Introducing the Tarot
Over the 500 years of its documented existence the tarot has come to form an integral part of global culture. Produced by early European craft guilds and based on an original Middle Eastern card game, it’s strange and resonant imagery has always hinted at something more than just a popular pastime. By the 18th century the cards were explicitly and very publicly associated with a stream of hidden wisdom. Although the link between the Tarot, divination and esotericism was apparent 250 years ago, how much older these associations may be can only be guessed at.
The first mention of cards being used for gaming purposes occurs in the early 14th century. By the mid-15th century we have the first evidence of card designs similar to those of the Tarot de Marseilles. Of all the Tarot decks, the Tarot de Marseilles is acknowledged as the true ancestor of almost every popular modern deck. Whilst newer decks, such as the Waite-Smith, have dominated popular taste for the last 100 years, more recently tarotists have returned to the simpler, more direct, and in many ways more powerful imagery of the Tarot de Marseille.
The designation ‘Tarot de Marseille’ does not refer to any one specific deck of cards but to a common pattern shared by many different decks. All of the Marseille pattern decks share the same structure and similar imagery making them easily identifiable as belonging to the Tarot de Marseille family.
The nature of the relationship between the tarot, divinatory practice and an esoteric current has proved as resistant to explication as it has to both sceptical and scholarly criticism. Part of the problem is that for a culture narrowly focused on externalities, ‘esoteric’ tends to be understood as ‘hidden’ or ‘lost’, whether it be a symbol, buried treasure or information. Esotericism is identified with certain historical traditions, such as alchemy, the Kabbalah or magically oriented secret societies. In other words it remains vague, imprecise and confused. Lacking initiation, many people have been looking in the wrong place or in the wrong direction.
To receive initiation is to enter a living stream, to become one more link in an iron chain of meaning emanating from a Source that fundamentally and irrevocably empowers and heightens the quality of one’s awareness.