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
IX The Hermit
X The Wheel of Fortune
XII The Hanged Man
XV The Devil
XVI The House of God
XVII The Star
XVIII The Moon
XIX The Sun
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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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.
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