What is the Tarot?
The Tarot is a card game, which comes to us from Medieval times, where it was use as an oracle. The tarot is also respected for it's spiritual significance, and the cards are highly valued as a repository of ancient traditions and symbols. In these cards secret societies studied the basic structure of the mystic initiation process. The cards speak in pictures, and pictures are the language of the subconscious. The key to the deepest meaning of the cards lies hidden in the archetypal myths that humankind has told since the beginning of time. The Tarot can be seen as a book of Wisdom composed of 78 pages, that has been used as an oracle since the 15th Century, when it emerged in the form we know today, consisting of 78 cards that are divided into two groups; the 22 Major Arcana, and the 56 Minor Arcana. The Tarot actually forms the basis of our normal playing cards. Yet it is more than a pack of cards, far more than a game, and more than a method of divination. It's original use was probably as a set of magical images, designed for meditation and an aid to visualization, it was a tool for self realization, enlightenment, and magic.
The first tarot decks which we know of for certain date no earlier than 14th Century France and Italy, but this does not mean that before then, it did not exist. (The earliest decks known are the Visconti-Sforza decks, created for the powerful ruling families of 15th Century Milan). There is reason to believe that the Minor Arcana is an addition created during Medieval times, and that after this, the Tarot gained general popularity as a card game. The 22 Major Arcana were the original core, and they probably formed a part of some system of esoteric teaching and training from a much earlier time. A clue to it's origins lies in the word itself- TAROT is an Egyptian word for Royal Road (tar=path and ro=king). The Royal Road means the path to self-mastery. Ancient tradition speaks of the Egyptian Book of Thoth, who's pages revealed the past, present and future of all things. Magical traditions record that under the direction of the god Hermes Trismegistos (identified with Thoth, god of Wisdom), the Tarot was created. Folklore says that it was the traveling gypsies (corruption of the word, Egyptians) who introduced the cards into Europe, but they may also have been brought in much earlier, with the Egyptian Mystery cults that gained popularity in the later centuries of the Roman Empire. "Tarot" is also a French word, in which the last "t" is not pronounced - TARO. This gives further depth of meaning to the word; "rota" in Latin (the language of ancient Rome), means "the wheel". In Hebrew, the collective term for the Five Books of Moses (who was raised in the Pharoh's family, thus fully trained in the Egyptian religion) is the TORAH. This word has become synonymous with the divine law. Tarot is like a wheel, a tool that takes you on the royal road. So similar to the word for the ancient Hebrew sacred text, the Torah, tarot reveals the universal principles of life that we must travel to reach our destiny. The tarot is a symbolic gide to self-realization, a vehicle that helps us evolve into enlightenment.
The Egyptian god of the Sun, Horus, and the Greek Sun god Apollo, were both gods of prophecy. The piercing eyes of the hawk could see long and far, and this swift, high flying bird brought messages from above to those of us below. The door of Apollo's temple at Delphi was inscribed with the words, "Know Thy Self". The prophecies of the Oracle at Delphi were given in the form of a riddle, or story, and it was left to the person inquiring to work out the meaning for themselves. The eye of Horus was the Moon, the mirror of the Sun. This lunar eye was symbolized in the Egyptian Book of the Dead as "the divine light imprisoned in matter, which must be liberated. Thus it is said that the Eye is the seat of the Soul and is all powerful, for it possesses in itself the means for this deliverance." Developing this "Eye of Light" is what the Egyptians knew as the ability to see patterns in apparently random actions and happenings, the ability to read omens and signs. In myth, the Eye of Horus was wounded and fragmented by the dark shadow of Set. It is the job of Thoth, God of Wisdom, Science and Divination, to heal the Eye. Here is the archetypal story of the search for wholeness. By remembering who we essentially are (the sun within), we can draw on our universal potentials. By re-membering our dismembered form (as Osiris did) we evolve and expand our capabilities to become truely human.
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