The History of the Tarot
All the evidence indicates that the Tarot originated in northern Italy. There is a very harmful supposition, which should be discounted, that it originated in ancient Egypt and was taken up by Mary Magdalene and her Gnostic followers, to be subsequently introduced into Europe by St John Cassian, who spent the years from 370 to 399 in the desert in Egypt, then a renowned centre for monastic ascesis. The introduction of Mary Magdalene derives from the Apocryphal Gnostic Gospel which bears her name, dating from the middle of the second century A.D. According to this Gospel, Jesus gave Mary Magdalene higher knowledge, not accorded to the Apostles. There is no reference to the Tarot as such, but this arcane wisdom given to Mary by Jesus, the Great Initiate (Edouard Schuré), was supposedly Egyptian esoteric lore which, according to the Theosophists, is universal and can be reached by all initiates of Theosophy. Mary Magdalene is said to have had access to the wisdom hidden behind the Egyptian Tarot; the cards used were subsequently changed in iconography and number and are clearly esoteric in intent. St John Cassian was brought into the picture because in the Abbey of St Victor in Marseilles, which he founded, an order dating from 1337 was found, forbidding the monks to use playing cards because they were considered worldly. We can imagine what the views of St John himself, the founder, would have been.
In two inventories from the Este court of Ferrara, dated 1442, mention is made of payment for cards referred to as carte da
trionfi, which might possibly be Tarot cards; but there were also other games called
trionfi. The oldest surviving document referring to the Tarot dates from before 1447 and came from Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan. This is followed chronologically by the pack of Tarot cards which belonged to Francesco Sforza, dating from 1450, the most complete set to have survived from that time.
In the nineteenth century there were famous cards named for Mlle. Lenormand (born in 1768, although she claimed 1772 as the year of her birth; she died in 1843) a professional cartomancer who became famous through her relationship – held to be an empty boast – with Josephine Beauharnais, Napoleon’s wife. That Napoleon consulted her is believed to be another empty boast. She made a sensational forecast of the death of Louis XVI, which was later found to be a fraudulent “forecast”
post eventum. The first pack, dated 1828, was called “La Sybille des Salons”, and consisted of 52 cards; they were again on sale, newly designed, in 1840. In 1850 a new pack was produced which numbered 32 cards which were completely different from the original cards. They bore the title “Le
livre du Destin”. In 1870 another new set appeared, this time numbering 36 cards and having the title “Le Petit Cartomancien”. The 36-card pack named “Petit
Lenormand” was produced in 1850, and is still the best-known and most widely used. The fashion for “Lenormand” cards is still widespread, and they were produced in great quantities in the twentieth century. There are also packs by other designers, each with its instructions for use.
There are also packs of cards by Oswald Wirth (1860 - 1943), Arthur Waite 1857 - 1942), and Aleister Crowley (1875 - 1947), this last known as the
Book of Thoth and clearly Egyptian in inspiration. This pack is based on the sphere of astrology, magic, the cabala and ancient Egyptian mythology. As can be seen, over time Tarot cards have drawn their inspiration from numerous cultures in the attempt to give them a universal appearance.
The is even a Dario Fo Tarot!
However, fortune telling can also make use of ordinary playing cards, so we may infer that cards have relatively little importance in cartomancy, merely offering suggestions and introducing
medium powers, which is the real core of cartomancy.
The Meaning of the Word “Tarot”
Historians have yet to reach agreement on this subject. The term
Tarot was given to playing cards used until recently in France, Italy, and Germany. The word is esoterically decoded as
Rota, meaning wheel, and presumably refers to the astrological wheel. Others claim that it derives from
Torah, the Law in Hebrew, because the Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters and the Tarot has 22 Major Arcana. But it is better not to dwell on this interpretation, which presumably comes from the cabala.
Other possible origins can be seen in the Greek words tarichos,
tarichon, taricheuo, meaning to preserve foodstuffs (such as meat and fish) in salt. The esoteric meaning, presumably, is that the Tarot is like salt and preserves occult knowledge from the non-initiated, those who do not have the access to the occult power to look into the future by using the cards. The Latin origin is
tarichus, salted meat.
In the fifteenth century tharocus meant imbecile, idiot, or fool. In modern Italian
taroccare means to mystify or to counterfeit. These are meanings which show popular disapproval of cartomancy.
Another interpretation is that the word derives from tarare, meaning to decorate cards, while some people suggest that Tarot was originally a card game like the fourteenth-century
Naibi, from the Arab na’ib; still others hold that the origin is to be found in the Latin
altercari (quarrel), a frequent result of card games.
Other suggested origins are tariq, the Arab word for path or road, and
taraqqi, meaning a climb, an uphill road, or
All the interpretations agree that the Tarot was originally a card game. However, it soon took on its esoteric mantle, while continuing to hide this under the semblance of a game. But the fact that the cards include the figures of angels, popes, virtues, and even God, could hardly pass unobserved, and this is borne out by a document recording a sermon preached by St Bernardine of Siena, in Bologna in 1423, which condemned this practice. After the saint’s sermon a huge bonfire was made, where playing cards, dice, and other objects were burned.
Tarot as an Initiation to Esotericism and the Occult
Tarot is presented as an initiation process leading to higher, esoteric, knowledge, living access to the occult, in a mission to transform the life of the person concerned. For instance, the card named
the Fool represents the individual in search of wisdom and knowledge. Reading the cards brings
the Fool into contact with earth, air, fire, water, and riches. The card named
the Juggler represents the man who has found what he was seeking.
In the most common version, which derives from the Marseilles Tarot, there are 78 cards. These are sub-divided into Major Arcana (22 cards) and Minor Arcana (56 cards). The iconography is a mixture of pagan, cultured, and popular figures, including some Christian figures, which are intended to represent the whole of the universe. Anyone who studies the symbolism of the Tarot and then looks over the cards, has the feeling of being in possession of the keys giving access to universal knowledge and to the future, making it possible to go beyond the confines of the present and beyond the barriers of the occult.
Several years of study may be required, but at the end the assiduous and zealous initiate feels the urge to transcend the boundaries of the future and of the occult, by means of medium powers forming a link to the occult. Once acquired, medium powers lead to a conception of life which will be conveyed, more or less openly, to anyone who consults the cartomancer. The cartomancer does not give straightforward replies to the questions put to him or her, but instead directs the questioner to see life and the cosmos in a particular way. The “way” may be Theosophy, Hinduism, Buddhism, Freudian philosophy, atheist ideology, Nietzsche’s Superman, a form of Christianity purged of the Divinity of Christ and His Church, or spiritism with its theory of reincarnation giving access to a subject’s former lives (non-existent; there is only one life: see Hebrews 9,27). When spiritism and cartomancy are put together, the subject has a spirit guide.
Astrology, which presents the stars and their conjunctions as the source of human experiences, is linked to cartomancy, giving astro-cartomancy. When steeped in Orientalism, cartomancy follows the doctrine of reincarnation, affirming that there is a debt of karma, contracted in preceding lifetimes, which cannot be removed; however, it can be modified in part by means of consulting cartomancy, rather than merely submitting passively to events. Cartomancy deciphers cosmic stellar writing making it possible to take affirmative action to reduce
Other oriental scholars link the Tarot to the chakra, putting Western tradition in harmony with the concept of universal Energy which enters mankind by means of the
chakra, the mysterious energy funnels which allow cosmic energy to enter the body, bringing mental and physical well-being.
This could come under the heading New Age, which puts together all this.
A True Story
The road to acquiring medium powers may be quite short, and may concern persons who have no training at all, although they may be desirous of obtaining these powers. The case of the former cartomancer Zita Michielin is well-known. She worked in a call centre where there was a phone line for consulting a cartomancer. One day the person responsible for manning this line was absent, and the director of the call centre gave Zita a pack of cards and told her to answer the phone. This is the main part of her testimony, which can be found in Internet (Agenzia Stampa Italia press agency): “One day I was told to stand in for a colleague who dealt with cartomancy and I was given a phone call to answer; I was reluctant to do so because I knew absolutely nothing about cards or the Tarot. I felt that to become a clairvoyant would take years of study, and I had never studied anything. But I had no option but to answer the phone, and in that instant I became a cartomancer. It was amazing. I knew nothing about the esoteric, but I looked at the Tarot cards spread out haphazard on the table and I began to tell the clients on the other end of the phone line details of their lives which I could not possibly have known. And the strange thing was that everything I said was immediately confirmed. I was stunned, and terrified, but at the same time I was excited by what was happening.”. the consequence was that Zita at once bought a pack of cards, read the instructions, which said much about “inner awakening”, and began to study tirelessly the esoteric, steeping herself in Oriental philosophy and New Age beliefs. This tirelessness is a characteristic of esotericism; the subject wishes to know more and still more, endlessly.
Zita Michielin eventually began to look on cartomancy as a mission and stopped asking for payment.
When I spoke to her on the telephone, Zita Michielin gave me further details about this sudden and unexpected initiation. I should point out here that she had been very distant from the Church for many years and having had a very unhappy childhood she had spent her life trying to fill the emptiness by using other people, living as though she herself were the centre of the universe. She had also developed great determination in order to overcome the obstacles in her path.
Our conversation was very civil, and very respectful from my side. The important points I gathered are contained in the following phrases: “The thoughts came of their own accord … I didn’t decide … The first cards I used were ordinary playing cards, with something written on them in ink … then later, I found I didn’t need any cards, the person’s voice was enough … I bought some cards and studied them, attaching a value to each card … then you just lay them out as they come. I would lay out four rows of ten cards, but every pack has its own instructions … I have kept nothing at all. I put all the books in a bag and set fire to them in a field. It is the devil who acts …”
Zita Michielin has returned to Christ and the Church.
Medium powers require a source from which to gain information, a willingness to receive the power, and transmission of the information. It should be remembered that the cartomancer does not hear voices, but looks at the cards, feels thoughts coming, and passes them on. The initial surprise which this occasions and which is the beginning of being a medium, derives from the realisation that what has been said is the truth and is instantly verifiable here and now.
This is not the so-called cold reading, which is based on carefully-formulated questions and the replies evoked, and an overall impression of the subject: body language, way of dressing, level of education, responsiveness. The communication which follows a
cold reading gives general information concerning the person, and then the fortune-teller, having seen the reactions of the subject, fine-tunes the information, emphasising the things that were right. Many cartomancers use the ‘cold reading’ technique, but there is also a ‘hot reading’ which begins with a certain confidential question, such as “You have a sentimental problem, haven’t you?” or “You’re having problems with an inheritance, aren’t you?” followed by a reading of the Tarot.
There are three points in cartomancy, and in any kind of fortune-telling in general: the source from which the information comes;
medium powers, that is, the ability to receive information; and
communication with the subject.
It is important to remember that anyone who consults a fortune-teller wishes to gain access to information which is outside his or her reach: for instance, will a certain investment bring good returns, will the marriage which he or she is about to make be successful, or will he or she meet the right person with whom to build a family; is this journey a good idea; will my business be successful; what is going to happen on the stock market; am I going to have a happy and successful life, an if not, what should I do about it? in short, all questions which have to do with the future. And the person who asks these questions wants clear answers: not, “I think this will happen”, or “It could be like this”; no “maybes” or “probably”, but certainties.
What is the fortune-teller’s source? The cards? Of course not! The cards serve merely to set the scene; they do not give results. The thoughts that come into the cartomancer’s head do not come from the cards, but from another source: the devil.
Is a Cartomancer to be Believed?
Where the future is concerned, sometimes yes, sometimes no, because human relationships are complicated and involve the use of free will, and the devil does not know what this future may hold, although he may make guesses about it – but only guesses. If the subject has an illness which is not yet evident, but which is know to the devil, the cartomancer may predict this. He or she might even predict an imminent earthquake, since the devil has wide knowledge of things which are certain to happen.
Since consultations involve future situations concerning man’s free will, and it is therefore possible that the opposite of what has been predicted may happen, cartomancers have to convince themselves that they can really see the future. This means wanting God to be at their service and give them foreknowledge. This is a sin, as well as damaging to others.
St Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica II-II, q. 95, a. 1) says: “There is no divination (to do something divine) in pre-announcing things that will necessarily happen (astronomic forecasting of an eclipse) or in most cases (weather forecasting, for example, or the actions of corrupt men in certain circumstances), which are things which can be known by applying human reasoning (…). We may talk of divination (to do something divine), or guesswork, when this usurps unjustly the ability to foresee the future”. “Man is not able to see the future unless this is revealed by God”. “Only God in His eternity sees the future like the present”. Cartomancy tries to take on the veil of religion, which is a bad thing.
People who have consulted a cartomancer should examine carefully what they have heard and believed, and this tires and conditions them. They have to see if what the cartomancer says comes true, and they do not know in what circumstances it may be true, which is stressful. They find they are compelled to believe the cartomancer who by now has gained possession of their lives – and frequently of their money.
Is Cartomancy Atheist?
A cartomancer may be an atheist, but in that case they may believe that they are in contact with a cosmos in which are to be found intelligent energies, intelligent energy reactions. With a cosmos which registers the disequilibrium of mankind and wishes to re-establish cosmic equilibrium through different behaviour. In short, to make contact with a cosmic god, because however impersonal this god is seen to be, it is nevertheless a mysterious reality which acts and reacts according to occult laws.
It has to be said: there is no such thing as an atheist. There are only deniers and idolaters.
The atheist will use medium powers to activate the poker of the unconscious. But the unconscious is the world of instinct, not the faculty of foreseeing, and is therefore above reason. The atheist will turn to sensitivity, to the affirmation of the paranormal, but that which is defined as sensitive, in other words, which possesses medium powers, does not have knowledge within itself but has to find knowledge from another source, which the atheist will call occult, ultra-cosmic, mysteriously cosmic, originating in an imaginary
meta-universe; and this leads to non-reality.
It is useful to know that the paranormal, whether in an atheist context or not, relies heavily on the myth that we only use ten per cent of our brains; whereas it is amply demonstrated that in reality our brains are one hundred percent operative in every area. (See Wikipedia for further information.)
Medium powers, that is, the ability to receive information from the occult sphere, is not an “inner awakening”, but the fruit of a deliberate abdication from the truth, nourished by suggestion, consolidated by rationalisation, and confirmed by initial results.
Medium powers are not an “inner awakening”, but the exact opposite, that is, the dismantling of the resources of the soul, which is naturally drawn to truth and to critical thinking. When the soul’s resources are forced to be silent and are even paved over by lies, the result is medium powers: the devil is given free rein and takes possession of the subject. The power lasts as long as the subject allows it to last, but it will not be easy to throw off the devil and the subject will need the prayers of many (Matthew 12,43; Luke 11,24).
Urim and Tummim
Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28,30; Numbers 27,21; et al) are mysterious objects, but we know that the High Priest made use of them in order to consult God through the casting of lots. This system gave an affirmative or negative opinion concerning the initiative which the people wished to undertake. It was a form of divination undertaken in all humility and through prayer, and did not seek to subject God to the will of man.
Urim and Thummim were discarded after David, most probably because the practice had been corrupted and had begun to seek to exercise power over God. (Leviticus 19,26; 20,27; Deuteronomy 18,10). God no longer replied through
Urim and Thummim and Israel was left to the power of the prophets.
The practice of casting lots, however, was not altogether abandoned in Israel, but remained as a humble request in sincere prayer to know the will of the Lord (Luke 9,1), and even St Peter used this method in the hope that God would designate him, before everyone, as he who should take the place of Judas (Acts 1,26). But after this is was no longer used, as can be seen from the election of the seven deacons (Acts 6,3). Election, by various methods (through acclamation by the people or by vote), became the practice of the Church.
Today, casting lots is simply a neutral action devoid of any manoeuvring.
The cup of Joseph, ruler in Egypt, was for drinking at table, and was not used by Joseph for divination, although Joseph did say this to the servants (Genesis 44,5). Drops of oil could be added to the liquid in the cup, and their shapes studied. Joseph however needed no such instruments of superstition, having light from God (Genesis 40,8; 41,16). His cup therefore was only a drinking vessel which he used to give himself prestige among the Egyptians: he was a man able to divine meaning, and he made this known to his brothers also (Genesis 44, 15).
Pope Francis: a Cause for Alarm
In his sermon on April 5th during the celebration of the Eucharist in the Chapel of St Martha, Pope Francis echoed the firm condemnation of the Church when he said, “Many people seek to solve their problems by turning to sorcery and the Tarot. But only Jesus Christ saves, and we must bear witness to this.”