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“”I played poker once with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 3 people died.
Tarot (of obscure origin, though from the Italian tarocco) is a term used to describe a type of playing card deck consisting of 78 cards. The Tarot originated in northern Italy in the 15th century, and was created by adding a series of 22 trump cards to a 56-card Latin-suited deck (coins, batons, swords, and cups). Several games across central and western Europe developed around this enhanced deck, most of them trick-taking games vaguely similar to bridge, and the French tarot (using the more familiar suits of hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs) is one of the most popular card games in France today.
In English-speaking countries, they are frequently used today as a method of divining the future; they first came to be used for divination in the 18th century, and have become the subject of myths and pseudohistory after being appropriated by occultists. The Marseilles Tarot in particular used a series of personages (e.g. 1: the Popess; 5: the Pope; 13: Death; 15: the devil) on the trump cards that many occultists took to have deeper meanings; in somewhat modified form, these characters were carried on to modern divination decks.
Many neopagans put a lot of stock in tarot readings. Some of the more rationalistic kind see it as a way for the brain to relax and let patterns form, without there being anything spiritual behind the cards themselves. Others really believe that it is a way for the universal consciousness to impart information to them. It should be noted that most professional tarot card "readers" do so through cold reading, rather than actually caring about what the cards say. However, if you see an amateur group (like your college pagan group), you can usually find some really earnest people.
It should also be noted that many fundamentalist Christians consider tarot decks to be Satanic, and many occultists believe that playing games with a divination deck is an act of desecration. It thus follows that the best place to play a game of tarot is either on the front lawn of any fundamentalist church on a Sunday morning or in Salem, Massachusetts, on Pickering Wharf, in front of Laurie Cabot's store.
And if you are one of a jury at a murder trial you mustn't find the defendant guilty till you've Consulted the other side and asked the deceased who did it. Now what's that about mistaking a parody for the real thing?
A full discussion of the styles of tarot decks is outside the scope of a RationalWiki article, but essentially they can be broken down into playing and divination decks. A playing deck (using either Latin or French suits) is similar to a standard deck of cards with the addition of the trumps; the exact content of the trumps is generally irrelevant for gameplay and is not standardized. Divination decks, on the other hand, are usually highly artistic in nature and can represent a large part of an artist's portfolio; however, their pips are often incorporated into the card image in a somewhat hard-to-read manner, making them somewhat inconvenient for gaming, but excellent for fleecing the rubes. Divination decks are almost always Latin-suited or a derivation thereof.
The most well known tarot deck in English speaking countries, the Waite-Rider tarot, was heavily influenced by the Golden Dawn, and through them, the Kabbalah, and was based on the Marseilles tarot. There are 22 "Major Arcana," each of which (supposedly) corresponds to a node on the Kabbalah. These represent large ideals, such as Death, the Devil, or the Wheel of Fortune. There are also 56 "Minor Arcana," with 14 cards in 4 suits. These are more familiar to non-mystics, as they represent 1-10, and the Page, Knight, Queen and King of each suit, corresponding to the same in a deck of playing cards (minus the Knight, of course). However, these are flexible, as are the correspondences.
Tarot card games (also known as "tarock" and "tarochi") are popular in France, much of Central Europe formerly ruled by the Habsburgs and, to a lesser extent, Italy. Playing decks, not intended for divination, are normally used for playing those games.
 How to make a tarot playing deck
You will need two decks of 54 standard playing cards with identical backs and different faces; in the US, a Bicycle Standard or Jumbo Index deck and a Bicycle Lo-Vision four-color deck will do. (This example is based on that combination.)
Take the cards from the standard deck minus one joker (the other joker will be the Fool). Mix in the A->10 cards from the clubs (blue) and diamonds (green) from the Lo-Vision deck along with the Ace of Spades (black) and the jacks from all four suits; the clubs will be trumps 1-10, the diamonds (because a diamond's worth more than a stick) will be trumps 11-20, the big-index jacks will act as cavaliers, and the ace of spades will be trump 21. You are now ready to play any tarot game using a standard 78-card deck, and you won't have to frustrate yourself with the artsy-fartsy markings on a cartomancy deck or pay obscene shipping charges to import a playing deck from France or Italy.
 See also
- History of Playing Cards at the International Playing Card Society website (traces the links between Tarot and the modern deck)
- Rules to various Tarot games
- More information on Italian and French tarot decks at pagat.com
- Tarot Card Meanings according to a Tarot-reading website
- Tarot Card Meanings according to another popular Tarot reading website
- French Tarot Federation - the governing body of the French game
- ↑ In occult decks, particularly the Rider-Waite, the coin and baton suits are sometimes renamed, to pentacles and wands.
- ↑ Incidentally, these decks, while lavishly illustrated and sometimes great works of art, tend to be rather poor gaming decks due to large card size and less-than-convenient markings with no corner indices.
- ↑ Laurie Cabot is the official witch of Salem. Has a curious fixation with Harry Potter.
- ↑ Total cost, approximately US$7 depending on supplier.
- ↑ You could also use three decks with three different index sizes, making the cavalier-jacks the middle-size index cards, but it's probably a waste of money to tear apart a third deck just for the jacks.