When we think about tarot cards in these more modern times, it often brings to mind the occult arts but, the History Of The Tarot has evolved over many centuries. What is interesting is that the first Tarot cards were not intended for occult purposes. The first Tarot decks were actually used as playing cards.
The games called tarot games; had rules which were played originally by the Italian Ruling Class dating back to 1425. The Tarot at that time was a game that was exclusive to the Italian wealthy classes. It was created as a pastime for the nobility. It was not the same deck that we know today that was called the tarot in the 1400s.
The deck was composed of 22 lavishly painted cards. It was also not the same cards that the Chinese created in the 12th century to entertain their kings concubines with.
One such confirmed ancestor of our modern tarot deck is the three decks that were used by the Italian Nobility in 1440 called the Visconti Trumps. Like all the card decks of those days they had cards numbered 1 to 10 in four suits; the court cards; page, knight, queen and king; and 22 cards not belonging to any suit. This cards bore a resemblance to today’s “Major Arcana” in the Tarot Deck. The 22 cards in the 1440 decks had symbolic pictures with subjects like the Pope, Emperor, Wheel of Fortune, Devil and Moon. This was much like in keeping with the tarot cards today.
The Visconti Trumps were used to play a new type of card game. It was called Triumphs. It was similar to the game of bridge that is played today. The 22 cards of that deck served as trump cards. The trump cards out ranked all of the other cards in the deck including court cards. This game started becoming popular among the Italian Nobility and wealthy classes and then spread to the North of Italy and the East of France. It later spread to Northern Sicily, Austria, Germany and the lower geographically countries.
There is evidence that in the 16th century that the Trump cards were used as a guide to compose poetry based on the characteristic descriptions that each card had attributed to it. The poets would come up with flattering verses for the ladies of the court based on the title of the Trump cards. The closest example showing that the cards were used at that time for divinatory purposes was in 1572 in which a poem was written depicting a person’s fate based on the Trump card titles. It has been documented however, historically that the Early Cards were used in divinatory connotation as far back as 1487 but the meanings of the cards were not as we know them today.