A variety of expert sources answered these Frequently Asked Questions about the Tarot.
What is the history of Tarot cards?
Dr. Edmund Kern, Associate Professor of History at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, specializing in European religious culture:
Symbolic cards were used in the ancient mystery religions in the Mediterranean. The first examples we have in Europe date back to the 13th or 14th centuries in Italy or Southern France, and early on they were met with hostility by organized religion. Cards were suspect because they were a form of gambling -- but the major arcana of the Tarot deck were especially suspect they were against revealed religion.
They came from Arab sources. The word Tarot first appears in Italian tarocco -- which in the plural form becomes tarocchi, which literally means castings. In fact, the word tare as in tare weight (the container of something) comes from an Arabic word meaning to reject, to throw or to cast. It was outlawed in a number of towns by bishops or city councils-who were suspect of the major arcane or the great secrets. It doesn't have anything to do with Islam. It was a form of occult practice that predated Islam but remained a common practice with some Muslims in the Mediterranean world.
Paul O'Brien, Founder and CEO of Tarot.com:
It was masquerading as a card game for a long time because people could be burned at the stake for using it. And the court cards are modeled after the different royalty of Italian at the time -- there's a pope card, for example. It comes out of medieval Europe and its growth coincides with the printing press and the ability to print cards. It basically coexisted with the Church but was never part of any religion. It was more related to alchemy than religion.
How do Tarot cards work?
Stuart R. Kaplan, chairman and founder of U.S. Games in Stamford, Connecticut:
Tarot decks comprise 78 cards consisting of 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. The 22 Major Arcana depict symbolic and allegorical images of different phases of life. The 56 Major Arcana comprise the standard 52 cards in a regular playing card deck plus an extra card in each suit entitled the Knight, which is placed between the Jack and the Queen. The original four suits in tarot cards are Swords, Wands, Cups and Pentacles which became Spades, Clubs, Hearts, and Diamonds respectively in a modern playing card deck.
Each card is an archetype that represents a certain aspect of psychology. So all 78 cards represent different facets of the human experience which every one of us has inside. Everybody's got a king, everybody's got a princess, the two of cups (where they've got to make a choice about whether to commit themselves or not) -- everybody's got all 78 cards inside of them.
So when you do a Tarot reading you pick the cards and the cards that turn up for you are the ones that are pointing to different facets of yourself that you might want to look at right now or that might need to be stimulated in order to get past some kind of barrier or challenge. That's the synchronicity principle which can basically be summed up as, "There are no accidents." So the cards you pick are the ones you're supposed to look at right now.
Why do some religions disapprove of Tarot?
Among early denunciations by the Church of the Tarot decks, we find a twofold concern-that the use of the cards would lead away from proper religious practice [and] that readers of Tarot could become obsessed with trying to foretell the future. Foretelling the future was a direct contradiction of Christian doctrine and still is today, since it presumes that one can know the mind of God. There was also a practical concern that people might be wasting their time, falling into a kind of obsessive behavior rather than paying attention to more pragmatic concerns.