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Tarot Evolution – Marseilles Tarot Trumps

By Frater Barrabbas Tiresius

The classic Tarot that occultists know and use, and that the Golden Dawn lionized, has mythic elements in it that make it possible to compare it to other unrelated systems. If it were not for the mythic and archetypal flavor of the twenty-two Tarot trumps then occultists, like me, couldn’t compare it to the Qabalah or the literary Hero’s Journey. In fact, if we examine the Tarot at the time of its genesis in the very early renaissance period of Italy, there appears to be very little of the iconic Tarot trumps operating in those versions. A case in point is to examine the Visconti-Sfortza Tarot deck, which seems to lack some of the dark themes and striking mythic and archetypal elements that make the modern Tarot so compelling.

As I examined the earliest versions of the Tarot that reside in various collections but have been displayed in books and even card sets, it seems to me that the Tarot was made more for entertainment than for any kind of divination. Indeed, historical references to the Tarot being used as a system of divination doesn’t appear until the late 18th century, where it quickly became an important tool within French occult social circles. Later on it was promoted by occultists such as Eliphas Levi and Papus, and because of their writings it was realized and incorporated into the Golden Dawn corpus. Prior to that time, it would seem that the Tarot, along with the older Naibs (numbered cards) and Court cards of the 52/56 card deck, was reserved for gambling and gaming.

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