The word ”tarot” is used to denote any set of cards bearing symbolic pictures that is used for divination (cartomancy) or meditation.
The “standard” tarot deck contains 78 cards, grouped into the Major Arcana of 22 trumps and the Minor Arcana of 56 suit cards. The 22 trump cards (usually number 0 through 21) are associated with the 22 Hebrew letters and, therefore with the 22 paths of the Tree of life. The 56 suit cards are divided into four suits of 14 cards each (Ace through Ten, Page [or Princess], Knight, Queen, and King). The four suits are associated with the four Western elements, the four letters of the Tetragrammaton, the four worlds of the qabalah, and the various other quaternaries.
Many theories have been advanced concerning the origins of tarot cards. Some occultists believe the tarot to be a remnant of the Egyptian Book of Thoth (the legendary repository of the Egyptian Mysteries). Certainly, the tarot shares some of the qualities of nonlinear, pictorial writings in that it contains great amounts of information in a very densely packed, analogical form. As some have said, tarot cards are the hieroglyphics of the Western mystery tradition. The Tarot has also been ascribed by various authors to the ancient Hindus, Phoenicians, and even Koreans.
The earliest tarot decks that can be historically verified were made in 15th-century Italy and were called Tarocchi. The number of cards, suits, and the imagery associated with them varied greatly until comparatively recent times. For example, the Tarocchi of Mantegna has five classes (or series) of ten cards each:
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