Updated: Sep 7
THE MYSTERIOUS HISTORY OF THE TAROT
Is Tarot Cartomancy?
No it's not, since cartomancy decks don't contain the trump suit of the Major Arcana or all the royal Court cards either.
It's fortune telling or divination using a deck of playing cards. The standard deck uses 52 cards or 54 if you include the 2 Jokers. Users of cartomancy are generally known as cartomancers, card readers, or simply readers.
The Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling Playing Cards is a very popular deck with Teenager's and for use at Halloween parties. Not only does it have the standard suits of Diamonds, Hearts, Clubs and Spades, but each of the 52 cards in this busy little deck includes a picture and text that tells your fortune.
More Cartomancy can be found with The Lenormand Deck which is a 36 card fortune telling deck that contains a single symbol on each card to symbolically tell a story when read together in a spread. It was first published in Germany in 1799 under the name The Game of Hope. The entire deck is cast in a special spread called the Grande Tableau, but there is also a Petite Tableau as well that doesn't use as many cards.
I began studying Lenormand decks almost 4 years ago now and I have a total of 9 decks including the Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling cards. It's a very different technique of reading than Tarot divination and it answers the kinds of questions that Tarot isn't really very good at because it's fortune telling!!!
To capitalize on the fame of Mademoiselle Marie Anne Lenormand, the celebrated French Fortune Teller from the late 1700's and early 1800's (she advised Napoleon and Josephine as well as Marie Antoinette) this deck began to be called Lenormand cards.
Despite the fact that Lenormand cards were eventually named after Mademoiselle Lenormand, it's said that she never actually used them. For her readings, she supposedly used a standard 52 card playing deck; however, there is a heated dispute and continued debate about this in Cartomancy and Tarot circles. However, the Lenormand images and style of reading are very much a part of the Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling deck published in 1903 which brings the tradition of The Game of Hope fortune telling style into the 20th Century.
Didn't the Tarot come from Egypt?
What About Gypsies?
Nope, it's a popular myth that never seems to completely go away. Tarot cards were not created in Egypt and Gypsies aren't even Egyptian. The people called Gypsies are actually the Roma people who are descended from a collection of different tribes who came out of Northern India starting in the 9th Century and then migrated throughout Europe. Yes, they practiced divination or more correctly fortune telling, but they didn't do their readings with Tarot cards which didn't make their first appearance in Italy until the late 1300's during the Renaissance. Most that we know about today, were elaborately handmade decks gilded with precious materials that were commissioned by the Italian Nobility in Milan in the early 1400's and the decks are collectively known as the Visconti-Sforza, since none of them survived into modern times as complete decks.
Standard playing cards appeared before Tarot and, with the advent of the printing press, became widely available as well as popular by the mid-1400's. The Roma used these standard 52 playing card decks for fortune telling and before there were cards, they did fortune telling with bones, stones, dice, game boards, tea leaves, candle wax and of course, crystal balls.