origin of the tarot

According to Eliphas Lévi, the famous esoteric of the 19th century, the Tarot originate in the cards which represented theraphim, that is the ideographic and hieroglyphic symbols with which the great priests of Jerusalem consulted the oracle. In the favour of this hypothesis is the fact that the Major Arcana are 22, like the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, whilst the hypothesis dear to Court de Gébelin in the 18th century, that the cards went back to ancient Egypt, has in no way been documented.
According to the great esoteric, scholar of Tarot, Oswald Wirth, it is very probable that the Hebrew cards had an influence on the Tarot, which however are an original creation apparently from a combination of Naibi and suit cards.

Naibi cards

Naibi cards known in Italy in the 14th century, are 50 pictures spread over 5 suits of 10 cards. The suits correspond to stations in Life, the Muses, the Sciences, Virtues and lastly the Planets. The stations in life go from the most humble to supreme temporal and spiritual power: the beggar, the servant, the craftsman, the merchant, the nobleman, the knight, the scholar, the king, lastly the Emperor and the Pope.

Suit cards 

The suit cards go from 1 to 10 and comprise 4 suits from the Spanish cards: cups, swords, coins and batons. The suits can be assimilated to the 4 elements: swords to air (swords swirl in the air), batons to fire (they’re made of wood, which is inflammable) cups to water (because they contain liquids), coins to earth (they’re made of metal which comes from it).

Major Arcana

The Major Arcana, which derive from the Naibi, are composite in that they put together images of biblical origin (The Angel of Judgement, the Tower, the Devil) with the virtues of the church (Justice, Strength, Temperance) with some planets accompanied by sun signs (the Moon with Cancer, the Sun with Gemini), the two major powers of the period: the Pope and the Emperor, with their respective Papess and Empress.
The Hanged Man, and the Wheel of Fortune are to be found in the iconography of the middle ages. The first card, the Magician (Bateleur) is reminiscent of the famous painting of H. Bosch “The Magician”, again part of the allegorical repertory of the time.

Symbols of the Tarot

Before settling at the number 78 (22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana), there were decks of variable numbers of cards. But however many they were, the series of symbols were replete with very commonly known images. The symbols were indifferently ecclesiastical or lay, pagan or Christian, learned or popular. It seems that the important thing was to create a whole which embraced the universe. For this reason Tarot cards are a representation of some of the most important archetypes of humanity.

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