Tarot (Tar-oh; first known as tarocchi, also tarock and similar names) is a system of symbolism and philosophy consisting of a set of 78 images, normally embodied in a deck of cards similar to a regular set of game-playing cards. In the English speaking world, they are most often encountered as a form of cartomancy. The numerology is usually thought to be significant. The Tarot is often considered to correspond to various systems such as astrology, the Kaballah, the I Ching and others.
The earliest extant examples of Tarot decks are of Italian origin and roughly date back to the 15th century, when they were used to play the game of Tarocchi. In the course of its development it became connected to cartomancy and thence to occult studies. The set of 78 images, rich with symbolic meaning, is considered by students of this “occult” or “esoteric” Tarot (tarotists practising tarotism) to be independent of the particular representation as a deck of cards; consequently they focus on the study of the images (and their symbolic meanings) as distinct from any particular instance.
The tarot has four suits corresponding to the suits of conventional playing cards. Each of these suits has pip cards numbering from ace to ten and four face cards for a total of 14 cards. In addition, the tarot is distinguished by a separate 21-card trump suit and a single card known as the Fool. Depending on the game, the Fool may act as the top trump or may be played to avoid following suit.
Occultists call the trump cards and the Fool the major arcana while the ten pip and four court cards in each suit are called minor arcana. The cards are traced by some occult writers to ancient Egypt or the Kabbalah but there is no documented evidence of such origins or of the usage of tarot for divination before the 18th century.
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