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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Tarot cards A set of seventy-eight playing cards decorated with a variable set of fantastic and mystical diagrams, symbols, and illustrations. The earliest deck still in existence is dated circa 1432. Researcher Norman Schwarz has dated the Tarot to between 312 and 64 B.C., from various clues such as the inclusion of earlier astronomical constellations (such as the Lovers and the King).
      The cards are grouped into the Major Arcana (twenty-two trump cards) and the Minor Arcana (fifty-six suit cards). The four suits consist of fourteen cards each, ace through ten, page, knight, queen, and king. These cards were first in use in the mid-1400s and have been used ever since by gullible persons to cast fortunes.


One of the familiar Tarot cards, number zero in the Major Arcana.

      The modern deck of fifty-two cards used in gambling was derived from the Tarot deck, the suits being transmuted so that “swords” became spades, “cups” became hearts, “wands” became clubs, and “coins” (or “pentacles”) became diamonds. (In Spain, these suits were “palomas,” “rosas,” “conejos,” and “dineros”; in France, “piques,” “cœur,” “trèfles,” and “carreaux.”) These are the cards that were called the Minor Arcana. Originally, there were four “court” cards, but the knight (or cavalli) card was dropped in the modern deck, resulting in 4x13 cards, while the Tarot retained 4x14.
      The Major Arcana of twenty-two cards are individual figures:


      0       The Fool
      I       The Magician
      II      The High Priestess
      III     The Empress
      IV      The Emperor
      V       The Pope
      VI      The Lovers
      VII     The Chariot
      VIII    Justice
      IX      The Hermit
      X       The Wheel of Fortune
      XI      Strength
      XII     The Hanged Man
      XIII    Death
      XIV     Temperance
      XV      The Devil
      XVI     The House of God
      XVII    The Star
      XVIII   The Moon
      XIX     The Sun
      XX      Judgement
      XXI     The World

      (In some versions of the Tarot, the Fool is given the number XXI and the World becomes XXII. There is no known difference in accuracy between the two systems as far as prophetic value is concerned.)
      For use as a divinatory device, the Tarot deck is dealt out in various patterns and interpreted by a gifted “reader.” The fact that the deck is not dealt out into the same pattern fifteen minutes later is rationalized by the occultists by claiming that in that short span of time, a person's fortune can change, too. That would seem to call for rather frequent readings if the system is to be of any use whatsoever.
      The form of deck most used today is the Golden Dawn, designed by A. E. Waite, a mystic, and drawn by artist Pamela Coleman Smith about 1900. The art of reading the cards has been referred to as the “ars notoria.”



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