What Were Tarot Cards Originally Used For?

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What Were Tarot Cards Originally Used For?

For many people, tarot cards are associated with fortune-telling and divination. The images of the cards, the symbolism they represent, and the enticing possibility of peering into the future have captivated individuals across cultures and centuries. But what were tarot cards originally used for? The roots of the tarot extend far beyond their modern-day mystical associations.

The Origins of Tarot Cards

The exact origins of tarot cards are shrouded in mystery, but scholars believe they originated in 15th century Italy. Originally, tarot cards were not used for divination but as playing cards. In fact, the tarot deck was derived from the traditional playing card deck known as the “triumphs” or “trumps.” These early tarot decks had 22 triumph cards which featured symbolic images and figures.

Symbol Meaning
The Fool Beginning, spontaneity, unpredictability
The Magician Manifestation, mastery, resourcefulness
The High Priestess Intuition, mystery, inner knowledge
The Emperor Authority, structure, control
The Empress Fertility, nurturing, abundance

As the tarot deck evolved, additional cards were added, including the four suits: cups, swords, wands, and pentacles. These suits closely resemble the suits of modern playing cards, with cups representing emotions and relationships, swords symbolizing intellect and conflict, wands representing creativity and passion, and pentacles symbolizing material wealth and the physical world.

Tarot Cards as a Tool for Meditation and Spiritual Growth

While the original purpose of tarot cards was for recreational play, their symbolic nature and the rich imagery they contained soon became a source of fascination for esoteric thinkers and occultists. Tarot cards began to be seen not just as playing cards but as a powerful tool for self-reflection, meditation, and spiritual growth.

The tarot deck’s combination of rich symbolism, archetypal imagery, and intuitive interpretation made it an ideal instrument for exploring the depths of the human psyche and uncovering hidden wisdom. Tarot enthusiasts used the cards as a means of contemplation, seeking insight into their own lives and the nature of the universal truths.

“The tarot is a mirror and a reflection,” wrote noted occultist and tarot expert Angeles Arrien. “It does not predict your future or tell your fortune as if surreptitiously claiming to know something about your destiny. Tarot helps you to see more clearly… to reflect on what we are manifesting in our lives and what we would like to manifest.”

Divination and Tarot Cards

While tarot cards were originally used for playing games and spiritual introspection, their association with divination practices eventually gained prominence. During the 18th and 19th centuries, occultists and fortune-tellers began to explore the tarot’s potential as a means of prediction and insight into the future.

Although tarot readings for divination vary widely across practitioners and belief systems, many employ a similar approach. The tarot reader shuffles the cards, focusing on the question or issue at hand, and lays them out in a specific spread or pattern. The cards are then interpreted based on their individual meanings, their relationships to each other, and their placement within the spread.

It’s important to note that divination with tarot cards is not about providing definitive answers or a glimpse into an immutable future. Instead, it offers insights, perspectives, and guidance to the seeker. The interpretation of the cards is subjective and relies on the intuition and skill of the reader.

Modern Uses of Tarot Cards

Today, tarot cards serve a multitude of purposes. They are still enjoyed as a gaming tool, cherished for their artistic value, and embraced as a means of personal growth and spiritual exploration. Many individuals turn to tarot as a form of self-reflection, using the cards to gain insight, uncover patterns and obstacles, and make informed choices.

Furthermore, tarot readings have become a popular practice for those seeking guidance and support in various areas of life, from relationships and career choices to personal development and decision-making. Tarot is often used as a tool for self-discovery and empowerment, allowing individuals to tap into their own intuition and inner wisdom.

As with any practice steeped in symbolism and subjective interpretation, the uses of tarot cards may differ depending on individual beliefs and preferences. Some view the cards as mystical gateways to the unseen and the mystical, while others see them as psychological tools for understanding the self.


While tarot cards may have originated as playing cards, they have since evolved into powerful tools for self-reflection, divination, and personal growth. The imagery and symbolism of tarot decks provide a pathway for exploration and contemplation, offering insights into the human psyche and the mysteries of life. Whether used for leisurely play, spiritual introspection, or divination, tarot cards continue to captivate and inspire individuals with their timeless allure.

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What Were Tarot Cards Originally Used For?