Although tarot cards have been in existence since the 15th century, they were not widely used for occult purposes until closer to the 20th century.  One of the first books on using tarot cards for divination was published in 1785 and written by a French occultist named Jean-Baptiste Alliette.  In English, it was called “How to Entertain Yourself with the Deck of Cards called Tarot.”  This was the first book to treat divination by tarot and assigned meanings to each of the cards and different “spreads,” or ways to lay out the cards to gather a reading. The work would be expanded upon by his followers over the years and culminated in 1909 with a further publication written by the renowned French occultist Papus.

At the same time, tarot divination was achieving popularity in England. S. L. MacGregor Mathers and A. E. Waite began to significantly develop and spread the use of Tarot as divination in Great Britain.  The two belonged to and were founders of an occultist group that practiced forms of magic and explored spiritual development called “The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” also known simply as “the Golden Dawn.”

Mathers published a booklet in 1891 entitled “The Tarot: Its Occult Signification, Use in Fortune-Telling and Method of Play” to be sold along with decks of cards.  In 1910, a smaller guide written by Waite would be published and bundled with cards under the title, “The Key to the Tarot.”  The most popular cards still in use today were originally produced as and are still called the Rider-Waite-Smith deck.  This is due to the cards being published by the Rider Company, explained by A.E. Waite, and illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith.  

Traditionally, fortune telling may be accomplished by asking the deck of cards questions and seeing what they reveal upon being spread out once shuffled. The order, reversal, and combination of the specific cards then reveal the impending future and fortunes of the one seeking this knowledge. Other theories suggest that the questions can be answered by a deceased spirit. This can be accomplished through cards by inviting a spirit to the reading and allowing them to guide the medium’s hands while choosing the cards.



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