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 The Development of Modern Tarot Decks and the Invention of Occult Tarot

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PostSubject: The Development of Modern Tarot Decks and the Invention of Occult Tarot   Mon Mar 18, 2013 8:43 am

The middle of the 1700s saw a great development in the game of Tarot, a modernized deck, along with a growth in Tarot's popularity. Dummett notes that "The hundred years between about 1730 and 1830 were the heyday of the game of Tarot; it was played not only in northern Italy, eastern France, Switzerland, Germany and Austro-Hungary, but also in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and even Russia. Not only was it, in these areas, a famous game with many devotees: it was also, during that period, more truly an international game than it had ever been before or than it has ever been since...." Beginning around 1750, a modernized Tarot deck became popular in many areas. The more common French suit-signs, (Spades, Clubs, Hearts, and Diamonds) replaced the older Italian ones, and around 1780 the trumps began to became double-headed. Tarot's traditional Medieval allegory was replaced with a decorative series of thematically-related but essentially arbitrary images, made possible by the use of large numerals on the trumps. This obviated memorizing the order of images, making the game that much easier to learn. The themes of these decks might include almost anything: animals, pastoral scenes, military triumphs, illustrated proverbs, even advertising. Although in decline in France and Italy, the popularity of the game elsewhere increased during this period.

The later 18th century saw an even more portentous development of Tarot, well beyond its use to play cards. Fortune-telling with playing cards had developed from their use as a randomizing device to pick a page in a book of fortunes in the 1500s, through the use of special fortune-telling decks in the 1600s, and finally to the point of regular decks being given symbolic meaning in the 1700s. A few scattered indications of this appear earlier in the century, but the first book on cartomancy was published in 1770. It was written by Etteilla, the world's first professional cartomancer, who became one of the founders of occult Tarot. In the 1780s he and two other French writers developed much of the occult lore and fortune-telling methods that would reinvent Tarot in the late 1800s.

These three writers changed Tarot forever. Neither knowing nor caring much about Tarot's 350-year history, its original and common use as a game, or the intended meaning of its allegorical cycle, they interpreted the images freely. They used the twenty-two trumps as signs designating the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. These newly-minted correspondences made the Tarot deck into a novel emblem system for Cabalistic magic and mysticism. The two esoteric uses, Cabala and divination, became permanently attached to Tarot. The authors of this newly invented Tarot also wrote up a detailed fantasy about Tarot's origin and history, involving Egyptian initiations, Jewish mystics, and vagabond Gypsies. These fictional histories were intended to validate the correspondences the occultists had devised, by appeal to alleged ancient wisdom and secret traditions.

Detailed Timeline

Tarot History: 1701 - 1800
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