Divination is the attempt to see into the future, or to discover unknown information by magical or spiritual means.
There are various forms of divination, examples of which are: astrology, interpreting omens; dowsing for water; bibliomancy – opening a book randomly and looking for a passage that relates to the question asked, and things like clairvoyance and clairaudience. Tarot falls into a particular class of divination called ‘cleromancy’. Cleromancy includes casting lots, stones, coins and dice, and has been used for many thousands of years. The Bible mentions this kind of information seeking many times. People thought they could determine what God was thinking or what his decision would be by throwing lots. Many of our modern board games are based on cleromancy or ‘chance’.
The Origins of Tarot Divination
Fortune-telling with cards is called ‘cartomancy’. Using tarot cards in this way is often frowned upon nowadays in preference to giving spiritual and self-development advice. However, the public perception of tarot reading is exactly what cartomancy means – telling the future and providing occult (hidden) information.
Tarot cards were first designed for games, much as we use regular playing cards today. In fact, tarot cards developed from playing cards that were imported into Europe from Turkey and China. Card games became so popular among the rich and fashionable that wealthy families commissioned their own unique, hand-finished decks.
There is much debate and discussion about when and how exactly tarot cards became a tool for divination. Unfortunately one scholar, Antoine Court de Gébelin, back in the 18th century asserted that the cards came from ancient Egypt, hence they became linked with ‘gypsies’. No doubt travelling bands of gypsies and Romanies played on the association and were keen to offer fortune-telling at gatherings and events.
So tarot developed along two distinct paths – the scholars and the fortune-tellers. The scholars were interested in tarot in a purely academic capacity, while the fortune-tellers were looking to earn a living.
The two paths came together when Jean-Baptiste Alliette published his book “Etteilla, or the Art of Reading Cards.” ‘Etteila’ was merely his own name spelled backwards. Unfortunately Alliette continued to present the ancient Egyptians as the originators of tarot cards for many years. Alliette and his contemporaries were well aware that tarot was European, but they thought that linking them to an ancient civilisation gave the cards more credibility.
Alliette punched home his favoured theory in 1789 by publishing his own deck of cards purely for divination and calling it the ‘Egyptian Tarot’.
Source: Egyptian Deck
Tarot Divination Becomes Mainstream
Tarot developed further with the publishing of oracle decks. The most well-known of these were the Lenormand style decks which were named after the very famous card reader, Mademoiselle Marie Anne Lenormand, who practised her art around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Our modern decks are mainly, but not exclusively, based on the Rider-Waite deck designed by Edward E. Waite and illustrated by Pamela (Pixie) Colman Smith. The first version was published in 1910 and there have been several versions since.
Nowadays there are thousands of tarot decks in circulation, with new ones being designed and published almost every week.
Source: Rider Waite
Tarot Reading Today
If you have never had a tarot reading, you may be wondering what to expect. Tarot divination has become so imbued by the image of the hoop-earringed gypsy in her shawl, doling out tiny pieces of information like precious jewels, that you would be forgiven for being a little nervous.
There are still hangovers from that time, with the New Agers bestowing all manner of rituals on their readings. Most modern tarot readers are able to dispense with all but the most basic of rituals in order to divine useful information for you. Tarot readers today are pretty ordinary people with jobs and families just like you. They are usually people who have been drawn to tarot cards because of their beauty and mystery. Some are true clairsentients, who use tarot as an enabler of their psychic gifts. The majority are those who have studied tarot extensively and developed the intuition that we all possess.
If you are meeting your tarot reader face-to-face, you may well go to his or her home, or perhaps meet them in a café or other venue. In many cases, you will not meet at all, as virtual tarot reading on the internet is becoming very popular. Applications such as Skype allow your reading to take place in real time, giving you the chance to ask your questions and interact just as if you were sitting in the same room.
Your tarot reader may ask you for some basic information and perhaps help you to phrase your question in such a way to get the most from the cards. You might be asked to shuffle or cut the cards if you are with your reader. He or she might lay the cards out in a particular order or patterns and will explain that this is a ‘spread’ that gives another layer of information.
Usually the cards are laid out face down and the reader will turn over each one and explain what it means. Finally, when all the cards are face up, the reader will draw out the whole story and present a coherent and useful reading. A good reader will encourage you to proffer your own thoughts and invite further questions, often turning more cards in response. Sometimes a tarot reading can be emotional but, hopefully, it will always be uplifting, so you will leave with answers to your questions and hope in your heart – a divine experience.
“Divination.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 June 2014.
“Cleromancy.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Jan. 2014.
“Tarot Mythology: The Surprising Origins of the World’s Most Misunderstood Cards.” Collectors Weekly. N.p., n.d.