There are many theories about the origins of Tarot, (pronounced Ta-row) but no one knows for certain where or how or by whom the cards were developed.
Some claim the Tarot was derived from the ‘Book Of Toth ‘while some others say its origin is as recent as the fourteenth century where playing cards first entered Europe most likely from Egypt. and in another theory by traveling tribes called the gypsies (Roma) though no documented evidence is found. The oldest surviving cards are the Visconti-Sforza tarot decks painted in mid 15th century for the rulers of Duchy of Milan.
In Florence, a deck called Minchaite was used which consisted of 97 cards with astrological symbols and divided into the four elements. Our modern tarot decks now consist of 78 cards divided into major arcana (22 cards)and minor arcana(56 cards) which again is divided into four elements (wands, pentacles, swords &cups). some researchers believe minor arcana was part of the original Egyptian tarot decks while others say they were added to the tarot deck in the fourteenth century from an Italian card game known as ‘Tarocchi’
The illustrations on the tarot cards seem to be derived from the ancient teachings and symbolism of Egypt. It is believed that the high priests of ancient Egypt designed the tarot cards as one way of preserving their secret teachings for the future generations of royal priests and students of occult arts.
Another theory suggests that the tarot philosophy was derived from the mystical Jewish tradition called ‘Qabbalah’ or ‘Kabala’.
Kabala teaches you that it is possible to raise your consciousness above the level of the mundane and lead you to an understanding of Divine. Kabalists never wrote down their teaching but they were passed down from teachers to students as this suggests that the tarot philosophy might be derived from Kabala. The order of the major arcana is connected to the Hebrew system of letters and numbers. In this teaching, letters and numbers are considered as reservoirs of divine power and knowledge.
In another school of thought, Major arcana is a record of the secret teachings of various underground religious groups and the ‘Gnostics’ being one such group. These Pagan or gnostics or early Christian sects were forced to take their faith underground to escape persecution.
Even the origin of the name ‘Tarot ‘ is in doubt. Famous tarot exponents believe that the name derives from the Egyptian words tar “a path” Ro” royal ” meaning the royal path of life. It even means Taru meaning to “require an answer” or “to consult” in Egyptian.
Whatever the origins of Tarot, it is clear the symbolism on the cards is universal, speaking to many different cultures and philosophies.
People have been using Tarot for centuries and have developed their own version of the deck and own style of reading the decks. So Tarot, though its origins still a topic of debate is believed to contain full knowledge and mysteries of life and creation if only one can learn to decipher them. Tarot can be used as a tool of divination or a tool for self-development.