Up!
After laying and interpreting a spread do you sometimes need to find out the underlying influence in a situation? Or maybe a subconscious motive or desire? Look at the card on the bottom of the deck. It never fails to give additional insight.

Not Your Everyday Tarot Reading
If you would like a reading of a spiritual nature, take the twenty-five cards of the Major Arcana and perform a reading with them. The resultant reading will reveal the esoteric significance of the events going on in your life and tell you how your soul is progressing along its spiritual path.

Other Pointers
If you feel confused about any card in a spread, ask a specific question that would clarify it and pull a card. Many tarot readers call this a “clarifier card.”

If a card falls out of the deck while you’re shuffling, pay special attention to it. It may be a message about the question you’re trying to ask.

Barbara MooreBarbara Moore
In the early 1990s, at a party, someone put a tarot deck in Barbara's hands; she's held on tightly ever since. Tarot provides just enough structure so that we don't get lost as we explore the mysteries, plumb our dark corners, and locate our North...  Read more


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