In medieval times these cards were used to play quite ordinary games, often for money. Eventually, some occult traditions stared to take the Tarot seriously, mainly for divination purposes. Some even believed that the Tarot was a repository for a special kind of lore, and that the cards were associated with a slightly sinister mystery, referring to it as "the devil's picture book."
The Tarot deck consists of 78 cards, which are divided into two groups:
— The Minor, or Lesser, Arcana, the precursor of the modern deck, is made up of 56 cards divided into four suits. The wands suit corresponds with the modern clubs suit; cups with hearts; swords with spades; and pentacles with diamonds. Each suit has 14 cards, with numbered cards from ace to ten and four unnumbered face cards: king, queen, knight, and knave (The four knight cards have been eliminated in the modern deck).
— The Major, or Greater, Arcana consists of 22 cards, each bearing a title and a picture, such as the Hanged Man, the Wheel of Fortune, Judgment, and the Moon, rich in occult and astrological symbolism. Twenty-one of the cards are numbered. The twenty-second card, the Fool, numbered 0, is analogous to the modern joker.
In fortunetelling, either the full pack or the Major Arcana alone is used. The relationship of one card to another, as laid out in a number of different configurations, is as important as the significance of each individual card. The method of reading the Tarot has changed little but requires considerable practice.
Although the European kind of Tarot cards were more or less standardized in the eighteenth century, and their central figures remain the same, they have been constantly redesigned and stylized. As a consequence, sets of Tarot cards today come in a huge variety of styles.
According to modern tarot practitioner's guidelines, you should handle your Tarot cards as much as possible, but do not use them frivolously. Study your cards, developing your intuitive connection and awareness. Practice until you become familiar with their symbolism.
The Tarot is perhaps the preferred method of divination among most modern Witches, Wiccans, and Neo-Pagans, and its popularity has expanded far beyond the traditional 'occult' community. Tarot cards and books abound in bookshops, gift-shops, in shops specializing in the 'occult', via mail order through fortune-telling magazines, and by using internet vendors, such as The Tarot Store.
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