How Tarot Cards Came to Be!

The word Tarot is shrouded in mystery so it is not surprising that the Tarot card deck is as well. The term is rich with lore, myth and theories about its exact origins, and can be traced back to the early Renaissance at the end of the 14th century and beginning of the 15th century. The first actual historical proof of a Tarot deck dates back to 1442 with an order placed by an Italian court for hand-painted cards. At some point a deck made up of four suits of 12 cards for each symbol -- Cups, Swords, Batons and Coins -- would come to be called the Minor Arcana. These four suits were put together with 22 picture cards known today as the Major Arcana, and together they became the Tarot card deck as we know it today. Interestingly, the early Tarot cards were originally used for a popular card game played by the noble and gentry class. The Tarot did not become a divinatory tool until almost 400 years later!


The Word Tarot

Some of the more interesting theories of the origin of the word “Tarot” are found in various esoteric stories, myths and legends. Some theorize that the Egyptian word “Tarosh,” which means the royal way, is a plausible origin. Yet, others point to the similarities between the Tarot and the Kabbalah, and the fact that Tarot sounds similar to Torah. Or Tarot could also be an anagram for Rota (the Latin word for Wheel) or for Ator, a form of Hathor, which is an Egyptian goddess. Taro is the name of a river in Italy and some speculate that is where the Tarot cards were originally created. Or maybe it comes from the hill Tara, which was the seat of Irish kings from ancient times until the 6th century. While we don’t have a definitive answer about the word’s origin, it is interesting to note its many phonetic ties to esoteric people, places and symbols.


Discover More About Tarot

The history of the Tarot is fascinating! To find out more, check out the Tarot Encyclopedias by Steve Kaplin, The Tarot History, Mystery and Lore by Cynthia Giles and any book that accompanies your favorite Tarot deck. Here is a brief timeline of Tarot History.

1442 – Italian Court orders hand-painted deck of Tarot cards

1855 – Ritual and Dogma of High Magic

1888 – Golden Dawn Formed

1910 – Wait Tarot Pictorial Key

1937 – Church of Light Tarot Deck

1947 – Book of Thoth by A. Crowley

1978 – Encyclopedia of the Tarot by S. Kaplin


Tarot Cards and Tarot Readings

Today, there are all kinds of Tarot decks, some which are hard to fathom. For example, there is fun and light Gummy Bear Tarot deck, a Vampire deck, the Mother Peace deck, a Fairy deck or a Witch's Tarot deck….. The Tarot can also be tied to herbs, oils, astrology, numerology and the Kabbalah.

You can have Tarot readings in person, over the phone, or through the Internet, video or even email. No matter where or how you choose to get your reading, the cards themselves contain extremely influential imagery and meaning. Some of the images and subject matter seem particularly powerful, even to the point of being disconcerting.  However, I am here to assure you that you have no reason to fear or have any concerns about messages from any of the Tarot cards.

In fact, I hope to offer a deeper understanding of the transformative meanings behind these cards, which can benefit us by providing a deeper understanding of situations in our life. They can help us to identify the path we are on, better understand this path and make better choices for ourselves going forward. Each Tarot reading is a snapshot of where we are on our journey at any point in time. Moreover, in my opinion, nothing is written in stone. We have the power to modify our path by coming to terms with it and making choices that may be better for us.


The 7 Most Transformative Tarot Cards

Now, let's talk about the seven most transformative cards of the Tarot and how they may affect your life: The Lovers, The Hanged Man, Death, The Devil, The Tower, The Moon and The World. These cards touch on major life changes: beginnings, endings, chaos, sacrifice, obsession and mystery. Their placement in a reading shows where the major changes occur in your life: the past, present or future.

Some people thrive on change while others fear it. Ideally we can look at these changes as an opportunity for growth. There are moments in life when it’s time to put things behind us that no longer serve us in order to seek a life that encourages us to grow spiritually, emotionally and mentally. The cards give us an opportunity to take control of our life path and manifest a more positive and enlightened life for ourselves as well as those we love! Now, let’s look at each of these cards more closely.


The Lovers: #6 of the Major Arcana

The Image: The traditional image of this card depicts a man and woman in a garden with a figure on a cloud just above them. The woman stands in front of an apple tree with a snake lurking in its branches, while the man stands in front of a tree of flames, representing the twelve astrological symbols. The figure in the cloud above them is thought to be Rafael. It is easy to spot the Biblical references to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in this more traditional version. In other decks, the Lovers show up in the Hierophant, Devil and/or Tower cards. What is upsetting about this card? Let's look at it's meaning to see how it could affect your life.

The Meaning: On the surface, the Lovers card refers to union, relationships, harmony, soulmates, attraction and sexuality, and basically the first blush of romance. For someone who is single, this card might mean a new relationship is on the horizon. Or it could also mean that the time has come to take a stand on your belief system, regardless of the social norms. It might also mean that a difficult choice between two opposing situations needs to be made. Reversed, this card might indicate a toxic or unhealthy aspect in the relationship: for example, one could be trying to change or please a partner in an extreme or manipulative way.

The meaning of this card is typically better understood through the cards surrounding it, and by the question being asked. When the message is a confirmation of a happy union, a new relationship on the horizon or an opportunity to define who you are and what you stand for, then the situation should be encouraged through thoughts, deeds and positive energy. However, if the reading seems more cautionary, then take the time to examine what is troubling you or what may need to be transformed in the situation. In this case, you are being given an opportunity to focus on a specific issue and make choices. It is time to be true to yourself and be ready to take on what life is putting before you.


The Hanged Man:  #12 of the Major Arcana

The Image: This card depicts a figure, usually a male, who is suspended by one foot. The free leg is bent at the knee and the arms are crossed, sometimes in front and sometimes behind the back. The face is typically relaxed, calm and unconcerned, and the figure is hanging either from a gallows or World Tree. Definitely an uncomfortable image, but why would this card cause concern in a reading?

Historically, being suspended by one foot upside down was a form of punishment for criminals, but this particular figure seems unconcerned and even relaxed. The relaxed posture gives rise to the theory that the individual is there willingly, accepting their situation and not resisting being placed there. Many feel that this depicts an aspect of Oden, who hung on the World Tree for nine days to gain wisdom and understanding.

The Meaning: Key words that accompany this card are transition, ambivalence, suspension, topsy-turvy, reversal, inaction, and progress by taking no action. By hanging upside down, the figure sees the world from a different perspective. When you look at life’s issues and challenges from a different perspective, clarity and understanding can actually bloom. So this card also refers to change or transformation in life. If this card appears in your reading, even if you are feeling stymied, you can know that you are just waiting for the right time to move forward with success.

It is not surprising that this card can put some people off. Just thinking about being suspended by one foot upside down, definitely gives me the shivers. Yet, when we understand the card’s deeper meaning, it is a message of hope and deeper understanding of life as a whole.


The Death Card: #13 of the Major Arcana,

The Image: This is probably the most misunderstood and feared card of the Tarot deck, and with good reason! The image is stark and speaks to our mortality. You may have come across it in movies, books and/or plays. It is undoubtedly used to instill fear and trepidation in audiences. Being reminded of our own mortality is unsettling.

Depending on the visual interpretations of the Tarot card artist, the card may depict a skeleton riding a horse on his own or with a group of skeletons. This symbol of Death may be wearing a cloak or clothed in tatters. Apparently the noble class removed the Death card when they were playing their social card games to avoid being upset by the image and risk ruining a social evening’s fun. There are even Tarot Readers who will avoid telling a client about the Death card in a reading. That said, when you understand the true meaning behind the card, you can see how it is actually one of the most positive cards in the deck!

The Meaning: The Death card does not usually mean an actual physical death, but rather symbolizes endings, transformation, rebirth, destruction and reconstruction, new beginnings and putting the past behind you. By closing the doors on one chapter of life, we can start anew. Some individuals fear change but when you can embrace it, letting the old “you” die, you make room for the new version of you to thrive and flourish.

This card could also indicate that there is a resistance to letting go of the past. Maybe there are unresolved issue or feelings of fear or trepidation about the future that are keeping you in stymied situation, such as a job or relationship that is no longer benefiting you. The Death card lets us know that it is time to let go of the past. Understanding that you are in a period of transformation can help to ease the fears and concerns that come along with life’s changes. Think of the butterfly emerging from the caterpillar’s cocoon. It struggles to survive, and at times it may seems like the struggle will never end. However, once the butterfly fully emerges, and the wings are unfurled, its flits off to enjoy the world in a whole new fashion. Like the butterfly, we also go through changes and transformations in life.

When we resist change, we delay our own transformation. When we allow fears to prevent us from moving forward, we are in a state of limbo. The Death card need not be a card of regret! Honor the past that helped to create who you are, but also embrace the future that will shape the person you will become and enjoy the journey along the way. We only get to live this life once, so when you see the Death card in a reading, there is something to be excited about! Things are going to change up for you!


The Devil: #15 of the Major Arcana.

The Image: This card was also banned from the card games played by the Italian nobility. The image of the beastly Devil with it's claws grasping the stone pillar, wings outstretched with helpless humans chained to the pedestal would be enough to unsettle any gentle noble lady and possibly ruin the mood of a social evening. The Lovers also appear on this card, but they are chained to the pedestal below the Devil. Of all the Major Arcana cards, this card is the heaviest hitter. If the Devil card shows up in a reading, it is time to take notice of all of the cards accompanying it.

The Meaning: The Devil deals with the destructive and toxic aspects of life. When we are in the middle of a situation, it may be difficult to see the negative influences around us. The Devil card is a wake up call letting us know it’s time to become self-aware and make changes and choices that are healthier for us. Key words for this card are obsession, materialism, addiction, temptation and entrapment. While Tarot readers prefer to be as positive as possible, the world is not always a positive place, and it is indeed helpful to be receptive to warnings and alerts if we are headed down a downward spiraling path. The thing to remember with this card is that it is a kind of forewarning for you to be armed and ready to deal with challenging situations. So should you be afraid of this card? No, not at all!

There is no card in the Tarot deck that should cause fear. When the Devil shows up in reading, the first thing to do is to look at the position it is in. If it’s the Past, then congratulations! You have broken the chains that were binding you and keeping you from going after success. If it’s the Present, then it is time to become more self-aware. Be honest with yourself and take a good look at what might be holding you back. Be aware of any obsessions that may be present in you life. Examine your relationships and looking carefully for any control issues on your part or on the part of someone you are involved with. If the card is in the future position, you will want to employ introspection. Are you involved in anything that is unhealthy for you or those around you? Are you headed down a questionable path? Do you feel as though you are no longer able to exert your will over decisions that are being made? Being totally truthful with yourself is the key to gaining an understanding of what this card is telling you. You can take control of the situation and turn it around. Getting the Devil in your reading is like the Universe dropping a great big sign in your lap that says “Pay Attention So You Don't Hurt Yourself!” This card is like an alarm going off. The best thing you can do is to take heed of the message begin to make changes to avoid a painful detour!!!


The Tower: #16 of the Major Arcana

The Image: This portrayal of a stone tower being destroyed by a bolt of lightning is another card found in popular books, plays and movies. The arresting image expresses the total destruction of the stone tower and individuals falling to uncertainty. Traditionally, the figures shown falling from the Tower are the Lovers. Other artists have used a depiction of royalty and paupers to show that destruction and chaos touches everyone regardless of their status. Didn't we just see endings and destruction in the Death card? Do these two cards basically mean the same thing? Let's see!

Originally dubbed “The Arrow” during the Italian Renaissance, the Tower is no doubt another controversial card in the Major Arcana. Likewise, it was omitted from the card games of the Italian gentry because of its disturbing image. Theories of what may have influenced the creation of the Tower card images suggest the legend of the Tower of Babel or the story of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. No matter how the artist decides to express the image of The Tower card, there are powerful forces at work.

The Meaning: While the Death card is a more personal card, the Tower card has a more overreaching focus. We see the destruction of things that were once thought stable in this card. This destruction comes from above in the form of a lightning bolt, which speaks to rapid change, divine intervention and forces outside of our control. Traditionally there are two figures falling. One is in a free fall, and one is intentionally diving down trying to control the unexpected fall. This is a testament to how one can handle an unexpected and drastic change. So while the card means business, fearing it is not an appropriate response.

This card can be your wake up call. An early warning alert system that says you need to pay attention to what is going on around you and make sure that your emergency kit is packed and ready to go. It also gives you the opportunity to mitigate the results by taking action now with intent instead of ignoring warning signs and then free falling without a plan. Change is part of life. Instead of resisting it and holding on to old ways and routines that are no longer serving you, this is a time to let them go. Yes, it may be painful, but it clears the way for a stronger foundation in your future and a sturdier path. It is another opportunity to transform your life from a faulty and rickety foundation close to collapse, to a stronger, sturdier foundation that can support your new growth and life!


The Moon #18 of the Major Arcana

The Image: Initially, I didn’t understand why people viewed this card in a negative light. The image of the large, full and bright moon shinning down on a peaceful landscape has always been magical to me, until I began to see the duality in the image. There is a dog on one side of the road and a wolf on the other and the two towers sit off in the distance with a road between. While I did not see it as sinister or negative, I began to understand why some might. I also studied other Tarot decks to examine how other artists illustrated their understanding of the meanings of the card.

The Meaning: The Moon can be confusing to some, and enough of my clients have expressed anxiety when the Moon card comes up, that I decided to add it to the list. Some keywords for the Moon are instinct, psychic powers, vivid imagination, secrecy, mental anxiety, confusion, understanding of good and evil and creativity. That moody artist or anxiety ridden individual may receive the Moon in a reading. Perhaps the recipient of the Moon card has had or is going to have a spiritual breakthrough. But how does this card fit into our discussion of the transformative powers of the Tarot?

Looking at the traditional image of the Moon, we see duality: There is the wolf and the dog and there are also two watchtowers that are identical on either side of the road. While the moon itself is showing it's full face, the Moon also has a dark side.  And keeping with this dual nature, the wolf is wild and the dog is domesticated. This card reminds us that part of life lies in the shadows. Our imagination and anxiety have a certain influence over us. Our fears can start to build with perceived threats that aren't really there. The whispers of our secret selves can grow loud at night as shadows deepen. The Moon encourages us to determine what is intuition and what is imagination. This card says that it is time to reveal hidden truths. You will want to work through anxieties and fears so that you make progress along your path. It is also a card that encourages you to understand the difference between the light and dark and then to decide which path is best for you. This card indicates that it is time to start being true to yourself and to stop any self-deception.


The World: #21 of the Major Arcana

The Image: The last card in the Major Arcana, the World reveals that the ultimate transformation has occurred. This is a message of joy, completion, wholeness and cosmic consciousness. When you look at the traditional representations of this card, you notice that the symbol in the corners of the card have been modified only slightly over the ages. In the earliest decks it was not uncommon to see representations of the creatures described in the book of Revelations. Today’s images have been transformed into the astrological symbols, Aquarius, Scorpio, Taurus and Leo, or symbols representing the four elements, but the figure continues to represent the Spirit. So, what is important about the World card?

The Meaning: The World card indicates that one of life’s journeys has come to an end and it points to what has been gained or learned during along the way.  Keys words such as enlightenment, understanding, comprehension and a feeling of connection are all conveyed in this card. Typically, it denotes the completion of a major undertaking such as college, career or rearing children and there is sense of victory, euphoria and fulfillment are common. At the end of the journey you are HERE! Enjoy the stable foundation you have created. It will serve you well as you start on the next leg of your journey!


The Powers Behinds the Tarot

In actuality all of the Major Arcana card have transformative powers. I picked the ones, which I feel are the most misunderstood or feared because these cards deal with life altering situations. They can focus the darker side of humanity as a whole. Let’s face it, many of us fear change or endings. However, if we were only able to embrace these changes with joy and excitement for what their potential positive outcomes, then we might consider these cards differently. Take a moment to consider your world from the perspective of the Hanged Man. Delve into the secrets of the shadows. The images on each card are full of symbolism and meaning. The cards are a fantastic tool to examine where we are in life, what can we do to change our lives for the better and how we can achieve enlightenment and universal connectedness.

No one card should be ignored in a reading because of its imagery or potential meaning. These cards come to us for a reason. The Spirit, the Universe, and the Cosmic Flow are attempting to give us a message. There is no light without dark. There are no ups without downs. There is no joy without sorrow. By experiencing the entire realm of life we can better appreciate our experiences. The Tarot’s Major and Minor Arcana cards are here to advise us, and to give us insight and understanding so we can grow and learn….. so we can reach that moment of ultimate joy and celebrate how all things are connected in this world.


I hope you have enjoyed my ESPchat Talk on the Tarot. My name is Luna, and I am a blind Tarot Reader and Aromatherapist. Please set an appointment for a private reading with me through ESPchat’s website. I look forward to interpreting your cards so you can find clarity and understanding in your life!