The tarot (/ˈtær/, first known as trionfi and later as tarocchi or tarocks) is a pack of playing cards, used from at least the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play card games such as Italian Tarocchini. From their Italian roots, tarot playing cards spread to most of Europe evolving into a family of games that includes German Grosstarok and more recent games such as French Tarot and Austrian Königrufen which are still played today. In the late 18th century, French occultists began to make elaborate, but unsubstantiated, claims about their history and meaning, leading to the emergence of custom decks for use in divination via tarot card reading and cartomancy.[1] Thus there are two distinct types of tarot pack: those used for playing games and those used for divination. However, some older patterns, such as the Tarot de Marseille, originally intended for playing card games, have also been used for cartomancy.

Card player with Austrian tarot cards (Industrie und Glück pattern).
Trumps of the Tarot de Marseilles, a standard 18th-century playing card pack, later also used for divination

Like the common playing cards, tarot has four suits which vary by region: French suits in Northern Europe, Latin suits in Southern Europe. Each suit has 14 cards: ten pip cards numbering from one (or Ace) to ten, and four face cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Jack/Knave/Page). In addition, the tarot has 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.[2] These tarot cards are still used throughout much of Europe to play conventional card games without occult associations.

Among English-speaking countries where these games are not widely played, only specially designed cartomantic tarot cards are readily available and they are used primarily for novelty and divinatory purposes.[2] The early French occultists claimed that tarot cards had esoteric links to ancient Egypt, Iran, the Kabbalah, Indic Tantra, or the I Ching and these claims have been frequently repeated by authors on card divination ever since. However, scholarly research has demonstrated that tarot cards were invented in northern Italy in the mid-15th century and confirmed that there is no historical evidence of the use of tarot cards for divination until the late 18th century.[2][3] In the occult tradition, tarot cards are referred to as 'arcana'; with the Fool and 21 trumps being termed the Major Arcana and the suit cards the Minor Arcana. However, these terms are not used by players of Tarot card games.

Tarot cards, then known as tarocchi, first appeared in Ferrara and Milan in northern Italy, with a Fool and 21 trumps (then called trionfi being added to the standard Italian pack of four suits: batons, coins, cups and swords. Scholarship has established that the early European cards were probably based on the Egyptian Mamluk deck which followed the invention of paper from Asia into Western Europe and was invented in or before the 14th century (see Playing Card - Egypt and following sections). By the late 1300's Europeans were producing their own cards, the earlies patterns being based on the Mamluk deck but with variations to the suit symbols and court cards.

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