To understand the origins of tarot, we must go back to Greece and the ancient philosophies that underlie the occult traditions in the Western world. For instance, details such as the number of cards in the tarot deck were not determined by accident. In fact, this number is based ultimately on the numerology and musical harmony developed by the sixth century BC Greek mystic, mathematician, and philosopher Pythagoras.
The modern tarot was gradually developed during the Italian Renaissance, when the works of Aristotle, Plato, Euclid, and other Greek writers were receiving intense attention. These works refer to Pythagoras's numerological theories, which caught the attention of Renaissance scholars and occultists and were eventually integrated into the underlying structure of the tarot.
Perfection in Numbers
Pythagoras is best known for his doctrine of the transmigration of souls and for his theories of music and the harmony of the spheres. In 530 BC he founded a semi-monastic school in the Greek colony of Crotona, Italy, where he practiced divination and instructed his followers. Pythagoras was struck by the abstract concept of numbers, and he is quoted as having said, "All things are numbers," meaning that reality, at its core, could be understood in terms of numbers and numerical relationships. For example, he regarded the number ten as perfect, representing all the principles of the monad (divinity) as embodied in the first four digits (1 + 2 + 3 + 4).
Pythagoras believed that the first four numbers contained the basic principles of the universe, since the manipulation of those numbers can produce all other numbers.
Keys to Reality
In the end, it turns out that seventy-eight, the number of cards in the modern tarot, is also a triangular number. In other words, 78 = 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 + 11 + 12. Some five centuries after the playing cards were first introduced into Europe, modern occultists, using Pythagorean numerology, produced the seventy-eight card tarot deck in the form we know today.
The Pythagorean Tetraktys
The spread is applicable to several types of questions, but lends itself best to relationship and business problems, which often have hidden issues that the spread can bring to light.
From Llewellyn's 2001 Tarot Calendar. For more Llewellyn tarot books and decks, click here.
Anthony Louis (Conn.) is a physician and psychiatrist. Astrology has been his avocation for more than 30 years. He has lectured internationally on horary astrology and has published numerous articles in magazines such as ...