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Tarotology is the hypothetical basis for the reading of Tarot cards, a subset of cartomancy, which is the practice of using cards to gain insight into the past, present or future by posing a question to the cards. The reasoning behind this practice ranges from believing the result is guided by a spiritual force, to belief that the cards are instruments used to tap either into a collective unconscious or into the subject's own creative, brainstorming subconscious.[citation needed]

Tarot cards were originally used in games and are still used for that purpose in many parts of Europe.

Tarotology is not considered a science; there is no scientific evidence that readings made from the cards can play a role in making objective predictions about future events. It is therefore a practice of pseudoscience.


The main article on Tarot gives full details of the history of Tarot cards as game-playing cards.

Antoine Court de Gébelin

One of the earliest reference to Tarot triumphs, and probably the first reference to Tarot as the devil's picture book, is given by a Dominican preacher in a fiery sermon against the evils of the devil's instrument.[1] References to the Tarot as a social plague continue throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, but there are no indication that the cards were used for anything but games anywhere other than in Bologna.[2] As Dummett (1980: 96) notes, "...it was only in the 1780s, when the practice of fortune-telling with regular playing cards had been well established for at least two decades, that anyone began to use the Tarot pack for cartomancy."

The belief in the divinatory meaning of the cards is closely associated with a belief in their occult properties: a commonly held belief in the 18th century propagated by prominent Protestant clerics and freemasons.[2]:96 One of them was Court De Gébelin (see below).

From its humble uptake as an instrument of prophecy in France, the Tarot went on to become a thing of hermeneutic, magical, mystical,[3] semiotic,[4] and even psychological properties. It was used by Romani people when telling fortunes,[5] as a Jungian psychological apparatus capable of tapping into “absolute knowledge in the unconscious,” [6] a tool for archetypal analysis,[7] and even a tool for facilitating the Jungian process of Individuation.[8]

Court de Gébelin

Many involved in occult and divinatory practices attempt to trace the Tarot to ancient Egypt, divine hermetic wisdom,[9] and the mysteries of Isis.

Possibly the first of those was Antoine Court de Gébelin, a French clergyman, who wrote that after seeing a group of women playing cards he had the idea that Tarot was not merely a game of cards but was in fact:

  • of ancient Egyptian origin
  • of mystical cabbalistic import
  • of deep divine significance

De Gébelin published a dissertation on the origins of the symbolism in the Tarot in volume VIII of work Le Monde primitif. He thought the Tarot represented ancient Egyptian Theology, including Isis, Osiris and Typhon. For example, he thought the card he knew as the Papesse and known today as the High Priestess represented Isis.[10] He also related four Tarot cards to the four Christian Cardinal virtues: Temperance, Justice, Strength and Prudence.[11] He relates The Tower to a Greek fable about avarice.[12]

Although the ancient Egyptian language had not yet been deciphered, de Gébelin asserted the name "Tarot" came from the Egyptian words Tar, "path" or "road", and the word Ro, Ros or Rog, meaning "King" or "royal", and that the Tarot literally translated to the Royal Road of Life.[13] Later Egyptologists found nothing in the Egyptian language to support de Gébelin's etymologies.

Despite this lack of any evidence, the belief that the tarot cards are linked to the Egyptian Book of Thoth continues in modern urban legend to the present day.

The actual source of the occult Tarot can be traced to two articles in volume eight, one written by himself, and one written by M. le C. de M.***. [14] The second has been noted to have been even more influential than Gebelin's.[2] The author takes De Gebelin's speculations even further, agreeing with him about the mystical origins of the Tarot in ancient Egypt, but making several additional, and influential, statements that continue to influence mass understanding of the occult tarot even to this day.[citation needed] He:

  • makes the first statement that the Tarot is, in fact, The Book of Thoth
  • makes the first statement that the Tarot is associated with the Romani People (and that the Romani people were roaming Egyptians)
  • makes the first association of Tarot with cartomancy


The first to assign divinatory meanings to the Tarot cards were cartomancer Jean-Baptiste Alliette (also known as Etteilla) in 1783 and Mlle Marie-Anne Adelaide Lenormand (1776-1843).[15][16] According to Dummett, Etteilla:[2]

  • devised a method of tarot divination in 1783,
  • wrote a cartomanic treatise of tarot as the Book of Thoth,
  • created the first society for Tarot cartomancy, the Société littéraire des associés libres des interprètes du livre de Thot.
  • created the first corrected Tarot (supposedly fixing errors that resulted from misinterpretation and corruption through the mists of antiquity), The Grand Ettielle deck
  • created the first Egyptian tarot to be used exclusively for Tarot cartomancy
  • published, under the imprint of his society, the Dictionnaire synonimique du Livre de Thot, a book that "systematically tabulated all the possible meanings which each card could bear, when upright and reversed." (Dummett, 1980: pp. 110).

Etteilla also:[citation needed]

  • suggested that Tarot was repository of the wisdom of Hermes Trismegistus
  • was a book of eternal medicine
  • was an account of the creation of the world
  • argued that the first copy of the tarot was imprinted on leaves of gold

Michael Dummett (1980) suggests that Etteilla was attempting to scoop Court De Gebelin as the author of the occult tarot.[citation needed] Etteilla in fact claims to have been involved with Tarot longer than Court De Gebelin.[2]

Marie Anne Lenormand

Mlle Marie-Anne Adelaide Lenormand outshone even Ettiella and was the first cartomancer to people in high places, being the personal confidant of Empress Josephine, Napoleon and other notables.[2] Lenormand used both regular playing cards, in particular the Piquet pack, as well as cards derived from Etteilla's Egyptian root. She was so famous that a deck was published in her name, the Grand Jeu de Mlle Lenormand, two years after her death in 1843.

Éliphas Lévi

The concept of the cards as a mystical key was extended by Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875[citation needed]). Lévi (whose given name was Alphonse-Louise Constance) was educated in the seminary of Saint-Sulpice, was ordained as a deacon, but never became a priest. Dummett (1980, pp. 114) notes that it is from Levi's book Dogme et rituel that the "whole of the modern occultist movement stems." Lévi wrote that an astral light is contained within all of reality,[citation needed] and according to Dummett (1980, pp. 118), he claimed to be the first to

"have discovered intact and still unknown this key of all doctrines and all philosophies of the old world... without the Tarot", he tells us, "the Magic of the ancients is a closed book...."

Lévi rejected Court de Gébelin's claims about an Egyptian origin of the deck symbols, going back instead to the Tarot de Marseille, calling it The Book of Hermes, claiming it was antique, that it existed before Moses, and that it was in fact a universal key of erudition, philosophy, and magic that could unlock Hermetic and Cabbalistic concepts. According to Lévi, "An imprisoned person with no other book than the Tarot, if he knew how to use it, could in a few years acquire universal knowledge, and would be able to speak on all subjects with unequaled learning and inexhaustible eloquence."[17]

According to Dummett Lévis' notable contributions include:[2]

  • Lévi was the first to suggest that the Magus (Bagatto) was to work with the four suits.
  • Inspired by de Gébelin, Lévi associated the Hebrew alphabet with the Tarot trumps.
  • Lévi linked the ten numbered cards in each suit to the ten sefiroth.
  • Claimed the court cards represented stages of human life.
  • Claimed the four suites represented the Tetragrammaton.

Dummett (1980: 120) dismissed Lévi's contribution to magic as the product of "an advanced state of intellectual deliquescent," but noted that Lévi made a major contribution to the history of occult lore. Occultists, magicians, and magus's all the way down to the 21st century have cited Lévi as a defining influence.[citation needed] This trend began immediately when Jean-Baptiste Pitois (1811), writing under the name Paul Christian, wrote L'Homme rouge (1863) and later Histoire de la magie, du monde surnaturel et de la fatalité à travers les temps et les peuples (1870). Christian repeats and extends the mythology of the tarot and changes the names for the trumps and the suits (see table below for a list of Christian's modifications to the trumps).[citation needed] Batons (wands) become Scepters, Swords become Blades, and Coins become Shekels. [18] In 1888 Ély Star published Mystères de l'horoscope which mostly repeats Christian's modifications.[19] Its primary contribution was the introduction of the terms 'Major arcana' and 'Minor arcana,' and the numbering of the Crocodile (the Fool) XXII instead of 0.[citation needed]

In 1887 the Marquis Stanislas de Guaita met the amateur artist Oswald Wirth (1860-1943) and subsequently sponsored a production of Lévi's intended deck. Guided entirely by de Guaita Wirth designed the first neo-occultist cartomantic deck (and first cartomantic deck not derived from Ettielle's Egyptina deck). Known as the Arcanes du Tarot kabbalistique it consisted of only the twenty-two major arcana.[jargon]


Tarot is often used in conjunction with the study of the Hermetic Qabalah.[20] In these decks all the cards are illustrated in accordance with Qabalistic principles, most being influenced by the Rider-Waite deck. Its images were drawn by artist Pamela Colman Smith, to the instructions of Christian mystic and occultist Arthur Edward Waite and published in 1909.[citation needed] A difference from Marseilles style decks is that Waite-Smith use scenes with esoteric meanings on the suit cards.

Tarot cards have become extremely popular in Japan, where hundreds of new decks have been designed in recent years. [21]

Order of the Trumps

The following is a comparison of the order of the trumps up to and including the A.E. Waite deck. This table is based on Dummett (1980) and actual inspection of the relevant decks.[original research?]

Tarot de Marseille[22] Court de Gébelin[23][24] Etteilla's Egyptian Tarot[25] Paul Christian's Egyptian Tarot
(divinatory meaning in bold)
Oswald Wirth Golden Dawn A.E. Waite Book of Thoth (Crowley)
1 - the Bateleur (Mountebank) Bateleur Ideal/Wisdom the Magus / Will Magician 1 - The Magician I - The Magician I - The Magus
2 - the Popess High Priestess Enlightenment/Passion Gate of the (occult) Sanctuary / Knowledge Priestess 2 - The High Priestess II - The High Priestess II - The Priestess
3 - the Empress Empress Discussion/Instability Isis - Urania / Action Empress 3 - The Empress III - The Empress III - The Empress
4 - the Emperor Emperor Revelation/Behaviour Cubic Stone / Realisation Emperor 4 - The Emperor IV - The Emperor IV - The Emperor
5 - the Pope Chief Hierophant Travel/Country Property Master of the Mysteries/Arcana / Occult Inspiration Hierophant 5 - The Hierophant V - The Hierophant V - The Hierophant
6 - Love or the Lovers Marriage Secrets/Truths Two Roads / Ordeal Lovers 6 - The Lovers VI - The Lovers VI - The Lovers
7 - the Chariot Osiris Triumphant Support/Protection Chariot of Osiris / Victory Chariot 7 - The Chariot VII - The Chariot VII - The Chariot
8 - Justice Justice Tenacity/Progress Themis (Scales and Blade) / Equilibrium Justice 11 - Justice XI - Justice VIII - Adjustment
9 - the Hermit Wise Man Justice/Law-Maker the Veiled Lamp / Wisdom Hermit 9 - The Hermit IX - The Hermit IX - The Hermit
10 - Wheel of Fortune Wheel of Fortune Temperance/Convictions the Sphinx / Fortune Fortune 10 - The Wheel of Fortune X - Wheel of Fortune X - Fortune
11 - Fortitude Fortitude Strength/Power the Muzzled(tamed) Lion / Strength Strength 8 - Strength VIII - Strength XI - Lust
12 - the Hanged Man Prudence Prudence/Popularity The Sacrifice / Sacrifice Hanged Man 12 - The Hanged Man XII - The Hanged Man XII - The Hanged Man
13 - Death Death Marriage/Love Affair The Skeleton Reaper / Transformation Death 13 - Death XIII - Death XIII - Death
14 - Temperance Temperance Violence/Weakness the Two Urns (the genius of the sun) / Initiative Temperance 14 - Temperance XIV - Temperance XIV - Art
15 - the Devil Typhon Chagrins/Illness Typhon / Fate Devil 15 - The Devil XV - The Devil XV - The Devil
16 - the Tower the Castle or Plutus Opinion/Arbitration the Beheaded Tower (Lightning Struck) / Ruin Tower 16 - The Tower XVI - The Tower XVI - The Tower
17 - the Star Sirius or the Dog Star Death/Incapacity Star of the Magi / Hope Star 17 - The Star XVII - The Star XVII - The Star
18 - the Moon Moon Betrayal/Falsehood the Twilight / Deception Moon 18 - The Moon XVIII - The Moon XVIII - The Moon
19 - the Sun Sun Poverty/Prison the Blazing Light / (earthly) Happiness Sun 19 - The Sun XIX - The Sun XIX - The Sun
20 - Judgment the Creation Fortune/Augmentation the Awakening of the Dead / Renewal Judgement 20 - Judgement XX - Judgement XX - The Aeon
21 - the World Time Law Suit/Legal Dispute the Crown of the Magi / Reward World 21 - The Universe XXI - The World XXI - The Universe
Le Mat (Fool) Fool Madness/Bewilderment 0 the Crocodile (between 20 and 21) / Expiation Fool 0 - The Fool 0 - The Fool 0 - The Fool

Personal use

Next to the usage of tarot cards to divine for others, often for a price, tarot is also used widely as a device for personal advice and spiritual growth.[citation needed] Whereas professional tarot is often seen as a scam (see Criticism, below), personal usage of tarot cannot be regarded as such, as there would be nothing to gain from scamming oneself. This is an area of tarot divination that has not been studied properly, however [26]. Regardless, persons who use the tarot for personal divination ask question ranging widely from health or economical issues to what would be best for them spiritually.[27]

The way the cards are taken to respond to such personal inquiries is subject to various theories. Many tarot users believe that the cards are the ones providing the answers.[further explanation needed] Others would state that there are supernatural agents (e.g. angels or fairies) who guide the cards. From a psychological point of view, there are those who believe that the person themselves is the one making the connections between the cards. Among these, some believe that tarot is useful either because it is a way to let one's subconscious speak (after Freud), or because of meaningful coincidences between the situation or question at hand and the cards (synchronicity, after Jung).[28]


One of the main criticisms of tarot card reading is its distinct lack of a common reading method among its practitioners. During a tarot card reading there are three mains steps that the reader will use, but how each of these steps is carried out varies significantly between practitioners. The first step is shuffling the cards; the second is laying them out in a particular pattern; and the third, finally, is interpreting the cards. Some readers shuffle the cards themselves, while others get the querent to do so. Readers also employ several different patterns in which to lay out and turn up the cards. Additionally, a reader may have their own distinct way of interpreting the cards; some tarot cards can have up to ten meanings, and it is up to the reader to use their intuition to interpret them. Some readers believe that they can only get reliable readings from "top quality decks" and that cheap decks give unreliable readings.[29] There is no scientific evidence for choosing any reading method in particular. Furthermore, since tarot cards are shuffled before each reading, and the reading itself is mostly based on the reader's interpretative intuition, it is improbable to get the same reading twice – something which could be expected to happen if the cards were a basis for the statement of objective facts. Quoting the skeptic James Randi, "For use as a divinatory device, the Tarot deck is dealt out in various patterns and interpreted by a gifted 'reader.' The fact that the deck is not dealt out into the same pattern fifteen minutes later is rationalized by the occultists by claiming that in that short span of time, a person's fortune can change, too. That would seem to call for rather frequent readings if the system is to be of any use whatsoever."[30]

Tarot card readings use very vague and basic ideas that any person could draw on as parts of the reading, internalizing them.[vague] Several different skeptics[who?] have found that, when performing a tarot card reading, the reader uses several different techniques, of questionable scientific validity, to aid in their reading.[citation needed] One of these for example is cold reading. Cold reading is a technique that psychics, mediums, card readers, etc. use to determine details about a person in order to convince them that they know them.

See also


  1. ^ R. Steele. A notice of the Ludus Triumphorum and Some Early Italian Card Games: With Some Remarks on the Origin of the Game of Cards,' Archaeologia, vol LVII, 1900. pp. 185–200
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Michael Dummett. The Game of Tarot. London: Duckworth, 1980. ISBN 0715631225
  3. ^ P.D. Ouspensky. The Symbolism of the Tarot: philosophy of occultism in pictures and numbers. Dover Publications. 1976
  4. ^ Inna Semetsky. Tarot images and spiritual education: the three I’s model. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality. 16(3): 249–260. 2011
  5. ^ Eliphas Levi. The Key of the Mysteries. Translated by Aleister Crowley. Red Wheel/Weiser. 2002 ISBN 0877280789
  6. ^ John Beeb. A Tarot Reading on the Possibility of Nuclear War. Psychological Perspectives: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought. 16(1): 97-106. pp. 97
  7. ^ Sallie Nichols. The Wisdom of the Fool. Psychological Perspective: A Quarterly Journal of Jungian Thought. 5(2): 97-116. 1974
  8. ^ Salie Nichols. Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey. San Francisco: Weiser Books. Also Inna Semetsky. When Cathy was a Little Girl: The Healing Praxis of Tarot Images. International Journal of Children's Spirituality. 15(1): 59-72. 2010. pp. 59
  9. ^ Ronald Decker and Michael Dummett. A history of the occult tarot, 1870-1970. London: Duckworth, 2002. ISBN 0715610147.
  10. ^ Court de Gébelin, Antoine (1781), Le Monde Primitif volume viii, p. 370 
  11. ^ Court de Gébelin, Antoine (1781), Le Monde Primitif volume viii, p. 371 
  12. ^ Court de Gébelin, Antoine (1781), Le Monde Primitif volume viii, p. 376 
  13. ^ Court de Gébelin, Antoine (1781), Le Monde Primitif volume viii, p. 380 
  14. ^ The asterix and the abbreviations are the actual way Court De Gébelin refers to the second essay. As Dummett (1980) notes, Mr Robin Briggs identifies the contributor as Louis-Raphael-Lucrece de Fayolle, Comte de Mellet. Louis was a brigadier, governor, and "unremarkable court noble."
  15. ^ Ronald Decker and Michael Dummett, History of the Occult Tarot, London: Duckworth, 2002 ISBN 978-0715631225
  16. ^ Robert Place, The Tarot: History, Symbolism, and Divination, New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2005 ISBN 978-1585423491
  17. ^ Eliphas Lévi. Transcendental Magic. p. 103
  18. ^ Interestingly, Dummett (1980) singles out Christian's writing as one of the worst examples of what he calls false ascription to be found in the occult literature.
  19. ^ Arcana in the Adytum by Mary K. Greer.
  20. ^ Israel Regardie, The Tree of Life, (London, Rider, 1932)
  21. ^ Miller, Laura (2011). "Tantalizing tarot and cute cartomancy in Japan". Japanese Studies. 31 (1): 73–91. doi:10.1080/10371397.2011.560659. 
  22. ^ "Queen of Tarot". 
  23. ^ "Queen of Tarot". 
  24. ^ Court de Gébelin is the first to attempt to provide the correct order and nomenclature for the tarot trumps. See Michael Dummett. The Game of Tarot. London: Duckworth, 1980. ISBN 0715631225
  25. ^ Etteilla's tarot is the first cartomantic tarot, thus the broken nomenclature that bears little resemblance to that which comes before! The imagery of Ettiella's Egyptian Tarot is similar to Tarot de Marseille, but he breaks the ordering significantly putting, for example, the imagery of the Sun (traditionally triumph 19) as triumph 1. This interested in viewing the images by do so by visiting this link
  26. ^ But see: Gregory, Karen (2013). "Negotiating Precarity: Tarot as Spiritual Entrepreneurialism". WSQ: Women's Studies Quarterly. 40 (3–4): 264–280. doi:10.1353/wsq.2013.0025. 
  27. ^ van Rijn, Bastiaan Benjamin. "The Mind Behind the Cards". Retrieved 31 July 2017. 
  28. ^ van Rijn, Bastiaan Benjamin. "The Mind Behind the Cards". Retrieved 31 July 2017. 
  29. ^ Moore, Randy (January 1992). "Debunking the Paranormal: We Should Teach Critical Thinking as a Necessity for Living, Not Just as a Tool for Science". The American Biology Teacher. 54 (1): 4–9. doi:10.2307/4449386. JSTOR 4449386. 
  30. ^ "Your Future in a Deck of Cards?". The Skeptic Detective. Retrieved 7 November 2016.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)

External links

  • List of Tarot Decks
  • Images from the Grand Etteille Deck
  • Images from the Grand Oracle des Dames, an early cartomantic progeny
  • Images from Lenormand's deck
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