The Ancient World of Cards: From Gaming to Divination

The Ancient World of Cards: From Gaming to Divination

Playing Cards and Tarot: A Historical Perspective

The inception of playing cards dates back to ancient times, making their way to Europe around the 14th century from the East. Initially, these cards were more associated with gameplay rather than mysticism. The rich tapestry of suits and symbols we see today, evolved over centuries with different cultures imprinting their unique trademarks.

Tarot Cards: Gaming Origins and Evolution to Mystical

The Birth of Tarot Games

Tarot games emerged in Italy and gradually spread across Europe, with each region developing its unique variations. The basic rules of Tarot games were penned down by Martiano da Tortona before 1425. These games, known as Tarocchi in Italian, Tarock in German, became a popular pastime across the continent. The earliest detailed description of Tarot game rules was published by the Abbé de Marolles in Nevers in 1637.

The Unique Structure of Tarot Decks

Tarot decks stand out with their additional, longer suit of trumps alongside the conventional four suits. In gameplay, if a player can't follow the suit led, they must play a trump card if possible. The concept of trumps, introduced by Tarot games, enriched card games' dynamics. Modern Tarot games have also integrated elements from other games, like bidding from Ombre and winning the last trick with the lowest trump from Trappola.

The Transition to Mystical and Divination Uses

Although initially crafted for gaming, Tarot cards ventured into the realm of the mystical after an essay publication by Court de Gébelin in 1781, linking them to ancient wisdom. Despite being debunked later, this association paved the way for Tarot cards' use in cartomancy and divination. Presently, specialized Tarot decks are preferred for fortune-telling over traditional gaming decks.

Tarot Games in Contemporary Europe

Tarot games have regained popularity, especially in France and Austria, with national and international tournaments held annually. Italy, the birthplace of Tarot, along with countries like Hungary, Slovenia, and Czechia, continues to cherish Tarot games. 

Cartomancy: Fortunes Told Through Playing Cards

Cartomancy, the art of fortune telling through a standard 52-card deck, has been practiced since the 14th century, offering a more straightforward interpretation compared to Tarot. Unlike the mystical imagery of Tarot, playing cards in cartomancy are interpreted based on their suit, number, or face value.

Cartomancy Spreads and Interpretations

Various spreads ranging from a single card to 21-card layouts are employed in cartomancy, with each spread catering to different levels of insight. The suits in a deck represent broader life themes, face cards symbolize people, and number cards denote upcoming life events.


The journey of cards from simple gaming tools to mystical tarot decks and fortune-telling mediums showcases their versatile nature. Their rich history and evolution reflect the myriad cultural influences and human curiosity in the unknown. Today, cards continue to enchant audiences not only through games or fortune telling but also in the realm of magic, where sleight of hand and illusion create a sense of wonder and entertainment. From the hands of gamblers and fortune tellers to the clever tricks of magicians, cards indeed hold a unique and enduring place in various facets of culture and entertainment.

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