Origins of the tarot
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Playing cards first entered Europe in the late 14th century with the Mamelukes of Egypt, with suits of Scimitars, Polo Sticks, Cups and Coins. These designs rapidly evolved into the basic 'Latin' suits of Swords, Staves, Cups and Coins (also known as disks, and pentacles), which are still used in traditional Italian and Spanish decks. All evidence indicates that the first tarot decks were created between 1410 and 1430 in either Milan, Ferrara, or Bologna, in northern Italy, when additional trump cards with allegorical illustrations were added to the more common four-suit decks that already existed. These new decks were originally called “carte da
trionfi”, or "triumph cards." The first literary evidence of the existence of carte da trionfi is a written
statement in the court records in Ferrara, in 1442. The oldest surviving Tarot cards are from 15 fragmented decks painted in the mid 15th century for the Visconti-Sforza family, the rulers of Milan.
When the tarot was first used for divination is not known, but no documented examples exist prior to the 18th century. However, divination using similar cards is in evidence as early as 1540; a book entitled The Oracles of Francesco Marcolino da Forli shows a simple method of divination using the coin
suit of a regular playing card deck. Manuscripts from 1735 (The Square of Sevens) and 1750 (Pratesi Cartomancer) document rudimentary divinatory meanings for the cards of the tarot, as well as a system for
laying out the cards. In 1765, Giacomo Casanova wrote in his diary that his Russian mistress frequently used a deck of playing cards for divination.
In 1781 Antoine Court de Gébelin wrote a speculative history and a detailed system for using tarot for divination. Since the publication of this history,
various explanations have been given for the origins of tarot, most of them of doubtful veracity. There is no evidence for
any tarot cards prior to the hand-painted ones that were used by Italian nobles, though some esoteric schools place tarot's origin in Ancient Egypt, or Ancient India.
The reason the origin of the tarot cards was supposed to be Egypt probably started with the mistaken belief that gypsies, among the first to use the cards for divinatory purposes, were descendants of ancient Egypt (hence the name "gypsies").
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